Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Sun blows a raspberry

It seems NASA has discovered a new, temporary radiation belt surrounding Earth.  To me, however, the really amazing part of the discovery was what they think may have caused it - a spectacular eruption of solar plasma on August 31st, 2012.  Here's a reduced-size photograph of it.

It's astonishing to realize that pillar of plasma is millions of miles long!  A full-size version of the photograph may be seen here.  It makes a spectacular wallpaper background for your computer screen.


In Memoriam: Van Cliburn

The legendary pianist died yesterday at his home in Fort Worth, Texas.  He was 78 years old.

Van Cliburn in Caesarea, Israel, in 1962 (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Van Cliburn was a complex, sometimes controversial figure, but will forever be remembered for raising classical music to 'rock-star' status for the 1950's and 1960's generation.  He was the first classical musician to sell over a million copies of a recording (by RCA Victor in 1958, of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1, conducted by Kiril Kondrashin).  A copy may be heard on YouTube (it's outstanding!).

He most famously won the inaugural Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.  The Telegraph reports:

In October 1957 the Soviet Union had beaten the United States in the space race by successfully launching the Sputnik 1 satellite into orbit. Now Moscow wanted to demonstrate its cultural superiority. The jury at the inaugural Tchaikovsky Competition was itself a remarkable line-up of Soviet musicians: Dmitri Shostakovich, Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter among them (along with Sir Arthur Bliss from Britain).

The intention had been that a Russian pianist would triumph. However, Cliburn’s performances of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov’s Third so dazzled the jury that they sought advice from the very top. “Is he the best?” Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, is reported to have asked. “Then give him the prize.”

There's more at the link.

Here's Van Cliburn in Moscow in 1962, performing the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, a piece that he made his own.

Sheer genius!


A whale of a plane!

Boeing's experimental hydrogen-fueled 'Phantom Eye' high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aircraft flew for the second time on Monday.

It first flew on June 1st last year, which resulted in minor damage to the landing gear as it dug into the dry lake bed surface at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  Since then, the landing gear's been redesigned.

The aircraft is powered by two modified 2.3-liter engines originally designed for the Ford Fusion motor car, fueled by hydrogen contained (in liquid form) in two circular tanks within the fuselage (hence the plane's whale-like girth).  It's intended to cruise at altitudes up to 65,000 feet for more than four days, carrying a payload of up to 450 pounds at speeds of up to 150 knots.

Here's a video report on the Phantom Eye's second flight.

Fat-looking thing, isn't it? - but if this prototype proves successful, Boeing's considering a larger version that can remain airborne for more than 10 days, lifting a payload of over 2,000 pounds.  That might be very interesting to a lot of customers.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The ugliest shoes of all time?

Courtesy of a link from Dustbury, we're informed of a contest by Shoewawa to select the ugliest shoes of all time.  Readers are invited to vote for their selection over the next couple of weeks.

With entries like this:

it's going to be tough choosing a 'winner'!  (Or should that be 'worst loser'?)


"If coyotes were as big as minivans"

That's the title of a 2006 article at Emergency Medicine News, about which I learned in a recent e-mail.  It says, in so many words, that the absence of real threats or urgent life imperatives (like hunting for or gathering food) has led to the physical and mental decline of many of us.  Since we no longer have to react to such threats in order to stay alive, we've sunk into an over-comfortable apathy.  Here's an excerpt.

Picture the scene: Rural Southern man with recent hand fracture, splint in place. He's sitting in our ersatz fast-track area, which consists of small cubicles separated by partial walls and curtains. He needs more pain medicine. His girlfriend loudly complains, He can't even have sex, and I'm tired of doing it on top!

. . .

My friend Frank, emergency department nurse, former clown, former prison nurse, sage of sages, said quite matter of factly, If coyotes were as big as minivans, we wouldn't have problems like that.

Let it sink in for a minute. This is wisdom of the highest order ... Otherwise healthy young men wouldn't sit around acting mortally wounded and praying for disability if coyotes were as big as minivans. They would have to stay alert, keep moving, stay in shape. The implications are staggering.

Not long after Frank shared this with me, I was shopping, and on the sidewalk I saw an enormous woman on a battery-powered scooter. Its little motor was obviously straining under the load. Her ample frame spilled over the sides, a moving, lyrical poem dedicated to fast food and Little Debbie cakes. As she rolled along, looking in windows, smoke trailed from the cigarette burning in her hand. (Or the scooter motor was burning out.) No doubt if I had been seeing her as a patient, she would have complained of arthritis, degenerative disc disease, chronic back pain, emphysema, enlarged heart, fatigue, and peripheral edema. If coyotes were as big as minivans, well, let's just say that odds are the scooter would be empty, and it would be Happy Thanksgiving in the coyote den. Tastes smoky, but the fat marbling is yummy!

There's more at the link.  Well worth reading.


Sobering thoughts on gunfights and the police mindset

In a two part article at, Detective Jared Reston of the Jacksonville, FL Sheriff's Office discusses ten keys to winning gunfights.  He's brutally honest, probably uncomfortably so for those who've never thought about the reality of fighting for their lives, but I can vouch for many of his conclusions from my own experience.  Both articles are worth your attention.  (There's a lot of 'white space' above each article - scroll down until the article appears.)  To illustrate, here's an excerpt from the first article.

2.) Mentally Rehearse

Reston is a strong believer in integrating hours of mental imagery into your training regimen ... “Your mindset to win has to be constantly honed or you’ll lose it. Mental rehearsal is one way to hone it. Imagine yourself confronting and defeating every kind of challenge you can conjure up. Imagine yourself getting shot and how you’ll react. And don’t just imagine the stereotype bad guys. The assailant you have to kill may look a lot like you. They’re not always gangbangers or hardened felons. Anybody at any time may try to hurt you.”

Just be certain, Reston cautions, that in real life you can employ the skills you imagine yourself using to win in your mental scenarios. If candidly you have doubts, then that should identify your training challenge(s), because “in a crisis you won’t surpass your level of preparation.”

There's much more to read in each article.  Recommended as viable life-saving lessons from the 'school of hard knocks'.

Unfortunately, Detective Reston's articles also highlight what's become widely known as the 'us versus them' mindset of many law enforcement officers.  Let me explain it like this.  If your working day is spent among the dregs of humanity - those who prey on, assault, injure, abuse, steal from, and even kill others - you pretty soon begin to regard most, if not all, of those whom you meet as being at least potentially among those dregs.  After several years of such experiences, far too many of the 'thin blue line' tend to regard any 'civilian' (as they term us) as part of those dregs, and expect the worst of us.  They forget that they're civilians too - only those currently serving in the military are not civilians - and as a result, they can become overbearing, arrogant, and even uncaring in their interactions with us.

This carries over into their relationships as well . . . witness the appallingly high divorce rate among law enforcement professionals.  At least some of this is due to their inability to trust and interact normally with their families, or to deal with normal child behavior like disobedience and/or lying.  To them, both are symptoms of a criminal in the making, and that freaks them out.  I've served alongside law enforcement personnel, and I've seen this repeatedly.

