Sunday, July 31, 2016

Simon's Cat is at it again . . .

. . . this time with a laser pointer.

Our cat doesn't particularly like laser pointers - at least, she doesn't chase them much.  Bottle tops, on the other hand . . .


Living craftsmanship

Those who appreciate old-world craftsmanship are in for a treat.  Here's how a longbow is made using traditional tools and materials. I suggest watching it in full-screen mode for best results.

That was a pleasure to watch.

John Neeman Tools is a Latvian outfit, making all sorts of interesting stuff.  They say of themselves:

We are a small crew of craftsmen from Latvia who use our heritage of craftsmanship handed down through many generations to design and create woodworking tools and knives. Our process, our method and mission keep these traditions and crafts alive and well. In this high-tech age, our own traditional craftsmanship is flourishing.

Our company was founded and all the tools designed by Jacob, a carpenter, with a love for traditional woodworking together with his close friend - a local village bladesmith, that has deep knowledge in historical blades and techniques.

We use our hands to produce tools that will live on, telling their story in the hands of the craftsmen after us. Each tool we make is born with energy and personality – a love and care that will be felt daily by each craftsman; a resonance from the heart of the tool.

Towering factories and belching chimneys are not our game. All of our tools are made in our small traditional workshops, using equally traditional methods and techniques. Our focus is on uniqueness and quality, not quantity. We want to help people to remember how to use their hands, to relate their own human energy to their tools – to achieve the true joy of creating something from humble beginnings, as we did.

Our traditions of blacksmithing and woodworking walk step by step together. We are uniting our history, traditions and craftsmanship in one ancient craft - tool making.

Their prices for longbows range from $1,045 to $1,620, according to their Web site.  Value for money, I'd say, considering the craftsmanship that goes into them.  I'll be putting up a couple more videos from them over the next few days.


The other fundamentalist Islamic threat

We're accustomed to thinking of ISIS/ISIL as the major source of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism in the world today.  However, the rise of their self-proclaimed Caliphate has obscured another, equally (if not more) dangerous fundamentalist threat:  Iran's Quds Force.

StrategyPage has an interesting in-depth article about Quds.

Iran has long had a secretive group of specialists who could go overseas and organize pro-Iran mischief. This is the secretive Quds Force, which belongs to the IRGC (the Iranian Republican Guard Corps.) Also known as the Pasdaran, the IRGC is a paramilitary force of about 100,000 full timers that insures that any anti-government activity inside Iran is quickly eliminated. To assist the Pasdaran, there is a part-time, volunteer force, several hundred thousand Basej, which can provide additional manpower when street muscle is required. The Basej are usually young, Islamic conservative men, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. If opponents to the government stage a large demonstration, it will often be broken up by Basej, in civilian clubs, using fists and clubs. But outside Iran, the IRGC depends on the Quds Force to look after Iranian interests and create local versions of the Basej.

The Quds Force is a full time operation, of men trained to spread the Islamic revolution outside Iran. The Quds force has a major problem in that they are spreading a Shia Islamic revolution, while only 15 percent of Moslems are Shia. Most of the rest are Sunni, and many of those consider Shia heretics. In several countries, there is constant violence between Shia and Sunni radicals. This has been going on long before the clerics took control of Iran in 1979, which was more than a decade before the Sunni (al Qaeda showed up in the 1990s.

The core operatives of the Quds force comprises only a few thousand people. But many of them are highly educated, most speak foreign languages, and all are Islamic radicals. They are on a mission from God to convert the world to Shia Islam, and the rule of Shia clergy. The Quds Force has been around since the 1980s, and their biggest success has been in Lebanon, where they helped local Shia (who comprise about a third of the population) form the Hezbollah organization.

The Quds Force has eight departments, each assigned to a different part of the world. While the one that works in the Palestine/Lebanon/Jordan area have been the most successful, the other departments have been hard at it for three decades. The Palestine/Lebanon/Jordan department went into high gear in 2012 when a rebellion against the pro-Iran Syrian government made unexpected gains. For the next two years saving pro-Iranian Syria was the main task of Quds.

The Western Directorate has established a recruiting and fund raising network in Western nations. Many recruits are brought back to Iran for training, while Shia migrants are encouraged to donate money, and services, to Quds Force operations. Because many of these operations are considered terrorist operations, Quds Force is banned in many Western nations. Currently Quds operatives in the West are monitoring what ISIL is up to there and recruiting local Shia Moslems to fight ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

There's more at the link.

In a long and very detailed (and very interesting) assessment of the Quds Force commanding officer, Qassem Suleimani, the New Yorker also examined the organization's expansion.

In 1998, Suleimani was named the head of the Quds Force, taking over an agency that had already built a lethal résumé: American and Argentine officials believe that the Iranian regime helped Hezbollah orchestrate the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, which killed twenty-nine people, and the attack on the Jewish center in the same city two years later, which killed eighty-five. Suleimani has built the Quds Force into an organization with extraordinary reach, with branches focussed on intelligence, finance, politics, sabotage, and special operations. With a base in the former U.S. Embassy compound in Tehran, the force has between ten thousand and twenty thousand members, divided between combatants and those who train and oversee foreign assets. Its members are picked for their skill and their allegiance to the doctrine of the Islamic Revolution (as well as, in some cases, their family connections). According to the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, fighters are recruited throughout the region, trained in Shiraz and Tehran, indoctrinated at the Jerusalem Operation College, in Qom, and then “sent on months-long missions to Afghanistan and Iraq to gain experience in field operational work. They usually travel under the guise of Iranian construction workers.”

After taking command, Suleimani strengthened relationships in Lebanon, with Mughniyeh and with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s chief. By then, the Israeli military had occupied southern Lebanon for sixteen years, and Hezbollah was eager to take control of the country, so Suleimani sent in Quds Force operatives to help. “They had a huge presence—training, advising, planning,” Crocker said. In 2000, the Israelis withdrew, exhausted by relentless Hezbollah attacks. It was a signal victory for the Shiites, and, Crocker said, “another example of how countries like Syria and Iran can play a long game, knowing that we can’t.”

Since then, the regime has given aid to a variety of militant Islamist groups opposed to America’s allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The help has gone not only to Shiites but also to Sunni groups like Hamas—helping to form an archipelago of alliances that stretches from Baghdad to Beirut. “No one in Tehran started out with a master plan to build the Axis of Resistance, but opportunities presented themselves,” a Western diplomat in Baghdad told me. “In each case, Suleimani was smarter, faster, and better resourced than anyone else in the region. By grasping at opportunities as they came, he built the thing, slowly but surely.”

Again, more at the link.

A self-proclaimed 'former CIA spy' has alleged that the Quds Force is expanding its activities in South America, and infiltrating the USA as well.

The radicals ruling Iran, ever since the Islamic Revolution, have invested heavily to expand their field of operations in Europe and America.  I witnessed their activities when, as a member of the Revolutionary Guards, I was also a CIA spy.  Every Iranian embassy, Islamic cultural centers, mosques, offices of Iran Air, Iranian shipping lines, Iranian banks, and many front companies dealing with Iran are being used by the Iranian Quds Forces and intelligence agency for recruitment, transfer of arms and cash, and terrorist activities.

