Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The dangerous side of Thanksgiving

The police are going to be working hard this holiday weekend while the rest of us are celebrating with our families.  In particular, they're going to be deluged with drunk drivers who've celebrated too often and too well.  This puts the police at risk as well as everyone else on the roads.  Just look at this video clip, filmed last month, of a police officer dealing with one drunk driver - when a second drunk driver gets his attention the hard way.

If he'd been standing on the other side of the car, he'd be dead right now . . .

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, friends, but please don't drink and drive;  and please say a prayer for those who have to deal with people who do.  You might want to thank them for their hard work, too.


The world's finance markets are ill-prepared for what's coming

Two articles in the Telegraph point out aspects of the current international finance market that are likely to affect all of us in the short term.

First, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard points out that the bond market is still in dire straits.

One by one, the giant investment funds are quietly switching out of government bonds, the most overpriced assets on the planet.

Nobody wants to be caught flat-footed if the latest surge in the global money supply finally catches fire and ignites reflation, closing the chapter on our strange Lost Decade of secular stagnation.

. . .

The UBS bubble index of global property is already flashing multiple alerts, with Hong Kong off the charts and London now so expensive that it takes a skilled worker 14 years to buy a broom cupboard of 60 square metres.

. . .

As of late November, roughly $6 trillion of government debt was trading at negative interest rates, led by the Swiss two-year bond at -1.046pc. The German two-year Bund is at -0.4pc.

. . .

This is a remarkable phenomenon given that global core inflation - as measured by Henderson Global Investor's G7 and E7 composite - has been rising since late 2014 and is now at a seven-year high of 2.7pc.

. . .

Inflacionistas in the West have been arguing for six years that the QE-fuelled monetary base is about to break out and take us straight to Weimar or Zimbabwe. They failed to do their homework on liquidity traps.

Yet their moment may soon be nigh. Catalysts are coming into place. Globalisation is mutating in crucial ways.

China, the petro-powers and Asian central banks led a sixfold increase in foreign reserves to $12 trillion between 2000 and mid-2014 (and trillions more in sovereign wealth funds). This flooded the global bond markets with capital and stoked asset bubbles everywhere.

The process has gone into reverse. Data from the International Monetary Fund show that these reserves dropped by $550bn in the year to June as capital flight and the commodity bust forced a string of countries to defend their currencies. Saudi Arabia is still burning through $12bn a month to cover its budget deficit.

This shift in reserve flows amounts to fiscal stimulus for the world. Less money is being hoarded as capital: more is going back into the real economy as spending - or it soon will do - exactly what the doctor ordered for a 1930s world, starved of demand.

. . .

All the stars are aligned for an end to the deflationary supercycle, and therefore for an end to the 35-year bull market in government bonds.

With equities already at nose-bleed levels it is hard to know exactly where to seek refuge.

There's more at the link.

In case you think this won't affect you, consider that our society is awash in debt.  Look at this chart from the article referenced above.

The total debt in most of those nations is at astonishing levels.  For example, if one views GDP as the amount 'earned' by a country in a given year, then the US owes almost two and a half years of its national income just to pay off the debts it and its businesses and residents have incurred.  That's like an anchor, holding us back from greater or faster economic growth.  Too much of our current income has to be devoted to servicing old debt, rather than financing current and future needs.  Imagine if your household owed so much money that your total income for the next two and a half years would be required to pay it off.  How could you do that while still retaining enough money to live on?  It would mean cutting out luxuries and discretionary purchases, and concentrating solely on essentials until the debt was paid.  That would take a very long time . . . and while it was being paid off, your money couldn't contribute to your local economy's growth and development.  Sovereign economies aren't the same as households, of course, but in many ways the comparison is still valid.

The debt crisis has been fueled by repeated rounds of quantitative easing (QE), the funds for which were 'raised' by the nations concerned through issuing government bonds to that amount (even though most of the bonds were bought by central governments or their central banks, like the Fed, in an incestuous self-serving money-printing charade that fooled nobody).  The funds thus raised have already been distributed to banks and other institutions, who've used them to shore up their balance sheets and deal with bad debts (at least, the wise ones have;  there are unwise ones who haven't, as we'll see in a moment).