Consider Detective Reston's words in the extract cited above.  "The assailant you have to kill may look a lot like you. They’re not always gangbangers or hardened felons. Anybody at any time may try to hurt you."  That's a bit like the (allegedly humorous, but in reality very serious) US Marine slogan, "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet".  Readers, Detective Reston is referring to us - the people with whom he may interact at any time.  He's speaking about us as if we may try to hurt or kill him at any time . . . and that should make you nervous.  It certainly makes me very cautious in my interactions with law enforcement personnel - and I'm carrying retired law enforcement ID!

Bear this in mind when you read about police over-reaction in dealing with the public - such as, notoriously, the LAPD's actions during the recent Christopher Dorner affair.  It doesn't excuse their incredible paranoia and incompetence - nothing can! - but it may, at least, help to partially explain it.  They were looking for a man who'd killed one of their own, and had publicly announced he was ready, willing, able and eager to do so again.  This put them under enormous stress, and they didn't know how to handle it except through violence - as clearly illustrated by their profoundly unprofessional response in the two incidents linked above.

I've been very fortunate in my friends in law enforcement.  People like Lawdog, JPG and Matt G. are shining examples of what police officers should be.  I'd entrust my life to their care anywhere, anytime, and I hope they'll feel confident enough in me to return the compliment.  Regrettably, I can't say that about all of their comrades (*cough*LAPD*cough*) behind the badge.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Artistry with a bulldozer

This is a guy who knows what he's doing!  I wonder what that rock weighed?


This is what happens when law and order breaks down

I couldn't help being cynically amused at this report from California.

Oakland’s crime problems have gotten so bad that some people aren’t even bothering to call the cops anymore; instead, they’re trying to solve and prevent crimes themselves.

. . .

The vigilance has never seemed more necessary than now; 25 homes in [East Oakland’s Arcadia Park neighborhood] have been burglarized over the last two months alone.

. . .

Over the weekend, one home was burglarized twice in a 24 hour period, once while a resident’s nephew was inside.

“He was on with 911 when those men tried to kick into his room. That was very frightening,” said the woman, identified only as Inca.

. . .

“We don’t have a choice. Either die or we hire some security ourselves, because we can’t depend on the police department,” said Tarvins.

There's more at the link.  Even Oakland residents near the mayor's house are complaining of rising crime, and threatening to hire their own security personnel.

This news comes at a time when private ownership of defensive firearms is under concerted attack across the country.  I daresay those threatened by armed criminals won't support such efforts;  and as more and more people, in more and more neighborhoods, find that their state and local governments can no longer afford to provide adequate police protection against criminals, they're going to want their own weapons to protect themselves.  I think the most effective argument against liberal gun-grabbers may prove to be armed criminals!

Of course, I'm not surprised to see neighbors get together to protect their own areas.  I've done so myself on more than one continent on a number of occasions, most recently following Hurricane Gustav in 2008, as I described here at the time.  We kept things together quite satisfactorily until the situation returned to normal.  I hope and trust these good folks can do the same . . . although they're probably going to have to do so for much longer than we did!


A realistic perspective on US budget sequestration

An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald brings a welcome breath of fresh air to the verbiage being spouted in this country over this year's budget sequestration.

America has plenty of enemies but they can probably relax. Who among them could do to the US the amount of damage that it is doing to itself?

Terrorists brought down some buildings in New York and punched a hole in the Pentagon. But it was not a terrorist who brought down the US economy at a staggering cost of more than $US20 trillion ($19.4 trillion) in losses in the value of family homes, shares and retirement funds.

It was, of course, poor US policy and weak governance. In other words, it was self-inflicted, man-made and entirely avoidable. The enemies of the US can only dream of inflicting this much damage on the superpower.

Chinese cyber assailants may have caused damage to the US economy valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars, we heard last week. This marks them as serious underachievers compared with the US's legislators, regulators and central bankers.

. . .

Similarly, a terrorist cell or hostile power might conceivably blow up the US Congress or kill a bunch of its political leaders. But who is capable of inflicting an attack so severe that it could force political paralysis and dysfunction on the country so that it cannot make vital decisions? Not just for a day but for years?

To create this much havoc requires the special skills of the US Congress and presidency. This week, for the third time in three years, the US stands on the brink of a fiscal cliff.

. . .

And even if this impasse is resolved, another fiscal crisis looms in March and more will follow every few months about spending cuts, debt ceilings and tax increases.

There's more at the link.

The author is absolutely correct - this problem has been manufactured by our political leaders, none of whom are now seriously making any effort to resolve it.  Instead, they're trying to blame each other, desperate to gain public support for their partisan agendas.  I don't think that'll work.  I think they're all to blame, and the voters know it . . . but with no-one else to vote for, what's the electorate to do?  The two major parties have effectively frozen out of the system any viable third-party candidates for national office, whether in Congress or the Senate, or in the White House.

What's more, the brutal truth is that sequestration is merely a drop in the bucket compared to the spending cuts that should take place.  We need to reduce government expenditure to that which can be paid for out of current income (i.e. tax revenues) if we're to have any sort of sustainable economic future.  That means cutting federal expenditure by between one-third and one-half, right now.  That won't happen, of course - any Representative or Senator voting for it would be tossed out by his or her constituents - but it remains true for all that.  We've spent ourselves into a corner.  Unless and until we stop, we're stuck there, with no way out.

The Looking Spoon offers this infographic that sums up the current sequestration problem in a nutshell.

Says it all, doesn't it?


A life in the shadows

We've encountered heroes of the Polish and Jewish resistance against Nazi Germany in these pages before.  Now comes word of the death, late last year, of another such heroine.  The Telegraph reports:

Vladka [Meed] was born Feigele Peltel on December 29 1921 and was still a teenager when she and her family were frogmarched into the [Warsaw] ghetto. She recalled that despite all the suffering, ghetto life was rich with clandestine cultural activities. “Some just refused to commit suicide, continued to educate their children in secret, celebrated their holidays,” she wrote in On Both Sides of the Wall (1948), one of the first major eyewitness accounts of the destruction of Warsaw’s pre-war Jewish community.

She attended literature classes, remembering “the atmosphere, the elevation, being together with the people and talking about the writer and the character”. It was, she explained, a way to “hold on to culture and history so that the spirit should not be crushed”. The subsequent uprising had only been possible, she felt, because of this “inner preparation to stand up against the enemy”.

She witnessed the deportations that took place between July and September 1942, when between 250,000 and 300,000 ghetto residents were sent to their deaths in Treblinka, including her own mother, 13-year-old brother and married sister. In an almost unbearably moving account she recalled: “Running behind the last van, a lone woman, arms outstretched, screamed: 'My child! Give back my child!’ In reply, a small voice called from the van: 'Mama! Mama!’”

At first no one knew the fate of the deportees: “Nobody imagined any gas chambers. They thought they were going away to work,” she recalled. “When rumours of the truth began to circulate people did not believe them.”

