Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tragic crash at Russian air show

Four Mil Mi-28 attack helicopters of Russia's Berkuty ("Golden Eagles") aerobatic display team were performing their routine at the Aviamix air show when one of them crashed.  One crew member was killed, but amazingly the other got out with relatively minor injuries (you'll see him stagger out of the wreckage in the latter part of the video). I suggest you watch it in full-screen mode to see all the details.

It looks to me as if the main rotor flexed during the maneuver, impacting the tail rotor and knocking off a couple of its blades.  You can see the damaged tail rotor as the helicopter descends.

May God have mercy on the soul of the dead aviator.  I hope the Golden Eagles and Mil can find out what happened, so they can prevent any recurrence.


Looking for a rifle

Would you, dear readers of the shooting persuasion, please help me to locate a rifle?  I'm looking for a Marlin Model 1894 in .45 Colt.  Details are at Marlin's Web site.  Gallery of Guns lists the current-production model number as 1894CB45-20.

I can't find a new one online through a quick search (although used models are available through auction sites), and no local dealer appears to have them in stock.  Next time you're at your local gun shop, would you please see whether they have one in their racks (new, or used in good condition)?  If so, please ask them to hold it for me for a day or so while you send me the information, either in a comment below or via e-mail (my address is in my blog profile, which you'll find in the margin).

I know these rifles are hard to find, so I'll consider the 24" Cowboy version as well:  and I understand there was, at one time, a 16¼"-barrel limited edition offered through Talo Distributors - I'd really like one of those!  Some earlier models also had round barrels instead of the current-production octagonal ones, but that doesn't worry me.  Yes, I know either model will be expensive, even used;  there's a scarcity value.  Still, if you see one, please send me the details.)

Thanks in advance for your help.


Why are we so afraid of death and the process of dying?

I don't know . . . perhaps it's because I'm from Africa, where life has always been more or less tenuous in the rural areas, and even more so as one gets into conflict zones . . . but I can't understand why modern First World societies are so reluctant to confront the reality of growing old, declining in health, and dying.  I saw this many times as a pastor.  When someone became gravely ill, or got very old, there was an almost instinctive shying away from the prospect of their death - not so much by the person concerned, but by those around them.  If the victim - for want of a better word - wanted to talk about it, they were shushed and told not to be silly, or morbid, or whatever.  If the pastor - that would be me - wanted to discuss it and prepare the dying person for eternity as best he could, there was an almost resentful attitude, as if one was mentioning the unmentionable.

Yet, for all of us, death is a reality that's absolutely certain.  We may die old or young, in good health or in bad, peacefully in bed or fighting for our lives . . . but we are going to die.  That's the way it is.  We can't possibly avoid it.

I've long maintained that there's far too much emphasis in the medical profession on maximizing the quantity of life - i.e. how long one lives - at the expense of quality of life - i.e. how well one lives.  I've seen far too many cases where loved ones insisted on pursuing medical treatments that merely postponed the inevitable, almost always at great expense, consuming everything the soon-to-be-deceased had saved and then leading them into crippling debt that they wouldn't survive to pay.  The residue of their estate would be consumed by such debts.  What's more, the burden of pain and suffering associated with that all-too-brief extension of life was often very great indeed.  In some cases the patient became incontinent, incapable of caring for him- or herself, and lost all awareness of who and/or where he or she was.  I regarded it as equivalent to torture to force them to stay alive like that, when the normal and inevitable end of their lives would have come sooner (and much more mercifully) if nature had been allowed to take its course.

Two news articles made me think about these things this morning.  The first is about a retired nurse who decided to end her own life because old age was 'awful', in her experience.

A leading palliative care nurse with no serious health problems has ended her life at a Swiss suicide clinic because she did not want to end up as a “hobbling old lady”.

Gill Paraoh, 75, who wrote two books giving advice on how to care for the elderly, was not suffering from a terminal disease.

She said she had seen enough of old age to know that she was “going over the hill” and wanted to take action to end her life while she was able to do so.

. . .

Two months before her death, Gill wrote an article, entitled My Last Word, in which she set out her decision to end her life.

“Day by day, I am enjoying my life. I simply do not want to follow this natural deterioration through to the last stage when I may be requiring a lot of help,” she wrote.

“I have to take action early on because no one will be able to take action for me. The thought that I may need help from my children appals me. I know many old people expect, and even demand, help from their children but I think this is a most selfish and unreasonable view.”

She said her experience as a nurse had shown her the reality of elderly life.

“If you work in a nursing home and you have people who are incontinent, who use bad language, who walk around the rooms and just take things, it is very difficult. It is not a job you enjoy,” she said.

