Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"A day without coal" in Britain?

It's claimed the first "coal-free" day was achieved in the UK recently.

The National Grid has announced Britain’s first full day without coal power “since the Industrial Revolution”.

A combination of low demand for electricity and an abundance of wind meant the grid completed 24 hours relying on just gas, nuclear and renewables.

Engineers at the company said Friday marked a “historic” milestone in Britain’s shift away from carbon fuels, and that coal-free days would become increasingly common.

Use of the fossil fuel has significantly declined in recent years, accounting for just 9 per cent of electricity generation last year, down from 23 per cent in 2015, with the closure or conversion of coal plants.

The Government has pledged to phase out coal - the most polluting fossil fuel - from the system by 2025 as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions in the UK.

There's more at the link.

That's all very well . . . but it relies heavily on the right weather conditions to produce enough solar and wind power to make up for what coal-fired stations would have produced.  It also relies on having enough nuclear power stations available to generate what's needed.  With older British nuclear power stations being closed, that won't be the case for much longer - at least, not in the numbers needed.

I'll be watching this with interest.  "Coal-free" days may be a Green's nirvana, but I suspect they won't be as practical as they hope.


Monday, April 24, 2017

How do you defend yourself against this?

I'm sure that by now, most of my readers have seen news reports about a gang of 40-60 'youths' who took over a commuter train in Oakland, California last weekend, and robbed dozens of passengers.  If you haven't, please follow that link to learn more, then come back here.

As I pointed out on two occasions in 2014, even if you successfully defend yourself against such criminal 'flash mob' attacks, you still can't win.  You'll be pilloried by the press, excoriated by politically correct commentators, and in certain parts of the country (e.g. Baltimore, etc.) have to deal with politicians and prosecutors who are first and foremost political creatures, pandering to those who elected them.  Here's a hint:  that wasn't you.  It was the people who form those 'flash mobs' in the first place.

In a situation where you're armed with a typical concealed handgun, usually small and with limited ammunition capacity, you may not be able to prevail against so many attackers anyway - particularly if some of them are armed as well.  Even if you succeed, you run the risk that some of your bullets may miss their intended target, or over-penetrate it, and strike innocent bystanders.  Finally, there's the aftermath to consider.  It may be better, no matter how unpalatable, to hide your handgun and submit to robbery, rather than fight back - even if that grates with the macho element among us.

In March 2014, referring to criminal attacks in Louisville, KY, I pointed out:

What's worse is, even if you're aware of the potential danger and have armed yourself as a precaution against it, this is a fight you simply can't win. If you survive and prevail on the street, you'll be crucified in the court of public opinion - and you can bet that race-baiting agitators would make sure you'll be prosecuted for defending yourself, too. Just imagine the sensation-seeking newspaper headlines by liberal or progressive reporters and editors, who will try to obscure the truth of what happened:

     "Panicked bystander turns gun on teenage boys"
     "Children massacred in tourist mecca"
     "Man guns down youths in crowded plaza"

Like I said . . . you can't win, even if you survive. Note what happened to the old man who defended himself with a knife when attacked in Louisville (described in the linked article above - the incident which appears to have sparked last weekend's violence). The police immediately arrested and jailed him. The grand jury no-billed him when they saw the security video, and he's since been released . . . but until that happened, he was locked up among all sorts of criminals and gang-bangers. Now imagine yourself in his shoes. You've successfully defended yourself against a criminal flash mob. Now you're locked up among thugs and criminals who probably knew some of those you've just shot, and who are likely to be looking to avenge them. Are you sure you'll survive long enough to be exonerated? I'm not! The cops are highly unlikely to give you a secure cell to yourself. You'll be on your own, surrounded by those who, at best, have no reason to love you. Good luck, friend . . . you're going to need it!

There's more at the link.

Public transport is likely to become more and more infested by such vermin, particularly because the authorities are all too often reluctant to offend potential voters on whose support they rely for their well-paid positions.  In some cities, notably Chicago but including others too, gangs openly barter their support and ability to get out the vote in exchange for political favors.

