Sunday, March 31, 2013

Shine on!

I found myself listening to this today, with real nostalgia.  I thought some of you might enjoy it too.

Aaahh . . . they made music in those days!  Today's youngsters can keep rap, and hip-hop, and techno, and all the rest.  I'll keep my memories, and haul them out now and again to relive them.


Printing a new face???

We've examined the technology of 3D printing in these pages on several occasions.  Now comes news of its use in a very impressive medical breakthrough.

When restaurant manager Eric Moger surprised his girlfriend by proposing over Christmas dinner, he could have no idea that less than a year later his life and appearance would be changed beyond recognition.

As he started to make plans for his wedding to Karen Hunger four years ago, doctors discovered an aggressive tumour the size of a tennis ball growing beneath the skin of his face.

During the emergency surgery to remove the cancer, Mr Moger lost almost the entire left side of his face, including his eye, his cheek bone and most of his jaw, leaving a gaping hole where his features had once been.

Now, after years of having people stare and recoil at his disfigurement, surgeons have used pioneering three-dimensional printing technology to create a prosthetic face for Mr Moger, 60, in what is thought to be the first procedure of its kind in the UK.

By creating scans of what was left of his skull and using computers to recreate what his face would look like, they were able to use a new type of printer that builds up layer upon layer of nylon plastic to produce the exact components they would need.

It has transformed the father-of-two’s life, allowing him to drink his first glass of water and taste food for the first time since he underwent surgery to remove the tumour. Until now he has had to feed and drink through a tube directly into his stomach.

. . .

Dr Dawood used detailed scans to build up a 3D image of the bone left in Mr Moger’s skull and of his facial features.

Dr Dawood said: “We put the CT scan and facial scan together and used software to plan what we wanted him to look like.”

The scans allowed Dr Dawood to design a scaffold to replace the missing bone, creating from titanium using a technique known as 3D milling, where a piece of metal is ground into shape by a computer.

Screw-like rods around two inches long were also made in a similar way before being surgically implanted into the remaining bone on the right side of Mr Moger’s face, allowing the scaffold to be secured in place.

A plastic plate was also created using a printed model of Mr Moger’s skull to help form a seal at the top of his mouth, allowing him to eat and drink again.

Computer software allowed Dr Dawood to create a mirror image of the right hand side of the father-of-two’s face and using 3D printing he recreated a facial shell made of toughened nylon.

This was used to mould the new silicon mask that would cover the hole in Mr Moger’s face, using magnets so it can be secured in place and removed easily when Mr Moger goes to bed.

Dr Dawood now hopes to develop new techniques to allow them to print the silicon mask, which would help speed up the process and allow patients to have access to replacements rapidly.

There's more at the link, including photographs of Mr. Moger before his tumor, after it was removed, and wearing his new prosthetic face.  They're disturbing to look at, but provide hope that others in his position may be able to benefit as well.

Several of my friends and acquaintances suffered grievous facial injuries during combat operations in Africa, or during South Africa's prolonged civil unrest from 1976-1994.  At the time, there was almost nothing that could be done except to remove the damaged bone and tissue, and try to reshape what was left into something that was, at least, not quite so visually revolting.  That's why this news is so interesting to me.  I can see how this technology might literally change lives.

Congratulations to all involved, and I hope they go from strength to strength in improving their technique and expanding its application.


Know your enemy?

I'm sure many of you have read news reports that certain high-profile Democratic Party sponsors are threatening to withhold funds from any candidate for office who doesn't espouse the party's anti-gun platform.

I think this is an excellent idea, and I heartily endorse it.  As far as I'm concerned, any Democrat who receives funds from these sponsors is not worth the support of any right-thinking person, as it'll make his or her position on the Second Amendment perfectly clear.  On the other hand, a Democrat who doesn't attract funding from these people might just be worth a vote . . .

Who said blackmail can't backfire sometimes?


The most important financial video I've seen in years

I can't recommend this video report from financial analyst and investment advisor Grant Williams too highly.  In forty minutes, he analyzes risk in today's economy and financial system, from the perspective of the investor.  Most of us aren't investors, of course:  but we'll be affected just as badly (if not more so) by any economic crash.

Mr. Williams covers fractional reserve banking, quantitative easing, inflation, interest rates, the supply of gold (and how it's been undermined by leasing), and a host of other factors.  Finally, he brings everything together, and shows how the present Cyprus crisis might - might - be the start of the Great Unraveling, when all these elements implode together.

I regard this as absolutely essential viewing for anyone who's interested in the current state of the world economy and its financial systems.  If you've followed my articles on the subject, and the references I've made to others' articles, this will bring many of those threads together.  Frankly, if you want to be fully informed of what's going on right now, I don't think you can afford not to watch this.  It's that important.

See what I mean?  For further reading, see:

Casey Research - 'Preparing For Inflationary Times';

Zero Hedge - 'How Cyprus Exposed The Fundamental Flaw Of Fractional Reserve Banking' (this is a very important article);

Zero Hedge again - '25 Lessons From The Cyprus Deal';

David A. Stockman - 'State-Wrecked: The Corruption of Capitalism in America'.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

A blast from the aviation past

With the ease of travel and trade between China and the USA today, it's salutary to remember the years when such contacts were slow, laborious and very expensive.  Pan Am's China Clipper air service flew between San Francisco and Canton - today known as Guangzhou - in the 1930's.  The journey took a week (weather permitting), and stopped at Hawaii, Midway, Wake Island, Guam, Manila, Macao and Hong Kong.

1930's China Clipper timetable (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Here's a 1930's dramatized film report about the journey.  We've covered the China Clipper flying boats in these pages before, so those who remember that earlier article can see some of them in operation here.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

Note, too, how travelers dressed for their flights as if for the theater or for business.  I think we've lost something with our overly casual approach, compared to what was, not so long ago, considered with awe as a miracle of modern engineering.


A modern version of Chesty Puller?

I note with some sadness that General James N. Mattis retired from the US Marine Corps earlier this month.  It's been rumored in various reports that he was 'let go' by the Obama administration because he too frequently challenged politicians and bureaucrats over the consequences of their actions, and wouldn't let them avoid or evade their responsibilities.  More fools them for getting rid of such a man!  The 'yes-men' won't alert them to the crocodiles waiting in the swamps ahead.

I particularly enjoyed the Washington Free Beacon's selection of sixteen quotes by General Mattis as a retirement tribute.  Here are a couple of them.

  • “The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot.”
  • “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.”

He certainly didn't mince his words!  I think the legendary Chesty Puller would have heartily approved of General Mattis - and I think I'd have enjoyed serving under him.  I'm sorry he's gone . . . and I hope he took the time to train, form and prepare others to follow in his footsteps.  We can't afford to be without such fighting leaders.