They have successfully placed many cells in Europe and, through ties with the Hugo Chávez government in Venezuela, have placed hundreds of Quds Force members along with Hezb'allah terrorists in front companies in Venezuela.  Iran has set up an explosives lab in Venezuela for its cells with the knowledge of the Chávez government.  In return, the Iranian regime has given hundreds of millions of dollars to Chávez.

These cells, through collaboration with drug cartels, have infiltrated Latin America and have even set up shop in Mexico, from where, in a coordinated effort, they are infiltrating the United States.

More at the link.  Whilst I'm cautious about the legitimacy of this source, I have no doubt that any self-respecting fundamentalist Islamic force would place a high priority on infiltrating the 'Great Satan', as they view this country, with a view to disrupting any US operations against its homeland or religion.  Many other sources (for example, this report) confirm that Hezbollah (a Quds Force client organization) is rapidly expanding its operations in South America, which would tie in with Iranian activity as well.

All in all, we'd do well not to lose sight of the threat of terrorism posed by the Quds Force.  Once groups of operatives are in place, they can switch from passive intelligence-gathering to active terrorism at the drop of the proverbial hat:  and I suspect the Quds Force is a lot better trained and equipped, and a much more formidable threat, than ISIS/ISIL fanatics.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Doofus Of The Day #918

Today's award goes to a naive bird-watcher in Perth, Australia.

A Mandurah woman's post this week on a popular Perth Facebook page has drawn widespread interest - and no shortage of hilarity - after she thought she'd spotted a "black duck" on a grassed area near a lake.

On closer inspection it turned out to be a large sex toy.

There's more at the link, including a picture of the offending 'duck' and a call for suggestions by the newspaper for appropriate captions.  I'm sure that literary- and photographically-minded readers like mine can help them out!


Hungry little critter, isn't he?

He'd probably figure out how to unlock it, too, given enough time.  Raccoons are smart little critters.


Lessons to be learned from a fatal gunfight

In December last year, David Stokes died in a gunfight with police in Cleveland, Ohio.

The prosecutor's office released two videos Tuesday of the encounter that took place in December during the drive and after Stokes' arrival at the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland.

Stokes was taken there after being arrested during a traffic stop on an outstanding burglary warrant. Officers also found a bag of cocaine and heroin in his car.

The suspect was hand searched before he was handcuffed, the Metroparks Police have said, but managed to conceal the handgun inside a boot.

. . .

Moments later, as McLellan maneuvered the car into the garage, Stokes pulled the gun from behind his back and shot twice as the ranger dove from the moving car.

Schultz and McLellan opened fire. Stokes escaped through the car window and can be heard yelling "kill me." He was gunned down and died the following day.

McLellan was shot in the bulletproof vest covering her right torso and recovered from the incident.

There's more at the link.  Here's an edited version of the video released by prosecutors.

There are several important lessons to be learned from this shooting.

  1. For police, the importance of thoroughly searching and securing suspects has been driven home once more.  Mr. Stokes should not have been able to hide the gun and get into the vehicle with it.
  2. Note how fast the action went down once it began.  There was no prior warning - just the sound of the first shots.  Many, perhaps most gunfights experienced by civilians are likely to begin the same way.
  3. Notice how many shots were fired.  All involved - officers and criminal alike - were not concentrating on their sight picture.  If they had been, and put their rounds where they would do the most good (or harm, depending on which side of the gun one was on), the encounter would have been over almost at once.  You can clearly see flying glass inside the car as the vehicle's windows are shot out, but it seems few or none of those bullets hit the man inside.  He was still able to escape through a shattered side window and try to run for it.  Police marksmanship was very poor - but under the stress of a lethal force encounter, that's not surprising.  Shooting for your life is much more sudden, and much more stressful, than shooting at the range.
  4. The blast and noise of the gunshots would also have been a factor, magnified as it was by the echoes in the underground parking lot.  I'm sure none of those involved were wearing hearing protection.  On the other hand, in the heat of the moment, they may not even have noticed.
  5. Officer McLellan was extremely fortunate to avoid injury, thanks to her bulletproof vest.  If she hadn't been wearing it, or if the gunman had been able to aim at a part of her body not protected by it, she might not have survived.  The gunman's handcuffs probably played a part in that.
  6. Note the determination of the gunman.  He shouted "Kill me!" as he exited the car.  He was absolutely determined to shoot it out with the police.  I don't know what motivated him to be so fanatical, but there it is.  There was only going to be one outcome to that gunfight.  The police had no choice but to act as they did - just as you or I may have no choice if faced with a potentially lethal attack.

Folks, if you or I get into a gunfight, it's likely to escalate just as quickly, and just as dangerously, as this one.  For another example of that, take the shootout with police in Dallas a few weeks ago, and how the shooting erupted out of nowhere.

If we're unfortunate enough to get into a gunfight, either as innocent bystanders or defending ourselves, the speed of events, and the danger, will be just as real.  Watch, learn, and plan accordingly.


Friday, July 29, 2016

I couldn't have put it better myself

Received from multiple sources, origin unknown:



I bet they had to change their underwear after that . . .

In March this year, a Navy E-2C Hawkeye early warning aircraft was landing on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower when an arresting cable snapped.  This flight-deck video is silent, so don't adjust your volume controls.  Watch it in full-screen mode for best results.

I bet the flight crew had to change their underwear after that . . .


Issues with the Red Cross and its aid programs

Yesterday, while commenting on non-governmental organizations and aid issues in the Third World, I said:

[Other NGO's] would raise, and expend, a great deal of money with little or nothing to show for it in terms of concrete, worthwhile results.  (The Red Cross, sad to say, was and still is notorious for this among people who truly know what goes on under such circumstances.)

Some readers were upset about this, claiming that the Red Cross did very good and very important work, and that my comments were unwarranted.  I'm afraid that's simply not true.  For example, in an in-depth investigation of the Red Cross's efforts in Haiti, NPR claimed:

When a devastating earthquake leveled Haiti in 2010, millions of people donated to the American Red Cross. The charity raised almost half a billion dollars. It was one of its most successful fundraising efforts ever.

The American Red Cross vowed to help Haitians rebuild, but after five years the Red Cross' legacy in Haiti is not new roads, or schools, or hundreds of new homes. It's difficult to know where all the money went.

. . .

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people, but the number of permanent homes the charity has built is six.

. . .

The organization, which in 2010 had a $100 million deficit, out-raised other charities by hundreds of millions of dollars — and kept raising money well after it had enough for its emergency relief. But where exactly did that money go?

Ask a lot of Haitians — even the country's former prime minister — and they will tell you they don't have any idea.

There's much more at the link.  It's well worth reading this highly detailed report in full.  It doesn't detail precisely how the money was spent, but according to information at my disposal, less than ten per cent reached Haiti in any form whatsoever - and much of that went to other aid organizations, who siphoned off most of it for their own 'administrative costs'.  I know that Red Cross supplies were on sale in local markets within hours of their arriving on the island - a fact attested to by many aid workers and military servicemen who were there.  (A later US Senate investigation confirmed many details from NPR's investigation, and added new complaints.)

