Saturday, March 31, 2012

OK, that's officially too crazy for me!

Paraplegic Christi Rougoor wasn't about to let her handicap stop her from having fun - including bungee jumping! ITN reports:

I admire her courage . . . but I'd rather not put my fused spine through that sort of stress, thank you very much!


Animal pictures

The Telegraph has an interesting weekly gallery of animal pictures. Here are a few examples from the latest edition, reduced in size to fit this blog, along with their captions from the gallery.

A kingfisher shows a blatant disregard for the rules as it is caught sitting on a 'no fishing' sign with a fish in its beak. The rebellious bird swooped down to perch on the sign with a mouth full of fish and appeared to be reading the warning. The moment was captured by photographer Dean Mason from Bournemouth, Dorset.

A skunk blasts an inquisitive fox in the face with his scent. Amateur snapper Jocelyn Rastel Lafond captured the episode on camera in Lavaltrie near Montreal, Canada, and said: "It was really funny to watch their interaction. The fox had such a ridiculous expression after getting sprayed."

A protective elephant mother fights off a pack of hyenas to protect her calf. The hyenas had pounced on the baby elephant when it became separated from its mother. She stampeded towards the predators, kicking out her feet at the pack, which soon scattered. James Weis, a guide with the tour company Eyes on Africa, was leading a group of visitors in the Linyanto bush in Botswana at the time. He said: "The baby had its tail bitten off but was all right. It is fairly common to see elephants in Africa with no tail."

There are many more images at the link. Recommended viewing.


A new Russian main battle tank?

I was interested to read that the Russian Defense Ministry has approved the technical design of a new main battle tank, known at present as 'Project Armata' or 'Universal Combat Platform T-99'. It's apparently intended that the new tank will serve as the basis for an entire family of combat vehicles sharing the same engine and running gear. Prototypes are expected to begin testing next year, followed by production in 2015. There are as yet no verified pictures of what the new tank will look like, although some speculative and unconfirmed images may be found here.

This is of particular interest because Russia hasn't fielded a truly 'new' tank design since the 1970's. The T-64 (which entered service in the mid-1960's) was technically very advanced for its day, but its complexity affected its reliability and required a heavy maintenance burden. It was further developed into the T-80 (1976), but issues of complexity and serviceability were never fully resolved. In an effort to address those problems, the T-72 (1970 - produced by a different design team and tank factory) was simpler and more reliable, but also less capable. It was later developed into the T-90 (1993), incorporating a fire control system based on the more sophisticated T-80. The T-90 is currently the front-line main battle tank of Russian armored forces. A proposed T-95 tank (also known as 'Object 195', said to be based on both the T-80 and T-90) was under development for almost two decades, and reached prototype form, but was never put into production. The project was cancelled last year.

Prototype of the proposed T-95 / 'Object 195' tank, since cancelled

It's been officially announced that the new 'Armata' tank project will incorporate a remotely-controlled cannon. Indeed, it may be fitted to a completely unmanned turret, allowing for the tank's possible use as a robotic, remote-controlled vehicle in the future. If it uses the same 152mm. cannon that was fitted to the T-95 prototype, which can fire heavy anti-tank missiles as well as cannon projectiles, this would make it a formidable opponent.

Such a remote-controlled cannon will necessitate a new-generation autoloader, continuing a long-standing Soviet/Russian tradition which began with the T-64 (whereas the USA stayed with manual loading by a gunner). However, one hopes the new device will be better designed than its predecessors. As you can see from this brief video clip of the T-72, earlier Soviet autoloaders were complex devices with many protruding parts.

According to numerous sources, the T-64 and T-72 were known for a high rate of casualties among gunners and tank commanders, as the autoloader mechanism sometimes grabbed them by the nearest available portion of their anatomy and attempted to load them into the breech of the cannon. One source maintained, with a commendably straight face, that this was for many years the primary source of recruits for the soprano section of the Red Army Choir!


Around the blogs

There's another rich harvest from the blogosphere this evening.

The Atomic Nerds, Labrat and Stingray, start us off tonight with not one, but two excellent articles. The first deals with Sex, Gender, Biology and Society, and the second addresses behavior patterns in a relationship that raise a red flag. Both make excellent and useful reading, particularly if one has to educate others (i.e. teenage children) in these subjects.

Readers may be familiar with Francis W. Porretto, who used to blog at Eternity Road. That blog came to a sudden halt this week, due to unforeseen circumstances, but he's already back in the blog-saddle at Liberty's Torch (with frequent excursions to Musings Of An Indie Writer, where he discusses his books). Mr. Porretto, I'm glad you're still with us. (He advised earlier that anyone wanting copies of archived posts from Eternity Road should contact him for more information. I suggest you do so via a comment at his new blog-home.)

The next article isn't from a blog, and isn't really an article either, but it's still very useful. I've had many uses for military paracord (also known as 550 cord) over the years, but I've found it very difficult to get hold of the genuine milspec product - most of what's sold commercially is an inferior imitation of the real thing. As Wikipedia points out:

While some commercially available paracord is made to specification, even when labeled as such a given product may not correspond exactly to a specific military type and can be of differing construction, quality, color, or strength. Particularly poor quality examples may have significantly fewer strands in the sheath or core, cores constructed of bulk fiber rather than individual yarns, or include materials other than nylon.

Someone asked at Bladeforums how to identify and obtain the real stuff, and a very interesting discussion ensued. In particular, check out the response by user ArJunaBug, who analyzes in detail the differences between military and commercial versions, complete with photographs. Essential reading for those wanting to buy the genuine article - and everyone, repeat, everyone should have an emergency supply of paracord. It's as indispensable as duct tape and a good knife!

MSgt. B. describes (in cartoon form) the life of a software engineer. Having had that title in a former, more commercial existence, it made me grin.

Dustbury points out that the Jeep brand appears to be a curse on whichever car company acquires it. Here's an excerpt.

Jeep was developed by the American Bantam Car Company. The design was purchased by the US Government from American Bantam and given to Willys-Overland with large orders going to Ford. Immediately after WWII American Bantam went bankrupt.

At the conclusion of WWII, Willys-Overland and Ford fought it out over who owned the Jeep design … a court ruled that the rights to the Jeep name and design were owned by Willys-Overland. Although the Jeep sold well in the post war years for Willys-Overland, they struggled with the rest of their auto business, and in 1953 Willys-Overland was purchased by Kaiser Motors.

The Jeep sold well for Kaiser, but the rest of their car biz sank like a stone. In 1963 Kaiser renamed itself Kaiser-Jeep. Business only got worse for Kaiser-Jeep through the 60′s, so in 1969 Kaiser-Jeep was acquired by AMC.

The Jeep sold well for AMC, but their car biz went from bad to worse during the 70′s, and in 1979 AMC was purchased by Renault.

More at the link. It's certainly thought-provoking enough to make a canny investor think twice before buying the Jeep brand name, if Fiat ever spins it off from Chrysler!

'Saturday's Warrior', blogging at Simply Because It Is, reminds us about "Men's Rules". Politically correct, they ain't!

Og, the Neanderpundit, claims to have been outsmarted by a worm. I'm not sure I'd have admitted to that in public, but hey, to each his own . . .