Interesting facts from the 'Winter War'

As part of my ongoing research for a couple of forthcoming Weekend Wings articles, I've been reading 'A Frozen Hell' by William R. Trotter.  It's a history of the so-called 'Winter War' between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939-40.  In the light of my own (regrettably all too extensive) experience with military inefficiency, foul-ups and mistakes, I was amused to read the following about the Soviets' so-called 'ski troops'.

Just before their departure for the Suomussalmi campaign, the soldiers of the Soviet Forty-Fourth Division were issued thousands of brand new manuals on the subject of ski warfare.  What good this was supposed to do is unfathomable, since the Forty-Fourth Division had not been given any skis.  Nor would the manuals have done the Russians much good if they had been so equipped.  The diagrams in the manuals showed skis attached to the common soldiers' feet by means of conventional civilian bindings, with tight, secure heel straps.  The Finns, however, knew that the cardinal rule of ski fighting is never to fight on skis if you can possibly avoid it.  Finnish ski boots, pieksu, had turned-up toes and no heel straps so that a man could hop out of his skis, or back into them, in a matter of seconds.

Other worse-than-useless schematics in the Soviet ski combat manual showed men attempting to throw hand grenades in the conventional overhanded manner while still strapped in their skis.  The Finns had perfected a method of dropping down into a tight crouch and hurling their grenades with a side-arm pitch.  Anyone following the diagram in the Russian manual could expect his grenade to land anywhere except the intended target.

Quite the silliest series of drawings in the Russian booklet depicted the 'proper' technique for bayonet fighting on skis.  In order to bayonet an opponent, a soldier must work up a high coefficient of friction between his feet and the ground beneath them.  Since skis are designed for the express purpose of eliminating such friction, the very idea of bayonet fighting on skis quickly reduces itself to an absurdity.

Sounds like some South African instruction manuals I can remember!  I daresay many veterans, from many armed forces, can recall similarly stupid foul-ups.

I recommend the book.  It's very interesting reading.  If you don't like the e-book version, used paper copies are available.


Well, who'da thunk it?

Guess what?

A list of companies and politicians that had loans written off by banks at the heart of Cyprus' bailout crisis has been published in Greece.

There is already anger on the island that loans with the Bank of Cyprus, Laiki Bank and Hellenic Bank often running into the hundreds of thousands – and, in one case, millions of euros – have allegedly been wiped out.

The list, reported in Friday's Ethnos newspaper and which has been handed to the Cypriot parliament's ethics committee, includes the names of politicians from Cyprus' biggest parties (excluding the socialist EDEK and the Greens).

Questions are being asked as to why banks at which – in the case of Bank of Cyprus and Laiki – deposits of above €100,000 face a levy of an estimated 40% apparently forgave the loans of politicians and other senior figures in the country's public adminstration.

There's more at the link.

Collusion and corruption between politicians and bankstersSay it ain't so!

As FedUpUSA put it last year:


Friday, March 29, 2013

Amanda Palmer on the freedom of asking

Amanda Palmer is one of the most uninhibited and least conventional musical entertainers out there.  She recently spoke to the 2013 TED conference about how she stopped charging for her music, and started giving it away for free.  She merely asks her listeners and fans to give her what they think the music is worth to them.  It's a pretty interesting tale.

You can read more about her presentation at the TED blog.

I can't say I particularly enjoy Ms. Palmer's music, but then I'm a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, musically speaking.  Now, if I could get her to cover Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung' . . .


A pepper 'arms race'?

It seems boys and their toys have returned to agriculture.  The Wall Street Journal reports:

"Please don't try this at home—we are fully trained idiots."

So went the disclaimer back in October 2010 as British pepper aficionado Leo Scott and his friend Lok Chi uploaded a video of themselves eating a new variety, the Naga Viper, developed by fellow grower Gerald Fowler. The warning was warranted as the two very experienced chiliheads sweated, writhed in pain and briefly lost the ability to speak after each chewing and swallowing one of the bright-red capsicums.

A month later, the Guinness Book of World Records certified what Mr. Scott found out the hard way: The Naga Viper was the hottest pepper ever grown, measuring 1.382 million Scoville Heat Units, the standard measure of heat. That is 225 times as hot as a jalapeño can sometimes be.

Unfortunately for Mr. Fowler, his record wouldn't stand for long. Four months later, the Naga was dethroned by the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, the current record holder, at 1.464 million Scovilles.

"I was shocked," says Mr. Scott, who lives near Bristol, England. "You've got this global community of chili growers who are competing ruthlessly with each other."

The Naga itself had just surpassed the Infinity Chili, which held the official record for a mere eight months.

. . .

... sauce producers haven't bothered to wait for Mother Nature to deliver hotter concoctions by adding potent extracts ... Nick Moore, proprietor of Dr. Burnörium's Hot Sauce Emporium in Bristol, is about to launch one called Psycho Serum weighing in at a scorching 6.4 million Scovilles. He compares its kick to "licking the surface of the sun."

The undisputed king of the hot sauce world though is Blair Lazar, a New Jersey entrepreneur who achieved a Guinness record of 16 million Scovilles—the scientific maximum. He required customers to sign a waiver before buying his "Blair's 16 Million Reserve." It consists of individual crystals of pure capsaicin produced in a laboratory.

There's more at the link.

I understand the hottest pepper currently available is the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.  There are several video clips on YouTube of idiots eating one, and then suffering accordingly!  Most of them are a bit ridiculous, so I won't embed them here.  Instead, here's one of a professor trying a Bhut Jolokia pepper during a lecture.

Perhaps I should nominate all those who try to eat the really hot ones for a Doofus Of The Day award?


A bleg for Chris, Melody and Christopher

Readers will recall our earlier mention of Chris Byrne, who's fighting a particularly nasty thyroid cancer and the related health issues it's inflicted on him.  He underwent major surgery last August, which left him looking like a man with a second smile.  Since then he's been battling to get his body chemistry back in balance, and recently announced he'd lost 100 pounds since the surgery - a huge step forward.  He's still pretty sick, though, and has a long way to go.  His wife Melody has been a tower of strength for him through it all, but it's taken its toll on her too.

Amidst all these difficulties, there's some very happy news to report.  Chris and his wife Melody have just announced the birth of their son, Christopher Byrne V.  He looks, if not happy, at least healthy in the pictures they've posted.  Heartfelt congratulations to them both.