Feigele Peltel survived because, due to a labour shortage in Warsaw, she was allowed to leave the ghetto to work in a tailor’s shop sewing Nazi uniforms. But as news began to arrive of the true fate of the deportees, she joined the Jewish Combat Organisation (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa), and assumed the personality of Vladka, an ethnic Pole, so that she could move freely on the Christian side of the wall. With her light-coloured hair and Aryan features she was able to maintain the pretence for almost three years. As a woman she had a further advantage: men were often exposed as Jews by the fact that they were circumcised.

For the next few months Vladka bought black market weapons and ammunition, paid for with rings, watches and other valuables, which she then smuggled into the ghetto: “I would smuggle dynamite and gasoline for the bombs past the gates. We would wrap it up in greasy paper as if it was meat. Or sometimes we would just bribe a Nazi guard.”

According to the Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, it was Vladka Meed who brought the news that confirmed the worst – that trains filled with Jews were returning empty from Treblinka, that no food was being shipped into the camp and that there was an all-pervasive stench of burning and rotting flesh.

Vladka Meed sometimes managed to smuggle out Jewish children to be placed with sympathetic Christian families, but she claimed that most ethnic Poles were unsympathetic: “Quite a large number of them were openly anti-Semitic and even, in a way, having satisfaction,” she said in 1973.

Vladka observed the uprising from relative safety outside the ghetto and watched the end of one group of captured Jews: “At the ghetto wall stood a bearded, kaftaned Hassid and his small son,” she wrote. “The guards separated the two, but the boy ran back and clung fiercely to the father. A German raised his carbine then, smiling, separated the two once more. Again the child darted back, and the German burst into laughter. Then father embraced his child in sheer despair. Several shots rang out – and the two remained together, even in death.”

The fighting lasted for 28 days during which the bullets and improvised bombs of the Jews were met by the tools of industrial warfare: machine guns, tanks and flame throwers. The rebellion ended in the complete destruction of the ghetto, which Vladka had to watch while pretending to enjoy a fairground ride. “People who participated in the armed resistance knew they were going to die,” she wrote. “What was important to them was they wanted to choose the way they died.”

There's more at the link.

Vladka became well-known after the war for her 1948 memoir, 'On Both Sides Of The Wall'.  Her testimony was recorded by the Shoah Foundation in 1996.  It's over two hours in length, but is well worth the time it takes to watch it, so I've embedded it below.  It's a remarkable testimony to her courage and perseverance.

We are diminished by her loss.  May she rest in peace.


Emergency Preparation, Part 16: Storage, shelves and strength

I've learned another lesson in the 'buy cheap, pay dear' category recently.

As I've mentioned before, I've been building up our reserve supplies of food and related items - not in the expectation of TEOTWAWKI, but to have a fall-back supply if inflation takes off and we can't afford to buy food too regularly, or if disruptions to the supply chain make it difficult to get certain items now and again.  To store our reserves, I'd bought a few low-cost shelving units from suppliers such as Lowes, Walmart, etc. over the past year or so.  Some are plastic snap-together units, others are wire units fitted with castors.

I've learned a few important lessons along the way.

  • The individual shelves may have a particular rating (e.g. '150 pounds per shelf, evenly distributed'), but that doesn't mean the overall structure will stand up to every shelf being loaded at or near to capacity.
  • The castors on which the shelves are supposed to move around don't work very well when the unit's heavily loaded - they pull out of the uprights, depositing the contents of the shelves in all directions (very loudly - almost as loud as my language when that happens).
  • The shelf unit may look nice and compact in the store, but when your supplies expand to need several of them, they take up more and more floor space.

I've accordingly decided to replace a couple of small shelf units (36"x18"x72") with one larger, heavier-duty unit (48"x24"x72").  The five shelves on the bigger unit will offer almost as much space as the ten shelves of the smaller ones, but use less floor space in doing so;  and they're rated for much heavier weights than the smaller units, so I should be able to put more on them without worrying about whether they'll collapse.  The bigger unit doesn't come with castors, but I've learned the hard way those are more trouble than they're worth!

However, I recall a lesson learned by a friend of mine some years ago.  He had a very nice steel outbuilding serving as a home workshop and storage unit, with several similar heavy-duty shelving units lining two walls.  Each had five shelves made of particle board, and each shelf was heavily loaded.  They worked fine . . . until, one evening, the sprinkler system malfunctioned.  It rapidly demonstrated that when particle board shelves get wet, they have all the strength and rigidity of soaked cardboard!  He came in the next morning to find all his goods on the floor, having fallen through their shelves.  He had to invest in plywood shelves to replace the particle board units, and replace a large number of damaged items as well.  There's no sprinkler system in our basement, but even so, if water ever penetrates it in significant amounts, particle board will be a liability rather than an asset.  I'm going to replace the manufacturers' particle board shelves with cut-to-size pieces of ¾"- or 1"-thick plywood.  I'll feel safer that way!

He also learned the hard way that items stored in cardboard boxes don't fare very well when the boxes become soaked.  He invested in plastic storage containers to hold smaller items, and used plastic garbage bags or sheets to protect larger items.  It made it a bit of a pain to find things in a hurry, but he reckoned the greater protection was worth it.  It also offered better security against insects and rodents.  I think I'm going to follow his example.


EDITED TO ADD:  I've posted a follow-up article about how replacing particle board shelves with plywood has improved my storage.  See it for more information.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Boys and their (exploding) toys

The video is self-explanatory.  It's worth watching in full-screen mode.


Doofus Of The Day #679

Today's winner comes from Blackpool in England.

A MAN lost his temper when he was sacked from his job packing anti-stress balls.

Darren Baldwin turned on the warehouse manager who dismissed him, then clashed with a fellow worker who went to the manager’s aid.

At one stage he pulled out two knives.

Baldwin, 44, of Sidford Court, Blackpool, admitted affray and assault when he appeared before Blackpool magistrates.

There's more at the link.

Clearly, to judge from his reactions, he was fired because his heart wasn't in his work . . .


Notes on the continuing economic slide

The signs continue to pile up that very serious economic trouble is almost upon us.  It baffles me more than words can say that people read these headlines and articles, just as I do, but don't seem able to link them to each other, or put two and two together to get four.

I link to each article as a heading, then quote briefly from it.  Please click on the links to read each article in full.

1.  Quantitative easing programs have failed;  now protectionism looms.

We know from a body of scholarship that fiscal belt-tightening in countries with a debt above 80pc to 90pc of GDP is painful and typically self-defeating unless offset by loose money. The evidence is before our eyes in Greece, Portugal, and Spain. Tight money has led to self-feeding downward spirals. If bondyields are higher thannominal GDP growth, the compound effects are deadly.

America may soon get a first taste of this, carrying out the epic fiscal squeeze needed to bring its debt trajectory back under control with less and less Fed help. Gross public debt will hit 107pc of GDP by next year, and higher if the recovery falters as pessimists fear.

With the fiscal and monetary shock absorbers exhausted -- or deemed to be -- the only recourse left is to claw back stimulus from foreigners, and that may be the next chapter of the global crisis as the Long Slump drags on.