This affects all of us.  For example, it means that the mortgage on your home is probably funded to at least some extent by QE.  Miss D. and I are seeing this right now at first hand through the Texas bank dealing with the mortgage on our new home.  We're prime-credit customers, putting down a 20% deposit on our home and having income more than adequate to support the monthly payments;  yet lenders in the bond market are quibbling over tiny issues, wanting higher interest, and running scared of anything that might expose them to greater risk.  We've got our financing, but less credit-worthy customers are finding it much harder (not to mention more expensive) to do so.  Just like Mr. Evans-Pritchard, lenders can see the writing on the wall, and its message is distinctly discomforting.

Banks in Europe appear to have been less than wise in how they've handled the 'hangover' of bad debt resulting from the so-called 'Great Recession'.  The Telegraph reports:

Europe’s banks are barely increasing lending because they are still weighed down by bad loans, the European Banking Authority (EBA) said, warning that the burden is greatest on the smallest lenders.

A total of €1 trillion of loans are non-performing, hampering efforts to get banks to make new loans to households and businesses that want to spend more or invest ... On average, European banks have twice the level of non-performing loans as their US counterparts, which took more action in the wake of the financial crisis to recapitalise and improve their balance sheets.

. . .

The EBA said loan growth was fastest in countries and by banks with stronger capital ratios, indicating that those which have built up their financial buffers and cleaned up their balance sheets the quickest are the most able to lend.

As a result, the official body warned that those banks which have low capital buffers and high levels of non-performing loans are less able to lend and to support economic growth.

Again, more at the link.

This is the root of what's called a 'liquidity crisis'.  When banks refuse to - or simply can't afford to - lend money, because their balance sheets are too weak to do so or they have to hoard their reserves to cover existing bad debts, this impacts economic activity on a very wide scale.  Remember the US housing market crisis of 2007/2008?  There were plenty of houses for sale . . . but no mortgages available with which to buy them.  Only buyers who had lots of cash and were prepared to put it on the table, or had extraordinarily good credit and were thus acceptable risks in the eyes of lenders, were sure of being able to buy what they wanted.  The rest of us were out of luck.

That's how it is in much of Europe right now.  That'll affect us as well, because even if US banks are on a more sound footing, much of our economic activity consists of international trade.  If our trading partners can't afford to buy our goods and commodities, and can't afford to produce what we need to buy from them, we'll be hurting right along with them.  This is already happening, of course, as evidenced by the downturn in the transportation of goods from producers to markets.  Last week the Baltic Dry Index fell below 500 for the first time in its history . . . a strong harbinger of bad times to come.

The Bible tells us that "the love of money is the root of all evil".  Unfortunately, the lack of money is at the root of a great deal of economic evil, too . . .


'Star Wars' as a military training tool

Courtesy of a link from XBradTC, we learn that 'Star Wars' can be useful in training military personnel, according to the 'Center for Galactic Lessons Learned'.

This past weekend, I spent some time re-watching Star Wars episodes IV, V, and VI, or as I call them, Star Wars. Watching them with a critical eye towards leader development, tactics, and strategy, I was struck by a number of critical flaws on both sides that could have been fixed with some basic organizational fixture for lessons learned. While some might call this type of analysis a “nerdgasm of epic proportions,” Star Wars is an ideal tool for professional development; because of its status in popular culture, most people tend to have a working knowledge of it, versus an obscure historical military campaign (I still love those, but it takes a while to teach Soldiers the background).

So what are the lessons learned that can be distilled from Star Wars? If there was a Command and General Staff College for the Imperial Fleet or the Rebel Alliance, what could they pass on to students?

Leader Development.

Rebel Alliance. One has to wonder at the vetting system for officers in the Rebel Alliance when Han Solo makes commander (O-5) after one battle and general (O-7) after being rescued from Jabba the Hut. The same goes for Lando Calrissian, who makes general with astonishing quickness for someone who could nicely be called a contractor. This leads one to believe that the Alliance was hurting for qualified pilots because of their overall strategy and tactics (why will be elaborated further on). A lack of strategic minded commanders meant that the Alliance was always one step behind the Empire and was always reacting rather than being proactive.

Mentorship, if you can call it that, was lacking for senior Alliance leadership, mainly on the religious/philosophical side. The return of the Jedi class to warfighting was meant to be a new hope, and yet the surviving Jedi proved too set in their ways to properly mentor the young Skywalker. Fearing that the truth would burden him with too much knowledge, they merely dropped bits of twisted truth along the way, leading him to make the rash choices that they so desperately bewailed. Obi Wan Kenobi spent most of his time either lying to Luke, or explaining his lies. Yoda never bothered to give Luke any true background on the situation until his dying breaths, a colossal waste of resources. Hide-bound into a static mentality that only yearned for the good ‘ol days, these “chiefs of staff” offered no great mentorship to Luke and may have in fact hindered his development by hoarding information like a bad staff officer.