“I just felt it was so bleak and so sad. We all did what we could but, for many of those old people, there wasn’t a lot you could do. We do not look at the reality. Generally, it is awful.”

There's more at the link.

I regret her decision, because I don't believe we have the right to play God with our lives or anyone else's.  Allowing the process of death to take its natural course is one thing.  Short-circuiting that process by suicide or euthanasia (which is nothing less than judicially approved murder, IMHO) is entirely another.

A nationally renowned firearms instructor, whom I knew in South Africa before both of us ended up in the USA, had taken a similar decision many years ago.  In a 2008 interview, Louis Awerbuck said:

LA: I really don’t care about my death. I’ve had a hundred years packed into sixty. Why would I? I’ve got nothing to live for. I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve got no Achilles heel. I’m not the average person. I’m an exception to the rule. The average person — wife and kids, lineage, wants to see their grandchildren play football or through college or whatever. Fine. I’m the end of the line. I’m the end of the blood line, completely.

Q: Most adults wrestle with some sort of fear or anxiety. It can be their financial well-being, their health, or their personal safety. What do you fear most in life?

LA: Probably physical incapacitation, if I were cognizant of it. Dependency, physical dependency, and being cognizant of it. Having Alzheimer’s and knowing I’ve got Alzheimer’s and not being able to [pauses] end it. That’s it. I don’t fear anything else because … Mr. Roosevelt said, “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” I don’t want to be dependent on anybody else. There is nothing else.

To my great sorrow, last year, after encountering serious health problems, he took his own life.  That may have solved his problems, from his perspective . . . but he left behind a lovely partner, and many friends and acquaintances who still miss him.  It was a selfish way to die, and one I wish he hadn't chosen.  Still, according to his lights, he'd had enough.  He didn't share my faith in God, but he had no fear of death as the natural end to life.  (Personally, if I didn't have faith that something or Someone waited for me beyond the boundary of death, I'd be a lot more reluctant to cross it!)

The other article pointed to the problem of unnecessary, extremely expensive, and ultimately unsuccessful medical treatments to delay the inevitable.

An important new medical study finds that chemotherapy does not extend life for end-stage, terminal cancer patients. What's more, those who received chemotherapy treatment near the end of their disease had a worse quality of life than those who didn't.

This study could reshape the debate about end-of-life care in America, one that often focuses on the idea of "rationing" care for terminal patients. It suggests that what's good for patients — better quality of life — doesn't always mean more treatment and more spending. It also makes a compelling case that more medicine isn't always best, and that a preference for more aggressive treatment can make someone's final moments of life worse.

. . .

The healthier patients who received chemotherapy had a worse quality of life than those who did not pursue treatment.

Researchers also interviewed caregivers shortly after their patients' deaths and found that chemotherapy was associated with worse quality of life in the patients' final week, too.

Again, more at the link.

I think that's a very valid conclusion, and one that squares with my own experience of working with the dying.  Unfortunately, it's also going to be seized upon by advocates of State-funded medical care, as a reason to deny such treatment to all terminally ill patients on the grounds that it's a waste of money.  In some cases, I think it certainly is - but who are faceless bureaucrats to make that decision on the patient's behalf?  And what about those patients for whom it would not be a waste of money?  How will they be identified - if at all?  Who will make that decision?

We badly need a more open, honest, informed discussion about end-of-life realities, options and choices:  but in the present state of our society, we're unlikely to get one . . . more's the pity.


A few good ones from around the Web

I don't have enough time to do a regular 'Around The Blogs' feature as I used to, but now and again I build up a collection of links that are worth sharing.  Here's this morning's harvest.

# # #

I'm sure most of my readers have seen the sturm und drang over the death of 'Cecil the lion' in Zimbabwe at the hands of a hunter.  Frankly, as an African boy, I tend to shrug and yawn.  Hunters - whether equipped with spears and bows and arrows, or with modern firearms - have been hunting lions for millennia.  The seal of King Darius I of Persia, who ruled five hundred years before Christ, depicts him hunting a lion.

I find the brouhaha over a hunter killing another lion to be ridiculous.  (So, apparently, do most Zimbabweans.)  It's far more about those who are complaining than it is about the lion.