Courtesy of a link by the Feral Irishman, we find a lovely series of pictures of '105 [of the] world's most amazing and famous waterfalls'. I was particularly pleased to find some of those I remember from Southern Africa, including the Augrabies Falls:

and the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls, known to the locals as "The Smoke That Thunders", Mosi-wa-Tunya. The reason for that name is clear from this aerial image, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:

There are many more pictures at the link. Recommended.

Tamara examines the dilemma of what to do when one comes across a group of minors engaged in a crime. Effectively, it's a no-win situation, no matter what you do! She's rendered us all a public service, in my opinion, by making us think about it before we might be confronted with that reality.

Walter Russell Mead points out that the irresistible force that is Big Brother Health Care (and other grandiose schemes of the moonbats) is running headlong into the immovable object of a lack of funds to pay for it. Here's an excerpt.

... the health care law’s troubles shed some further light on the crisis of American progressivism and the blue social model it has built. Those who believe in the blue model and want to extend it have lost their touch; the dream machines of the blue social engineers don’t sail serenely across the azure sky anymore. Think of the various carbon exchanges and environmental planetary schemes; think of high speed rail proposals like California’s $100 billion train to bankruptcy; think of Obamacare. These days the experts, “social entrepreneurs” and smart young blue twenty somethings fresh out of the Ivy League whomp up social programs with as much verve and dedication as their New Deal and Great Society predecessors, but the new Dreamliners don’t take off. At most they roll around the runway, emitting clouds of noxious smoke; wings fall off, windows pop out, turbines misfire and the tires go flat.

. . .

This is a horrible piece of legislation — as misbegotten and useless to its friends as it is menacing to its enemies. The question is: why? Why did the blues write such a bad law? Why, given a once in a lifetime chance to pass a program that Dems have longed to achieve ever since the New Deal, did they craft a sloppy mess that nobody understands and few admire, and then leave their law so unnecessarily vulnerable to constitutional challenge?

The answers tell us much about why blue progressive thinking is losing its hold on the body politic — and why blue methods generally aren’t working as well as they used to.

More at the link. Entertaining, but also very pertinent and timely reading.

Educated & Poor brings us a lovely series of out-takes, bloopers and flubs from the movie My Man Godfrey. Great fun!

And last, but by no means least, Firehand discovers what the term 'service' means when it's part of the title of a government agency. Oops!


Friday, March 30, 2012

Monument Valley - a different perspective

Team Blacksheep uses radio-controlled model aircraft and miniature video cameras to film all sorts of locations, events and scenes from the air. Their Web site provides clips of several of their projects.

They recently visited Monument Valley in the USA, and filmed this clip. It's worth watching in full-screen mode.

That's definitely a different perspective on a much-photographed natural wonder!


Doofus Of The Day #583

Today's winner is from Austria.

Long term unemployed Hans Url, 56, had just been told his hand-outs would stop if he did not accept work found for him by job centre staff.

And when his claims that he was too sick and did not like the work were challenged with the offer of a medical, he took drastic measures.

Url, of Mitterlabill, southern Austria, rigged up a mitre saw and sliced off his foot – then put it in the oven for good measure to ensure no surgeon could reattach it.

. . .

He was airlifted to hospital in Graz where his condition was said to be stable after emergency surgery to seal the wound.

A hospital spokesman said: ‘The foot was too badly burned to reattach. All we could do was seal the wound. He had lost a lot of blood - he almost died on the way to hospital. He was put in an artificial coma.’

. . .

But Feldbach AMS job centre spokesman Hermann Gössinger said: ‘This is a tragic case but it will not help the man.

‘His latest excuse had been a bad back which is why he had been sent for a medical.

'But even now losing a foot does not automatically mean he will not be able to work. He will be assessed once he is out of hospital and we will see what work we can find for him.’

There's more at the link.

All that trouble, self-mutilation and pain . . . and he'll likely still have to go back to work! Couldn't happen to a more deserving guy!


Big Brother is at it again!

Heard about the latest in-your-face control measure planned by the US government? The Daily Economist reports:

Senate Bill 1813 (Highway trust fund), which was passed by the Senate last week and is now pending in the House of Representatives contains a provision that would allow the IRS to order the State Department to refuse to grant, refuse to renew, revoke or restrict the passport of any US citizen which the IRS certifies owes the IRS $50,000 or more in unpaid taxes. There is no requirement that the tax payer be guilty of or even charged with tax evasion, fraud, or any criminal offense - only that the citizen is alleged to owe the IRS back taxes of $50,000 or more.

There's more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.

Due process? What due process? Who cares about that 'Constitution' thing any more, anyway?


"Brains: The Mind As Matter"

That's the title of an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London, UK that opened last week and will run until June 17th. Culture24 reports:

“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” a Wellcome Collection staff member said as I left. Then he checked himself: “Well – not lovely, really. Interesting.”

Brains: The Mind As Matter is many things but, agreed, lovely is not one of them.

Having said that, some of the exhibits are beautiful. The first exhibit in the show is an image of artist Katharine Dowson’s brain, lasered onto lead crystal glass.

The delicacy of both this piece and Pablo García Lopez’s silk digital animation, A Very Big Brain is Coming, is at odds with the comparatively lumpen, but no less interesting, models in the first main section, Measuring/Classifying.

This section looks at the rise of phrenology and anthropometry – disciplines that perhaps tell us more about societal prejudice than they do about brain function.

The work of 19th and 20th century psychiatrist and phrenology proponent Bernard Hollander includes a drawing of the skull of a “cruel and violent” prostitute, used to validate Hollander’s theory that certain skull shapes denoted unsavoury characters.

Visitors can also see examples of anthropometric data collection in Empirical India and the work of “father of eugenics” Sir Francis Galton. These act as disturbing reminders of how the brain has been used as a prop to assert racial, social and intellectual superiority.

There are genuine preserved brains on show, including that of American suffrage campaigner Helen H. Gardener.

Preserved brain of Helen Hamilton Gardener (image courtesy of Wellcome Collection)

These could be disconcerting, but for the squeamish there are models and some exquisite drawings to examine in the Mapping/Modelling section.

Anatomist Vesalius’ extraordinary 1555 drawings give way to some glorious images of brain cells from groundbreaking Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, and a compelling video purporting to map brain activity in a subject listening to music.

There's more at the link. The Associated Press reported on the exhibition as follows:

The exhibition's image galleries contain many very interesting photographs. Some might be disturbing to some viewers, such as a close-up image of a brain during surgery, but I found them all to be thought-provoking. For example, here's a 'Corrosion cast of blood vessels in the brain':

The Web site describes the 'corrosion casting' technique as follows:

The entire vascular (blood vessel) system of a whole animal or organ, down to the smallest capillaries, can be injected with liquid plastic that fills the blood space and rapidly solidifies. The surrounding tissue is then corroded away with an acid or alkaline solution, leaving a hardened cast that accurately represents the form of the original vascular system. With the finest casts made from modern low-viscosity resin, the results can be inspected with electron microscopes, and their geometry mathematically analysed.

I don't know about you, but I was fascinated to see how many blood vessels the brain contains, and the intricacy of their network. It makes it much easier to understand how a stroke or cerebral aneurysm can cause so much damage.

Apparently the Wellcome Trust sees the brain as an important field of future study. It's produced this brief background video report on the subject, which I found very interesting viewing.