There's much more at the link.  It's funny, but also makes some rather good points from a military perspective.  I enjoyed it . . . even though George Lucas would doubtless have a fit at the thought of his moonbat space fantasy actually having real military utility.  Can you just imagine the Marines trying to teach students in Basic School how to use the Force?  My mind boggles at the thought of a Gunnery Sergeant trying to convey its principles, particularly his attempts to get through to particularly dense students using knife hands light saber hands . . .


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why have US-trained forces in Iraq and Afghanistan failed so badly?

We've all read news reports about how army units in Afghanistan or Iraq have failed in combat against, respectively, the Taliban or ISIL.  Their performance has been dire - and that's putting it charitably.

In an article for Point of Decision, the author describes his experience training Afghan troops, and offers this perspective.

The most basic question remains unanswered: what does it take to raise and train a proficient military force? American drill sergeants would answer with an exhaustive list of physical, mental, and ethical competencies. They would also tell you that they break incoming privates into a rough mold of proficiency, but ultimately the NCOs at the receiving units must sharpen them into effective soldiers. This continuing developmental process is taken for the granted in the American system (ridiculing the Structured Self-Development courses and safety briefings tends to take precedence), and largely ignored when training foreign soldiers.

Soldiers and policemen alike in the worst years of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were trained to be bodies that could patrol and die. In the low-intensity wars of attrition, bodies and unit strength percentages mattered. Higher-tiered priorities like ensuring unit integrity and developing officers and NCOs were afterthoughts. As a result, there was a wild deviation between units. I experienced this firsthand: our first company of ANA soldiers had a tough, respected CO. Drug abuse, skipping patrols, and falling asleep on guard duty were met swiftly with corporal punishment. The follow-on replacements were led by an obese, lazy man. He never left the wire, and rarely managed his company. His unit rarely showed up for patrols, and when they did the few volunteers were stoned out of their minds. Lack of leadership cripples units at the company level, but the problem lies much deeper.

There's more at the link.  Interesting reading for all military veterans, particularly those who've benefited from good leadership and know what that means - and what it takes.  I can add from my own experience, having been able to see at first hand what it took to train African recruits in several countries into effective soldiers, that I think the author is spot on.  Without good NCO's, the process must and will founder . . . but where is one to find such NCO's in a country where few possess such attributes?


Smooth operators

Reader Sven W. emailed me following yesterday's post about an airliner attempting a very hazardous cross-wind landing in Ireland.  He sent the link to this video of a number of very smooth landings indeed by Airbus A330 airliners at Manchester Airport a few years ago.  Obviously, wind and weather conditions have to be just about perfect to permit this degree of control and smoothness, but they're still very impressive.  I can only recall experiencing a couple of landings like that in all the years I've been flying commercially.

Watch the video in full-screen mode for best results.

I wish some South African Air Force tactical transport pilots had learned to land like that . . . hitting the runway hard in a C-130 or C-160, then bouncing halfway down its length with the (rather explosive) cargo shaking and rattling against its tie-downs a few inches from your rather nervous body, is an experience I have no wish to re-live!


But is it art?

We've spoken before about the Ig Nobel awards, spoofs of the Nobel Prize presented every year for "discoveries that cannot, or should not, be reproduced".  It seems the art world has an award to rival them.

The Turner Prize is an annual award in England for a British visual artist under 50 years of age.  It's attracted controversy due to some of its wackier winners.  (See, for example, the 2001 award.)  Inevitably, it's also attracted several spoof awards, including the Turnip Prize, described by Wikipedia as:

"satirising the ... Turner Prize by rewarding deliberately bad modern art ... Credit is given for entries containing bad puns as titles, displaying "lack of effort" or "is it s***?". Conversely, entries with "too much effort" or "not s*** enough" are immediately disqualified. The first prize is a turnip nailed to a block of wood."

The Telegraph has produced a picture gallery of some of the nominees for this year's Turnip Prize.  Here are a few of the selections.

A pair of number plates

A coo stick

Finger food

There are more at the link.  Some are NSFW, so view them with care.

I'm not sure I'd present a turnip for any of those.  I'd rather cook and eat the turnip!  Still, in true barmy British tradition, I'm sure the award ceremony will be fun for all concerned.  Now, if we could just whomp up a prize for the weird and wonderful exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art in New York . . . perhaps a stuffed vulture on a stick?