In a background piece explaining why and how NPR went about its investigation, an NPR correspondent responded to several questions.

What made you decide to look into the American Red Cross's earthquake recovery spending in Haiti?

I spent a lot of time last fall with Justin Elliott and Jesse Eisinger from ProPublica looking at some of the problems the American Red Cross ran into in its disaster response to Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac and found the charity had put this inordinate focus on public relations that really hurt its effort to provide disaster relief. We found in one case the Red Cross diverted 40 percent of its emergency vehicles to press conferences and in another case drove empty trucks around to make it appear as though services were being delivered. After those stories, we started to hear from people about things that went down in Haiti. At the same time we started noticing that the numbers it was giving the public about how it spent donors' money didn't make sense. Since then the Red Cross has changed the language it uses around those figures. So with that in mind, we really started looking at the spending the Red Cross did in Haiti.

While you were working on this investigation, if someone asked you over dinner "What's going on with all that money raised by the Red Cross to rebuild Haiti?" was there one anecdote that just immediately jumped to mind for you?

I found myself saying the same thing over and over again: The Red Cross spent five years and almost half a billion dollars in Haiti — and built six homes. That seemed to sum up the situation a bit.

Again, more at the link.

After these and earlier complaints about the US Red Cross (which Pro Publica describes as having been the victim of a 'corporate takeover'), I'm afraid I profoundly distrust it, particularly after personal experience seeing it in action in Africa over many years, and then in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005 (about which I wrote in some detail at the time).  I've long since made a few decisions about that organization:
  1. I will not contribute to its campaigns.  Instead, I'll support other organizations where I can be sure my donation will be used for its intended purpose.  (Inside the USA, the Salvation Army is my #1 choice.)
  2. I will not rely on the Red Cross for support in the event of a disaster, and will do all in my power to avoid using its services.  I simply don't trust the organization.

Your mileage may vary, of course.


No s***, Sherlock!

I guess someone's (not) taking the heat for this.

How hot is it in upstate New York? So hot that horse manure is bursting into flames.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation ... learned that the owners of a horse stable had been storing the manure in large piles that frequently spontaneously combusted in the excessive heat and dry conditions.

There's more at the link.

I find it amusing (and also a bit sad) that some people today are so out of touch with nature that they don't realize the process of decomposition produces heat.  I've seen the same thing in hot climates in Africa.  Put large quantities of dung, or moist vegetation, or anything like that into heaps, and the natural process of rotting, aided by the high outside temperature, can produce spontaneous combustion.  I've even seen a pile of seaweed that was smoking!

The fun part comes when you have piles of miscellaneous bits and pieces start to do this.  The combined smells from rotting offal, plant matter, ash, dung, etc. that are all blending into the smoke is . . . well, let's just say you don't want to smell it again!  For that reason, among others, Third World garbage dumps are an . . . interesting olfactory experience - NOT!


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Conservative versus alt-Right

Courtesy of Vox Day:

Love Taz's hairdo . . .



Aid organizations, corruption, and the clash of cultures

Long-time readers will know that I was involved off-and-on with aid organizations in the Third World for many years, from the late 1970's through the mid-1990's.  I saw at first hand the chaos and instability in which many of these organizations worked.  The best of them (Doctors Without Borders, the Salvation Army, and a few others) learned to 'go with the flow', working in the midst of chaos and getting their job done as best they could.  Far too many others simply became submerged in the chaos, demanding desperately that someone - anyone! - restore order so that they could do what they saw as their job.  Needless to say, their demands were all too often lost in the uproar.  As a result of their inability to "improvise, adapt and overcome", they got little or nothing done.  Others would raise, and expend, a great deal of money with little or nothing to show for it in terms of concrete, worthwhile results.  (The Red Cross, sad to say, was and still is notorious for this among people who truly know what goes on under such circumstances.)

Strategypage has a very interesting article about NGO's (non-governmental organizations), peacekeeping, international aid, and the problems encountered in those sectors over the past couple of decades.  I recognized much of what is said there from my own experience.  I've never worked in the Middle East or South-East Asia, discussed in much of the article, but the problems are the same as those encountered in Africa, where I was.  They're just on a larger scale.

Here are a few excerpts from the article.

One reason so many people are going hungry in conflict zones is because too much of the donated food and other supplies are not reaching those who need it. The UN, Red Cross and thousands of other foreign aid organizations are having a harder time raising money mainly they are having an even harder time dealing with the growing revelations about the extent to which foreign aid is stolen after arriving in the countries where it is needed.

. . .

Aid groups are also beginning to confront the harmful side effects of their good works. The worst side effect is how rebels and gangsters sustain themselves by stealing food and other aid supplies, as well as robbing the NGO workers themselves.

. . .

In the late 20th century the number of NGOs grew explosively. Now there are thousands of them, providing work for hundreds of thousands of people. The NGO elite are well educated people from Western countries that solicit donations, or go off to disaster areas and apply money, equipment, and supplies to alleviate some natural or man-made disaster. Governments have been so impressed by the efficiency of NGOs (compared to government employees) that they have contracted them to perform foreign aid and disaster relief work that was once done by government employees.

Problems, however, have developed. The employees of NGOs, while not highly paid, are infused with a certain degree of idealism. These foreign NGOs bring to disaster areas a bunch of outsiders who have a higher standard of living and different ideas. Several decades ago the main thing these outsiders brought with them was food and medical care. The people on the receiving end were pretty desperate and grateful for the help.

But NGOs have branched out into development and social programs. This has caused unexpected problems with the local leadership. Development programs disrupt the existing economic, and political, relations. The local leaders are often not happy with this, as the NGOs are not always willing to work closely with the existing power structure. While the local worthies may be exploitative, and even corrupt, they are local and they do know more about popular attitudes and ideals than the foreigners. NGOs with social programs (education, especially educating women, new lifestyle choices, and more power for people who don't usually have much) often run into conflict with local leaders. Naturally, the local politicians and traditional leaders have resisted or even fought back.

. . .

NGOs have formal legal recognition in many countries and internationally they, as a group, have some standing. NGOs have become a player in international affairs, even though individual NGOs each have their own unique foreign policy. But as a group, they are a power to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, there is no leader of all the NGOs you can negotiate with. Each one has to be dealt with separately. Since NGOs also come from many different countries (although most have staff that speak English), peacekeepers can also run into language and cultural customs problems. NGOs have turned out to be another good idea that, well, got complicated in unexpected ways.

This move from delivering aid to delivering (often unwelcome) ideas has put all NGOs at risk. The NGOs have become players in a worldwide civil war between local traditional ideas and the more transnational concepts that trigger violent reactions in many parts of the world. Now, concerned about doing more harm (or a lot of harm) than good, NGOs are at least talking about how to deal with some of the dangerous conditions their presence creates.

There's much more at the link.