Now for the bleg.  Chris has (for obvious reasons) not been able to work at all for some considerable time, thanks to his cancer, and Melody hasn't been able to work full-time due to the demands of caring for him (and for herself during her pregnancy).  She'll be off work for some weeks now, of course, while recovering from the delivery.  They're very short of funds, so much so that they recently tried to sell a couple of their firearms (I don't know whether they had any takers).  As Chris acknowledges in his blog post announcing the birth of their son, their friends (among whom Miss D. and I are honored to count ourselves in cyberspace, even though we've never met them in meatspace) have helped as much as possible, but they're still very, very short of money.  They're battling to keep their home and live from day to day, and of course their medical bills are running well north of six figures by now.

May I beg the indulgence of my readers, and ask you to please consider hitting their tip jar with a donation?  As a blogging community, authors and readers alike, we did pretty well for Tamara recently.  Let's see whether we can't do as well for Chris and Melody.  If you'd prefer to donate things rather than money, they've opened three baby registries as well - you'll find links in their birth announcement.

They don't open comments on their blog, because of the difficulty in not being able to moderate them and get rid of spammers under present circumstances, but if you'd like to send them an encouraging word as well, please e-mail it to me (my address is in my blog profile) and I'll forward it to them.  (I won't post their e-mail address directly, so as to preserve their privacy.)  They may respond directly, or as a group response on their blog - I'm not going to second-guess them on that.  However, I'm sure a response of some sort will be forthcoming as soon as they've caught their collective breath.

I'd be grateful if those of you with your own blogs would please pass the word to your readers as well.  Chris and Melody are part of our blogging community.  Let's look after our own.

Many thanks, friends.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

More rally mistakes

Less dramatic crashes in this video compilation than some others we've seen, but a lot of driver "Oops!" moments, some neatly executed recoveries, and some that were . . . not so neat.


Calvin would have loved this critter!

I'm sure many readers are familiar with the comic strip 'Calvin and Hobbes'.  The protagonist, Calvin, has a peculiar relationship with nasal fluids, particularly boogers.  I think he'd have absolutely loved this report from Discovery News.

Sea hares possess a weapon that even the best comic book writers couldn’t have dreamed up: an inky mucus-like substance that, when squirted at enemies, prevents them from smelling.

The discovery, reported in The Journal of Experimental Biology, reveals how complex and effective some natural chemical defenses can be.

Sea hares are a type of sea slug that has head appendages resembling rabbit ears (or at least someone thought that), hence the name. In Australia, they’re called “beach blobbies.”

Many marine inhabitants steer clear of them, and it’s easy now to understand why.

. . .

The lobsters [that hunt sea hares] are usually left in dismay, preening and cleaning themselves while the sea hare slithers away.

There's more at the link, including photographs of the wee beasties.

According to Wikipedia, people actually eat these things!  All together, now . . . Eeeeeewww!


The other side of the disability numbers

There's a lot of talk in the news media at the moment about the rise in the number of those drawing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.  This four-part series at NPR gives detailed information about the problem.  It appears incontrovertible that many have turned to the SSDI program on the expiration of their welfare and/or unemployment benefits, because they see no other way of making ends meet.  I'm willing to accept that fraud is rampant in this program, based on my own experience of medical disability.

However, I'm very concerned that all SSDI recipients may be unfairly tarred with the 'fraud' brush.  That's simply not true.  There are many genuinely disabled people out there.  I don't draw SSDI benefits myself, but I understand the plight of many that do, because I was disabled after a work-related injury in 2004.  This led to several years of interaction with my employer, the health care system, Workers Compensation, and SSDI officials.  I was surprised, and somewhat taken aback, by widespread reactions that were initially negative, almost hostile.  In hindsight, I understand it was precisely because of the prevalence of fraud that they reacted in that way . . . but at the time, as a genuinely injured person, it was hard to comprehend, much less deal with on a daily basis.

This reaction of suspicion was revealed in many ways.

  • My employer initially denied that I'd been injured on the job at all, and referred me for criminal investigation on the grounds that I'd submitted a fraudulent Workers Compensation claim.  Fortunately, I was able to provide witness statements, so my claim was eventually recognized as genuine;  but it took almost half a year between the date of my injury, and the date of my first surgery to repair the damage.  That delay was caused exclusively by this suspicion, and I'm told it contributed materially to the failure of the surgeries to fully repair the damage.
  • After two surgeries I was still partially disabled, and permanently in pain.  My employer medically retired me, but I had to go through the whole rigmarole of proving - again - that I was genuinely disabled before being approved for a (not very large) disability pension.  I had to go to no less than five different specialists, undergoing tests ranging from physical examinations, to functional limitation tests, to MRI's, to X-rays, to intramuscular electromyography (which was very painful, and no fun at all!).  Some of the test results are still being disputed by the bureaucrats, because the tests took so long to complete that some of the official standards against which their results are measured changed during the process!  Suffice it to say that my disability was proved, with independent measurement of nerve response and other evidence to confirm that my descriptions of my symptoms and limitations were accurate.
  • Despite this evidence, even today, nine years after my disabling injury, and after multiple doctors and specialists have certified that my disability is permanent and will never improve, I still have to undergo an annual medical examination, to have a doctor certify that my condition is unchanged and that I'm still disabled.  It's as if the bureaucrats and administrators are unwilling to accept all those multiple certifications at face value.  I've sometimes protested about the waste of money involved in these annual examinations, none of which will reveal anything new (as the administrators must know, if they've read my bulging file).  However, every time I was stiffly informed that this was what the 'system' required, and there was no way to change it.  The fact that such unnecessary examinations wasted (and are still wasting) several hundred dollars every year is, apparently, neither here nor there . . .

It worries me that in the (justified) public outrage over the abuse of SSDI and other disability programs by those seeking to 'game the system', looking for handouts, those who are genuinely disabled will be looked upon with the same - and in their cases, unwarranted - suspicion.  They don't deserve that.  Too many of them (myself included) have had to endure months (in many cases, years) of tests, bureaucratic obstacles, and frustration before their injuries and resultant disabilities were recognized as genuine.  To have them called into question again by those who know nothing of their true situation is . . . well, at the very least, it's frustrating.  Personally, I find it infuriating!



Friend Lawdog is in fine form again - although the 'skwirls' of which he writes are not.  In fact, their forms are slowly but surely succumbing to the ravages of nature as we speak.

To find out why, go read his latest.  A Class III beverage alert is in place, as is a friendly warning not to read it anywhere that gusts of uncontrollable laughter might be looked upon askance.


Doofus Of The Day #687

Today's award goes to a visitor to a Utah state park.

If you've heard the phrase, "You mess with the bull, you get the horns," it also apparently applies to bison.

A man learned that lesson the hard way on Antelope Island Saturday.

Witnesses said it appeared the man provoked the beast, and it promptly rammed him into a fence.