The exhibition is clearly aimed at arousing public interest in and support for the Trust's ongoing activities in the field of brain studies. Kudos to them and to all participants for a very interesting and creative project. It makes me wish I could visit England to see it for myself!


All your babies are belong to us

What do you do when the agents of the Nanny State behave like bureaucratic thugs and mob bosses? A tip o' the hat to the Home School Legal Defense Association for spreading the word about this incident.

Imagine giving birth in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Then after you question some shots the hospital wants to give the baby, you are told that you are under investigation and you can't see your baby.

. . .

According to an attorney representing the family, Jodi Ferris, the mother, was told conflicting reports about the health of her baby. When she questioned shots the nurses gave and wanted to give, a social worker showed up in her hospital room, "announcing she was there to conduct an investigation."

The family attorney's statement continues by stating when Ferris asked about the allegations, the social worker replied: "Since you're not going to cooperate, I'll just call the police and we can take custody of the baby."

Ferris says that's exactly what they did, they took her baby.

. . .

Hershey Medical Center released a statement Thursday stating, “the version of what occurred at the time as presented by the Ferrises' attorney is inaccurate and incomplete."

There's more at the link.

I note that despite the hospital's assertions, they have not denied that they did what Mrs. Ferris alleges was done to the baby, or to her. They simply maintain that they acted appropriately under the circumstances. I can only say that if anyone, or any institution, treated my wife or my child in that way, without both parents' prior knowledge and approval, the perpetrators wouldn't have to worry about a civil lawsuit, because I'd already have taken rather more personal and direct action against them! I agree with an opinion piece in the Minot Daily News:

I would hope this isn't typical of social service investigations, but I've heard enough horror stories to think it's not unheard of either.

I would speculate that Scott and Jodi Ferris, who home school their older children, were already on the social worker's and the nurses' radar before mother and daughter were wheeled into the hospital. Many doctors look askance at women who plan to give birth at home and use a midwife instead of a OBGYN and think it puts the baby at risk of death or injury. The Ferrises may have been known to hospital staff already for their beliefs in home births and use of a midwife, particularly since they have older children. I wonder if a nurse on the maternity ward was just waiting for an opportunity to report this family.

A number of social workers are also suspicious of home schoolers. Parents are legally permitted to refuse vaccines for a child for reasons of religious belief and/or personal conviction in all but two states; Pennsylvania law explicitly permits parents to refuse the Vitamin K and Hepatitis B injections on religious grounds. However, doctors and social workers both tend to frown on parents who question vaccinations, despite that law.

In short, Scott and Jodi Ferris are apparently on the fringe, which left them vulnerable to this sort of harassment by doctors and social workers and that isn't acceptable.

Again, more at the link.

I'm glad to see that Mr. and Mrs. Ferris are taking this matter to court. Too many people don't fight back against abuses of power like this. The only way we can keep the minions of Big Brother under control is to slap them down from time to time. Sometimes it takes a lawsuit (or even more robust measures) to do that.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

The reality of US government spending

The two video clips below, produced by and featuring Prof. Antony Davies of Duquesne University, show in simple, easy-to-understand examples just how ridiculous the spending patterns of the US Government have become, and how unsustainable they are. I highly recommend watching them both - they're very short and to the point.

Now, may I suggest that you pass on the link to these videos to your friends? We need to get their message out there!


Doofus Of The Day #582

Today's winner is from Connecticut.

A man shopping at an adult novelty store in Orange became stuck in a pair of handcuffs for nearly an hour Thursday afternoon.

. . .

VIP employees tried the keys that came with the love-cuffs, but with no luck. Arriving officers tried their own handcuff keys, but those didn't work either.

If that wasn't enough for the man, officers decided to bring him to police headquarters to attempt to remove the handcuffs there. Police did not have to use lubricant, but instead used bolt cutters to free the man.

. . .

VIP stores are known for selling sexually-oriented adult items from lotions to x-rated videos.

There's more at the link.

I must admit, I have no idea why they refer to such stores as adult shops. They appear to me to be juvenile in the extreme - just like little kids playing "I'll show you mine if you show me yours". There's nothing adult about them whatsoever!

Nevertheless, I had to laugh at this report, because it reminded me of the LFI-2 course with Massad Ayoob back in 2002. (I highly recommend and unreservedly endorse his training courses, by the way - I've attended three of them. His blog is also worth reading.) Students were required to bring handcuffs with them, to practice securing a suspect while assisting responding officers. Most of us duly bought, and brought with us, police-style handcuffs . . . but one young lady brought handcuffs lined with pink-dyed faux fur (something like the pair shown below).

The rest of us waited with bated breath while Mas stood at her table, holding the pink cuffs in his hand, saying nothing for at least thirty seconds. He was clearly having some difficulty controlling himself - his lips were quivering. At last he exhaled, drew a deep breath, looked at her, and said slowly, in a very controlled voice, "You didn't buy these at the police supply store, did you?" She blushed crimson as the rest of the class collapsed in hysterics . . .


Important lessons about self-defense

I've published many articles on firearms and self-defense (see the list in the sidebar). However, I never stop trying to learn more about the subject. There are always more lessons to be learned (or re-learned), and new tools, techniques and tricks to be added to our mental and physical inventory in case we ever need them.

I read an article today that fits that description very well. Kevin at The Smallest Minority published David Phillip's account of how he had to defend himself to the utmost, almost losing his life in the process. It's a powerful reminder to never, ever give up, no matter how desperate the fight. There are many lessons to be learned.

Click over to Kevin's place and read Mr. Phillips' account for yourself. It's worth your time.


Grim scenes from an economy in ruins

I've warned many times of the economic turmoil facing us in the not-too-distant future. Just how close that may be is impossible to determine. It's possible within weeks or months; it's probable within one to two years; and unless sanity takes hold, and our government expenditure is reined in, and the deficit addressed, it's damn near certain within five to ten years.

Greece, where the same economic turmoil has dragged the country down into the grip of depression, recession and virtual bankruptcy, is now a living example of the social consequences of this sort of financial collapse. Der Spiegel reports:

The gangs of right-wing thugs, sometimes up to 20 at a time, approach their victims on foot or on mopeds, carrying clubs and knives. They are masked, faceless and fast. They appear suddenly and silently before striking.

The neo-fascists are hunting down immigrants in the middle of downtown Athens, in the streets north of the central Omonia Square. They call it cleansing.

They hunt people like Massoud, a 25-year-old Afghan from Kabul. He has been living in Athens for five years without a residency permit, even though he speaks fluent Greek. He studied geography in Kabul, but in Athens he works as a day laborer.

The gangs also hunt the dark-skinned man pushing a shopping cart filled with garbage and scrap metal through the streets. Or the woman with Asian features, who now grabs her child and the paper cup with which she has just been begging in the streets.

. . .

Here, in the middle of the city, the central issue is no longer the nation's insolvency but its social bankruptcy. The plaster is crumbling on the polykatoikias, the apartment buildings typical of Athens, and so is civilization. And in the places where poverty and destitution are most clearly evident, hatred is outpacing any desire to help people.

. . .