We have to ask ourselves;  is it worthwhile becoming the next Bernhard Goetz?  Is it worthwhile becoming the next George Zimmerman?  If we defend ourselves using lethal force against an attack such as that on the train in Oakland . . . we're probably going to find out the hard way.

My take on the problem:  don't use public transport unless you have no other choice - and if that's the case, be hyper-alert for trouble, and ready to remove yourself from the scene of conflict if at all possible.  Don't let the scum of society suck you into the morass of politically correct retaliation.


Another reason to avoid flying, if possible

There are well-grounded fears that some of Venezuela's latest-generation man-portable surface-to-air missiles might get into the wrong hands.

The Venezuelan government’s decision to arm civilians to defend the country’s socialist revolution amid growing unrest is rekindling fears of terrorists and criminal organizations acquiring part of the nation’s arsenal, which include a large stockpile of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles.

. . .

According to internal military documents obtained by el Nuevo Herald, over a number of years Venezuela has purchased several hundreds of the latest variant of the land-to-air missiles Igla-S, the Russian equivalent of the U.S.-made Stinger missile.

Caracas’ possession of the portable, infrared-homing Igla-S has been a source of concern in the U.S. for some time, given the socialist regime’s cozy relationship with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, groups classified as terrorist organizations by the U.S.

Those concerns had previously taken a back seat given repeated Russian assurances that those weapons would not fall into the wrong hands, according to State Department cables revealed by Wikileaks.

But Maduro renewed those fears last week after green-lighting the Zamora Plan — a readiness operation that calls for the activation of militias when facing an imminent threat of war — after thousands took to the streets in Venezuela to protest while accusing the Chavista leader of executing a self-coup.

The signing of the Zamora Plan gave the legal grounds to enact Maduro’s previous announcement that he would give rifles to 400,000 militias to protect his government from a coup that he said was planned in Washington.

The prospect of rogue groups obtaining the Igla-S is particularly frightening given its small size and effectiveness. Weighting only 24 pounds, the tube-like launcher could be relatively easy to smuggle across borders, and its 2.5 kilogram warhead can shoot down an airplane or helicopter from 3.7 miles away.

There's more at the link.

The Igla-S is far more advanced than the original Stinger missile, which dates back to the early 1980's.  The original Igla (known as the SA-16) is of similar vintage and performance to the US weapon;  I had the opportunity to compare them side by side in Angola during the mid to late 1980's.  However, it's been drastically improved - so much so that in its latest SA-24 guise, it's a brand new weapon.  It's probably the most advanced missile of its kind in the world.

With Hezbollah active in the Tri-Border area of South America, and also in Mexico, where it's cooperating with drug cartels, there's a real danger that these missiles might find their way northwards.  Couple that with Venezuela having supplied thousands of passports to potential Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in Syria and elsewhere, and we may have a security nightmare on our hands.

I think I'll be driving to future destinations, as much as possible.  I also predict that videoconferencing will probably replace a great deal of business travel, for security reasons.


Big or small, they're still cats

Observe the hunting behavior.

Yep. Cats. No matter what their size or species, they're the same inside . . . and the big ones will scare you to death!  Ask any old Africa hand about lions and leopards, or any Indian about tigers.  To them, we're the equivalent of mice.


Says it all, doesn't it?

With Berkeley's dismal recent record over free speech in mind, I couldn't help a cynical smile when I received this image via e-mail (origin unknown).

Yep. That's about it.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday morning music

I think it's time for a little classical music.  How about Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto?  This performance is by Sayaka Shoji, performing last year during the international music festival, "Stars on the Baikal", held in Irkutsk, Russia.  The Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Yuri Temirkanov.

Ms. Shoji plays a Stradivarius violin made in 1729.  I chose this recording because the video shows her technique very well, and provides close-up views of the instrument.  (She also performs a short, quirky encore after the concerto, which I found amusing.)

I've never had the privilege of seeing Ms. Shoji perform in person, but if I ever get the chance, I'll be there.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Learning from ancient history

Last month, Cdr. Salamander put up a very interesting video of a talk by Prof. Eric Cline, titled '1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed'.  Before embedding it, he had this to say.