A few good comments about the 'Cecil affair':

# # #

Recoil Web tells us about a really nifty handgun accessory that I think is potentially a life-saver in certain situations.  I can see one of these riding in my car with me at all times, and another doing duty indoors.  My only beef about it is the ridiculously high price.  The total production cost - intellectual property, materials, manufacturing, distribution and all - can't possibly be more than a third of it, and probably less than that.  I've heard of 'charging what the market will bear', but that can be - and often is - taken to the extreme of price-gouging.  In this case, I think that's what's happened . . . and I think it'll spark competitors.  I won't be surprised to see a cheap Chinese knock-off appear very shortly;  also a set of control files to allow anyone with access to a 3D printer to simply produce their own copy at minimal cost.  That's what happens when vendors price themselves out of the market.

# # #

Tamara links to an article at Mountain Guerrilla titled 'Training Priorities: Which Classes Should I Take?'  The author makes the excellent point that one's first priority is to define the problem one faces, and the resources available to deal with it.  Only when one is sure of those elements can one optimize how to apply the resources to take care of the problem.  Outstanding!  Go RTWT.

Mountain Guerrilla also offers an excellent article titled 'The Shooting Drill You’re Probably Not Doing Enough... Or Correct'.  Once again, the man knows whereof he speaks.  I can recall, during my years of military service, being made to do something like this drill (in what we used to call the 'Jungle Walk') every single month.  It kept us alive then, and it'll do the same thing today.  (Added to that, for handgun users in particular, I highly recommend the 'Dot Torture' drill as well;  and the drills with balls that I discussed in another article are very valuable indeed.  Do them all regularly and you'll be a far, far better shooter when the chips go down.)

# # #

CenTexTim offers us 'A Man's Age, as Determined by a Trip to Home Depot'.  Uh-huh.

# # #

Mr. Garabaldi teaches us 'How to make money on Obama's America'.  Unfortunately, he's probably right . . .

# # #

If you've been noticing an uptick in racially-motivated crime across the USA these days, you're probably correct.  Colin Flaherty focuses on one city in particular in 'Panic in Pittsburgh: Media Struggling to Ignore Black Mob Violence'.  Intriguing - and infuriating - reading.

# # #

Camille Paglia did a very interesting three-part interview with Salon.  Love her or hate her, she's always challenging and frequently thought-provoking.  Go read all three parts and see what you think.

  1. Camille Paglia: How Bill Clinton is like Bill Cosby
  2. Camille Paglia takes on Jon Stewart, Trump, Sanders: “Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true!”
  3. “Ted Cruz gives me the willies”: Camille Paglia analyzes the GOP field — and takes on Hillary Clinton.

I liked what she had to say about Scott Walker.

# # #

Last but not least, an e-mail led me to this treasure trove of pictures of the first atomic bombs being armed and deployed on Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean in 1945.  Fascinating viewing for military history buffs.

# # #

Enjoy the links, folks.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

The crystal caves of Naica

I was amazed to come across an article and video documentary from National Geographic about the so-called 'Cave of the Crystals' at Naica in Mexico.

The article describes them as follows:

The limestone cavern and its glittering beams were discovered in 2000 by a pair of brothers drilling nearly a thousand feet below ground in the Naica mine, one of Mexico's most productive, yielding tons of lead and silver each year. The brothers were astonished by their find, but it was not without precedent. The geologic processes that create lead and silver also provide raw materials for crystals, and at Naica, miners had hammered into chambers of impressive, though much smaller, crystals before. But as news spread of the massive crystals' discovery, the question confronting scientists became: How did they grow so big?

. . .

In the presence of such beauty and strangeness, people cast around for familiar metaphors. Staring at the crystals, García decided the cavern reminded him of a cathedral; he called it the Sistine Chapel of crystals. In both cathedrals and crystals there's a sense of permanence and tranquillity that transcends the buzz of surface life. In both there is the suggestion of worlds beyond us.

There's more at the link.

Here's the video documentary about the caves.  It's 1½ hours long, but if you have the time, it's worth watching.

I wonder how many more hidden wonders like this await discovery?


A baby elephant has a whale of a time

A baby elephant encounters the sea for the first time - and has a blast!  (I presume it's an Indian or Asian elephant, because African elephants are usually not found near the coast these days;  I also presume it's been rescued or born in captivity, because it's comfortable around people.)

All together, now:  Awwww!


Spam - fuel to fight a war

I was amused to find a history of Spam (the meat product, not the mass mail marketing) over at The Art of Manliness.  I particularly enjoyed reading the military history of Spam during World War II.

While spam was already a national hit by the time WWII began, the war would take its ubiquity to a whole new level. The military loved canned luncheon meat because it was nutritious, filling, cheap, easily transportable, and had an extremely long shelf-life. By the time the war was over, Hormel had provided 150 million pounds of meat to the war effort, and during that time, 90 percent of the company’s canned goods were going to the military.