The situation is untenable, says Kanakis, and the mood becomes increasingly aggressive among both Greeks and immigrants. There is more violence, including muggings and holdup murders. Everyone knows this, even though no one is keeping accurate statistics. Doctors are diagnosing more syphilis and tuberculosis, at levels that haven't been seen in decades. In 2011, the rate of new HIV infections increased by 1,250 percent over the previous year.

. . .

Many residents feel abandoned by the state, the city and the police. According to a study by the University of Peloponnese, more than 90 percent of shop and tavern owners in the downtown area believe that their neighborhood is "very unsafe." More than half say that they have already been attacked and robbed. Hotels are closing or hiring security personnel.

There's more at the link. Where the article speaks of 'immigrants', think instead of racial or ethnic differences here in the USA: black, hispanic, Far Eastern and European cultures mingling with the several regional cultures (e.g. Mid-Western, New England, Southern, West Coast, etc.) that make up the people of the United States. Anyone not conforming to the 'norm' for a given area, or city, or suburb, may face problems as severe as those outlined in the article above.

If you think that similar patterns of behavior and social breakdown would not be exhibited here if (when) the economy goes pear-shaped, you're crazy. Go read the whole article, and begin thinking and planning right now for how you're going to cope when 'the crazy years' begin. Some would say they've already begun.


The odds of an Israel-Iran conflict just went up

Looks like Israel is being as crafty as always. Foreign Policy reports:

... Azerbaijan is strategically located on Iran's northern border and, according to several high-level sources I've spoken with inside the U.S. government, Obama administration officials now believe that the "submerged" aspect of the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance -- the security cooperation between the two countries -- is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran.

In particular, four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran's northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear. "The Israelis have bought an airfield," a senior administration official told me in early February, "and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."

. . .

The Azeri embassy to the United States also did not respond to requests for information regarding Azerbaijan's security agreements with Israel. During a recent visit to Tehran, however, Azerbaijan's defense minister publicly ruled out the use of Azerbaijan for a strike on Iran. "The Republic of Azerbaijan, like always in the past, will never permit any country to take advantage of its land, or air, against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which we consider our brother and friend country," he said.

But even if his government makes good on that promise, it could still provide Israel with essential support. A U.S. military intelligence officer noted that Azeri defense minister did not explicitly bar Israeli bombers from landing in the country after a strike. Nor did he rule out the basing of Israeli search-and-rescue units in the country. Proffering such landing rights -- and mounting search and rescue operations closer to Iran -- would make an Israeli attack on Iran easier.

"We're watching what Iran does closely," one of the U.S. sources, an intelligence officer engaged in assessing the ramifications of a prospective Israeli attack confirmed. "But we're now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we're not happy about it."

Israel's deepening relationship with the Baku government was cemented in February by a $1.6 billion arms agreement that provides Azerbaijan with sophisticated drones and missile-defense systems. At the same time, Baku's ties with Tehran have frayed: Iran presented a note to Azerbaijan's ambassador last month claiming that Baku has supported Israeli-trained assassination squads targeting Iranian scientists, an accusation the Azeri government called "a slander." In February, a member of Yeni Azerbadzhan -- the ruling party -- called on the government to change the country's name to "North Azerbaijan," implicitly suggesting that the 16 million Azeris who live in northern Iran ("South Azerbaijan") are in need of liberation.

And this month, Baku announced that 22 people had been arrested for spying on behalf of Iran, charging they had been tasked by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to "commit terrorist acts against the U.S., Israeli, and other Western states' embassies." The allegations prompted multiple angry denials from the Iranian government.

It's clear why the Israelis prize their ties to Azerbaijan -- and why the Iranians are infuriated by them. The Azeri military has four abandoned, Soviet-era airfields that would potentially be available to the Israelis, as well as four airbases for their own aircraft, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Military Balance 2011.

. . .

Access to such airfields is important for Israel, because it would mean that Israeli F-15I and F-16I fighter-bombers would not have to refuel midflight during a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, but could simply continue north and land in Azerbaijan. Defense analyst David Isenberg describes the ability to use Azeri airfields as "a significant asset" to any Israel strike, calculating that the 2,200-mile trip from Israel to Iran and back again would stretch Israel's warplanes to their limits. "Even if they added extra fuel tanks, they'd be running on fumes," Isenberg told me, "so being allowed access to Azeri airfields would be crucial."

Former CENTCOM commander Gen. Joe Hoar simplified Israel's calculations: "They save themselves 800 miles of fuel," he told me in a recent telephone interview. "That doesn't guarantee that Israel will attack Iran, but it certainly makes it more doable."

There's much more at the link. Worthwhile reading . . . and reason to worry, if you're Iran!


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A temporary halt to a great air display

The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) includes 29 AH-64D Apache attack helicopters in its inventory, operated by its 301st Squadron at the Gilze-Rijen Air Base. Until recently that squadron offered a solo helicopter for display flights, which was seen at numerous air shows to spectacular effect (including winning two prizes at British air shows in 2011). The photograph below shows it in the middle of a loop, discharging anti-missile decoy flares.

Unfortunately, the RNLAF has been forced to temporarily discontinue its Apache display flights, due to pressure of other demands on the limited number of helicopters and their pilots. It's to be hoped that budgetary pressures on the service won't be so severe as to preclude their resumption in due course.

Here's a video clip of one of their award-winning display flights last year. It's worth watching in full-screen mode.

To Ted in Alaska, veteran helicopter pilot and CFI, a.k.a. 'The Gunny' - hope you enjoyed that! However, Miss D. still maintains that helicopters are only able to fly because they're so ugly, the ground rejects them . . .


Giggle of the day!

Courtesy of I Can Has Cheezburger (click the image to go to its page there):


"The Ascendance of Sociopaths in US Governance"

That's the title of an article by Doug Casey, founder and CEO of Casey Research. I don't agree with a number of his points, but he certainly provides arguments to substantiate them, and makes one think about his position. Here are some excerpts to whet your appetite.

As any intelligent observer surveys the world's economic and political landscape, he has to be disturbed – even dismayed and a bit frightened – by the gravity and number of problems that mark the horizon. We're confronted by economic depression, looming financial chaos, serious currency inflation, onerous taxation, crippling regulation, developing police states and, worst of all, the prospect of a major war. It seems almost unbelievable that we are talking of the US – which historically has been the land of the free.

How did we get here? An argument can be made that miscalculation, accident, inattention and the like are why things go bad. Those elements do have a role, but it is minor. Potential catastrophe across the board can't be the result of happenstance. When things go wrong on a grand scale, it's not just bad luck or inadvertence. It's because of serious character flaws in one or many – or even all – of the players.

So is there a root cause of all the problems I've cited? If we can find it, it may tell us how we personally can best respond to the problems.

In this article, I'm going to argue that the US government, in particular, is being overrun by the wrong kind of person. It's a trend that's been in motion for many years but has now reached a point of no return. In other words, a type of moral rot has become so prevalent that it's institutional in nature. There is not going to be, therefore, any serious change in the direction in which the US is headed until a genuine crisis topples the existing order. Until then, the trend will accelerate.

The reason is that a certain class of people – sociopaths – are now fully in control of major American institutions. Their beliefs and attitudes are insinuated throughout the economic, political, intellectual and psychological/spiritual fabric of the US.

. . .