Monday, November 23, 2015

Some thoughts on longer-barreled handguns

After my recent review of several Taurus Tracker revolvers, two of which had 6½" barrels, I received a few e-mails from readers questioning my fondness for the longer-barreled guns.  They pointed out that it made them very difficult to conceal, rendering them unsuitable for daily carry.  I'm forced to agree with them, of course:  but that doesn't mean there's no place for longer barrels.  In fact, I suggest that for many people, they may be a better all-round choice than shorter barrels.

In the first place, a longer barrel lets you take full advantage of the powder in the cartridge case.  If you've ever watched the muzzle flash from a short-barreled handgun, you'll have noticed it's usually rather larger and brighter than the flash from a longer-barreled gun.  That's because in the shorter barrel, not all the propellant is burned inside the bore.  When the bullet exits the barrel, some of the powder is still burning, creating the larger, brighter flash.  That means the propelling power of that powder is wasted - it's not accelerating the bullet at all.  In a longer-barreled gun, it's usually almost fully burned by the time the bullet leaves the bore, converting all of its potential energy into kinetic energy imparted to the projectile (and usually giving it a higher muzzle velocity as well, and hence more muzzle energy).  In the hunting field in particular, that's an important consideration.

Second, the longer barrel automatically gives you a longer sight radius - the distance between front and rear sights.  This makes it easier to sight more precisely and shoot more accurately.  Look at it like this.  If you have a 4" sight radius (typical of short-barreled pistols and revolvers), and your line of vision is just ¼" off at the rear sight (not unusual in a snap, hurried shot), that translates to an alignment error of ¼" in every four inches the bullet travels.  If your target is seven yards away, that means the bullet will arrive about 17" off target (i.e. the point you wanted to hit).  That's enough to clean miss a human size target at that range!  It happens more often than we care to admit . . . just look at examples where multiple shots were fired, but only a few hit their target - or some of them hit innocent bystanders.  There are many more such examples.

Given a longer sight radius, the error becomes considerably less.  For example, given an 8" sight radius (typical of a 6"-barreled revolver), and the same error in your line of vision, that translates to an error of ¼" in every eight inches the bullet travels.  That would halve the error in the example above, to only 8½".  At seven yards range, that's more likely to still impact somewhere on a human-size target.  I'm not saying a longer barrel is a cure for poor marksmanship, of course.  That takes decent training and repetitive practice, both to gain the necessary skills and then to keep them sharp.  Nevertheless, you'll generally find it easier to get a good sight picture and alignment on the target with a longer sight radius than with a shorter one.  In that scenario, the longer-barreled revolver is your friend.

If concealed carry is not your immediate priority, but home or vehicle defense is a requirement, there's a definite intimidation factor with a larger handgun.  A bad guy is likely to take serious notice of a firearm that looks as if it means business, whereas a snub-nose revolver or tiny pocket-sized semi-auto pistol has been known to evoke laughter and mockery instead of fear.  (The late, great Jeff Cooper is alleged to have said, "If you have a .25, don’t load it.  If you load it, don’t carry it.  If you carry it, don’t shoot it.  If you shoot it, you might hit someone, and make them mad."  On the other hand, even a lowly .25 can be better than nothing.)  I've not heard of similar reactions among bad guys to a big, long-barreled revolver when it was produced in the heat of the moment . . . rather the opposite, in fact.  (I know of one man who turned and fled straight through a French window, without bothering to open it first, rather than face such a revolver a moment longer than necessary.  He nearly bled to death before the EMT's and emergency room personnel managed to stop the bleeding.  He then spent several years in prison, giving ample time for his many scars to heal.)

As for carrying such a revolver, there are many options.  I prefer a cross-draw holster, as that covers many bases:  concealed carry beneath a longer coat, driving (where the barrel can be tucked between the seat and the door), and field use.  Others prefer a shoulder holster beneath a coat, or (for field use while hunting or hiking) a chest holster, keeping the belt free for knives, water-bottles, etc. while positioning the firearm for rapid withdrawal if necessary.  Obviously, inside-the-waistband carry is a lot more difficult with a longer-barreled weapon, but it can be done if you're a tall person.  I agree that a shorter-barreled weapon is significantly easier to carry concealed, and therefore I usually don't use my longer-barreled handguns for that purpose;  but if you only have one handgun, and that long-barreled, it's by no means impossible.