While widespread dissemination of spam made Jay Hormel and his company rich, the soldiers on the receiving end of shipments were less happy about the canned meat’s infiltration of their rations. You would be too if it’s nearly all you ate for years on the front lines. It was meant to be served at bases and camps as a B ration along with a variety of other foods, but various distribution difficulties and other wartime issues meant that GIs were routinely getting served Spam 2-3 times per day. WWII veteran Thomas Clancy recalls, “You had it fried in the morning with chemical eggs. They burned it black as a painted door. They’d cut it up and put it into stews. They put it in sandwiches. They backed it with tomato sauce. They gave it to us on the beach. You got so you really hated it.”

Because of its pervasiveness overseas, it earned catchphrases like “ham that didn’t pass its physical,” “meat loaf without basic training,” and “the real reason war was hell.”

Unbeknownst to soldiers, though, military Spam was different than U.S. consumer Spam. It was sent in 6lb tins, didn’t contain ham, and was extra cooked and salted to deal with any bitter cold and brutally hot environment the meat might be found in. Although they weren’t getting “real” Spam, the soldiers spared no effort railing against it, writing up poems, drawing cartoons, and sending Jay Hormel thousands and thousands of hate-filled letters. One anonymous poem became especially (in)famous:

“For breakfast they will fry it;
For supper it is baked;
For dinner it goes delicate —
They have it pat-a-caked.
Next morning it’s with flapjacks,
Or maybe powdered eggs —
For God’s sake where do they get it?
It must come in by kegs.

Oh, surely for the evening meal
They’ll cook up something new!
But the cooks they are uncanny,
Now the Spam is in the stew.
And thus the endless cycle goes;
It never seems to cease —
There’s Spam in cake and Spam in pie
And Spam in rancid grease.”

Such scorn ate at Mr. Hormel. In an interview in 1945, he said “Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t have…” but couldn’t bear to finish the sentence. The interviewer noted “We got the distinct impression that being responsible for Spam might be too great a burden for any one man.”

Because of their distaste for Spam as a foodstuff, soldiers found a variety of other uses for it during wartime. Its greasy fattiness made it useful in numerous ways: as a skin conditioner, as gun lubricant, as waterproofing material for boots and tents, and even mixed with lighter fluid or gasoline as a candle. Some soldiers inked Spam slices to use as playing cards and were able to play poker with them for a period of multiple months. Even the discarded tins were repurposed to make pots and pans and even toy trains.

While the men who served abroad may have loathed it (for its repetition if nothing else), housewives both stateside and in England sung its praises. One British woman noted its “fragrant aroma” and also “its perfect flavour and texture”; another said that champagne and caviar didn’t stand up to “precious, succulent, beautiful Spam.” Rosie the Riveter even promoted the meat in one ad.

This dichotomy of course led to some misunderstandings at home. It was joked that a man’s worst nightmare would be coming home from the war only to find Spam on the plate for his first meal back:

There's much more at the link.  Interesting (and sometimes, as above, amusing) reading.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Having trouble getting up in the morning?

This will solve your problem.

Personally, I'm waiting for the model that ejects a man out of his own bed and into an attractive room-mate's . . .


Avoiding potentially dangerous short URL's

I've found myself increasingly targeted by Internet spammers and a few blog commenters who provide Internet links to sites they recommend, but in a shortened URL that's unreadable and gives no hint as to where it's actually redirecting me.  Needless to say, I treat all such links as highly suspicious.

I've been pleased to discover that there are Web sites to help find out where those links are really going, before I click on them.  This article discusses several 'link expanders'.  I've tried some of those it recommends, and find they work well.

So, if you find yourself confronted with a link such as (which takes you to the Drudge Report web site - I just set it up as an example), and you want to know what it is before you actually go there, use one of the services listed and check it out.  It might just save you from a lot of viruses, malware and scam artists.


Social Security: going bankrupt one statement at a time?

An article in National Review points out an interesting feature of the author's Social Security statements.

I saw an asterisk with the following message:

The law governing benefit amounts may change because, by 2033, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 77 percent of scheduled benefits.

I could not believe I was seeing the equivalent of what I was just thinking, but with a new twist, “If I like my Social Security, I can keep 77 percent of it.”

With an asterisk, my beloved government was informing me that they will be unable to fulfill their part of a financial arrangement into which, as their statement attested, I had been making mandatory contributions starting in 1971 at age 16. 

This impending “benefit rationing,” reducing my future financial “security” by $492 a month, may, in fact, not be the worst of it.