"This person is very, very, very lucky that he wasn't killed," said assistant park manager John Sullivan.

Sullivan said the man seemed uninjured immediately after the ordeal, and "other than being a little dusty ... embarrassed and shell-shocked," he was "none the worse for wear."

Witnesses told rangers the man rattled a fence separating him from the bison, appearing to try to get its attention as he was taking pictures. Some also said he may have chucked a couple of rocks at the beast.

There's more at the link, including a rather spectacular photograph (see the gallery) of the man being crushed against a fence.

Well . . . if you're dumb enough to throw rocks at wild critters that outweigh you several times over, you deserve all you get!  In Africa, we had a name for people like that.  We called them 'animal food'.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This is why I don't buy Asian farmed fish!

I'm sure many readers have read alarming reports about unsafe and unsanitary practices in fish farms across Asia.  I've long since stopped buying any farmed seafood from that part of the world.  This video report focuses only on catfish farming in Vietnam, but the problems it so graphically illustrates are the same encountered in other types of seafood farming across the region.  If you want to know why you should never buy Asian or Far Eastern farmed seafood, watch it all the way through.

Having watched that, please read the four articles linked above:  then check every package of seafood in the supermarket before you buy it, and reject any from fish farms in the Far East!  The same goes for restaurants serving seafood.  Demand to know where it came from before you order it!


The insanity of US government debt

A single chart in a recent Bloomberg article sums up just how insane our government's handling of debt and expenditure has become.  The chart is from Drew Matus, the Deputy Chief US Economist and Managing Director at UBS Investment Bank in New York.  He comments:  "The Fed is set to absorb almost all of the supply of U.S. Treasury debt this year, just as they did last year.  Even a modest reduction in the rate of buying could have a disruptive impact on interest rates and the economy."

That chart is absolutely mind-boggling.  It shows clearly how little US debt (i.e. Treasury bonds, issued to pay for US government expenditure that isn't funded by tax revenue) is currently being purchased by independent investors or other countries.  They've largely stopped buying Treasuries, because they can see the fiscal writing on the wall.  To take up the slack left by their departure from the market, the Federal Reserve is simply 'printing money' (or, in reality, tapping ones and zeroes into a computer keyboard to artificially create money, with nothing of any value underlying or backing this fiat currency) and using it to buy these bonds.  It's a gigantic paper chase.  The Treasury decides it needs an extra (say) quarter-trillion dollars, so it offers that value of bonds for sale.  No-one buys them, so the Fed steps up to the plate and prints another quarter-trillion dollars, which it uses to buy those bonds.  The Treasury then spends that 'income' until it's all gone, when it issues more bonds, and the cycle repeats itself.

This is precisely and exactly the same as if I were running my household budget on fantasy, rather than income.  I look at my anticipated bills for the year, and find that they total (say) $50,000;  but my income for the year, after taxes, is only going to be $30,000.  I can't get any bank to extend credit to me;  so I say to my wife, "Darling, write me a check for $20,000 on our joint account, please, payable to me."  She does so;  I deposit it right back into our joint account;  and the bank honors it as a deposit, increasing our balance by that amount.  In reality, of course, that would never happen - instead, the bank would freeze my account and begin proceedings to charge me with fraud!  Nevertheless, that's exactly what our government is doing, day in and day out.  That chart proves it.

This government debt is what some liberal economists (e.g. Paul Krugman) are telling us 'doesn't matter'.  I think that's insane!  So do many other more conservative economists (e.g. Steven Rattner), and the debate over its true significance is raging unabated.  However, I think that when we put it in terms of a household's spending, rather than a nation's, it tends to put it into proper perspective.  Our national household has been - and is still - using money it doesn't have, and is making up out of thin air, to fund its excessive expenditures.

Every year, the nation's accumulated deficit grows.  When will it be too much?  Was it too much at $10 trillion?  We reached that figure in 2009.  It's currently at over $16 trillion - 106% of our GDP.  In other words, our federal government now owes more money than the entire US economy makes in a year - and that's just for its routine annual expenditure, ignoring future liabilities for programs like Social Security or Medicare, which total many tens of trillions of dollars more.  Within a matter of a few years - certainly by the end of President Obama's second term, unless he changes his policies or the Congress and the Senate refuse to fund them - the deficit will exceed $20 trillion.  When and where do we stop?

As Gonzalo Lira commented a couple of months ago:

... why do people like me freak out about the amount of debt that the Federal government is floating?  Simple: Because either the fiscal overindebtedness causes interest rates to spike, thereby crashing the country’s economy and bankrupting its government; or it leads to runaway inflation that spirals out of control and into hyperinflation, thereby crashing the country’s economy and bankrupting its government. A garden of forking paths, maybe, but it all leads to the same crummy destination.

Go read his whole article.  It's the best analysis of this mess I've seen yet.

The only reason the US government can currently expend the amounts it's spending is that the Fed obligingly prints the money it needs to do so.  If the Fed stops doing that, US government expenditure - and all the programs funded by it - will have to be cut back very sharply.  If (currently extremely low) interest rates rise, that will have the same effect, as more and more US government expenditure will have to be diverted to pay increased interest costs on outstanding Treasury bonds and other short-term debt.  Any major international financial disruption will do the same thing.  (For example, China holds something like a trillion dollars worth of US debt.  If it becomes angry with this country for any reason - our support for Japan over the Senkaku Islands dispute, for example - it could simply dump half a trillion dollars' worth of that debt on the international market.  This would instantly flood the market with US treasury bonds, taking away our ability to sell more, and would drive the prices of those bonds into the cellar.  This would devastate global financial markets, as many nations rely on US treasuries as important elements of their financial reserves - which would thus be catastrophically devalued.  Sure, it'd cost China half a trillion dollars - but a war would cost several trillion.  A simple financial maneuver that would cripple the US economy overnight might seem cheap at the price, in comparison!)

The present situation is, quite simply, insane;  and those who urge the continuation of these policies are illustrating Einstein's genius when he defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  We've been doing the same thing for decades, and it's got us into our present mess.  Continuing to do the same thing will do nothing but make it worse . . . but our politicians don't have the courage to do what's needed, and cut back our entitlement expenditure.  It's a colossal failure of leadership, and by electing and re-electing such leaders, we're all going to pay for their failure, sooner or later.


So that's why they call it 'vibrato'!

I'm sure most readers are familiar with the musical effect known as 'vibrato'.  However, I suspect none of us thought of a mechanically-produced version!  Orange News reports:

A Canadian voice coach is creating a buzz with his unusual technique of using vibrators to help his students hit the high notes.

University of Alberta drama professor David Ley uses the sex toys to massage the throats of actors and singers.