You may be thinking that what happened in places like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Mao's China, Pol Pot's Cambodia and scores of other countries in recent history could not, for some reason, happen in the US. Actually, there's no reason it won't at this point. All the institutions that made America exceptional – including a belief in capitalism, individualism, self-reliance and the restraints of the Constitution – are now only historical artifacts.

On the other hand, the distribution of sociopaths is completely uniform across both space and time. Per capita, there were no more evil people in Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, Mao's China, Amin's Uganda, Ceausescu's Romania or Pol Pot's Cambodia than there are today in the US. All you need is favorable conditions for them to bloom, much as mushrooms do after a rainstorm.

Conditions for them in the US are becoming quite favorable. Have you ever wondered where the 50,000 people employed by the TSA to inspect and degrade you came from? Most of them are middle-aged. Did they have jobs before they started doing something that any normal person would consider demeaning? Most did, but they were attracted to – not repelled by – a job where they wear a costume and abuse their fellow citizens all day.

. . .

It's a pity that Bush, when he was in office, made such a big deal of evil. He discredited the concept. He made Boobus americanus think it only existed in a distant axis, in places like North Korea, Iraq and Iran – which were and still are irrelevant backwaters and arbitrarily chosen enemies. Bush trivialized the concept of evil and made it seem banal because he was such a fool. All the while real evil, very immediate and powerful, was growing right around him, and he lacked the awareness to see he was fertilizing it by turning the US into a national security state after 9/11.

Now, I believe, it's out of control. The US is already in a truly major depression and on the edge of financial chaos and a currency meltdown. The sociopaths in government will react by redoubling the pace toward a police state domestically and starting a major war abroad. To me, this is completely predictable. It's what sociopaths do.

. . .

It's very simple, really. There are two ways people can relate to each other: voluntarily or coercively. The government is pure coercion, and sociopaths are drawn to its power and force.

There's more at the link. As I said, I don't agree with many of Mr. Casey's points, but he makes a strong case for his perspective. His entire article is food for thought, and recommended as such.


Chatting up a woman - in the 12th century!

I laughed out loud several times while reading what the latest edition of Lapham's Quarterly calls a 'Dating Manual', reportedly originating circa 1185 AD at Troyes. Here's an excerpt.

But if the woman waits too long before beginning the conversation, you may begin it yourself, skillfully. First you should say things that have nothing to do with your subject — make her laugh at something, or else praise her home, or her family, or herself. Because women — particularly middle-class women from the country — commonly delight in being commended and readily believe every word that looks like praise. Then after these remarks that have nothing to do with your subject, you may go on in this fashion:

“When the Divine Being made you, there was nothing that He left undone. I know that there is no defect in your beauty, none in your good sense, none in you at all except, it seems to me, that you have enriched no one by your love. I marvel greatly that Love permits so beautiful and so sensible a woman to serve for long outside his camp. O, if you should take service with Love, blessed above all others will that man be whom you shall crown with your love! Now if I, by my merits, might be worthy of such an honor, no lover in the world could really be compared with me.”

There's more at the link.

Funny, I can't recall ever using language that flowery during my attempts at dating . . . but of course, courtliness was long out of fashion by then! I particularly enjoyed the woman's closing remark:

“You may deserve praise for your great excellence, but I am rather young, and I shudder at the thought of receiving solaces from old men.”

So our ancestors had perfected the put-down as well!


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I've never seen a dog so relaxed about a bath

Talk about laid-back . . .


I don't ever want to meet one of these!

Looks like Indonesia has another world record of which to boast. The Daily Mail reports:

A new species of wasp discovered on the Indonesian island Sulawesi is two-and-a-half inches long, and has jaws so vast that its discoverer admits, 'I don't know how it can walk.'

Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, says ‘Its jaws are so large that they wrap up either side of the head when closed. When the jaws are open they are actually longer than the male’s front legs.'

Kimsey discovered the warrior wasp on the Mekongga Mountains in southeastern Sulawesi.

She says its enormous size and ferocity makes it like 'the Komodo Dragon of wasps'.

. . .

'The large jaws probably play a role in defense and reproduction,' she said.

‘In another species in the genus the males hang out in the nest entrance. This serves to protect the nest from parasites and nest robbing, and for this he exacts payment from the female by mating with her every time she returns to the nest. So it's a way of guaranteeing paternity. Additionally, the jaws are big enough to wrap around the female's thorax and hold her during mating.’

There's more at the link.

It's an interesting discovery, all right . . . but I somehow don't think that particular mating technique is likely to catch on with our species! I'm trying to imagine how it would feel to have jaws bigger than my arms. No, thank you!


I feel like a shotgun blogdaddy

This gives me warm fuzzies . . . Fellow blogger Mitzimagpie, formerly blogging at Miz Minka's Musings and now at The Purple Magpie's Nest, should by now have taken delivery of her new Mossberg 500 shotgun.

Mossberg 500 Bantam, model 54132 (open the image in a new tab or window for a larger view)

She says she chose it after reading my series on Firearm Recommendations for Home Defense - which makes me very happy! Mitzi, I'm glad you found that series of articles to be of use. I think I should apply to Mossberg for a commission . . . it's led to at least a dozen shotgun sales that I'm aware of, and probably many more that I've never heard about.

May your new shotgun serve you well, and give you much enjoyment - and may your life be sufficiently peaceful that you never have to use it defensively! Don't forget to put up a range report on your blog after you've tried it out.


The weirdest-looking aircraft 'hangar' I've ever seen!

I was browsing through the US Air Force's official Flickr photostream today when I came across this picture of a CV-22 Osprey aircraft, its rotors folded, hanging in the anechoic chamber of the 'Joint Preflight Integration of Munitions and Electronic Systems (J-PRIMES)' hangar at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

(Click here for a full-size [2100 x 1400 pixel] image suitable for use as wallpaper)

The entry notes that J-PRIMES "is a room designed to stop internal reflections of electromagnetic waves as well as insulate from exterior sources of electromagnetic noise. J-PRIMES provides this environment to facilitate testing air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions and electronics systems on full-scale aircraft and land vehicles prior to open-air testing."

I looked for more information, and found a useful article on Wikipedia about such chambers. Apparently they're built in two different versions. One provides insulation from external sound - the ultimate in 'soundproof rooms', if you will. (Gizmodo refers to Microsoft's anechoic sound chamber as being 'The Place Where Sound Goes To Die', and describes it as 'freaky'.) The other type (like that pictured above) insulates from electromagnetic waves, so that electronic systems can be tested inside it, free from external interference. They're said to be so effective that being inside one while it's in use may be hazardous to your health.

Anyway, the picture intrigued me; so I thought you might find it interesting too. The aircraft alone cost about $70 million at FY2012 prices, and the anechoic chamber doesn't look like it cost chump change either. Our tax dollars at work!


Reverse racism rears its ugly head - again

I've written about the Trayvon Martin affair before. More and more reports are indicating that perhaps he wasn't as 'pure-as-the-driven-snow' as the mass media and racial (racist?) activists have portrayed him, and that Mr. Zimmerman might have had genuine cause to defend himself. I guess we'll have to wait and see what the grand jury has to say about it.

In the meantime, this cartoon (reproduced here by kind permission of the author) sums up very well the partisanship and racial prejudice being displayed over the incident.