The article makes very interesting and informative reading for those interested in this field. It's also very depressing, because it's very clear that too many NGO's have learned nothing except how to complain.  If you donate to such causes, I can only suggest that you limit your donations to those who have proven over and over again, in the crucible of disaster, that they know what they're doing and are efficient and effective at doing it.  There aren't all that many of them.



There's a great holster sale at Simply Rugged

Those of you who follow my shooting posts will recall that I'm a big fan of Simply Rugged holsters.  They're larger than some of their competition, but very strong, offering both ease and speed of use and also good protection to the handgun.  They offer the flexibility of either strong-side or crossdraw carry, and optional IWB straps permit both inside- and outside-the-waistband carry using the same holster.  I now own seven or eight of them, and I've been very happy with them.

I wanted to give you a heads-up about their 'Christmas in July' clearance sale.  You can pick any pre-made holster off their 'Gear to Go' page, and use the coupon code 'GTGSALE' at checkout to take 10% off the marked price.

The sale runs until the last day of July, so you only have a couple of days.  It's limited to those holsters listed on the 'Gear to Go' page, but there are a lot of them there.  You might find just what you need if you click over there and scroll down.  Recommended.  (And, no, in case any one was wondering, I'm not being compensated in any way for mentioning Simply Rugged.  I just like their products.)


Flying waaaaay too close to the edge

While fighting the Sage fire in California earlier this month, a DC-10 tanker aircraft made a low pass that almost turned deadly. Watch in full-screen mode for best results.

He can't have been more than twenty to thirty feet above that last ridgeline . . .


At last, beer you really can pour back into the horse!

It's long been an English idiom that "This beer is so bad, it should be poured back into the horse it came from!" (or words to that effect).  Well, perhaps now we can.

A solar-powered machine that can create drinkable water out of urine, could now be used to make beer, according to researchers.

The researchers at the University of Ghent created a device that uses a solar-powered boiler and special membrane to separate the urine into two parts: water and fertiliser.

Having tested the method at a music festival in Ghent, where the team collected 1,000 litres of water in 10 days, it is now looking at using the water to make beer.

"We call it from sewer to brewer," Sebastiaan Derese, one of the researchers from the University of Ghent, told Reuters. "We're able to recover fertiliser and drinking water from urine using just a simple process and solar energy."

. . .

Separate research has shown other innovative uses for urine. The University of the West of England created a pair of socks that can send a text message in an emergency when powered by urine.

There's more at the link.

So, there you have it:
  1. Collect large quantities of horse urine.
  2. Process the horse urine through this new device.
  3. Use the water thus obtained to make beer.
  4. If the beer is good, use in the traditional manner.
  5. If it's lousy, give it to the horse to drink, then proceed to Step 1 again.

I suppose this machine might even produce a sort of 'perpetual motion beer'.  Drink the first batch;  dispose of the resulting 'output' by collecting it;  then process it through the machine to produce more beer.  I can see the slogan now:  Prevent waste!  It's ecological!

As for the socks sending text messages . . . better watch where you're aiming when you've had too much beer, lads.  The message might be self-incriminating, which would be the ruinurination of you!


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Jerry Pournelle on free trade

Dr. Jerry Pournelle, one of the doyens of science fiction, has commented on his blog (one of the oldest in existence) about the issue of free trade.

One reason Conservatives are advised by Conservative leaders to disagree with Trump is his position on Free Trade. The problem for me is that I do not see Free Trade, particularly laissez faire Free Trade, as necessarily Conservative at all.

The advantages of Free Trade are lower prices for stuff. That means they are more cheaply produced. As the economist David Ricardo wrote, there is a principle of comparative advantage that coupled with free trade guarantees maximum profits for when there are no trade restrictions, and impediments to free trade are supposed to be mutually disadvantageous.

But do understand, what is conserved is lower prices. Nor social stability. Not communities. Not family life. Indeed those are often disrupted; it’s part of the economic model. Under free trade theory, it’s better to have free trade than community preservation, better to have ghost towns of people displaced because their jobs have been shipped overseas; better to have Detroit as a wasteland than a thriving dynamic industrial society turning out tail finned Cadillacs and insolent chariots and supporting workers represented by rapacious unions in conflict with pitiless corporate executives.

. . .

What was conserved by turning Detroit into a wasteland? How was that conservative? Wouldn’t it be more conservative to argue that if everyone pays a little more for stuff made here, by people who work here, we are better off than having it made south of the border and inviting our people to go work there at their prevailing wages?

There's more at the link.  Scroll down the page until you come to the relevant section.

Plenty of food for thought there.  I'm on the fence about free trade.  There are undoubted international advantages, but not so many national advantages.  The question is, where do our priorities lie?  Being an 'international sort of person', and an immigrant to the USA, I used to come down on the side of international advantage.  Now, having had time to assess the results of more than half a century of free trade and internationalization . . . I'm not nearly so sure that was a good idea - at least, not for Americans.


"How a Champagne-Laden Steamship Ended Up in a Kansas Cornfield"

That's the fascinating headline to this article at Atlas Obscura.

Hawley and his intrepid team have quite the incredible passion: discovering and excavating steamboats from the 19th century that may have sunk in the Missouri, but now lie beneath fields of farmers' midwestern corn. “Ours is a tale of treasures lost,” says Hawley. “A journey to locate sunken steamboats mystery cargo that vanished long ago.”

In 1988, Hawley and his crew uncovered the steamboat Great White Arabia, which sank in 1856 a few miles west of Kansas City. The discovery yielded an incredible collection of well-preserved, pre-Civil War artifacts. Hawley, along with his father, brother and two friends, unearthed over 200 tons of items, the equivalent of 10 container trucks. Many of these artifacts, from shoes to champagne bottles, are on display at the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City. Its tagline is “200 tons of treasure.”

While most rescued sunken treasure is heavily water damaged and covered in rust and barnacles, the cargo of the Arabia was in relatively pristine condition, about as immaculately preserved as the day she sank 160 years ago.

Now Hawley and his team are excavating another steamboat, again buried not underneath the waters of the Missouri, but in a field a few miles southwest.

The first mystery is, of course, how a boat that sank mid-river ends up buried in a field. The answer lies with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During the latter half of the 19th century, the Corps of Engineers undertook projects to forcibly alter the shape of the Missouri River. The plan was to bring the banks closer together, and by narrowing the width of the river, speed up the current, making boat passage much faster.

One such place was near Parkville, a few miles north east of Kansas City. It was here in 1856 that the Arabia sank after hitting a snag of a sycamore tree, sinking in minutes. As the course of the river was altered decades later, the steamboat became preserved not under the muddy waters of the Missouri, but in a corn field.

There's more at the link.

Here's a video report on the ship and its rediscovery.

I find the whole story absolutely fascinating.  The discovery dates back to 1988, and the museum to 1991, but I'd never heard of it until I read this article.  Next time I pass through Kansas City, I'll have to make a point of visiting it.


Political "Gigglesnort!"

Christopher Burg delivers a lovely smackdown to both political parties - or, at least, to their establishments.  An example:

The Democrats are selling a world where the disarmed populace is entirely at the mercy of the lawless but remain safe from unapproved, dangerous speech and any potential transgression against Mother Gaia, real or imaginary, is punished via summary execution.