"I know it's a bit different. I know there's a giggle factor, but it works. It relaxes tension in the larynx, it improves range and projection," he told

He was looking for an alternative to massaging the larynx by hand, for people who hate the feel of fingers on their throat, when he discovered the technique.

That led him to a sex shop where he found some vibrators that had a frequency around 100 and 120 hertz, the range of the human voice. He tried some on a student with good results.

There's more at the link.  Here's a video report showing how he uses them.

I'm glad they've produced 'good results' - but you just know what the comments from users' fellow thespians and singers are going to be like!


Quote of the day

From a very interesting article at the PJ Tatler, discussing 'Gutenberg's rifle' - the growing availability of plans for a firearm that can be downloaded over the Internet, then produced by a 3D printer in your own home.

"This is the fundamental problem with progressives and perhaps American socialism in general: 'We believe we can achieve equality through programs of inequality'."

Says it all, doesn't it?  I recommend reading the whole article.  The young man who said those words, Cody Wilson, sounds like a very interesting person.  I predict we'll be hearing a lot more from and about him in due course.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A very useful tip for .22LR snap caps

Like most careful shooters, I'm wary of dry-firing any .22LR (or other rimfire cartridge) firearms.  When the gun's unloaded, the firing pin can impact the side of the chamber, leading to indentations in the metal and/or a broken firing pin.  These illustrations of the rear face of a pistol chamber and a rimfire revolver cylinder, courtesy of Calguns forum user Chaos47, show such indentations.

To get around this problem, it's recommended to use so-called 'snap caps' (dummy rounds that cushion the blow of the firing pin, preventing damage to it or to the cylinder or chamber wall - as an example, these Pachmayr .22LR snap caps are offered by Midway.)  Unfortunately, these don't last all that long in rimfire calibers - my experience is that they need to be replaced after between 10 and 20 uses - and as a result, it becomes expensive and inconvenient to continually replace them.

That's why an e-mail hint today caught my attention.  The correspondent (to an e-mail list of which I'm a member) pointed out that #4 drywall anchors, such as this one (also known as wall plugs or dowels outside the USA) are almost exactly the same size as .22LR snap caps, and function just as well as the latter in revolvers, as well as in those pistols or rifles where they can easily be inserted into the chamber (which isn't always the case, unfortunately).  They even fit beneath the extractors in many such weapons, allowing them to be easily removed.

I was surprised to read this, but a quick Internet search revealed several threads on gun forums that confirmed the information was valid.  This picture from user Geezer on the Carolina Shooters Club forums illustrates how they fit into a revolver cylinder.

Intrigued, I went down to a local hardware store and picked up a box of 100 #4 drywall anchors (identical to that illustrated in the link above) for under $4.  Sure enough, they fit and function just fine in my rimfire firearms.  I don't know how long one of them will last, but so far one's taken six firing pin strikes on the same portion of its rim without breaking or completely flattening.  Given that they can be rotated in the chamber, bringing a new portion of the rim beneath the firing pin, it looks like they may last quite a bit longer than conventional snap caps - and at a cost of less than 4c apiece, what's not to like?

That's your shooter's money-saving tip for the day!


Obsessive-compulsive? Or just bored?

I'm amazed at the time and effort the maker of this 'ball track' (a free translation of the German word kugelbahn) must have put into designing, building and testing it.  Just look at the number of soldered and/or brazed joints, and the angles he had to get right to keep the balls moving smoothly, and the intricate interweaving of opposing tracks!  To see them better, I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

It's pretty amazing, though.  Full marks for dedication!


Have the Russians already pulled their money out of Cyprus?

My article last night about the Cyprus 'bailout' turns out to have been a little premature - because all the Russian cash (up to or possibly even exceeding twenty billion Euros, according to some estimates) in Cypriot banks may not be there any more!  Reuters reports:

No one knows exactly how much money has left Cyprus' banks, or where it has gone. The two banks at the centre of the crisis - Cyprus Popular Bank, also known as Laiki, and Bank of Cyprus - have units in London which remained open throughout the week and placed no limits on withdrawals. Bank of Cyprus also owns 80 percent of Russia's Uniastrum Bank, which put no restrictions on withdrawals in Russia. Russians were among Cypriot banks' largest depositors.

. . .

By Sunday, one participant in the negotiations said, there was almost no capital left in Laiki, a bank whose market value peaked at 8.1 billion euros in November 2007. Laiki's former vice chairman Pavlou disagreed, estimating there had been 2.5 billion euros in foreign deposits alone.

. . .

ECB officials contacted Latvia, another EU country that has received large Russian deposits, to warn authorities against taking in Russian money fleeing Cyprus, two sources familiar with the contacts said.

"It was made clear to our Latvian friends that if they want to join the euro, they should not provide a haven for Russian money exiting Cyprus," a euro zone central banker said.

There's more at the link.

So all that lovely Russian 'mobster money' that Cyprus was hoping to steal confiscate use to reduce its financial sector's debt burden, may well be gone already.  So much for that option!  I note that Laiki's former chairman was careful to say that there 'had been' up to 2.5 billion Euros in foreign deposits.  He didn't say they were still there!

This, of course, calls into question whether Cyprus' plans to rescue its banking sector can still work.  If those Russian deposits have vanished into thin air, it may have to levy far more than planned on other large depositors - perhaps appropriating the majority of their funds.  That's going to cause another backlash, one that may cause far more harm to the island nation than its politicians can presently foresee.  Alternatively, if there's not enough 'foreign money' left to bail out the banks, where will Cyprus get it?  The ECB's already made it clear that unless Cyprus comes up with its own contribution to the rescue deal, it won't make other funds available;  so Cyprus has to find it from somewhere.  If it can't, it faces national bankruptcy.  What does it mean for the rest of the Eurozone if one of its member nations goes under?  That's unclear right now, but it was never addressed when the Euro was established, because it was thought to be impossible.  What if it's not impossible?  Will Cyprus be the straw that breaks the camel's Euro's back?

That possibility is by no means out of the question, particularly given comments made yesterday by Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem.  He went so far as to publicly admit that something similar to Cyprus could happen elsewhere in the Eurozone.

"If there is a risk in a bank, our first question should be 'Okay, what are you in the bank going to do about that? What can you do to recapitalise yourself?'. If the bank can't do it, then we'll talk to the shareholders and the bondholders, we'll ask them to contribute in recapitalising the bank, and if necessary the uninsured deposit holders," he said.

. . .

The [Cyprus] agreement is what is known as a "bail-in", with shareholders and bondholders in banks forced to bear the costs of the restructuring first, followed by uninsured depositors. Under EU rules, deposits up to 100,000 euros are guaranteed.