Few things seem as frightening, or as unrealistic to those living in the "now," as systemic societal collapse. Not just of your country, but of the entire global system. All the zombie books, movies, and stories derive from that concern in the back of everyone's mind; an almost genetic memory. It should be, as almost complete collapse has been a regular occurrence throughout human history.

Sure, when you bring up the topic, most will think of the fall of Rome, but that was just one recent example in a long series of diverse, complicated, and relatively advanced civilizations that collapsed over the course of thousands of years on every continent but Antarctica - and at least for now - Australia.

I find this topic fascinating because there is always a collapse in the making small, and perhaps even large. They are decades, and more often than not centuries, in the making. Sometimes it is the collapse of a single nation, but often it is something much greater. Unless you believe that you are living in a unique moment in human history that has brought a halt to all the normal ebb and flow of our existence, you have to ask yourself, when is the next collapse?

Will it be small and localized somewhere else, or a cascading global collapse driven by its own inertia and logic?

Is it in 10 years? 100? Are we going to be lucky and have another 500 yrs to so to go? Or, are you living right in the middle of one yet, being part of it, don't have the perspective to see what is going on?

All these things came to mind again while watching the below video from Eric Cline, PhD, professor at George Washington University in DC, and author of a book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.

There's more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.

The video's over an hour long, but it's very interesting for anyone with a sense of history and a willingness to learn.  I strongly recommend that you take the time to watch it.  You'll learn a lot.

Thought-provoking indeed . . .


A potent reminder of why you should keep cash on hand

The power failure yesterday in San Francisco demonstrated, yet again, that cash is still essential.

Johnny Sadoon, owner of Sutter Fine Foods on Nob Hill, sat against a register eating vanilla ice cream from a Häagen-Dazs carton. He figured he had but a few hours before he should start to worry about the food going bad and the ice cream melting in the freezers.

He had kept the store open despite the blackout and a few customers perused the darkened aisles, but because the credit card machine doesn’t work without power, sales were few and far between.

“No one pays cash anymore,” he said, spoon in hand as a siren wailed outside. “I’m angry. I’m annoyed.”

There's more at the link.

I can already hear some readers scoffing that a short-term power failure like that is nothing to worry about, and no reason to increase their cash reserves at home . . . but what if it isn't short-term?  The Pentagon appears to be thinking about that already.

Amid warnings that North Korea and Iran have plans to take out parts of the U.S. electric grid through a cyber attack or atmospheric nuclear blast, the Pentagon is taking steps to both protect the nation's communications and power lifeline.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has charged BAE Systems to map a system that can detect a cyber attack and gin up an alternative communications network for military and civilian use if the grid is fried, according to Defense Systems, the online newsletter.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey has been warning for years that the grid is extremely vulnerable, and recently the Pentagon and some states have taken the warning seriously. Woolsey and former EMP Commission chief of staff Peter Vincent Pry have pointed a finger at North Korea, which is now threatening the U.S.

DARPA's focus is on thwarting a cyber attack, but Pry and Woolsey have also warned that North Korea or Iran could attack the grid with an atmospheric nuclear explosion over the East Coast that will disable the grid and that could end up leading to the death of 90 percent of those in the East.

Again, more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

Given North Korea's record of unsuccessful missile launches, I daresay the nuclear threat at this time is relatively low . . . but it may not stay that way.  That's probably why President Trump appears determined to do something about it before it gets more serious.  As for a cyber-attack, even if it's thwarted, it may result in local or regional disruptions of the power supply for days, or even weeks, while normal operations are restored.

I can only repeat my frequently-expressed recommendation, in my articles on economic conditions and emergency preparations, to keep extra cash at home, in a secure location.  If possible, I strongly suggest you have enough for at least one month's normal expenditure on everything - rent, utilities, regular payments, groceries, fuel, the whole enchilada.  Even if a month's cash is impossible, at least try for a week's worth.  That way, if things do grind to a halt, electrically speaking, you'll have enough to buy emergency supplies . . . while others, who haven't taken that precaution, are left waving useless credit and debit cards at silent, powerless (literally) card machines.