There's more at the link.  Go read it all for a good laugh - albeit a painful one, because I think he's more right than wrong.

I'm also having a lot of fun seeing the textbook conservatives and neocons in despair at Donald Trump's progress, and the progressive left's despair at Hillary Clinton's ditto.  I continue to maintain that the former should now vote en masse for the Libertarian Party to register their protest, and the latter for the Green Party for the same reason.  That would make the next few election cycles a whole lot more interesting.  Let's get four parties into our political system, instead of two.  Break the stranglehold!


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Just a big soppy underwater puppy dog

It may be a sea lion, but it's behaving like a lot of Labradors I've known!


What sort of terror attacks will come next?

After all the incidents of recent weeks in Europe and the USA, I suspect we're in for a long period of such disruptions.  Some will be relatively small, using knives or firearms.  Others will be much worse, using explosives or arson.  Following questions from readers as to what to expect, I'm going to discuss a few likely possibilities here.  In case you're worried about it, I'm not saying anything new.  Wannabe terrorists have openly discussed these and other ideas on the Internet for years.

First of all, I think we can expect small-scale 'lone wolf' attacks in ever-increasing numbers.  Individuals or small groups will use firearms, home-made explosives or arson (fueled by gasoline or whatever they can lay their hands on) to attack night clubs, churches, cafes, festivals, etc.  Such attacks are almost impossible to defend against in advance, because the perpetrators will seldom need to talk to others about them.  Little or no co-ordination will be necessary.  The armed citizen has a decent chance of disrupting or stopping such attacks if he or she is prepared, alert and ready to act.  I hope and trust most of my readers will be that kind of person.

On a larger scale, I've been warning for years (as regular readers of this blog will know) that I expect one or more Beslan-style attacks on US schools.  It would be relatively simple for groups of terrorists to sneak across our porous southern border, congregate in two or three or four towns and cities where they could blend into already-resettled populations of Middle Eastern refugees, scope out local schools, obtain firearms and fuel such as LP gas cylinders and gasoline, manufacture home-made explosives, and prepare for co-ordinated attacks with other groups.  It's a nightmare scenario, but I have no doubt whatsoever that it's in the minds of terrorists right now.  Our schools are almost completely unprepared for such attacks.

Another likely possibility is the use of LP gas tanks, either stand-alone units, or gas cylinders on trucks, or actual LP gas tankers (road, rail or ship-borne), as blast and incendiary bombs.  They can be absolutely terrifying in the destruction they cause.  For a start, in case you've never heard of a BLEVE (Boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion), here's a video explaining it.

The force of such an explosion depends, of course, on the amount of fuel available.  For example, here's a road accident in Russia that caused several consecutive explosions of individual gas cylinders.  Each explosion is relatively small, but is still big enough to devastate a single shop or dwelling or passing vehicle, and kill people nearby with flying fragments of the cylinder(s).

An entire tanker truck filled with liquid natural gas or propane would be far more dangerous.  Consider the disaster at Los Alfaques in Spain in 1978, which killed over 200 people and injured as many again.  There have been many others. Here are three that were caught on camera.

Now, imagine that one of those explosions took place in an urban area - a built-up residential or commercial district.  Think of it in the business or shopping districts of New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles.  Think of the casualties it would cause, and the carnage as the entire area became clogged with people trying to escape, others trying to get closer to gawk, and emergency services trying to get in and out. It would be catastrophic.

I'm not saying this because I like being alarmist.  I lived in an environment of terrorism for many years, and I've seen at first hand the sort of things these people can and will do.  I've seen rocket attacks on oil and gasoline storage tanks from a nearby road;  bombs planted in restaurants;  gun and knife attacks on innocent civilians;  mob violence directed against anyone and everyone who did not agree or sympathize with one side or another;  and so on.  Those were all relatively unsophisticated.  In our urbanized, highly concentrated western cities, something like a gas tanker attack would be far more dangerous.  Even more so would be an attack on a LNG carrier like the one illustrated below.

Such a ship, in harbor, would be an extraordinarily attractive target, provided terrorists could be found with sufficient knowledge and expertise to board her and plant their explosives in the right places.  It would cause immense damage and many casualties.  Needless to say, extraordinary precautions are taken to stop that happening.

LP gas isn't the only threat, of course.  A gasoline tanker could be hijacked, driven into a transportation tunnel (say, the Holland Tunnel or the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City), stopped halfway through it, its valves opened to empty its cargo into the road, and an incendiary device used to ignite it.  The resulting fire would almost certainly kill a lot of people in the tunnel, cause so much damage that the structure might become unsafe for future use, and disrupt traffic (and emergency responders) for days, or weeks, or months.  (Even a minor fire can do a lot of harm, as happened in 1949.)  Multiple co-ordinated attacks of that sort might bring an entire city to a standstill, causing immense economic disruption.  (Yes, I know trucks and hazardous materials are banned from such tunnels.  Do you think such a ban is going to deter or stop a terrorist?  Even physical barriers might not be enough, particularly if he and/or his accomplices can shoot or grenade their way past defending officers to open the barriers.)

The same sorts of attacks could be launched on individual buildings.  The World Trade Center was attacked with vehicle-borne bombs in its basement in 1993.  Regulations and precautions notwithstanding, it's not at all impossible for similar attacks to be launched in future, particularly if security grows lax (or can be suborned . . . how many security personnel have been recruited from population groups that might be sympathetic to, or susceptible to intimidation by, terrorists?).  Tanker trucks would obviously not fit into basements or parking garages, but smaller vehicles could carry drums or cylinders of fuel, or bombs.

I'd say those are the most likely forms of terrorist attack we have to anticipate.  I've no idea how likely they are in the short term, but I know terrorists have discussed them on their bulletin boards and in messages.  The authorities are well aware of it.  One hopes adequate precautions have been taken, but the powers that be simply can't guard every tanker truck, or every LNG rail car, or every piece of critical infrastructure such as tunnels or bridges.  Such attacks will be attempted, as sure as I'm sitting here.  We'd better all be hoping and praying that the authorities foil them before it's too late.  We can help by being alert, reporting suspicious behavior, and most of all being prepared to stop perpetrators ourselves if at all possible.

We live in an age of terrorism now.  It's a fact of life.  We'd better get used to it, and conduct ourselves accordingly.


Doofus Of The Day #917

Today's award goes to two over-enthusiastic Army junior officers in England.

Two young Army officers set fire to a mess during a boozy dinner after they tempted to settle a disagreement by shooting flares at each other.

A room and corridor in the officers’ mess at Allenby Barracks in Bovington, Dorset, were gutted by fire after the incident at a “fathers and sons” dinner to celebrate the end of a training course.

Flares were fired after the unnamed officers decided to settle an argument by taking a kayak into the swimming pool outside and firing at each other on Friday night, Forces News reported.

. . .

The incident happened during a dinner to celebrate the end of a three-month course for young tank troop commanders of the Royal Armoured Corps officers who had recently graduated from Sandhurst.

One of the flares, which were not military ammunition, was fired through a window in a seven story block and managed to set the room alight.