Professor Michael Pettis from Beijing University argues in a new book -- "The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perillous Road Ahead" - that the global trauma of the last five years is a trade conflict masquerading as a debt crisis.

There is too much industrial plant in the world, and too little demand to soak up supply, like the 1930s.

. . .

"In a world of deficient demand and excess savings, every country will try to acquire a greater share of global demand by exporting savings," he writes. The "winners" in this will be the deficit states. The "losers" will be the surplus states who cannot retaliate. The lesson of the 1930s is that the creditors are powerless. Prof Pettis argues that China and Germany risk a nasty surprise.

2.  The Euro crisis isn't over.

As far as Mr. Connolly is concerned, Europe's heart is still rotting away.

The European political class, he says, believes that the crisis "hit its high point" last summer, "because that was when there was an imminent danger, from their point of view, that their wonderful dream would disappear." But from the perspective "of real live people, and families and firms and economies," he says, the situation "is just getting worse and worse." Last week, the EU reported that the euro-zone economy shrank by 0.9% in the fourth quarter of 2012. For the full year, gross domestic product fell 0.5% in the euro zone.

Two immediate solutions present themselves, Mr. Connolly says, neither appetizing. Either Germany pays "something like 10% of German GDP a year, every year, forever" to the crisis-hit countries to keep them in the euro. Or the economy gets so bad in Greece or Spain or elsewhere that voters finally say, " 'Well, we'll chuck the whole lot of you out.' Now, that's not a very pleasant prospect." He's thinking specifically, in the chuck-'em-out scenario, about the rise of neo-fascists like the Golden Dawn faction in Greece.

. . .

Superficially, there is some basis for the official view that the worst of the crisis is over: Interest-rate spreads, current-account deficits and budget deficits are down. Greece's departure from the single currency no longer seems imminent.

Yet unemployment is close to 27% in Spain and Greece. The euro-zone economy shrank ever-faster throughout 2012. And—most important in Mr. Connolly's view—the economic fundamentals in France are getting worse. This week France announced it would miss its deficit-reduction target for the year because of dimming growth prospects.

It's one thing to bail out Greece or Ireland, Mr. Connolly says, but "if the Germans at some point think, 'We're going to have to bail out France, and on an ongoing, perpetual basis,' will they do it? I don't know. But that's the question that has to be answered."

3.  China has its own debt bomb.

Since 2007, the amount of new credit generated annually has more than quadrupled to $2.75 trillion in the 12 months through January this year. Last year, roughly half of the new loans came from the "shadow banking system," private lenders and credit suppliers outside formal lending channels. These outfits lend to borrowers—often local governments pushing increasingly low-quality infrastructure projects—who have run into trouble paying their bank loans.

Since 2008, China's total public and private debt has exploded to more than 200% of GDP—an unprecedented level for any developing country. Yet the overwhelming consensus still sees little risk to the financial system or to economic growth in China.

That view ignores the strong evidence of studies launched since 2008 in a belated attempt by the major global financial institutions to understand the origin of financial crises. The key, more than the level of debt, is the rate of increase in debt—particularly private debt. (Private debt in China includes all kinds of quasi-state borrowers, such as local governments and state-owned corporations.)

On the most important measures of this rate, China is now in the flashing-red zone.

4.  US freight shipments have plummeted to their lowest level in two years.

This is the first year-over-year contraction since the 2007-2009 Great Recession - and places the reality of the dismal Q4 GDP print in context ... freight expenditures fell in January leading to a 1.6% drop over the last year - compared to a 27.2% rise in January 2011, and 22.2% rise in January 2012.

Freight shipments are a leading indicator of whether companies are either shipping or ordering goods.  They're not - at least, not at anything like their former levels.  Guess what that means for the US economy?

5.  Eight US retailers that will close the most stores in 2013.

It is the time of year again, when America’s largest retailers release those critical holiday season figures and disclose their annual sales. A review of these numbers tells us a great deal about how most of the companies will do in the upcoming year. And while successful retailers in 2012 may add stores this year, those that have performed very poorly may have to cut locations during 2013 to improve margins or reverse losses.

For many retailers, the sales situation is so bad that it is not a question of whether they will cut stores, but when and how many.

It's a sobering list.  I'm sure most of my readers shop at more than one of the retailers named in the report;  but before long, we may find our local store isn't there any more . . .

On the subject of major retail chains, James Kunstler comments (profanity warning at the link!):

Though the public hasn't grokked it yet, WalMart and its kindred malignant organisms have entered their own yeast-overgrowth death spiral. In a now permanently contracting economy the big box model fails spectacularly. Every element of economic reality is now poised to squash them. Diesel fuel prices are heading well north of $4 again. If they push toward $5 this year you can say goodbye to the "warehouse on wheels" distribution method. (The truckers, who are mostly independent contractors, can say hello to the re-po men come to take possession of their mortgaged rigs.) Global currency wars (competitive devaluations) are about to destroy trade relationships. Say goodbye to the 12,000 mile supply chain from Guangzhou to Hackensack. Say goodbye to the growth financing model in which it becomes necessary to open dozens of new stores every year to keep the credit revolving.

Then there is the matter of the American customers themselves. The WalMart shoppers are exactly the demographic that is getting squashed in the contraction of this phony-baloney corporate buccaneer parasite revolving credit crony capital economy. Unlike the Federal Reserve, WalMart shoppers can't print their own money, and they can't bundle their MasterCard and Visa debts into CDOs to be fobbed off on Scandinavian pension funds for quick profits. They have only one real choice: buy less stuff, especially the stuff of leisure, comfort, and convenience.

The potential for all sorts of economic hardship is obvious in this burgeoning dynamic ... K-Mart will close over 200 boxes this year, and Radio Shack is committed to shutter around 500 stores.

. . .

What we're on the brink of is scale implosion. Everything gigantic in American life is about to get smaller or die. Everything that we do to support economic activities at gigantic scale is going to hamper our journey into the new reality. The campaign to sustain the unsustainable, which is the official policy of US leadership, will only produce deeper whirls of entropy.

There's more at the link.

Earlier this month I wrote that an economic tsunami is bearing down upon us.  Read the headlines and articles cited above, then judge for yourselves whether I was being overly pessimistic.  Note, too, that not only the USA is involved - the rest of the world's economies can't help but be affected.  Europe and/or China can bring us down with them, and we can surely do the same to them if we're the first domino to fall.  It's only a question of who will falter first.


Quote of the day

From Billll, who's digging out from beneath a snowstorm:

"If I see Al Gore, he's gonna get the shovel where the globe don't warm."


Sunday, February 24, 2013

A novel way to trim your trees

An expensive way, too!


"If you don't like it, get outta here!"

I'm delighted at the response of a Wyoming legislator to a nanny-stater correspondent.  The Blaze reports:

Rev. Audette Fulbright had emailed all state legislators, including Republican Rep. Hans Hunt, earlier this month to say she and her husband had just moved to Wyoming and were “seriously reconsidering” their decision amid the proposed expansion of gun laws.