A big part of successfully carrying (and, if necessary, concealing) a big revolver is choosing the right holster.  There are many options out there, but I caution against using cheap nylon versions.  They tend to flop around on your belt, they sag, they don't protect the gun very well, and they're generally a waste of money.  I own and use some, but only at the range for short periods.  For serious use with larger revolvers, I highly recommend the Simply Rugged Sourdough Pancake holster.  It can be carried strong-side and cross-draw, and fitted with inside-the-waistband straps, and equipped with a harness for chest carry as well.  It's the most versatile design I've yet found, and is now the only leather holster I buy for my longer-barreled guns.  (No, Simply Rugged isn't giving me any incentive to advertise their wares:  I just really like their designs and handiwork.)

I own several shorter-barreled revolvers, and value their convenience, concealability and flexibility.  However, I also own a number of longer-barreled revolvers, and I wouldn't be without them.  They occupy a very useful place in my collection.


A very hairy landing indeed

This CityJet BAe 146 jetliner had a torrid time trying to land in Cork, Ireland, a few days ago during a severe crosswind. Watch the video in full-screen mode for best results.

I'm very glad I wasn't aboard that one!


Of terrorists and . . . cats???

It seems Belgians have a sense of humor.

Last night, while anti-terrorism raids were launched throughout Brussels, the Belgian police used social media, including Twitter, to ask residents not to relay news of when and where the raids were taking place, so as not to alert potential targets to what might be coming their way.  In response, following the ancient idiom of 'not letting the cat out of the bag', residents began to tweet pictures of cats - particularly armed ones.

The Telegraph has a selection of the best tweets (with links to the images).  My favorite is this one:

There are many more at the link.  Click over there, follow the Twitter links, and enjoy them.


Refugees or immigrants? They're not the same thing.

Fellow immigrants, authors, and bloggers at the Mad Genius Club writing blog, Dave Freer and Sarah Hoyt, have shared their perspectives (at Sarah's blog) on what it means to be an immigrant, and how they see the current refugee situation.  As an immigrant myself, I found their contributions very interesting.

Dave points out that there's a big difference between being a refugee and being an immigrant.

Now I’ve long held that U.N. definitions of ‘refugee’ is a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys. You’re a refugee when you’ve gone just far enough to escape the strife you and your family were facing. That strife is serious you-will-be-shot-your-daughter-raped if you do not leave now. It’s a slippery slope if you start allowing less rigorous definitions. That means that ‘refugee status’ extends a few hundred meters outside the range of being shot and your daughter raped. That status continues only for as long as the clear and present danger exists. When you can go back, you should.

If you can never go back you need to look for a new home. You become a prospective emigrant, facing the same hurdles and challenges as any other emigrant. Country A may feel sorry for the plight of the poor refugees huddled on the border, and allow them to immigrate. But that is not being a refugee. It’s being an immigrant. If you’re going to allow that refugee to leave the 100 yards of safety and come to your country: well it would be bitterly unfair to the native born, to taxpayers and to the legal immigrants to let them immigrate and become citizens and beneficiaries of your country without the same conditions. If you’re merely granting asylum: Their status is temporary, highly conditional, and if the clear and present danger is not there: they go home.

There's more at the link.

Sarah warns that acculturation is an inescapable part of immigration.  If we ignore the former, the later cannot succeed.

So this brings us to taking in refugees from a culture so different from ours as to be mind-boggling, (and you wouldn’t get HOW different unless you’d lived in one half way there), from a religion that considers itself at war (physical, not just spiritual) with us and modernity, from a place where tribe is primary above all...

. . .

Will it be an easy road to acculturation?  No.  For one, our culture ACTIVELY DISCOURAGES acculturating.  It’s considered a “betrayal” of your “native” culture.

. . .

Acculturation HURTS.  Even when you want it, it’s a very painful process.  Think of the worst days of your teenage years, and multiply them by five or ten years of consciously dragging yourself through this process.

. . .

People who have never acculturated, people who are frankly quite ignorant of what “foreign” or “abroad” means, beyond their easy, lazy, fluffy headed vacations talking to other people like them abroad, call those scared of such an influx of people in that bind “ignorant.”  I guess because they lack a mirror.

Is it scary?  It is very scary.  Can it end well?  Of course it can.