Sitting in the back of my Social Security file was an earlier statement dated March 10, 2009. Again, followed by an asterisk was a sentence that read exactly like my 2015 statement except for two major differences (emphasis added):

The law governing benefit amounts may change because, by 2041, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 78 percent of your scheduled benefits.

Clearly, in 2009, the government’s prediction — that Social Security would have to be cut to 78 percent of benefits come 2041 — was overly optimistic.

Now, in 2015, they are projecting 2033, eight years earlier, with one percentage point less of my projected benefits. The projections have steadily worsened over the past few years, helped by a much weaker economy than the federal government expected. Does anyone really expect these numbers to get better?

. . .

Meanwhile, here is the truth, as stated by the Social Security Administration in its annual Trustees Report from 2014:

Social Security is not sustainable over the long term at current benefit and tax rates. In 2010, the program paid more in benefits and expenses than it collected in taxes and other noninterest income, and the 2014 Trustees Report projects this pattern to continue for the next 75 years.

. . .

The population of retirees is projected to double in about 50 years. People are also living longer, and the birth rate is low.

. . .

Trustees project that the ratio of 2.8 workers paying Social Security taxes to each person collecting benefits in 2013 will fall to 2.1 to 1 in 2032.

. . .

So, barring some positive developments, in 18 years — or less — Washington, D.C., will be filled with aging protesters, many using walkers, wheelchairs, or scooters. They will carry signs reading, “Give me my full benefits” and “It’s my money.” Old men wearing Vietnam veteran caps will be demanding, “100 percent and no less.” By that time, it will be too late.

There's more at the link.

As we noted on Wednesday, the so-called 'Social Security trust fund' may exist in theory, but it certainly doesn't exist in practice.  Those who argue that their Social Security taxes were 'an investment' that must now be 'repaid' have no idea of reality.  Their contributions have already been squandered on other entitlement programs, by both sides of the political aisle.  Now that it's their turn, there's nothing left in the kitty - except artificially created, inflationary pseudo-dollars - to pay them . . . and they're going to suffer the consequences.

Don't bet on Social Security to fund your retirement.  It won't.  It doesn't matter whether Republicans or Democrats administer the program.  Both parties have run it into the ground.


Trying to manage the bear . . . an exercise in futility

We've discussed before how the Chinese government has attempted to, in so many words, 'take over' that country's stock markets and 'manage' the economic crisis affecting them - to no avail.  The Economist sums up why those measures haven't worked.

Why is China finding it so hard to save its stockmarket?

The short answer is that, for all the government's involvement, China's stockmarket is still a market, and there are now more sellers than buyers ... Had China's stockmarket been allowed to crash, shares would have eventually found a floor. Instead, regulators have tried to erect a floor, and investors are not sure whether it really is the low point or just another artificial bottom susceptible to collapse.

The intervention has also created new problems. By wading in so heavily, the fate of stocks now sits in the hands of officials.

. . .

Even if the government does manage to withdraw its support without causing share prices to crash, the long-term damage to China's stockmarket will be severe. At the height of the sell-off, just over half of companies suspended their shares from trading, hoping to avoid the rout. Although most have now returned to the market, the message to investors is clear: if you put your money into risky stocks, you might find them frozen at a time of crisis, just when you need to cash out. What's more, regulators have halted initial public offerings, trying to limit the supply of shares and push up the prices of those already listed on the market. Past experience suggests it could be months before they lift the ban and let companies issue new shares. Add it all up, and China is left with a stockmarket in which investors take their cues from the government. Rather than bothering to assess the value of companies, they are betting on what regulators will do next.

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

I think the last two sentences say it all.  By intervening in a nominally 'free' market, the Chinese government has demonstrated conclusively that it isn't 'free' at all.  That means people are no longer chasing profits.  They're chasing government edicts, and taking bets with their investments on what the next edict will be.  I imagine the potential for bribery among the officials responsible - "How much for a hint about your next decision?  Please?  Pretty please with dollars on it?" - must be on an absolutely epic scale . . .


Thursday, July 30, 2015


This is just too cute . . . a baby wolf and a baby grizzly bear playing together.

Apparently today, six years later, they're still the best of buddies.  I was surprised at that - when it comes to African predators, the big cats can't be trusted not to 'revert to type' and eat their former friends - but in this case at least, it seems to have worked.

All together, now:  Awwww!


Revolver SCORE!

I lucked into a good deal this morning.  Last night, while idly scanning the local Armslist, I noticed a gentleman in a town not too far away had just listed three revolvers for sale, including one that I've been trying to find for years:  a Smith & Wesson Model 625-6 Mountain Gun chambered in .45 Colt.  It's basically identical to the pictures below.