When personnel tried to put out the fire, sources said the base’s fire hoses had been shut off due to fears over Legionnaires disease following an outbreak on the base in January.

The whole block was left empty for the weekend until the fire alarms could be reset.

Army sources suggested the incident was being viewed as “high jinx rather than criminal damage”.

One former officer told the Telegraph: “They wouldn’t be the first to fire flares at each other at the ‘Bovvy Hilton’. This sort of thing used to happen all the time in my day.”

There's more at the link.

It sounds as if not much has changed since my younger days in the military . . . and the incident confirms yet again that armies (and young men in uniform) are much the same all over the world!


What a hurry and a scurry and a flurry . . .

I'm not generally impressed by or interested in political party conventions.  They're heavily scripted public relations exercises, designed to portray the party and its candidates in the best possible light.  However, when things go wrong, they can become a lot of fun - at least to outside spectators.

I'm afraid the high jinks and shenanigans surrounding the Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia this week have been so delicious as to provoke the onset of schadenfreude.  Frankly, the consequences of the party bureaucracy's misconduct are richly deserved, and one can only hope there's more to come.  They deserve every bit of it.  The party structure is supposed to be neutral towards its candidates until one is selected, whereupon it swings into action to support the chosen candidate(s) during the election process.  Instead, it turns out that the Democratic National Committee has been partisan throughout the selection process, actively conspiring against one candidate and for another, and hoodwinking the party's own members in the process.  No wonder the members are angry.  They have every reason to be!

What I find most strange about this whole thing is that more heads have not rolled over the issue.  Only the DNC's chairperson has resigned - and that won't take effect until after the convention.  For such egregious misconduct, one would have expected that every single person involved should have resigned the moment their activities were uncovered.  If they did not do so, someone should have fired their asses instanter.  However, such conduct is apparently too honorable to be expected.  I seriously question whether most of the guilty parties will be punished at all.  The ethical and moral blindness of the party's leadership is astonishing.

I suppose, in a way, it's similar to the problem that the Republican party establishment had with Donald Trump.  He defied the establishment, running his own campaign his own way, and going over the heads of the party's bureaucracy to appeal directly to its members.  He succeeded.  His Democratic Party rival, Bernie Sanders, tried valiantly, but couldn't overcome the entrenched establishment of his party in the same way.  I think that was a great pity, for the sake of American democracy overall.  There's nothing like skewering the self-proclaimed powers that be!

I'm also greatly enjoying the DNC's attempts to 'spin' the crisis.  They're now trying to blame President Putin of Russia for the debacle.  I don't think he'd have hesitated for a moment to arrange it, if he could have;  but the DNC should pause to think about that.  If he is, indeed, behind the Wikileaks revelations, why would he release so many of them now?  Surely he should have held onto them until they could have the greatest impact on the electorate as a whole, just before the election date?  To me, that suggests that if he is involved, he's 'keeping the best wine until last' - he's got a whole lot more information that he's going to release at the most appropriate moment, from his point of view.  Some people in the DNC appear to be very worried about that - with good reason.  (It would be the best possible outcome, IMHO, of Hillary Clinton's criminal misconduct in using an unsecured private e-mail system for classified communications of state.  Serves her right!)

Of particular irony is this comment:

If the Russians were behind the leaks, said former CIA director Michael Hayden, “they’re clearly taking their game to another level. It would be weaponizing information.” He added: “You don’t want a foreign power affecting your election. We have laws against that.”

Oh, really?  Well, Mr. Hayden, what about US interference with elections in Ukraine a couple of years ago - interference that had a great deal to do with subsequent Russian intervention in that country?  'We have laws against that', you say?  Well, then, why didn't the US government itself obey them?  It's not the first time the USA has done that, of course.  Try Haiti and Chile, among others.  Pot, meet kettle.  Kettle, pot.

You know what would be the best possible outcome of this whole kerfuffle?  Let disgruntled Republicans, who can't stand the thought of Donald Trump as their party's candidate, vote instead for Governor Johnson of the Libertarian Party.  Let disgruntled pro-Bernie Sanders Democrats, who can't stand the thought of Hillary Clinton as their party's candidate, vote instead for Jill Stein of the Green Party.  With luck, this will lift both minor parties out of the doldrums and into the mainstream of future political activity.  That might be the beginning of the end of the US's de facto two-party system.  Far better, IMHO, to have four mainstream parties, and meaningful choice for the electorate.  Bring it!


Monday, July 25, 2016

So hot!

Right now, here in northern Texas, in the small town where I live:

Our geothermal air-conditioning system is working full blast, and doing a pretty good job considering the sweltering conditions, but the interior of the house is still about 8 degrees higher than it's supposed to be. The house has absorbed so much heat today that I guess it'll stay that way until the small hours of tomorrow morning. Tonight I'll be sleeping nekkid on top of the sheets, for sure!


Three very important articles

In preparing my posts about the economy last Friday and Saturday, plus the one about politics yesterday, I used three articles as sources that I think capture very important aspects of the current malaise in this country.  I'd like to recommend them to your attention.

The first dates back to 2010.  It's from the American Spectator, and it's titled 'America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution'.  I've referred to it before in these pages on several occasions, but it's so profound that it bears revisiting.  Here's a brief excerpt.

Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America’s upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and “bureaucrat” was a dirty word for all. So was “social engineering.” Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday’s upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.

Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters — speaking the “in” language — serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America’s ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.

The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century’s Northerners and Southerners — nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, “prayed to the same God.” By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God “who created and doth sustain us,” our ruling class prays to itself as “saviors of the planet” and improvers of humanity. Our classes’ clash is over “whose country” America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark’s Gospel: “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

There's more at the link.  Excellent reading.

Next, from the Spring 2016 edition of City Journal comes 'The End of Democracy in America'.

Over today’s swarming millions of equal, materialistic, utterly isolated individuals, [de Tocqueville] wrote, “stands an immense tutelary power, which assumes sole responsibility for securing their pleasure and watching over their fate.” This new kind of sovereign, “after taking individuals one by one in his powerful hands and kneading them to his liking,” will spread over society “a fine mesh of uniform, minute, and complex rules,” which constrain even the best and brightest. “He does not break men’s wills but softens, bends, and guides them. He seldom forces anyone to act but consistently opposes action. He does not destroy things but rather prevents them from coming into being. Rather than tyrannize, he inhibits, represses, saps, stultifies, and in the end reduces each nation to nothing but a timid and industrious flock of animals, with the government as its shepherd.”

Under the New Deal’s mesh of minute and complex rules, the sovereign—with the Supreme Court’s blessing—punished a farmer in 1942 for growing grain in excess of his allotted quota, to feed to his own livestock. Today the iron cage of administrative rules prevents new businesses from opening, old ones from hiring, doctors from treating patients as they think best, groups of citizens from uttering political speech, even a landowner from moving a pile of sand from one spot to another on his property, purportedly because it could affect a navigable waterway 50 miles away. It slows projects to a crawl, so that building a bridge, a skyscraper, a power plant takes years—whereas in the old America, the Empire State Building rose in 11 months.