“Ample evidence has shown that schools and guns do not mix, and in particular, guns in the hands of amateurs/non-professionals is extremely dangerous, especially in any highly-charged situation,” Fulbright wrote. “To expose our children to greater risk in their schools by encouraging more guns on campuses is something that we cannot allow.”

Fulbright also said she was concerned about “the profoundly serious dangers of fracking” and said the question of whether to leave was “wrenching to all of us.”

“I know of other new-to-Wyoming families in similar contemplation. Your choices matter. It would be sad to see an exodus of educated, childrearing age adults from Wyoming as a result of poor lawmaking,” she wrote.

Hunt’s response? “By all means, leave.”

“I’ll be blunt,” he wrote back. “If you don’t like the political atmosphere of Wyoming, then by all means, leave. We, who have been here a very long time (I am proudly 4th generation) are quite proud of our independent heritage.”

There's more at the link, including the full text of the messages exchanged.

So tell me . . . how do we transplant Rep. Hunt's vigorous independence of spirit to representatives in other states, not to mention the Federal government?  Can they - and he - be cloned, perhaps?  Meanwhile, a gleeful "Attaboy!" to him from this blogger (and, I'm sure, from many of my readers as well).


Saving (a lot of) money on shooting practice

With the recent appalling increase in the price of firearms and related materials, even the cheapest ammunition in pistol or rifle calibers can now cost as much as $1 per round, making regular training and/or practice unaffordable for many of us.  Even the lowly .22 Long Rifle rimfire round has become much more expensive.  I've seen sellers asking $49.99 for 500-round bulk packs at local gun shows, and I'm told this price level is becoming more common in many other areas too.  That translates to 10c per round - ridiculous when you consider that three months ago, the same cartridge would have cost less than 3c!  Of course, for many shooters the price is irrelevant, because they can't find ammunition for sale anywhere, at any cost . . .

I've been wracking my brains, trying to figure out a solution.  I train disabled shooters now and again, and for them the situation is even worse.  Most of them are on some sort of disability income, which is usually far too small to allow them to buy quality firearms or more than a token amount of ammunition at the best of times.  At present, it's out of the question.

Fortunately, I think there's a solution that meets 50%-70% of the training needs of most shooters, and costs a lot less than cartridge ammunition.  The answer lies with the lowly BB gun.  We're accustomed to regarding them as kids' toys (remember the famous line, "You'll shoot your eye out!" from the film 'A Christmas Story', which popularized the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun?).  However, in recent years, manufacturers have begun producing realistic BB gun replicas of many mainstream rifles and pistols.  As an example, Umarex has a very extensive selection of such replica weapons.  I chose one of them to test for this article.

The pistol shown above is Umarex's BB-firing replica of the Smith & Wesson M&P pistol.  It's almost an exact reproduction in terms of size and layout, and its trigger feels surprisingly similar to that of the full-size weapon.  It contains a 19-shot BB magazine, and fires them using a standard 12 gram CO2 cartridge, as used in soda syphons and many Airsoft and paintball guns.  The cartridges are available from many vendors, in packages containing anywhere from 5 to 40 units.

This particular replica attracted my attention for several reasons.  First, customer reviews of it on were generally very positive.  They stressed how similar it was to the 'real thing' in terms of size, trigger pull, etc.  These are obviously useful attributes in a training weapon.  Second, I tested it in several standard holsters made for the S&W M&P pistol, and found that it fit them almost perfectly.  That means training can include drawing it and preparing to fire.  Third, it's very low-cost - currently less than $30 at Amazon, for example.  Finally, it's widely available, and should be easy to find.

In informal testing, I've found it to be a very useful training tool.  It doesn't have a reciprocating slide, of course, like the real article, and it's much lighter;  but its trigger pull is very similar, albeit (at first) heavier and with more 'stack' than most M&P's I've fired.  The sights (while different to the standard pistol) are perfectly usable for training.  Within distances of 7-10 yards it's plenty accurate enough for the purpose.  It doesn't do well outside in a strong crosswind, as the very light BB's are easily deflected from their path;  but to compensate, you can buy BB target 'traps' for indoor use, and set them up inside your home for realistic home defense training.  (They work outdoors, too.  Whatever you use for targets, make sure they can absorb or stop the BB's, because otherwise - as commenters have pointed out - they may bounce back, with the potential to injure someone.)  It lacks the noise and recoil of cartridge-firing weapons, and you can't train realistically for reloading and stoppage drills, but in terms of drawing it from a holster, sight alignment and trigger control, it's probably just about as good as the real thing.

You may ask why I don't recommend Airsoft guns, firing a larger plastic pellet, as well as (or instead of) BB guns.  There are two reasons.  First, with some notable exceptions, they generally fire their ammunition at a lower velocity than BB guns, making them less accurate at other than close range, and allowing the wind to deflect them more.  Second, their ammunition doesn't degrade naturally.  Steel BB's can be picked up with a magnet to clean a room, and outside they'll rust until they disintegrate, whereas the small plastic balls used by Airsoft guns can be very hard to find, and will last almost indefinitely.  That adds to pollution of the environment - and firearms enthusiasts have enough negative publicity to cope with, without adding to it by offending environmentalists!  Nevertheless, Airsoft guns are a perfectly viable choice if you prefer them, and if you can get replicas of your favorite 'real' weapons in that format.  They're also safer to use in person-on-person training (the US Army has tried this, as have some law enforcement agencies), as the larger, slower projectiles are much less likely to cause injuries other than bruises.  (I don't recommend you do this:  but if you do, make sure you wear protective clothing, particularly over your eyes and other vulnerable organs and areas.)

If you don't like the S&W M&P pistol, Umarex offers a wide variety of BB-firing replicas of other mainstream pistols, and a few rifles as well.  Their replica of the Winchester lever-action rifle is rather expensive, but I'll consider it if I ever have enough money to afford it, as its operating costs will be much lower than the real thing for training purposes.  I could set up miniaturized targets at relatively close range to approximate what the real thing would look like at more realistic distances.  Other manufacturers and vendors offer more replicas of mainstream pistols and rifles.  Here, for example, is an amazingly realistic-looking BB-firing replica of the M14 service rifle.

As for costs, there's no comparison at all.  I've spent the following on my evaluation gear for this article (all prices correct as at the time of writing):

Assuming the pistol lasts long enough to shoot all 2,400 BB's (and I see no reason why it shouldn't), that will translate to a cost per shot of less than 2.7c, including the amortization cost of the weapon itself.  If the pistol lasts longer (and again, I see no reason why it won't, given routine cleaning and lubrication), subsequent shots (paying only for the BB's and CO2 cartridges) will cost less than 1c per round - many times cheaper than the lowest-price cartridge ammo currently available.  Even if I wear out a pistol with every pack of BB's, and have to replace it, it'll still be an economical proposition compared to buying ammo to feed my 'normal' weapons.