The seller was asking a fair price, so I contacted him right away to say I'd take it.  It's a good thing I did - he said he had five calls within an hour, and I just squeaked in ahead of everyone else!  Miss D. and I drove down to collect it this morning, and it's on the desk next to me as I write these words.  It's one of the last of the pre-'Clinton lock' models, and in really minty condition.  The seller, a retired gentleman, said he'd only put a dozen rounds through it since he'd bought it many years ago.  After looking it over, I believe him.

I won't be shooting it right away, thanks to waiting for my kidney stone problem to be dealt with;  but as soon as I'm over that, this baby and I have a range date in store.  I think either a Dragon Leatherworks Flatjack or a Simply Rugged Sourdough Pancake holster is in its future, too;  and I must find a source for 250-260gr. LFN or WFN hard-cast gas checked bullets loaded to a velocity of 900-1,000 fps from a 4" barrel.  That should take care of anything I'm likely to have to worry about.  I have a friend who reloads, who I'm sure will be happy to put some together for me, or I might talk to Tim Sundles over at Buffalo Bore to see what he can do.  (If any other .45 Colt fans would like to come in with me on a group buy from BB, drop me a line - my e-mail address is in my blog profile.)

This Mountain Gun will make a great stablemate to my regular 4" Model 625 in .45 ACP.  Now, let's see if I can find another pre-lock Mountain Gun in .44 Magnum to complete the troika . . .


Doofus Of The Day #848

Courtesy of Wirecutter:

Miss D.'s going to laugh when she sees that.  She tells me that in Alaska, which she still regards as 'home', it gets too cold in winter for the roads to be salted to melt ice and snow.  Instead, the Anchorage municipality scrapes away what snow it can, then layers fine gravel and dirt on the ice.  By spring the city has up to a foot or more of an ice/gravel/mud mix on the roads, and as the ice melts the muck gets all over everything.  (I remember noticing that while I was flying up to Anchorage to court her.  I couldn't figure out, until she told me, why there was so much crud on the roads, and why most vehicles had a mud-brown tide mark halfway up their doors!)

Anyway, what that means in winter is that the roads are permanently hazardous (most drivers up there use studded tires, or something like Blizzaks or the equivalent).  She says with a grin that when some idiot comes flying past you in Anchorage in mid-winter, you simply sit back and smile, knowing that within a mile or two you'll pass him upside-down in a ditch, or spun out in the central median, or having met some other unkind fate thanks to his careless driving.  I noticed, too, that there are a lot of tow trucks making a circuit of the city on all the major roads.  Miss D. informed me that as soon as they see someone in a ditch, they stop and offer a quick tow back onto the road for a flat fee in cash (it was $60 when I visited).  If the driver has any sense, he'll hand it over and be on his way again in five minutes.  If he doesn't, he can wait for his insurance to send a driver, and pay a lot more than $60 (as well as have his premiums increase).  Needless to say, the tow trucks do a roaring trade during winter.  (Apparently in summer their drivers mostly switch to lawn care and garden services for three or four months, until the snow and ice return.  A man does what he can to make a living in the frozen North.)

I think the doofus depicted in the pictures above would probably make a lot of Anchorage drivers smile, and a lot of Anchorage tow truck operators very wealthy!


I'd have preferred him to aim more steadily, but . . .

. . . he still took care of business - his and theirs!

I wish more store owners were as resolute.  It'd cut way down on crimes like that.  Congratulations, Sir.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why rising interest rates may destroy the US national budget

We've spoken many times before about the parlous state of the US government in financial terms.  Most of its programs are funded by deficit spending, borrowing money today to pay for current needs and promising to repay it out of future earnings.  Trouble is, as we've seen, future repayments never happen:  instead, the debt gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger, until . . .

The inimitable Karl Denninger has summed up the effects of such debt levels - and the impossibility of repaying them - in an article today.

You borrow $1,000,000 @ 5% interest on a one-year bond.  You must pay, at the end of one year, $1,050,000.

But you don't pay it off, you just pay the $50,000 interest.  In the meantime, over the next year, the interest rate goes down to 2.5%.

When you roll over the debt you find that your interest on the new bond is now $25,000.  Or, you can borrow another million and pay the same $50,000! 

Guess what you do?

You borrow another million, of course.

Then another year passes.  The rate is now 1.25%.  You can now borrow $4 million for the same $50,000 in interest and not pay any of it off.  Remember, you started with one million but now, you have $4 million to spend!  Huzzah!