And today’s sovereign does force men to act as well as suppressing action, so that nuns must provide their employees with birth control that their religion holds to be sinful, bakers must make cakes celebrating homosexual marriages that their religious beliefs abominate, private colleges must regulate their students’ sex lives, banks must lend to deadbeats. The immense tutelary power has turned private charities into government contractors, so that Catholic Charities or Jewish Social Services are neither Catholic nor Jewish—though most public welfare comes direct from the state, from babies’ milk to old people’s health care and pensions, for which only a minority has paid. As Tocqueville observed, “It is the state that has undertaken virtually alone to give bread to the hungry, aid and shelter to the sick, and work to the idle.” In New York State, where even in the 1830s Tocqueville saw administrative centralization taking form, the sovereign has commanded strictly private clubs to change their admissions criteria, so that even the realm of private association is subject to government power. And whatever traditional American mores defined as good and bad, moral and immoral, base and praiseworthy, the sovereign has redefined and redefined until all such ideas have lost their meaning. Is it any wonder that today’s Americans feel that they have no say in how they are governed—or that they don’t understand how that came about?

Again, more at the link.

Finally, from the Summer 2016 edition of City Journal comes 'Why Are Voters So Angry?  They Want Self-Government Back'.

Haunting this year’s presidential contest is the sense that the U.S. government no longer belongs to the people and no longer represents them. And this uneasy feeling is not misplaced. It reflects the real state of affairs.

We have lost the government we learned about in civics class, with its democratic election of representatives to do the voters’ will in framing laws, which the president vows to execute faithfully, unless the Supreme Court rules them unconstitutional. That small government of limited powers that the Founders designed, hedged with checks and balances, hasn’t operated for a century. All its parts still have their old names and appear to be carrying out their old functions. But in fact, a new kind of government has grown up inside the old structure, like those parasites hatched in another organism that grow by eating up their host from within, until the adult creature bursts out of the host’s carcass. This transformation is not an evolution but a usurpation.

What has now largely displaced the Founders’ government is what’s called the Administrative State—a transformation premeditated by its main architect, Woodrow Wilson. The thin-skinned, self-righteous college-professor president, who thought himself enlightened far beyond the citizenry, dismissed the Declaration of Independence’s inalienable rights as so much outmoded “nonsense,” and he rejected the Founders’ clunky constitutional machinery as obsolete. (See “It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More,” Summer 2014.) What a modern country needed, he said, was a “living constitution” that would keep pace with the fast-changing times by continual, Darwinian adaptation, as he called it, effected by federal courts acting as a permanent constitutional convention.

. . .

Deference to the greater wisdom of government, which Wilsonian progressivism deems a better judge of what the era needs and what the people “really” want than the people themselves, has been silently eroding our unique culture of enterprise, self-reliance, enlightenment, and love of liberty for decades. But if we cease to enshrine American exceptionalism at the heart of our culture—if we set equal value on such Third World cultural tendencies as passive resignation, fatalism, superstition, devaluation of learning, resentment of imaginary plots by the powerful, and a belief that gratification deferred is gratification forgone—the exceptionalism of our institutions becomes all the more precarious.

More at the link.

All three articles contain important material, and all are, IMHO, exceptionally important reading in preparation for the 2016 election.  I recommend them all.


In defense of larger handgun calibers

In the wake of the spate of recent terrorist and criminal incidents, I've again been getting queries about what cartridge or caliber is 'best' for self-defense.  In particular, some folks with what they consider to be 'old-fashioned' heavier-caliber weapons are asking whether they need to go to lighter caliber equivalents that can hold more ammunition.  Whilst there are definitely factors that favor such a switch, there are others that motivate against it.

I've written extensively about this in the past, and I don't want to re-hash everything here;  but for the benefit of those who may have missed earlier articles, I'll provide a brief summary.  See these previous articles for more in-depth information:
In recent years a number of law enforcement agencies and other authorities have concluded that ammunition performance in smaller cartridges such as 9mm. Parabellum has improved to the point that they offer performance almost as good as traditionally 'superior' cartridges such as .45 ACP, .40 S&W, etc.  The FBI, which inspired the development of the .40 S&W after the infamous 'Miami Massacre' incident, has decided to switch back to the 9mm. for this reason among others.  Other important factors are that many (perhaps most) shooters find the recoil of the 9mm. round easier to control than its bigger brethren, and also that pistols using the smaller round can be made physically smaller, thus enabling those with smaller hands to use them more easily.

Nevertheless, larger rounds retain a significant advantage in terms of bullet momentum and its resultant effects on the target.  I discussed momentum in the third part of my 'Myth of handgun stopping power' series;  please read the discussion there.  Briefly, momentum (and hence depth of penetration) is generally improved with a heavier bullet, while velocity (and hence bullet energy) is generally improved with a lighter bullet.  (That's an over-simplification, but in a brief overview like this, it'll have to do.)

Whilst maximum energy delivery on target is an important aspect of a defensive round, momentum has a value all its own when it comes to penetration.  Examples include the need to penetrate concealment such as vehicle bodies, or deal with heavy-set attackers (i.e. having greater volumes of flesh and hence distance to penetrate between their skin and their vital target zones), or get through heavy outer clothing such as multiple layers worn in colder climates.  A round with greater momentum will generally penetrate more easily, and penetrate deeper into, such targets.

There's also the issue of the shock delivered to the target.  I think it's unquestionable that a heavier bullet, with greater frontal area and momentum, will deliver a greater initial shock to the target.  I offer two real-world tests that you can conduct for yourself.

The sport of bowling pin shooting has become very popular over the years.  Briefly, the shooter engages a table full of bowling pins and attempts to not just knock them down, but drive them off the table, as fast as possible.  Here's a video clip demonstrating the sport.

There are classes of competition for smaller, less powerful cartridges, even down to the lowly .22 Long Rifle (using smaller, lighter targets, of course);  but in general, for the same size and weight of bowling pin, a larger, heavier, more powerful cartridge will be more effective than a smaller, lighter, less powerful one.  Try this for yourself.  Set up a big, heavy bowling pin on a table-like surface six feet in depth behind the bowling pin.  Shoot at it with both a heavier and a lighter caliber, using the same point of aim.  (I suggest .45 ACP and 9mm. Parabellum, two of the most-used defensive cartridges.)  See which one knocks it down more easily, and drives it further back down the surface.  See which one knocks it right off the rear of the surface more quickly.  I think you'll find that the heavier cartridge does better than the lighter one, almost all the time.

The second real-world test is hunting.  Many hunters have shot game animals roughly the same weight as (or sometimes heavier than) human beings with handgun cartridges.  All too often, rounds that are very highly rated for self-defense against humans don't do well at all against such animals.  One of my favorites, Winchester's RA9TA 127gr. 9mm +P+ round, did very poorly for my friend Lawdog in an encounter with a wild hog.  (On the other hand, so did a .45 ACP round from the next officer to arrive on the scene.)  Jim Higginbotham, a firearms instructor and active shooter with decades of experience whose views I respect very highly, reports that the fabled 125gr. .357 Magnum round, beloved of experts for many years, has performed very poorly on deer in his hands, as have many 9mm. rounds.  On the other hand, he's used .45 ACP on deer with good results.  (Admittedly, whitetail deer are generally a lot less tough than wild hogs!)  My own favorite cartridge for handgun hunting (not that I do a lot of that these days, since my disabling injury) has long been the Federal 300gr. CastCore load in .44 Magnum.  In general, larger calibers and cartridges have performed better on human-size and -weight animals than smaller ones.