(I might add that a decent supply of cash, under such circumstances, can result in a windfall in supplies.  On more than one occasion I've seen a desperate store owner, knowing that he was about to lose the entire contents of his refrigerators and freezers to a power failure, sell them at half or more off their regular price.  If you have a freezer at home, and a small generator to keep it going until power is restored, you might pick up several weeks' worth of meat at far less than the usual cost - to say nothing of multiple gallons of ice cream!)


Friday, April 21, 2017

At the bleeding edge of anti-missile warfare

I found this very interesting article about three young Israeli officers, each serving in an anti-missile unit, discussing their experiences in engaging incoming threats.  Here's an excerpt.

Ron, Dima and Chen are the face of a new brand of warfare. They may talk shyly, sometimes a bit too quietly, and smile with embarrassment when talking about their accomplishments, but they, along with the IDF's cyber warfare unit, are at the forefront of the battle against the threats Israel faces today.

They are the interceptors. Being a combat soldier nowadays doesn't necessarily require gun-in-hand and knife-between-the-teeth, but rather advanced technological knowhow and the courage to green-light—with only seconds to decide—the Iron Dome, Patriot or the Arrow missile-defense systems to intercept incoming projectiles. That is true for present threats and even more so for the dangers the future holds.

Each of the three is responsible for a recent, notable missile interception.

. . .

Second Lt. Chen Shaked was also a part of something extraordinary. He fired an Arrow interceptor—a missile system that is very rarely used—on March 17, and it even earned him a new nickname. "I no longer have a name; I'm addressed only as 'The Interceptor'," he says. "They also won't let me wash the finger I used to push the button to intercept."

. . .

"It was during the night between Thursday and Friday. I started my shift at 2am—a regular shift. I got a rundown, and everything was going as it should. There was no intelligence warning; there was nothing special. Then, all of a sudden, a target moving towards Israel appeared on the screen."

That must have been stressful.

"We train for this a lot, so I knew what I had to do, despite being young. I had drilled this, and I know that when I make a decision—in accordance with orders, of course—I'll have full backing.

"In this case, I simply identified a ballistic threat to the State of Israel, and we immediately called in the team we needed for interception. It was very quick. Fourteen seconds after we called the team in, everyone was ready to intercept when given the order. Then I made the decision to do it."

Did you have no one to consult with?

"No. It was just me, on my own, against the missile. In my system, the window of time for making a decision is very small, and you have no one to talk to. By the time I take this upstairs, the missile could hit. There's not much you can do about it besides knowing it's down to you. And then you make a decision based on the orders."

So you pressed the button.

"Yes. And a second or two later, my commander happened to enter the room. I pointed to the board and told him, 'Look, Arrow has been launched.' I was told I stuttered, but I don't remember that. I do remember that he looked at me and said, 'Well done.'"

In those initial moments, before the debriefing and investigation, and before the army officially determined the interception was justified, did you think that perhaps you didn't act correctly?

"I knew that I had done the right thing. My target identification was very clear. But there was this feeling of uncertainty."

And how did others react? After all, an Arrow interception is rare.

"In the first few seconds, the room went quiet. I don't know why; it just went silent. You expect that when something like this happens, that there would be noise, shouting. The Arrow was launched, that's not something that happens every day. But it was quiet. Only a little while later, we started smiling and told each other, 'Way to go!' and 'You’re the man!' There wasn't a deep conversation about it."

. . .

"This kind of interception is something that stays with you. A week after that, we went on a large-scale training exercise, the kind we do every four months, and the reserve soldiers started asking around about the interception. I happened to be there, and they told me, 'It's you? You kid, we've been waiting for 20 years to do this, and you got to?'"

There's much more at the link.

The article makes very interesting reading in this age of missile warfare, when reaction times must be measured in seconds rather than minutes, and a mistake can mean the loss of many civilian lives.