(The cartoon refers to this horrific incident in Kansas City.)

Another perspective on President Obama's 'concern' is provided by cartoonist Gary McCoy:

As Les Jones points out, there have been examples of the mainstream media deliberately 'editing' the transcript of Mr. Zimmerman's call to 911 in order to falsely imply that he's racist. Hmm . . . I wonder why I haven't heard or read about correspondents mentioning Tawana Brawley while reporting on Al Sharpton's diatribes about Mr. Zimmerman?


Monday, March 26, 2012

Asleep on his feet!

This is too cute!


A 'Cyber Pearl Harbor'?

DoD Buzz alleges it may already have happened.

The Russians are picking our pockets, the Chinese are stealing our most vital secrets, and there’s nothing we can do about it – and it’s all going to get worse.

That was the basic conclusion after Friday’s Air Force Association cyber-conference, where speaker after speaker drove home the utter futility and helplessness of today’s cyber climate, all the while warning that the problem will only grow.

Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer for the info-security firm Mandiant, said 100 percent of the high-profile intrusions his company tracks were done with “valid credentials” – meaning the cyber bad-guys had been able to steal a real user’s login and password, obviating the need for more complex attacks.

The typical time between an intrusion and its discovery is 416 days, he said – down from two or three years – and the way most companies find out about them is when they get a visit from the FBI.

The publicly available malware in the so-called “cyber underground” is now so good that you can do a lot of damage without a dedicated team of code-writers coming up with their own stuff, speakers said.

. . .

[Bejtlich] described how a company had approached Mandiant befuddled that someone would want to steal a certain proprietary device, because it only worked in combination with a specific chemical formula owned by another company. Naturally, it wasn’t long before the second company discovered it was compromised, and also befuddled because its chemical formula would only be useful to someone who had information about the device manufactured by the first.

Online miscreants are also becoming more sophisticated at a strategic level, Bejtlich said: He described how they might target small companies that were merging with larger ones, to avoid trying to attack the bigger firm’s online security. Instead, by compromising a small company’s computer networks, the bad guys can then get into the new common network after a merger.

This can have profound financial as well as security implications, Bejtlich said – if you’re an aerospace giant and you want to acquire a small firm because its widget is worth $10 million, but then you discover it’s been cyber-stolen and no longer proprietary, the technology might only be worth $10,000, and that could put your shareholders and Wall Street in a bad mood.

. . .

An audience member’s question Friday crystallized all the speakers’ points at the cyber-conference: The much-feared “Cyber Pearl Harbor” has already happened, he said. Global cyber crime is more profitable than the drug trade. America’s onetime technological advantage is gone; much of its intellectual property secrets have been stolen.

“People just haven’t realized it yet,” the questioner said.

There's more at the link.

I highly recommend reading the entire report at DoD Buzz. If what it alleges is true, one has to ask whether the new projects seen emerging from defense industries in Russia (e.g. the Sukhoi PAK FA) and China (e.g. the Chengdu J-20) are, in fact, mainly the fruit of stolen designs and technology. Are commercial advances in those economies, such as new microchips or electronic products, merely stolen copies of First World designs? Are we, in effect, giving away our commercial and industrial 'crown jewels' wholesale, because we either won't or can't prevent such cyber-espionage?


Emergency preparations, Part 6: Cash and Barter

In this article, I'd like to consider the usefulness of having cash on hand, as well as alternatives to cash for barter. Let's start with cash.

I'd always kept a few hundred dollars in reserve, in case of need, but during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 I found I didn't have nearly enough! (I wrote about it as part of the 'lessons learned' during that crisis.) My friends needed to cash checks, but their banks back in New Orleans were underwater and/or unable to communicate, so their accounts couldn't be verified. Local banks, overwhelmed by refugees from other regions trying to cash checks, were not very sympathetic. I ended up sharing my 'cash stash' with my refugee friends, so they could have enough money to get back home again. That taught me a valuable lesson.

Another aspect to keeping cash on hand is so that one can pay bills, buy essentials, etc. if the banking system is disrupted for any reason - for example, a temporary interruption in the telephone network or power supply, or a catastrophic event such as a hurricane or tornado. If their credit card machines are unable to connect to the major networks (Visa, Mastercard, etc.) to process transactions, merchants will simply refuse to accept credit and debit cards. If you want food, fuel, etc., you'd better have an alternative means to buy it!

This applies particularly if you have to 'bug out' - for example, get out of the way of an approaching hurricane. Gas stations, supermarkets, etc. along evacuation routes will be overrun by thousands of refugees like yourself, all trying to buy what they need - and most will not have cash with them. They'll tie up tills, customer service departments, etc. as they try to make their cards work, and argue with cashiers and tellers when they won't. If you have cash, you can walk in and out in no time, bypassing all the problems. The same goes for hotel rooms. If the hotel can't process credit card transactions, it might be reluctant to rent out its rooms to those who only have 'plastic money'. If you can put down a deposit in cash, you'll get a room ahead of those who can't.

Cash is also very valuable in dealing with emergency situations that may arise while traveling. Do you (or a family member) have a medical problem, and all the hospital emergency rooms are overwhelmed? Try riffling a few banknotes under the nose of a nurse in the nearest walk-in clinic, or a pharmacist in the nearest drugstore. Ask for quick assistance, with no insurance paperwork required. You'll get it. Engine trouble? Wave some cash in front of the nearest mechanic and bet him he can't have you back on the road in an hour. Remember, people like that also have to buy essential supplies for themselves and/or their families, and may not have access to much cash at a time like that. Your banknotes may represent a lifeline for both of you! If worst comes to worst, you might even need bribe money to get through a roadblock, or ease your path through bureaucratic obstacles. This is commonplace in many parts of the world, and in an emergency situation, it will almost certainly become a reality here too. You'll obviously need to assess the situation carefully, and be discreet, but there are times when a few bills, handed over along with your ID documents, may get you on your way quickly, easily and (relatively) painlessly. Been there, done that.

How much cash should you have available? That depends on your needs. My personal 'rule of thumb' is that you should have available enough cash to cover a month of your family's normal expenditure - all your purchases and bills, whether paid by check, or credit card, or in cash. If your overall monthly household budget is (say) $2,500, then you should keep that amount on hand in cash (storing it somewhere safe, of course). If you spend more than that, keep more cash in your stash. That may seem excessive to some, but it gives me peace of mind. I'll be able to pay bills for a few weeks if I have to, even if the banking system is disrupted: and if I have to 'bug out' somewhere, I'll have a decent amount of cash on hand to smooth my path to a safer place.

Remember that many businesses won't accept large-denomination banknotes, for fear of counterfeit currency. Even in normal times, many shops won't take anything larger than $20. For that reason, I recommend keeping no more than 25% of your 'cash stash' in large bills (for US readers, $100 or $50 bills). 50% should be in $20 bills, and the remaining 25% in smaller bills ($10, $5 and $1). I also recommend keeping up to $50 in coins, for use in payphones and vending machines. Even at the best of times, many of the latter can't accept or process banknotes properly because their 'readers' have become dirty or clogged through over-use. In an emergency, breaking into the machines to take what you need may seem justifiable, but it's still a crime. If a cop sees you, or someone takes a photograph of you and notes your vehicle registration details, you're going to be in the dwang over it. Much, much better to have coins available to buy what you need.