This is not, repeat, NOT, to say that a 9mm. pistol or .38 Special revolver can't be a perfectly satisfactory means of self-defense against a human being!  They most certainly can, particularly when loaded with an effective round that's accurately directed against a suitable target zone.  I carry such cartridges almost every day, and I'm comfortable relying on them.  However, I also accept that they have their shortcomings, some of which we've discussed above.  I saw those shortcomings magnified in actual combat in southern Africa during the 1980's (admittedly with earlier-generation ammunition that wasn't as advanced as modern versions), and I therefore remain more comfortable with larger, heavier, more powerful cartridges than I am with smaller, lighter, lower-powered alternatives.  When I'm carrying the latter, I expect to have to use more rounds to achieve the same results that I would with fewer rounds of the former.

Jim Higginbotham's comments bear repeating.  I endorse them from my own experience (which, I hasten to add, is far less than his!).

Your skill is far more important that what you carry, within reason. We are not really talking about “stopping power”, whatever that is, here but rather effectiveness.

I can find no real measure – referred to by some as a mathematical model – of stopping power or effectiveness. And I have looked for 44 years now! Generally speaking I do see that bigger holes (in the right place) are more effective than smaller holes but the easy answer to that is just to shoot your smaller gun more – “a big shot is just a little shot that kept shooting”. True, I carry a .45 but that is because I am lazy and want to shoot less. A good bullet in 9mm in the right place (the spine!) will get the job done. If you hit the heart, 3 or 4 expanded 9mms will do about what a .45 expanding bullet will do or one might equal .45 ball . . . IF (note the big if) it penetrates. That is not based on any formula, it is based on what I have found to happen – sometimes real life does not make sense.

. . .

In real life, your gunfight may be dark, cold, rainy, etc. The subject may be anorexic (a lot of bad guys are not very healthy) or he may be obese (effective penetration and stopping power of your weapon). There are dozens of modifiers which change the circumstance, most not under your control. My only advice on this is what I learned from an old tanker: “Shoot until the target changes shape or catches fire!” Vertical to horizontal is a shape change, and putting that one more round into his chest at point blank range may catch his clothes on fire, even without using black powder.

We tell our military folks to be prepared to hit an enemy fighter from 3-7 times with 5.56 ball, traveling at over 3,000 feet per second. This approach sometimes worked, but I know of several cases where it has not, even “center mass.”

With handguns, and with expanding bullets, it is even more unpredictable, but through years of study I have developed a general formula, subject to the above mentioned unpredictable circumstances.

  • 2-3 hits with a .45
  • 4-6 with a .40
  • 5-8 with a 9mm
With a revolver, the rounds are not necessarily more effective but I would practice shooting 3 in a .38 or .357 merely because I want 3 left for other threats. Not that those next three won’t follow quickly if the target hasn’t changed shape around my front sight blade. A .41, .44 or .45 Colt I would probably drop to two. Once again, they are not that much more effective than a .45 Auto but I don’t have the bullets to waste.

In any case, I want to stress the part that it is more about how you shoot than what you shoot, within reason. It is also more about the mindset and condition of the subject you are shooting which is not under your control. Take control – buy good bullets and put them where they count the most! And remember “anyone worth shooting once is worth shooting a whole lot!”

There's more at the link.  Sage advice, and worth following, IMHO.

I hope this discussion has helped to clarify the situation.  Don't rely on my words alone!  There's an immense volume of material out there.  Read widely, and learn from as many sources as you can.


EDITED TO ADD:  In the light of feedback from readers about this blog post, I've written a follow-up article, which may be found here.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

OK, that's an impressive machine!

According to Popular Mechanics, this rail-laying machine "created by Austrian manufacturer Plasser & Theurer which performs all the functions of an assembly line needed to lay down miles of railroad track, with only a few workers running the process."

I wonder how many workers were replaced by that behemoth?


Trying to tax the shadow economy

The US 'shadow economy' (where payments are in cash or in kind, and nothing ever gets officially reported, much less taxed) was estimated in 2012 to be as high as $2 trillion per year.  The IRS reckoned that unreported turnover and income cost it $500 billion in lost taxes.  Heaven knows how high the figures are today - but I doubt they're any lower.

All over the world, the 'shadow economy' is booming even as the 'official economy' is stagnating.  People who are shut out of the regular system are turning to the irregular alternative to survive.  A lot of it involves crime, of course;  but a very large proportion is probably the exchange of goods and services, working for cash under the table, and so on.  It's not surprising that the tax authorities in every country are trying to get a handle on the shadow economy in order to get what they see as rightfully theirs.

Australia's situation is probably a microcosm of what the authorities are trying to do all over the world.  It's certainly instructional.  The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The Tax Office is targeting the growing number of people making a living or supplementing their regular income from the sharing economy.

"We have a team of data doctors developing the sophisticated tax return analysis we do," says Tax Office assistant tax commissioner Graham Whyte.

"They have PhDs in machine learning, data mining and predictive analytics," he says.

The models scrutinise returns for missing income, over-claimed deductions and also identity crime.

"The models learn and are not based on thresholds so that you can't second guess the models or try and beat them," Whyte says.
Income from working as a taxi driver for UberX or renting out a room on Airbnb should be declared, he says.

Usually the sharing economy "employers" do not pay income tax to the Tax Office on behalf of their "contractors". They therefore do not provide drivers with PAYG payment summaries.

Such income is easy for the Tax Office to track, at least in theory, as most payments in the sharing economy are electronic.

. . .

For the first time, the Tax Office is checking self lodgers' deductions as they complete their tax returns online in real time.

"If your claims are substantially higher than others in similar occupations, earning similar amounts of income, a message will appear, asking you to check them," Whyte says.

The online forms are automatically populated with interest income from bank accounts, for example.

There's more at the link.

I'm sure that Uber and Lyft drivers, and Airbnb landlords, are going to be targeted in the same way in this country.  I'm also aware of efforts to get illegal aliens to talk about their employers, some being offered leniency and even (depending on the importance of their information) immunity from deportation, provided they agree to testify against those paying them in cash and not paying tax on that income, or not paying other statutory requirements such as Workers Compensation premiums, etc.

I think we'll see growing efforts to tax payments in kind as well.  Technically, if you service my car in return for me fixing your plumbing, we're both supposed to report the services we receive 'free' as income equivalent, and pay income tax on them;  also sales tax, as if we'd bought them from a contractor and paid in cash.  However, very few people do.  I don't know how the authorities are going to crack down on it, but I daresay some sort of automated expert system such as they're developing in Australia will be part of it.

Worth keeping in mind by those who are looking to supplement their incomes, or make their scarce dollars stretch just a little further.