A useful - and very cheap - firearms accessory

If one uses one's noggin, one can come up with some very low-cost alternatives to products sold by gun stores at a considerable markup.  For example, some time back I pointed out that #4 drywall anchors made very good .22 rimfire snap caps, at a fraction of the cost of the real thing.

Here's another helpful hint for those wanting to buy chamber flags - those red, orange or yellow plastic bars or flags that you insert into a semi-auto pistol or rifle chamber, to indicate that there's no cartridge inside.  They cost one to two dollars apiece when you buy the custom-made variety;  but there's a much cheaper solution - cable ties, like these 8" ones that I use.

They're available in several colors.  I prefer fluorescent orange, because it's a widely recognized safety signal, but you can use all the colors of the rainbow, if you wish.  (That also helps to distinguish between guns owned by different people, if they're stored in the same gun safe:  each person can choose a color for their cable ties, for instant differentiation, even if they own visually identical firearms.  For example, in my gun safe, Miss D.'s firearms are marked with purple cable ties, as it's one of her favorite colors.)  At only $6.99 per 100, these cable ties are very affordable.  If you lose or break one, it's no problem to replace it.  At 8" long, in most pistols they protrude from both the ejection port and the end of the barrel, providing a double visual indication that the firearm is unloaded.  (If you want to use them in a rifle or shotgun, you can get white heavy-duty cable ties from 9" to 36" long - just cut the longer ones to the length you want, and apply a little paint to the ends if you wish.)

For revolvers, it's just as easy.  Simply buy orange drinking straws like these (or whatever color you choose).  They're 0.21" in diameter, which is small enough to fit into any barrel from .22 upwards, although they're a tight fit in the smallest ones.  Slide them in from the muzzle, all the way down through the barrel into the chamber.  If they fit loosely, they can fall out, of course;  but if you handle the gun with due care and attention, that's not a problem - or you can tape them in place, or wrap paper or cloth around the muzzle end to fit more tightly.  As long as they're there, they provide a visual indication that the firearm isn't loaded.  (If your gun's barrel is too long for them, simply insert one straw into another, or tape them together, to double their length.)

Another idea:  for cheap cleaning cloths and patches, retain old underwear and T-shirts after they wear out, and get too many holes or tears or marks to be worn any longer.  Cut them into patch-size squares to use with your cleaning rod, or into larger cloths for wiping down your guns.  You'll also find them useful if you store a firearm in a case with exposed foam pressed against the metal.  The foam can mark the gun over time, and perhaps even become glued to it, through interaction with cleaning solvents, etc.  To guard against this, wrap the gun in a single thickness of clean cloth from an old T-shirt, to separate it from the foam.

If anyone else has useful money-saving ideas like this, please let us know in Comments.  I'm sure we'll all be grateful.


A truly magnificent rant. Bravo!

Iron Mike sounds off about the Antifa imbeciles, who insist on strutting their stuff in liberal and progressive strongholds against more conservative speakers.  It's rude, in-your-face and anything but politically correct;  but it resonates with my own views, even if I wouldn't put them quite as bluntly as he does.  Here's an excerpt.

Alright ****sticks, this circus has gone on long enough and the audience has gotten tired of the clowns doing the same act for months on end. Your special snowflake brand of socialist revolution (black masks and tipped over trash cans) is sputtering out from underneath you. You’re not any more dedicated and disciplined at seeing this through than you were moving out of your parents’ guest bedroom after your “one semester off” 4 years ago. It’s time to take off the Doc Martins, wash your dreadlocks, remove the 9 facial piercings, and go get a job. You are not a revolutionary. You’re not changing the world. You WILL NOT win. All of your goals are stupid and you should do what you do best... quit. Until at least January 20th, 2020 Donald Trump is still going to be President; America is going to have a Capitalist, Market Economy; and working-class people are not going to fall in line with a bunch of spoiled middle-class college pussies LARP-ing as communist insurgents. Let me delve into this a bit deeper since all you chardonnay socialists clearly have a goddamn learning disorder... and no, your self-diagnosed ‘Autism’ does not make you “Neurodiverse”, it makes you a hand-flapping puddle of mush.