The approach marks a radical departure for euro zone policy after three years of crisis in which taxpayers across the region have effectively been on the hook for resolving problem banks and indebted governments via multiple rescue programmes.

That process, with governments and taxpayers bearing the costs and providing the back stop, had to stop, Dijsselbloem said.

. . .

"If we want to have a healthy, sound financial sector, the only way is to say, 'Look, there where you take on the risks, you must deal with them, and if you can't deal with them, then you shouldn't have taken them on,'" he said.

"The consequences may be that it's the end of story, and that is an approach that I think, now that we are out of the heat of the crisis, we should take."

. . .

"If we have even more instruments in terms of bail-in and how far we can go on bail-in, the need for direct recap will become smaller and smaller.

. . .

"Now we're going down the bail-in track and I'm pretty confident that the markets will see this as a sensible, very concentrated and direct approach instead of a more general approach," he said.

"It will force all financial institutions, as well as investors, to think about the risks they are taking on because they will now have to realise that it may also hurt them. The risks might come towards them."

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

Now that's going to make Europeans with large bank accounts feel happy . . . to hear the Finance Minister of Holland tell them that their money might also be confiscated, without so much as a 'by-your-leave', to bail out a failing bank or banking system.  Under the circumstances, would you leave your money in the bank, facing that risk?  I wouldn't!  I suspect Mr. Dijsselbloem has just made bank runs in the less stable Eurozone economies that much more likely.

Keep an eye on this one, folks.  The fat lady's nowhere near singing yet.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Cyprus: "Suck & Fail" writ large . . .

Last night I said I was preparing an in-depth article about Cyprus' financial crisis and its implications for the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, details of the final (?) bailout plans are still not altogether clear, so I'm going to delay part of that article until they're more fully explained.  Nevertheless, events so far have raised all sorts of questions and hold all sorts of very nasty implications for national economies in Europe - and, by extension, here in the US as well.

(If you want to understand how the crisis arose, there's a good explanation of the history and background issues here.)

Cypriot banks have now been closed for ten days, while withdrawals from ATM's have become more and more difficult (and more and more restricted in the amount that can be withdrawn).  In order to prevent a run on the banks when they reopen, and prevent foreign depositors from withdrawing their multiple billions of Euros from Cyprus, the nation now faces draconian financial controls.  These won't even be voted on by that nation's parliament, because the latter body last week delegated authority to take these measures to the Finance Minister and the Governor of Cyprus' Central Bank.  According to the Telegraph, the controls include:

  • Restrictions in daily withdrawals
  • Ban on premature termination of time savings deposits
  • Compulsory renewal of all time savings deposits upon maturity
  • Conversion of current accounts to time deposits
  • Ban or restrictions on non cash transactions
  • Restrictions on use of debit, credit or prepaid debit cards
  • Ban or restriction on cashing in checks
  • Restrictions on domestic interbank transfers or transfers within the same bank
  • Restrictions on the interactions/transactions of the public with credit institutions
  • Restrictions on movements of capital, payments, transfers
  • Any other measure which the Finance Minister or the Governor of Cyprus Central Bank see necessary for reasons of public order and safety

In other words, if you wanted to get your money out, except for small amounts, you're screwed - at least in the short term.  I'm sure the nameless Russian depositors (read:  gangsters) who've stashed over 23 billion Euros in Cyprus accounts are going to be absolutely delighted to hear that, along with the news that up to 40% of their funds are likely to be seized by Cyprus to pay down the intolerable debt burden of its financial sector.  Many of those depositors got where they are today through organized crime, some even by tactics the civilized world would unhesitatingly term 'terrorism'.  If I were a Cypriot legislator or financial administrator who'd planned and/or approved this wholesale theft of their assets, I'd want to make sure my bulletproof vest was in good working order, and my life insurance policies were paid up, and that I had a safe hiding place for my wife and kids . . .

This 'rescue package' may save the vestiges of Cyprus' financial system, but it's going to be absolutely devastating to the rest of the island's economy.  Something like 70% of that economy is comprised of Cyprus' financial sector, with tourism and shipping making up most of the remaining 30%.  The EU has specifically demanded that the financial sector be reduced in size by at least half, to bring it into line with the proportions found in other EU economies.  This means Cyprus is going to take a hit, in the short to medium term, affecting one-third of its gross domestic product.  That doesn't mean just recession - it means wholesale, outright economic depression, widespread poverty, and potential political and social upheaval as a result of fiscal collapse.  Whether or not the nation can survive this 'rescue' remains to be seen.  Jeremy Warner, examining the likely consequences of the bailout for Cyprus, could only quote Tacitus:  "They make a desert and call it peace".

The implications for the rest of Europe are frightening.  I fully expect Cypriots to try to get as much of their money out of their banks as possible, as soon as they reopen;  and I fully expect the Cypriot government to implement any and all of the restrictions described above to stop them doing so.  This may well panic savers in other troubled Eurozone economies (particularly Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal) to withdraw at least some of their own funds (particularly because Spain appears to be planning its own 'raid' on bank accounts, and is already inflicting major financial pain on investors and bondholders in its financial sector).  If this develops into widespread bank runs, it could cripple the economies of those nations - and there's no way the Eurozone has enough capital available to save all of them.

The situation in the USA is not as dire - yet - but the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, didn't do himself or our financial system any favors last week when he effectively refused to answer questions as to whether something like this - the seizure of bank accounts by the state - could ever happen here.  He waffled, evaded and dodged the issue, but would not come out flat-footed and dismiss the possibility.  When the Chairman of the Fed won't rule out such draconian and confiscatory measures . . . you can draw your own conclusions.  I already have.

Perhaps the best summation of how bad this could get (although this is, admittedly, a worst-case scenario, and not necessarily the most likely) comes from Casey Research's latest Daily Dispatch newsletter.  I'm going to quote from it at some length, and I highly recommend that you subscribe to it yourself to remain informed about such developments.

Archimedes once said that if he had a lever long enough and a place to stand, he could move the world. Today, the half-Greek island of Cyprus appears to be the fulcrum, and the long arm of the EU may be the lever that heaves the entire world over the edge of the abyss.

. . .

Europeans living outside Cyprus should not kid themselves that this is just a Cypriot problem – anyone with a bank account in Greece, Spain, Italy, etc. should be thinking very hard about how safe their cash is from confiscation. As we go to press, the Cypriot parliament has backed away from the bank levy on everyone that caused so much uproar, but the new deal still seizes money from larger depositors. This does not undo the fact that it’s still stealing – nor that the ECB asked for some of every citizens’ savings. Europeans living in non-PIIGS countries should not kid themselves about the impact on themselves if the countries near default tumble like dominoes.