So, there you are.  Want to keep your hand in with a pistol or rifle, but can't afford the current cost of cartridge ammunition?  Consider the humble BB gun.  You might be pleasantly surprised.  Just don't shoot your (or anyone else's) eye out!


Remembering the late, great Jeff Cooper

I daresay most of my firearms-owning readers have heard of the late, great (and I use that term advisedly) Jeff Cooper.

His accomplishments are legion, including (but not limited to) the following.

  • He served in the US Marine Corps during and after World War II, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
  • He brought together, codified and taught the elements of what became known as the 'Modern Technique of the Pistol', revolutionizing handgun training in the process.
  • He founded Gunsite, a firearms training academy in Arizona that still provides some of the finest weapons training available anywhere in the world.  Several of its former instructors and advanced students went on to found their own shooting schools and academies, including (but not limited to) Thunder Ranch, Cumberland Tactics, Shootrite Firearms Academy, etc.  There's a thriving e-mail list exchanging news, views and ideas among its graduates.
  • He was a prolific author, writing several books and many magazine articles, newsletters and the like.  (I have his books in my own library, and re-read them regularly.  They're well worth it.)
  • His 'color code' of threats and threatening situations has spread far afield.  Today it's ubiquitous in almost any aspect of combat arms.  Many have claimed it as their own, but he unquestionably first codified it and preached it as a way of life.  I learned it early on, and it quite literally saved my life during numerous 'twitchy' occasions.  As a result, I regard it as his most important contribution to my life, even more so than his excellent pistol techniques (which have also saved my favorite butt on occasion).

Col. Cooper died in 2006, beloved (and mourned) by thousands in the firearms community.  I had the privilege of attending a memorial service and shoot, held at the NRA's Whittington Center in New Mexico the following year.  It was very much a celebration of his life rather than mourning his passing, which is precisely what he'd have wanted, I'm sure.

His wife and children, along with several of his associates, have founded the Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation.  They describe the Foundation's mission as follows:

To preserve, protect and defend the principle of self-reliance and the individual right of self-defense as espoused by Jeff Cooper.  The Foundation will provide scholarships for firearms training in the Cooper tradition as well as preserve his writings and his personal collections for posterity.

To raise funds for its operations, the Foundation has just issued a Jeff Cooper Commemorative Coin, in the 'challenge coin' tradition of many US military units and private organizations.  I think it's a fine idea, and I'll be buying a few for myself and friends.  If you, like me, value Col. Cooper's contribution to the art and science of firearms management and the control of the lethal threat environment, may I suggest that you could do a lot worse than buy one (or more) for yourself as well?

Col. Cooper's books are also still available through his daughter, Lindy Wisdom.  If you haven't read them, whether you're 'into' firearms or not, you're in for a treat.  He wrote in the classical tradition, erudite, passionate and convincing.  His memory will live on in his writings fully as much as in the pistol and other weapons techniques he developed and taught.  I believe his books are essential reading for anyone who espouses self-reliance, classical values and personal responsibility.  I can't recommend them too highly.

I'm honored to have met Col. Cooper on one occasion in South Africa, and corresponded with him on another.  Those who spent much longer with him are very fortunate people.  I wouldn't be alive today without his lessons and contribution to weapons management.  He was a very special gentleman.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dolphins have names?

I was astonished to read at Discovery News that dolphins use unique personal names when calling other dolphins.

Bottlenose dolphins call out the specific names of loved ones when they become separated, a study finds.

Other than humans, the dolphins are the only animals known to do this, according to the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The big difference with bottlenose dolphins is that these communications consist of whistles, not words.

Earlier research found that bottlenose dolphins name themselves, with dolphins having a “signature whistle” that encodes other information. It would be somewhat like a human shouting, “Hey everybody! I’m an adult healthy male named George, and I mean you no harm!”

The new finding is that bottlenose dolphins also say the names of certain other dolphins.

“Animals produced copies when they were separated from a close associate and this supports our belief that dolphins copy another animal’s signature whistle when they want to reunite with that specific individual,” lead author Stephanie King of the University of St. Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit told Discovery News.

. . .

The researchers said dolphins copy the signature whistles of loved ones, such as a mother or close male buddy, when the two are apart. These “names” were never emitted in aggressive or antagonistic situations and were only directed toward loved ones.

The whistle copies also always had a unique variation to them, so the dolphins weren’t merely mimicking each other. The dolphins instead were adding their own “tone of voice” via unique whistling.

While researchers often hesitate to apply the “l word” -- language -- to non-human communications, bottlenose dolphins and possibly other dolphin species clearly have a very complex and sophisticated communication system.

“Interestingly, captive dolphins can learn new signals and refer to objects and it may be that dolphins can use signature whistle copies to label or refer to an individual, which is a skill inherent in human language,” King said.

There's more at the link.

This is fascinating!  If dolphin self-awareness extends to naming themselves, and knowing the names of others, and using those names in communication, it puts their level of intelligence far higher than other animals - second only to humans, in fact.  What does this say about how we should be treating them, and interacting with them?


Video: the advantages of an afterburner

I'm sure many readers know that most military fighter and strike aircraft are equipped with afterburners.  Wikipedia describes them thus:

An afterburner (or a reheat) is an additional component present on some jet engines, mostly military supersonic aircraft. Its purpose is to provide an increase in thrust, usually for supersonic flight, takeoff and for combat situations. Afterburning is achieved by injecting additional fuel into the jet pipe downstream of (i.e. after) the turbine. The advantage of afterburning is significantly increased thrust; the disadvantage is its very high fuel consumption and inefficiency, though this is often regarded as acceptable for the short periods during which it is usually used.

Pilots can activate and deactivate afterburners in-flight and jet engines are referred to as operating wet when afterburning is being used and dry when not. An engine producing maximum thrust wet is at maximum power, while an engine producing maximum thrust dry is at military power.

There's more information at the link.  To illustrate, here's a US Navy F/A-18 Hornet taking off from an aircraft-carrier with both its engines in full afterburner.  The orange flames in the exhaust nozzles are unmistakeable.  (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

To illustrate the increased power of an engine in afterburner, here's a video clip from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, showing six of its F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft taking off from a very cold and wintry Ørland Main Air Station.  The first two aircraft use afterburner, and lift off from the ground shortly after passing the photographer.  The third and fourth are using military power (i.e. without afterburner) rather than maximum power (i.e. with afterburner), and take much longer to accelerate to takeoff speed, traveling much further down the runway before they can get airborne.  The final two aircraft again use afterburner, and take off in a shorter distance.  It's a graphic illustration of how much power is added by going to afterburner, albeit at the penalty of much higher fuel consumption.  I recommend watching the clip in full-screen mode.


Friday, February 22, 2013

The Balikpapan Raid, revisited - again!

Back in 2008, in Weekend Wings #28, I profiled a raid on the oil refineries at Balikpapan (now part of Indonesia) by US bombers during 1944.  It was one of the most difficult and demanding air attacks of the Pacific War.  Some time later, Mr. Pete Hobstetter contacted me to inform me that his father had flown on that raid.  He allowed me to reproduce some of his father's recollections of the mission.  (Some other children of those who flew on that mission added their comments below that post - they're worth reading.)