There's a wee problem with this -- zero is a lower boundary, and a hard limit.  Therefore, your continued borrowing of more and more money, which allows you to appear to be doing quite well when in fact you are not, must end.  Even if rates don't go up and simply stay pinned near zero, you can't access any more borrowed money because doing so requires that lower and lower rates come every time you renew the bond, and mathematically that must (and now has) come to a stop.

This is why the so-called "economic prosperity" (which was fake, by the way) over the last 30 years happened.  It is particularly where the so-called "recovery" since 2008 happened, all of which was driven by an explosion of non-economic borrowing made possibly by continual rate reductions.

This has now ended and it's why "growth" has disappeared.

But -- if rates rise to, say, that former 5%, you suddenly don't owe $50,000 in interest any more.

You now owe $200,000 each and every year on a permanent basis, or one fifth of the original million you borrowed!

Worse, there is only one way to make that number smaller: You must pay back some or all of the $4 million you have out -- but you spent it!

This is the trap that The Fed, the Government and corporations now find themselves in -- a trap of their own design.

There's more at the link.  Indispensable reading, and 100% accurate.

This is why the enormous debt loads being carried by our Federal, state and local governments, and by so many of our corporations, are like millstones around our collective necks.  They're dragging us all down, as individuals, as a society, as a nation.  Sooner or later we have to deal with them.  It won't be possible to pay them off unless we deliberately 'print' so much new currency that it devalues the US dollar to an unprecedented extent, and causes rampant inflation.  The other option is to default on our debts . . . which will destroy the 'good faith and credit' of the United States.

We're in a cleft stick.  We're caught in a trap of our own devising - and because we elected politicians who pandered to their electorate, and spent all this money, and incurred all this debt, to feather their own nests and ensure their re-election, and because we failed to stop them, we're all going to suffer together.

Look at the size of Federal government debt in the graphic above.  That doesn't tell the whole story.  It doesn't account for future promises - Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs - that have been promised to us, but for which there's no money in the bank.  (The so-called 'Social Security trust fund' exists in theory but not in practice.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is deliberately lying to you.)  The Federal government's total liabilities, including those future promises, were estimated to total almost $87 trillion in 2012, and (thanks to Obamacare) have been estimated at well over $120 trillion today.  Alan Greenspan noted today that this enormous increase in entitlement spending is 'extremely dangerous'.  State and local governments and US corporations owe an incalculable amount more.  I've seen estimates ranging anywhere from $25 trillion to four or five times that.  Who knows the real numbers?  I've no idea.

How can we possibly fund such outlays?  Where can we find the money?  The answer is simple.  We can't.  There isn't enough money in the world to fund them.  That's the cold, hard fact.  If you were relying on Social Security and Medicare for your retirement, the odds are pretty good that they won't be there for you:  or, if they are, they'll be paid in deliberately inflated dollars that won't be worth anything like what you expect (which is already happening;  see Sprott Money's analysis in this article - scroll down to read it).

Hang on to your hats, folks.  It's going to be a bumpy ride . . . and it's not going to be fun.


The Lost Cause (puppy version)

The cat is amazingly patient with him, but this ten-week-old puppy ain't gettin' his bed back . . .


I need advice from travel trailer/5th wheel owners, please

Miss D. and I are considering longer-term options, including possible relocation and lengthy writing-related journeys.  As part of the process, I'm looking into travel trailers and 5th-wheel trailers.  However, both of us are complete novices in this field, so we've got a lot of research to do.  That's OK, because we're not looking to buy anything right away.  This will work out over a couple of years, I'm sure.

Unfortunately, the Internet is full of 'sponsored' information sites that are nothing more than an attempt to entice one to buy from a particular dealer or manufacturer.  Some sites even contradict each other.  It's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.  We also want to find out which dealers are reputable and worth doing business with - again, there's an awful lot of them out there, and we've heard enough horror stories to last us a lifetime!

I'd be very grateful if those of my readers who own (or have used) travel trailers and 5th wheel trailers would please contribute advice in these areas:

  1. The best Web sites to turn to for accurate, reliable information;
  2. The best dealers (i.e. reliable, honest, worth doing business with), particularly if they operate over the Internet;
  3. User guides, forums, etc;
  4. Is it worth buying something used, or is it better to bite the price bullet and pay for a new unit?