First of all, your stupid ******* beliefs are incoherent at best. Your little red & black flag of ‘Anarcho-Communism’ might as well be a ***damn Bat-Signal that you were on a first name basis with the driver of the short bus as a kid. Anarchism is the complete lack of formal government. Communism is the complete ownership of all property by the State and a state-planned central command economy. You’re telling me you want a world with no government, no private property, and a centralized distribution system to manage all wealth and material necessities? You idiots somehow came to the conclusion that these polar opposite concepts are somehow compatible, and that a bunch of dope smokers that congregated in online blog forums will bring about your imagined utopia by trashing a Starbucks? What the **** is wrong with you? With that level of brain damage, it’s like your mom tried to drown you as a baby in a bathtub full of bong water...

. . .

I could go on all day about how pathetic you all are and how your bullshit movement is just another way for you to escape the real world and your many, many, personal faults... but I have another message for you. Please get more violent. Please don’t learn anything from getting your asses kicked... and double down. Please, for the love of God, pick up an actual weapon and declare yourselves violent enemies of the state. Give us red-blooded Americans the justification to really give you what you’ve been asking for with your constant threats, arson, and violent outbursts. Let’s really turn this into an old-school Communist revolution! I dare you. I double dare you.

There's much more at the link.  Go read, and enjoy.


When art collides head-on with reality

Two 'art' controversies have made it to the front page in recent weeks, and both raise similar questions.

First, a painting depicting police officers as pigs was removed from exhibition at the Capitol.

This week, a judge refused to order its return.

"There is little doubt that the removal of the painting was based on its viewpoint," Bates said in his ruling, dated Friday. But he concluded that the government's editorial decision to select and present the artwork meant that the display amounted to government speech and was, therefore, not subject to First Amendment protections.

There's more at the link.

Then, the University of Alaska at Anchorage defended a bizarre (and offensive to many, including myself) painting by one of its professors.

The painting shows a nude Captain America (as portrayed by liberal actor Chris Evans) standing on a pedestal and holding Donald Trump’s head by the hair. The head drips blood onto Hillary Clinton, who is reclining provocatively in a white pant suit, clinging to Captain America’s leg. Eagles scream into Captain America’s ear, and a dead bison lies at his feet.

The painting, created by Prof. Thomas Chung, hangs on campus as part of an art exhibition this month.

But it became controversial after a former adjunct professor, Paul R. Berger, posted the image on Facebook, saying he was “not sure how I want to respond to this.” On one hand, he posted, “first thing that comes to mind is freedom of expression,” but he also noted the university’s exhibit was publicly funded.

Again, more at the link.

I think there are two problems to contend with.
  1. If government was involved in any way with the artwork - funding it, and/or paying its creator, and/or deciding whether, where and when to exhibit it, and so on - then it's pretty much no longer a 'free speech' issue.  That's what the judge decided in the first case.
  2. If it involves politically sensitive matter (as both these paintings do), it's bound to offend individuals and groups who disagree with its viewpoint and perspective.  In art as in conversation, civility and common decency are still social lubricants.  When they're deliberately thrown away, friction results.  If this surprises artists and/or their supporters, they're living in cloud cuckoo land.

I have only one strongly-held opinion about both paintings, and that is that government - support, funding, whatever - should have nothing to do with either of them.  If an artist wants to express a particular viewpoint, no matter how personally offensive I may find it, it's his or her right to do so as a private citizen, just as it's mine to support or oppose what their works have to say.  However, when tax dollars play any part whatsoever in producing, displaying or supporting the artist and/or the work(s) concerned, I draw the line.  The 'cops-as-pigs' painting should never have been displayed at the Capitol, and the 'beheaded-Trump' painting should never have been exhibited at UAA.

(For precisely the same reasons, I oppose any and all state funding for the arts.  Taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize private freedom of expression.  It's too easy for it to be hijacked by those of one or another political, social or cultural persuasion - just look at the NEA or PBS for proof of that.  Let those who like the art in question support it by their purchases, donations, etc.  Leave public funds out of the equation.)