Today I received another e-mail from Mr. Hobstetter.  He's compiled a video documentary on the Balikpapan raid.  I've embedded it below.

Thanks for letting me know about your video report, Mr. Hobstetter.  The Balikpapan raid remains a remarkable achievement in the face of tremendous odds, and an example to all who serve.


State-sanctioned inflation

In several recent articles I've warned about the real danger of accelerating inflation - even the potential risk for hyperinflation.  I recently pointed out that quantitative easing programs are likely to lead to massive increases in the inflation rate once all that artificially-generated liquidity goes into circulation, instead of being held back from the consumer market.  That day isn't far off.

In his latest 'Outside The Box' newsletter (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format), John Mauldin invites Scott Minerd of Guggenheim Funds to review the contribution of Keynesian economics to economic recession and depression.  One of Mr. Minerd's points is very relevant to our discussion of inflation.  I reproduce it below.

The most important question for investors concerns how public sector debt levels, which have risen exponentially over the past half-decade, will ultimately be discharged ... there are three options to reducing debt levels. The first is restructuring, also known as default. For obvious reasons this is painful and typically avoided except under the most dire circumstances. Governments can also pursue structural reform, which in today’s case would mean greater austerity. Implementation of this would stand in stark opposition to Keynes’s recommendation that the fiscal and monetary spigots be kept open during hard times. Although tightening is arguably the best long-term path, it appears unlikely that it will be the primary policy of choice in the near future. The third method, toward which I see global central bankers drifting, is to keep interest rates artificially low and permit increasing levels of inflation in the economy.

Pushing down the cost of borrowing and allowing the price level to rise is known as financial repression. The real value of debtors’ obligations is reduced by financially repressive policies. Keynes warned of the dangers of inflation in his early work, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, which presciently criticized the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles:

...By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens ... As inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless.

Keynes reiterated his views in the mid-1940s when he visited the United States and saw programs that were touted as Keynesian although he viewed them as primarily inflationary.

Financial repression is nothing new. Between the 1940s and the early 1980s, the United States reduced its national debt from 140 percent of GDP to just 30 percent while continuing to run sizable deficits. The difference between then and now is the magnitude of the debt mountain on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet that will need to be eroded. A subtle shift has begun in which policymakers are starting to think of inflation as a policy tool rather than the byproduct of their actions. Despite Keynes’ warnings, it appears that higher inflation will continue to be the monetary tool of choice for central bankers tasked with cleaning up sovereign balance sheets.

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

It's important to remember that politicians and policy-makers aren't interested in your well-being, but theirs.  If it makes more sense for them to foster inflation than to preserve your buying power, guess what they're going to do?  That's right . . . and you'll be left to face the consequences.  That's why politicians are still borrowing like there's no tomorrow in order to fund entitlement programs that we absolutely cannot afford to pay for.  That's also why they'll embrace inflation rather than fix the spending problem, because they can try to blame that on something external - 'inflation' - rather than their own fecklessness, knowing that many of the electorate who depend on those entitlement programs will go along with them rather than face the facts.

As Thomas Sowell memorably pointed out some years ago:

No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems— of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.



A foreign solution to domestic drone surveillance?

There have been all sorts of objections to the domestic deployment of UAV's and other drones, based largely on civil rights and privacy considerations.  The White House's 'kill list' has recently reignited controversy over this point.

A USAF MQ-9 Reaper UAV armed with 2 GBU-12 'smart bombs' and 4 Hellfire missiles
(image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In this light, it's perhaps ironic that an Al Qaeda list of 22 ways to avoid drone surveillance and attack has just been discovered in Mali.  The Telegraph provides a full transcript of the list, including techniques such as the following (translation as per original, with deficiencies not corrected):

  • Jamming of and confusing of electronic communication using old equipment and keeping them 24-hour running because of their strong frequencies and it is possible using simple ideas of deception of equipment to attract the electronic waves devices similar to that used by the Yugoslav army when they used the microwave (oven) in attracting and confusing the Nato missiles fitted with electromagnetic searching devices.
  • Discovering the presence of a drone through well-placed reconnaissance networks and to warn all the formations to halt any movement in the area.
  • To hide under thick trees because they are the best cover against the planes.
  • To stay in places unlit by the sun such as the shadows of the buildings or the trees.
  • Formation of fake gatherings such as using dolls and statutes to be placed outside false ditches to mislead the enemy.

There are many more at the link.  Interesting - and, sad to say, potentially useful - reading.


If you disarm Americans, expect to see this here

I was interested (and amused) to see a photo essay at the Atlantic about the home-made weapons of the insurgents in Syria - like this man throwing a home-made grenade with a primitive burning fuse:

Or this home-made grenade-launching trebuchet:

Or this garage-based 'factory' producing home-made mortar shells:

There are many more images at the link.  Interesting, educational and recommended viewing.

Those who wish to disarm the American people might do well to examine those photographs.  The average US home or small business workshop is cleaner, better lit, equipped with more and better-quality power tools, and used by owners (and their friends) who possess more expertise, than those insurgent facilities.  I daresay if at least some of the owners of such workshops - those more dedicated to upholding the constitution of the United States - were to be deprived of their (currently) legally owned weapons, they might be able to design and produce something rather more lethal and effective than the primitive weapons of the Syrian insurgency with which to express their displeasure.  What are the authorities going to do about it - ban home and small business workshops?


Thursday, February 21, 2013

That's one way to use an excavator . . .

. . . but what will the exposure to salt water do to its machinery - not to mention its operating lifespan?


A survival kit for experts at survival

Interesting details have emerged of the miniaturized survival kit carried by some US Special Forces troops.  Time reports:

SEALs aren’t supposed to find themselves in trouble that they can’t get out of. That’s why the Navy is seeking to buy 300 new survival kits for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, sometimes known as Navy SEAL Team 6.

. . .

While Navy folks didn’t rush to answer Battleland’s questions about how much the kits are expected to cost, and if they’ve changed recently, it’s neat to peek inside to see what’s there.

But first of all, the SEALs have been known to wreck things. Like helicopters. So the survival kits – a complete kit includes both hard and soft cases — have to be able to endure SEAL abuse.

The hard case is 4-by-2-by-1.2 inches, weighing six ounces or less, and available in both “Desert Tan” or “OD/Forest Green.”

Beyond those particulars, the hard case shall be:

  • Capable of limited cooking without effecting the container finish (i.e. paint bubbling)
  • Capable of being used as a limited digging implement without affecting its ability to house contents (simultaneous function of digging and housing not required)
  • Shall have a weather resistant gasket able to keep out water during minor water immersion (i.e. river crossings, swimming)
  • Shall have a fastening system that is reuseable and secure to prevent accidental openings
  • Top surface of kit must have permanently affixed a 2” x 3” piece of loop fastener (i.e. soft side of velcro)
  • Ruggedized to take heavy abuse while carried without damage to inner contents
  • Case shall securely hold all items below without rattling or other noises

The article goes on to provide details of the kit's contents.  It's interesting reading for those of us (including yours truly) who are skeptical of commercial 'survival kits', and gives us a baseline of what the professionals use against which to compare civilian offerings.