My assessment so far (based on admittedly incomplete information) is that it's better to look for a smaller, lighter travel trailer (but not too small), so as not to need a huge towing vehicle.  A 5th wheel trailer would offer the ability to carry a significant amount of weight if we make a permanent move somewhere (in effect, it becomes a cargo trailer), but a regular travel trailer isn't quite so flexible.  I'm thinking something in the mid-20-foot range, pulled by a truck of decent but not excessive size and power, is what we want.  It will have to be 'winterized', because we'll probably drive it up north (including a trip to Alaska) in due course;  so we want a trailer that's well insulated, probably with double glass windows.  Good suspension and decent ground clearance are probably must-haves as well, given conditions on the Alcan Highway and Alaskan roads!

I don't know enough right now to ask more questions, but I'm sure some of my readers can set us straight anyway.  Please leave your advice in Comments, or e-mail me (my address is in my blog profile).

Thanks in advance.


EDITED TO ADD:  Thank you very much to everyone who's responded in Comments here or via e-mail.  You've given me a lot of food for thought.  Miss D. and I will work through it all over the next few months - we're in no hurry, as I said earlier. You've given us a very good start.

Cherry-picking anti-gun material

The latest approach of the anti-Second-Amendment and anti-gun brigade seems to be to point out how difficult it is to use a handgun appropriately and effectively.  The Washington Post reports:

The study was commissioned by the National Gun Victims Action Council, an advocacy group devoted to enacting "sensible gun laws" that "find common ground between legal gun owners and non-gun owners that minimizes gun violence in our culture." The study found that proper training and education are key to successfully using a firearm in self-defense: "carrying a gun in public does not provide self-defense unless the carrier is properly trained and maintains their skill level," the authors wrote in a statement.

They recruited 77 volunteers with varying levels of firearm experience and training, and had each of them participate in simulations of three different scenarios using the firearms training simulator at the Prince George's County Police Department in Maryland. The first scenario involved a carjacking, the second an armed robbery in a convenience store, and the third a case of suspected larceny.

They found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, people without firearms training performed poorly in the scenarios. They didn't take cover. They didn't attempt to issue commands to their assailants. Their trigger fingers were either too itchy -- they shot innocent bystanders or unarmed people, or not itchy enough -- they didn't shoot armed assailants until they were already being shot at.

There's more at the link.

It's nonsense, of course.  First the WaPo trots out the same old lying 'statistics' about 'more guns lead to more gun homicides -- not less' and 'guns are rarely used in self-defense' (all of which have been resoundingly debunked, but anti-gunners will never admit that).  Then they try to tack on claims like those above - ignoring the reality that the mere display of a weapon by the intended victim is often enough to drive away a criminal predator without a shot being fired.  What's more, there's abundant evidence from news reports and police files to prove that ordinary citizens successfully defend themselves, their loved ones and their property thousands of times every year using firearms.  The study cited above completely ignores such evidence.

Of course, I'm not opposed to everyone getting firearms training - in fact, I think it's an excellent idea.  I've been through half a dozen week-long shooting courses since coming to the USA, and learned a great deal from them (over and above what I learned during my military training and experience, and later civilian firearms training, in South Africa).  However, many people don't have the time or the money to participate in such training.  Are the authors of this latest study suggesting they should be disarmed because of that?  Why should they be penalized for something beyond their control?  The Second Amendment never speaks of qualifications at all - only a right that 'shall not be infringed'.  Any attempt to tie that right to training would, IMHO, represent an infringement.

The situation is actually very simple.  Some people believe that the thing is the problem.  They ascribe morals, motives and opportunity to an inanimate object.  It's 'the gun' that's the problem, rather than the person wielding it.  That's a lie, of course.  Consider:

  • If a drunk driver runs over a pedestrian, we don't charge his vehicle with a crime - we charge him.
  • If a contractor erects a shoddy building, and the facade later falls off and kills or injures someone passing below, we don't charge the fallen rubble with a crime - we charge the person or persons who caused the problem.
  • If a murderer shoots someone, we don't charge his gun with a crime - we charge him.

To say that 'guns are the problem' ignores that reality.  A hammer can be a useful tool to drive a nail, or it can cave in someone's skull.  It has no moral volition of its own;  it can't choose how and when and where and for what purpose it's going to be used.  A gun is precisely the same.  It can be used to shoot targets, or be carried on the hip of a police officer to keep the peace and enforce the law, or be used to commit robbery or murder.  The gun itself is not the problem - and if it wasn't available, the criminal class would find other tools to use in their crimes (just as they did for millennia before the gun was invented).  To outlaw guns, or restrict their availability, won't outlaw or restrict crime at all.

All too often, 'sensible gun laws' morph into 'any excuse we can find to disarm law-abiding citizens'.  That's not about to happen where most of us are concerned.