You may find yourself in an emergency situation where even cash money won't do you much good. Those who have essential supplies (e.g. gasoline, firewood, etc.) might not want cash - they can't spend it (because no shops are open, or they've all run out of supplies) and they can't eat it. On the other hand, they may need food, or a way to protect themselves from those who want to steal their supplies. If you can offer them food from your emergency stash, or ammunition for their guns, or something else they need, they may be willing to swap some gasoline or firewood for it.

For that reason, I suggest considering supplies that will be in high demand in an emergency, and stocking up on extra items in those categories. There are many possibilities. How about toilet paper? Sanitary napkins for the ladies? String, cord, twine, rope, wire? Containers for water and food - even zip-lock bags? Energy bars? Emergency ration bars (like this one, for example, which is approved by the US Coast Guard)? Candy or coloring books for kids? (Just wait until harried parents find they've no electricity available to run the TV or a DVD player . . . they'll barter anything for something to keep the brats occupied!) On the road, I suggest keeping a few basic tools to hand, as well as emergency supplies like duct tape, a rope strong enough to tow a vehicle or tie down a load, a tarpaulin for protection against weather, a can or two of gasoline, lubricating oil, an air pump that runs off your vehicle's cigarette lighter socket, and so on. Motorists in need will be very willing to make a deal for what they need, and you might be able to trade such supplies for help you need, too.

A final word of caution. If you are seen to have plenty of cash, or it becomes known that you have plenty of supplies that you're willing to barter, you're likely to attract unwelcome attention. There are always those who'll try to steal what they need or want. It's best to keep a low profile, deal with people you know whenever possible, and be prepared for trouble. Better to be safe than sorry!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

I think there's a hidden agenda here . . .

I had to laugh at this clip of a Japanese hand-cranked vending machine. It's supposed to be deployed in areas where power supplies have been disrupted. By cranking the handle 70-odd times, you apparently generate enough electricity to work the machine. See for yourself.

I don't know whether you also generate enough electricity to cool the beverages inside . . . but you'll certainly want more than one of them, after working up a sweat cranking that handle! Great marketing idea, no?


Spectacular vortices and contrails!

The good people at Dark Roasted Blend have brought us a wonderful collection of photographs of vortices and contrails produced by aircraft. Here are a few examples to whet your appetite, reduced in size to fit this blog.

There are many more (and larger) images at the link. Outstanding photography!


How much ammunition is 'enough'?

I've fielded several questions from readers over the past months, partly prompted by my shooting-related articles, partly by my posts on emergency preparations (both categories are listed in the sidebar). The general thread of the questions has been "How much ammunition should I keep on hand?" That's a more complex question than it might at first appear. I'll try to address the various issues involved in this article.

Before we get down to the numbers, let's dispose of a few related issues. The first is the question of the needs or requirements for ammunition that one's likely to face. In this article, we're speaking as civilians, not as military or law enforcement personnel. The latter have their own needs and perspectives (expressed in military terms such as 'day of supply', 'unit of fire', etc. - for a classic definition of those concepts, see here). We're not planning for some sort of 'Red Dawn' scenario; nor are we trying to calculate how much ammo we'll need to survive the zombie apocalypse, or TEOTWAWKI, or December 21st, 2012! We'll discuss 'unforeseen circumstances' later, but basically, if the whole world goes to hell in a handbasket, we're probably all going to go with it! If you think otherwise, there's a bridge in New York City I'd like to sell you. I understand it has some nice hidden compartments that'll make great survival shelters! Going cheap!

Second, there are legal and regulatory considerations to take into account. Some jurisdictions (State and/or local) have set limits on how much ammunition and/or reloading components may be kept in a domestic residence. Some also specify the type of storage required for it (usually as part of the local fire code or related regulations): depending on the quantities involved, they might specify fire-proof containers or even a stand-alone structure, which can get very expensive. Multi-dwelling buildings such as duplexes or condos, and some homeowner associations (HOA's), may impose conditions, rules or regulations governing the presence and/or storage of firearms and ammunition; if you rent, your landlord may do the same in your lease agreement. Failure to comply may mean eviction, and possibly civil liability for damages. Your insurance company may also impose restrictions on ammunition quantity and/or storage method(s), usually as (a) condition(s) of your policy. Check the small print carefully, because if you violate your policy's conditions, your coverage may be rendered null and void.

(This happened to a family I know. They suffered a fire in their home, which didn't involve the husband's [large] supply of ammunition at all; but the insurance assessor noticed it while he was inspecting the damage, and mentioned it in his report. The insurance company immediately denied the family's claim, on the grounds that their policy restricted the quantity of ammo that could be stored in the insured building. It didn't matter that the ammo wasn't involved in the fire in any way - the insurers were adamant that its mere presence was sufficient to render the policy null and void. Since the policy document did, indeed, include such a clause, the family's lawyer advised that their chances of successfully challenging their insurers in court were not good. Accordingly, he refused to take the case on a contingency basis - if they wanted to sue, they'd have to pay his fees up front. They ended up having to shell out almost $30,000 in repair costs, out of their own resources.)

You need to check all such laws, rules, regulations and conditions (and, if necessary, move to a new residence to avoid onerous condo/HOA/landlord's conditions of occupation, or switch to a more accommodating insurance company) before starting to build up your ammo stash. This applies particularly to rented accommodation and/or to a multi-dwelling building. If your ammunition stocks contribute to the destruction of other people's property, and/or are the cause of others being fined for a violation of the fire code or having an insurance claim denied on the grounds of a policy violation, rest assured - you will be sued to recover every cent!

OK. Having dealt with those background issues, let's look at how much ammo you need. I'm assuming that you've chosen a primary defensive weapon or weapons. You need enough 'carry' or 'defensive' ammunition to load it, plus have spare rounds on hand to reload it in emergency (either in spare magazines for a pistol or rifle, or speedloaders for a revolver), plus have enough in reserve that you can expend your 'carry' loads regularly and replace them with fresh rounds. I personally plan on shooting my 'carry' loads every quarter, and reloading my magazines at that time. I also want to have at least one year's supply of 'carry' ammunition on hand - preferably two years or more, because each production lot of ammunition may differ in velocity, point of impact, etc. Once I've become accustomed to a particular lot, I want to stick with it.

Bear in mind that 'defensive' ammunition is designed to dump its energy into one's target by means of post-impact expansion and/or fragmentation (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format) and/or tumbling. Such ammunition must be manufactured in such a way as to produce these effects, and consequently costs more to make (frequently much more) than standard 'solid' ammo. Unfortunately, if one wants top performance, one has to pay for it . . . and for defensive use, I want the best-performing ammunition I can get!

From here it's a matter of simple mathematics. Let me illustrate by taking five common defensive weapons as examples.

1. Smith & Wesson Model 686 revolver, caliber .357 Magnum. This holds 6 rounds in the cylinder. I usually carry at least one speedloader (commonly two) with 6 extra rounds apiece for rapid reloading. Let's assume two for this example. That means I'll have 18 rounds on my person when carrying the gun. If I replace them with fresh ammunition every 3 months, I'll need 72 rounds per year (assuming I don't need to shoot in self-defense, of course!). In a two-year stash of defensive ammunition, I'll need 144 rounds - or, more logically, 3 x 50-round boxes of ammo. At current prices for premium defensive ammunition, this will cost about $135.