Ammo supply - an update

At the beginning of this month I wrote about the 'Great Ammo Drought of 2013', and decided to sell some of my ammo stash (in calibers I wasn't using much) to increase my stocks in other calibers that I use more frequently.  I took some to a local gun show and sold it there, and traded or sold quite a bit more to readers of this blog.

It's been a productive process for me, and (I hope) for those who've dealt with me.   I've now got upwards of 20,000 rounds of .22LR in stock, which is very important for low-cost training and plinking.  This should keep me (and those who shoot with me) going for some time.  Miss D. now has an ammo can full of .22 Magnum for her treasured PMR-30, meaning she also won't have to worry about finding more for a year or two (the stuff's disappeared completely from local dealers' shelves).  I've been able to provide useful quantities of rifle, shotgun and pistol ammunition to several readers and friends.  Hopefully, we all feel like we did well on the exchanges and/or sales.

After a final sale scheduled for the next couple of days, I'll be able to put a couple of thousand dollars in the bank.  That will pay for a large number of bits and pieces to upgrade existing firearms (e.g. scopes, trigger work, etc.), and also contribute towards my truck's new tires and doubling our reserve food supply.  Given the inflation I foresee in the not too distant future, it's comforting to know that if we have a bad week or month, economically speaking, we'll still be able to eat!

I still have several boxes of ammo left for sale, but there are so few (compared to when I began this exercise) that I've decided against paying for a table at the next gun show.  I'll return them to my reserves, and trade them off in future as and when an opportunity arises.

I'm also working on an idea to reduce handgun training costs below even those incurred using rimfire ammo for the purpose.  Now that it's approaching 10 cents per round, it's becoming almost as cost-prohibitive as centerfire ammo used to be!  (Since the latter has also doubled or tripled in price, it's even more unaffordable for casual use.)  I'll put up an article next week with more details, once I've had time to wring it out in practice.  (EDITED TO ADD:  Here it is.)

I'm still looking for a couple of firearms:  a 4" or 6" barreled .357 Magnum revolver (probably either a Ruger GP100 or S&W 686, preferably in stainless steel), and either a Browning Buckmark or Ruger Mk. II or Mk. III pistol in caliber .22LR, preferably one with a longer barrel and provision for mounting a scope, so that it can accept a red dot sight.  If any reader has one of those for sale, or knows where they may be found for reasonable prices, I'd be grateful if you'd please e-mail me.  (Trades for ammo or other weapons might be arranged, too.)  Local sales preferred, but out-of-state transactions can be conducted through a local gun store.


Warning - TSA thugs at work!

Once again the TSA proves that its only real function in life is to provide 'security theater' - in this case, a horror story!

The Transportation Security Administration is once again under fire, this time for allegedly detaining a wheelchair-bound 3-year-old girl, taking away her stuffed doll and ordering the girl’s parents not to videotape TSA agents patting her down.

The girl’s father, Nathan Forck, told Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes that the TSA treated his daughter like a “criminal.”

“And by extension, they were treating us as criminals,” he added.

. . .

“They specifically told me that they were singling her out for this special treatment because she’s in a wheelchair,” Forck told Fox News. “They are specifically singling out disabled people for this special scrutiny. It’s rather offensive to me as a father of a disabled child.”

A TSA agent told the family that they needed to pat down Lucy and swab her wheelchair. The family had already made it through a security checkpoint by this time. Forck’s wife, Annie, pulled out her camera and began filming the incident, which agents told her was “illegal.”

“You can’t touch my daughter unless I record it,” she can be heard telling an agent in the video. Forck then asked an agent to “cite the law” that says they can’t videotape them.

After refusing to stop filming agents patting down her 3-year-old child, the Forck family was soon reportedly surrounded by TSA agents, with one guarding Lucy personally.

That’s when the “alarm bells” really started going off for Forck, who is an attorney and knew it was perfectly legal to videotape the TSA agents.

There's more at the link.

This really makes me mad - the more so because it happens so often.  I've run into it myself, when transporting two cats by air.  A TSA agent insisted their cages had to be swabbed for explosives, because detectors showed the presence of ammonia - an ingredient of some explosives.  Clearly, he'd never been told that cat pee also contains (and smells strongly of) ammonia!  Furthermore, I've found infuriating inconsistency in TSA procedure between different airports, particularly when traveling with firearms.  In some, it's a mere formality to have the firearm examined, then sealed in one's checked baggage.  In others, one's treated like an incipient felon for even daring to mention the word 'firearm', much less be transporting one!  When one asks about such inconsistencies, the agent(s) concern usually bark forbiddingly that their version is Standard Operating Procedure, and should not be questioned.  I sometimes get the impression they expect me to respond by saying "Jawohl, mein Führer!  Heil!" and saluting!

The TSA is a complete and utter waste of time and money.  It hasn't prevented a single terrorist attack, so far as we know, and claims to the contrary are utterly without evidence to back them up.  As security expert Bruce Schneier famously put it:

“The only useful airport security measures since 9/11 ... were locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can’t break in, positive baggage matching”—ensuring that people can’t put luggage on planes, and then not board them —“and teaching the passengers to fight back. The rest is security theater.”

. . .

Terrorists will try to hit the United States again, Schneier says. One has to assume this. Terrorists can so easily switch from target to target and weapon to weapon that focusing on preventing any one type of attack is foolish. Even if the T.S.A. were somehow to make airports impregnable, this would simply divert terrorists to other, less heavily defended targets—shopping malls, movie theaters, churches, stadiums, museums. The terrorist’s goal isn’t to attack an airplane specifically; it’s to sow terror generally. “You spend billions of dollars on the airports and force the terrorists to spend an extra $30 on gas to drive to a hotel or casino and attack it,” Schneier says. “Congratulations!”

What the government should be doing is focusing on the terrorists when they are planning their plots. “That’s how the British caught the liquid bombers,” Schneier says. “They never got anywhere near the plane. That’s what you want—not catching them at the last minute as they try to board the flight.”

To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.) During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs. Still more were killed by driving their cars into deer. The best memorial to the victims of 9/11, in Schneier’s view, would be to forget most of the “lessons” of 9/11. “It’s infuriating,” he said, waving my fraudulent boarding pass to indicate the mass of waiting passengers, the humming X-ray machines, the piles of unloaded computers and cell phones on the conveyor belts, the uniformed T.S.A. officers instructing people to remove their shoes and take loose change from their pockets. “We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this—and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.”

There's more at the link.  Bold, underlined print is my emphasis.  I strongly recommend that you read that whole article.  Apart from making your blood boil at the stupidity of the whole thing, it'll show you more clearly than anything else why the TSA is a waste of our taxpayer dollars, and beyond reformation.  As far as I'm concerned (and I'm sure many travelers would agree with me), it should be abolished.