And people not living in Europe should not kid themselves into thinking that this is just a European problem; in today's global economy, every country would get hurt by a banking and economic collapse in Europe. Those who think Asia will save the world must remember that the EU is China's largest trading partner. Or was – who can say it will be tomorrow?

Key point: with a fractional reserve banking system, it doesn't take a majority of bank depositors to decide to withdraw their cash to put their banks out of business. If something like 10% of depositors decided to withdraw all of their money, banks would be in real trouble – and even if only a smaller percentage were to initially decide to keep their cash at home, they could spook the required fraction into panicking and pushing the banks into insolvency. In stable times, fractional reserve banking may seem like free goodies for all, but during unstable times, it makes banks that much more precarious. Things have to be pretty dire for an entity like the ECB to demand action that could spark such a panic.

But wait – the banks are backed by the governments, so depositors are safe, right?

Yeah, right – the same bankrupt governments that are facing insolvency themselves . . .

We've been saying for some time that the global house of cards could topple at the slightest rustling of the wings [of] any of a number [of] circling black swans. Something like the ECB turning draconian with Cyprus and scaring the heck out of everyone else in the EU seems more like a swan dive right into the heart of the teetering structure.

Many mainstream commentators are dismissing the significance of the Cyprus debacle – but the same type of people also dismissed the threat of the subprime crisis until it could no longer be denied.

This does not prove that what's happening regarding Cyprus today is the tipping point future historians will point to as the beginning of the end of the EU and hence the rest of the old economic order. But it could be.

. . .

What is absolutely clear is that the extreme measures the ECB has just shown it is willing to take are solid evidence that we are right about just how shaky things are – just how close to the crumbling edge of the abyss the whole world is.

Even if the direct, overnight theft of Cypriot bank deposits does not spark a bank run across Europe, it won't change this fact.

. . .

If ... the wheels fall off the economic "recovery," the vast majority of people will see a substantial reduction in their standard of living – and many will simply be wiped out.

There's more at the link.  It's important reading.

Friends, keep watching developments in Cyprus.  Things could get very bad indeed, and there's no guarantee whatsoever that current developments will prevent that - in fact, they may precipitate worse things.  The next week or two will be crucial for the world economy.


Doofus Of The Day #686

This news report says it all.

You can read more about it here.

Setting a snake on fire.  Hadn't she ever heard of using a shotgun, or a .22 pistol, or even a stick?  And why does the headline say "Fire possibly caused by snake" when it should read "Fire definitely caused by dumbass!"?

Ye Gods and little fishes . . .


The 'Colorado Model': the danger spreads?

I daresay readers have heard mention of the 'Colorado model', the techniques used by activists in the Democratic Party to take control of the state government of Colorado.  They've just used that control to ram through draconian gun control legislation, in the face of enormous opposition from their constituents - opposition that they deliberately, contemptuously and defiantly ignored.  The Examiner, true to its name, examined the situation in a recent article.

It turns out that what happened in Colorado was not a spontaneous reaction to criminal violence but the consequence of a longterm, planned strategy among Democratic operatives to oust conservatives from office and replace them with leftwing extremists.

Further, it also turns out that what happened in Colorado is a blueprint for the entire country, in every state, and eventually in the halls of Congress itself.

The blueprint is known in political circles as "the Colorado model" and refers to a very different strategy than that which is normally utilized by state political parties.

A group of leftwing extremists and four liberal Democratic millionaires/billionaires collaborated to develop the new strategy that would bypass the grassroots Democratic Party machine in the state in order to think totally outside the box. The core of the new strategy is a privatized political infrastructure with the four mega-donors footing the bill. New campaign finance laws were analyzed and probed in order to find ways to make the new laws work to their favor.

The gang of four mega-donors -- Pat Stryker, Rutt Bridges, Jared Polis, and Tim Gill -- created a new political infrastructure that operated totally outside the realm of the Colorado Democratic Party. All of the functions of the Party were replicated by the new infrastructure, but more functions were added that went much further than state parties ever envisioned.

While the new private infrastructure employed the traditional tactics such as grassroots organization, leadership recruiting and building, and policy development, the four mega-donors relied heavily on 527, 501(c)(3), and 501(c)(4) organizations, each with different names and identifies but all working in complete harmony to destroy the Colorado Republican Party and any conservative coalition in the state. Television and radio ads relentlessly attacked conservatives, often with no factual basis, but by the time political operatives found out who was behind the false allegations and mounted an attempt to expose the falsehoods, the mega-donor organizations had already moved on to other issues and false charges, making it difficult if not impossible for Republicans and conservatives to keep up.

The strategy worked in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles in Colorado. Democrats took control of both houses of the state legislature and installed a Democratic governor.

With all of the major leadership offices firmly under the control of leftists, the assault on the values that most Colorado residents have held dear were systematically attacked, culminating in the latest debacle, the infamous gun control laws that were approved by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Many polls showed that most residents in the state clearly opposed the new laws but had them shoved down their throats by politicians who made no secret that they do not care what their constituents think. The result has been outrage. Sportsmen, hunters, and gun enthusiasts plan to bypass the state and take their business elsewhere. A major gun magazine manufacturer, Magpul, announced the day of the vote that they are leaving Colorado and taking approximately $85 million per year in revenue with them.

The longterm danger, however, lies in what is happening in other states, right under the noses of most Republicans and conservatives. The Colorado model is being used far and wide across America to replicate the Colorado coup. North Carolina is a perfect example.

A significant leak of information was noted by journalists in North Carolina that spelled out the secret strategy being employed by leftist operatives who are known under the umbrella organization called Blueprint North Carolina.

. . .

The leaked memo states that the leftwing groups will stalk and pressure Gov. McCrory "at every public event," blast him relentlessly if he fails to follow through on campaign promises, "eviscerate" the Republican leadership in order weaken their ability to govern, and hire private investigators to infiltrate the executive branch, meaning the governor's office, in order to dig up dirt that could possibly be used to smear the governor and his top leadership team.

. . .

But perhaps the most troubling revelation of all is that the tactics used by the Colorado model and Blueprint North Carolina are being replicated in other states, particularly the battleground states such as Florida.

There's more at the link, and at the links in the excerpt above.  All are important reading for anyone wanting to be informed about what's probably happening in their state, too, right now, because the 'Colorado Model' is being applied by activists across the country.

If you look at President Obama's victory organization last year, and note that it's just transformed itself into a 501(c)4 activist organization, this dovetails perfectly with the strategies of the 'Colorado model' and its adherents - work outside the existing party political system as a mass mobilization model for left-wing and progressive opinion.  Unfettered by those who've risen in the old system, whose incumbency blocks those whom they consider to be 'young upstarts' from changing things, it can be far quicker to respond and faster on its feet, so to speak, in working to elect radical activists who'll proceed to ignore what the voters really want, and implement their radical agenda instead.