2. M1911-type semi-automatic pistol
, caliber .45 ACP. This pistol usually carries 7 or 8 rounds in its magazine, plus one in the chamber ready to fire. We'll assume you carry 7+1 in the gun, plus two 7-round spare magazines, for a total 'on-body' ammo load of 22 rounds. Replacing them every three months, you'll go through 88 rounds a year. A two-year supply of defensive ammo will thus involve at least 176 rounds, or 9 x 20-round boxes of ammo. At current prices for premium defensive ammunition, this will cost about $280.

3. Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol
, caliber 9mm. Parabellum. This pistol holds up to 15 rounds in its magazine, plus one in the chamber. We'll assume you carry at least one spare magazine with the gun, for a total ammo load of up to 31 rounds. Replacing these four times a year gives 124 rounds, so a two-year supply of defensive ammo will be 248 rounds, or 5 x 50-round boxes. At current prices for premium defensive ammunition, this will cost about $150.

4. AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle
, caliber 5.56x45mm NATO. The standard magazines for this weapon hold up to 30 rounds, although 20-round magazines are also fairly common. Furthermore, experienced users usually download the magazines by up to 10% to prevent feeding problems, so that a 30-round mag will normally hold 27-28 rounds. We'll assume you have one magazine in the weapon for home defense, with a single spare magazine available. Since you're presumably not carrying the weapon around with you, you won't expose the rifle to as much dust and dirt as a handgun, which means you can probably get away with replacing the carry loads only twice per year, for an annual total of about 120 rounds of defensive ammo. Since 5.56mm. ammo is usually sold in 20-round boxes, that means a minimum two-year stockpile of at least 12 boxes. At current prices for premium defensive ammunition, this will cost about $300.

5. Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun
in 12 gauge. The shotgun (in its standard model) holds up to 5 rounds in its tubular magazine, plus one in the chamber, and users will usually carry sufficient rounds for at least one reload (I prefer two) on their persons or in an ammo carrying device. That means at least 15 rounds in a combat load. Again, you probably won't carry this gun with you at all times, so the ammo won't be exposed to as much dirt and dust as a handgun's; however, it's plastic-cased, meaning that it's more easily damaged than metal-cased cartridges. I therefore recommend rotating shotgun ammo every three months, for an annual consumption of at least 60 rounds. Defensive shotgun ammo (buckshot and slug loads) is usually packaged in 5-round boxes, so that means a two-year stockpile of at least 24 x 5-round boxes. At current prices for premium defensive ammunition, this will cost about $160.

In the examples above, I've calculated minimum figures for a defensive ammo stockpile for each weapon. I'm an old-fashioned, take-precautions sort of guy - you know, belt and braces and a piece of string, that sort of thing. I won't go into details, but let's just say that I make sure to have several times more than those minimum amounts in my stash at any time! It's for you to make your own decision as to what meets your requirements. Choose wisely!

Of course, those figures are for high-quality defensive ammunition. You don't want to use that for routine target practice - it's much more expensive than plain-vanilla training ammo. Nevertheless, routine training is essential. Firearms skills are perishable. If you don't have specific training weapons available in a more affordable caliber (e.g. .22 Long Rifle, or .22LR), you'll need to shoot a minimum of 50-100 rounds, at least once per quarter, to maintain even minimal skills. Many experienced shooters expend that much ammunition every week, or at a minimum every fortnight. That's what it takes to maintain a high level of skill. Unfortunately, that's also very expensive. Some lower their costs by reloading their own ammunition. Others (including myself) use dedicated training weapons (or rimfire conversion kits for our standard weapons) in a low-cost caliber such as .22LR. At the time of writing, I can buy those cartridges in bulk for about 3½ cents each, compared to a minimum of 18½ cents per round for the cheapest, lowest-quality bulk 9mm. Parabellum training ammo. That means I can afford to fire over five times more .22LR rounds in training, maintaining a higher standard of competence and accuracy than I could afford to do with the more expensive caliber.

Budgeting even the bare minimum for training, you'll need to buy 200 rounds of practice ammunition per year in the caliber of your defensive weapon. That will not be sufficient to build and/or maintain a satisfactory standard of weapon-handling or accuracy. You'd be better off budgeting for at least 500-1,000 rounds per year. If you're shooting .22LR, that won't cost more than $20-$40 at today's prices. In a caliber like 9mm. Parabellum, the cheapest practice ammo in those quantities will set you back $100-$200 per year. Again, I recommend keeping more than a minimum quantity on hand.

You'll probably find it cheaper to order your ammunition from an online vendor than to buy it from a local gunstore (assuming local laws permit you to do so - some jurisdictions discourage online ammo purchases). Online vendors also usually have a better ammo selection than small local shops. However, it's important to keep your local gunshop in operation, otherwise how are you going to get your hands on a gun if you need another one? It's a good idea to give a certain amount of your custom to local stores for that reason, even if their prices are a bit higher than online vendors.

I recommend giving careful consideration to where and how you store your ammunition. It's best kept in cool, dry conditions, free from humidity, and secure against prying fingers (particularly those of little children). Some shooters use steel office cupboards, removing the standard flimsy steel shelves and replacing them with a heavy-duty set of shelving capable of holding a lot more weight (ammo's heavy stuff, after all!). Here's an example of two ammo cupboards in one shooter's garage.

When the doors are closed and locked, little fingers can't get into anything dangerous; and opportunist burglars are unlikely to give old, battered-looking steel cupboards a second glance.

I mentioned earlier that we'd discuss 'unforeseen circumstances'. We're in the middle of one such circumstance now - a general shortage of firearms and ammunition for the civilian market in the USA. This is not, repeat, not the result of deliberate government policy, or an evil, sinister conspiracy to deprive us of our Second Amendment rights, or anything like that (despite what alarmists would have you believe). It's the result of a considerable expansion in firearm sales over the past few years, partly driven by political uncertainty, partly by the spread of legislation permitting concealed carry of firearms and other supportive measures. Large government purchases (such as this recent contract) add to the consumer's pain, because manufacturers will devote their primary attention to filling such profitable orders. You can read more about the current ammo shortage here and here. Whatever the cause, it means that right now, if you want premium defensive ammunition, you may not find it very easily - and when you do, its price may be significantly higher than you expect to pay. Far better to stock up when you can afford it, and buy enough to keep you going for a while. That way, you won't have to buy at 'panic prices' if you run short. If you need some right now, I'm afraid it's going to cost you more.

Another unforeseen circumstance might be the need to supply your friends and others in an emergency. I've written previously about my experiences after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and following Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Part of that was being asked by visiting friends to supply them with additional ammo, as they didn't bring much with them. Fortunately, I had enough in my stash (in the right calibers) to be able to help them, without running short myself; but you may be sure I pointed out to them the need to increase their own stocks before the next disaster hit!

A final consideration. Weapons and ammunition (particularly adequate supplies of both) are like a parachute. It's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it! The same applies to sufficient training and practice to be able to use your weapons and ammunition effectively, if the need should arise. It's too late to start learning when the proverbial brown substance hits the rotary air impeller!