If we want to have any semblance of a constitutionally recognizable United States left at all, we have to stop this.  The question is, how?  I'm not seeing much attention being paid to this by the conservative and/or constitutional 'establishment'.  Why not?


Is this a recipe for 'cratered calamari'?

I was both surprised and amused to read this report in the Telegraph.

A fishmonger in the south of China was gutting a squid for a customer when his knife hit an eight-inch live bomb.

The squid, which was itself more than three feet long, was caught in the shallow waters off Guangdong province, China, and taken to the fish market in Jiaoling county.

"This sort of squid lives close to the shore and normally makes a meal of small fish and prawns," said the fishmonger, who gave his name only as Mr Huang to the local Guangzhou Daily newspaper.

"Perhaps he thought the bomb was his favourite food and gulped it down. He certainly had a big belly when he was caught," he added.

Mr Huang said the police had arrived promptly after he called an emergency number and that they had taken it away and performed a controlled explosion.

There's more at the link.

I'd love to know how the squid was able to move while carrying a bomb around in its stomach.  What made it eat the thing in the first place, I wonder?  I can't imagine it resembled a fish or a prawn to any great extent.

Hmmm . . . If the bomb had exploded inside the squid, would that have been a particularly severe episode of passing gas?


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Keep your eyes on Cyprus tomorrow morning

The Cyprus banking crisis will probably come to a head tomorrow.  It has enormous significance for the Eurozone, and potentially for the USA as well.

I'm in the process of preparing a detailed article about it, looking at all the implications, but I can't complete it until we know which way the frog's going to jump.  Look for it tomorrow evening . . . and until then, keep an eye on developments.  I'm not exaggerating when I say this may be the start of a very serious European economic collapse.


China won't be happy about this . . .

. . . but the rest of the industrialized world sure will be!  The Telegraph reports:

Japanese scientists have found vast reserves of rare earth metals on the Pacific seabed that can be mined cheaply, a discovery that may break the Chinese monopoly on a crucial raw material needed in hi-tech industries and advanced weapons systems.

"We have found deposits that are just two to four meters from the seabed surface at higher concentrations than anybody ever thought existed, and it won't cost much at all to extract," said professor Yasuhiro Kato from Tokyo University, the leader of the team.

While America, Australia, and other countries have begun to crank up production of the seventeen rare earth elements, they have yet to find viable amounts of the heavier metals such as dysprosium, terbium, europium, and ytterbium that are most important.

China has a near total monopoly in the heavier end of the spectrum, though it is also the dominant supplier of the whole rare earth complex after driving rivals out of business in the 1990s. It still accounts for 97pc of global supply.

Beijing shocked the world when it suddenly began to restrict exports in 2009, prompting furious protests and legal complaints by both the US and the EU at the World Trade Organisation. China claimed that it was clamping down on smuggling and environmental abuse.

"Their real intention is to force foreign companies to locate plant in China. They're saying `if you want our rare earth metals, you must build your factory here, and we can then steal your technology," said professor Kato.

. . .

Rare earth metals are the salt of life for the hi-tech revolution, used in iPads, plasma TVs, lasers, and catalytic converters for car engines. Dysprosium is crucial because it is the strongest magnet in the world but also remains stable at very high temperatures. Neodymium is used in hybrid cars, and terbium cuts power use for low-energy lightbulbs by 40pc.

The metals are also used in precision-guided weapons, missiles such as the Hellfire, military avionics, satellites, and night-vision equipment. America's M1A2 Abrams tank and the Aegis Spy-1 radar both rely on samarium.

Washington was caught badly off guard when China started restricting supplies. The US defence and energy departments have now made it an urgent priority to find other sources, but warn that it may take up to a decade to rebuild the supply-chain. The US Magnetic Materials Association said America had drifted into a "silent crisis".

There's more at the link.

This is hugely important.  China's effectively been able to hold most of the industrialized world hostage to its supply of rare earth elements.  If that stranglehold can be broken, everyone except China will be very happy indeed.


More about shelves

Last month I wrote about shelves for storing emergency supplies, etc.  At the time, I mentioned that due to particle board's propensity to lose strength and structural integrity when wet, I planned to replace some particle board shelves with ¾" or 1" plywood.  I've since done so, and they're working well.

However, I learned something else.  My ammunition supplies are stored on shelves similar to those shown below, a Gorilla Rack unit measuring 72" tall by 36" wide by 14" deep.  They've been erected inside a standard steel office cupboard, which I keep locked (for obvious reasons).

I wasn't overloading each shelf beyond its rated weight limit, but as the load approached that limit, the particle board shelves were sagging in the center, leading to the support struts at front, back and sides being pulled inward at the top and pushed outward at the bottom.  The boxes and bins on each shelf were also sagging away from the vertical as the shelf beneath them bent under the load.

I replaced those shelves as well, using ¾" plywood (I bought the cheapest grade - the shelves are hidden from sight in their cupboard, so appearance isn't important).  It's made a huge difference to the soundness of the structure.  The support struts no longer sag inward or outward, and even at full rated load, the shelves are level and carry the weight with no trouble.  Furthermore, although I hadn't noticed it before, the cupboard now sits more level on the floor.  I think the formerly sagging support struts were placing stress on the uprights, which was distorting the cupboard as a whole.

So, my enthusiastic recommendation for any heavily-loaded, sagging particle board shelf is that you replace the particle board with plywood that's at least ¾" thick.  Suppliers such as Lowes or Home Depot will usually cut a sheet of plywood to size for you if you buy it from them, either free or at very reasonable cost.  I simply took in one of my existing shelves, and the nice people at Lowes measured it and cut five plywood shelves to the same dimensions.  It couldn't have been easier, and my new shelves are a lot stronger and more stable.


Problems in getting your kids to school?

I bet your problems don't compare to this one.

A 4.5 metre [about 14' 9"] crocodile that had been stalking in waters close to the small community of Palumpa in the Daly River Reserve of the Northern Territory has been captured and shot.

Locals say the crocodile is the one that had been a problem for about two years in the area.

They say the big saltie sometimes stopped children from crossing the causeway at the community to attend school.

Senior wildlife ranger Tommy Nichols says police and council officers trapped and shot the large crocodile in a billabong on the outskirts of Palumpa, about 240 kilometres south-west of Darwin.

There's more at the link, including a rather impressive photograph of the croc across the load bed of a pickup truck.  It's big, all right - in fact, it looks big enough to give the average US school bus a hard time!