But the way it ends well is where our society cheerfully smiles and says “fit in, or f*ck off.”  We’ll embrace little Achmed and little Fatima as our countrymen, but NOT if they go around demanding Sharia, telling us to stop eating pork, and that we can’t write/make stupid parodies of Allah, as we do of every other religion/belief in our culture.  Sure, they can roll their eyes at the stupid parodies, or write outraged blog posts about our disrespect.  But they don’t have the right to try to curtail us by law, or to bring their f*cked up culture, which caused their problems to begin with, here.

I don’t see it happening, at least not while our current multi-culti elites are in power.  Which means what we’re doing is importing trouble for later.

Again, more at the link.

Sarah immigrated to the USA from Portugal, as I did from South Africa.  Dave immigrated to Australia from South Africa.  They speak from intimate personal experience.  Go read both their articles in full, and then look at the wave of so-called 'refugees' swamping Europe (and coming to our country as well) through their eyes.  They speak wisdom.


The hypocrisy is staggering

Washington DC police chief Cathy Lanier has some advice for us in the event of a terrorist attack.  CBS News reports:

Active shooters like the terrorists in Paris call for more active responses, including running away, hiding or actually attacking the attacker, says Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

. . .

"Your options are run, hide, or fight," says Lanier. "If you're in a position to try and take the gunman down, to take the gunman out, it's the best option for saving lives before police can get there," ...

In recent years, mentally ill gunmen and now terrorists have killed victims indiscriminately, their aim to kill as many as possible, rather than taking hostages. These events call for more active approaches, she says. "That's kind of counterintuitive to what cops always tell people, right? We always tell people, 'Don't...don't take action. Call 911. Don't intervene in the robbery'...we've never told people, 'Take action.' It's a different...scenario."

There's more at the link.

That's good advice (I've echoed it myself), but Chief Lanier's arrogance and hypocrisy are staggering.  After all, she's the Chief of Police in a city that for years - decades! - flatly refused to allow its residents to own a handgun at all (the most effective means of personal protection against crime and terrorism that can be carried on your person).  When a Supreme Court ruling forced the city to change its ways, it did so as slowly and restrictively as possible, leading to further lawsuits.  To this day, it's impossible to get a concealed carry permit in Washington DC, despite legal rulings against the City's over-onerous regulations, because legal measures to implement such a permitting process have not yet been implemented.  Furthermore, Chief Lanier herself is in large measure personally responsible for this imbroglio.

That being the case, how are we supposed to "take the gunman down" except at the risk of our own lives, by tackling him (or them) unarmed?  The odds of success are very low, and the odds that he/they will kill anyone trying it are very high.  I agree that it's "better to die on your feet than live on your knees", but when DC's gun laws make the former almost inevitable, that sours the prospect considerably.  At least, where I live at present, I'll be better equipped to attempt such actions with a reasonable prospect of success.

Chief Lanier is now confronted with the logical contradiction between reality, and her own policies and actions.  She's one of those who've done their best for years to make it almost impossible for Washington DC residents to defend themselves effectively in public . . . so now she expects them to do so without the tools required, even if that means their almost certain deaths.

As a retired Federal officer, may I say that I expected (and still expect) no less from Chief Lanier and those like her - of whom there are, tragically, all too many.  Our welfare is not their concern.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Why you shouldn't tease alligators with trucks

If you do, this might happen.

A tip o' the hat to reader R. D. for sending me the link to the video.


Missiles, falcons and targets

I was intrigued to learn that the USAF is sponsoring research in Britain into the hunting habits of certain raptors.  The Economist reports:

Since 2012, in a project sponsored by the United States Air Force, Caroline Brighton and Graham Taylor of Oxford University have been flying peregrine falcons and Harris’s hawks over the Black Mountains of Monmouthshire to study how these birds chase their prey ... The USAF hopes the birds may be able to teach it a trick or two about intercepting targets, both in the air (the speciality of peregrines) and on the ground (the speciality of Harris’s hawks).

. . .

What really intrigued the researchers’ air-force paymasters ... was a peregrine’s responses if a live pheasant or duck turned up during a test. Then, the bird instantly lost interest in the lure and chased its new quarry using a tracking technique, dubbed optimal guidance, that is fitted only to the most advanced sorts of missiles. Optimal guidance employs optimal-control theory, a branch of maths also used in things like inventory control for manufacturing processes. That has led the air force’s experts to hope birds of prey may have other techniques to show off, perhaps including ones that human missile engineers have not yet thought of.

There's more at the link.

This research becomes even more intriguing when one realizes that the peregrine falcon is the fastest member of the entire animal kingdom, reaching speeds of over 200 mph in its killing dive.  If it can solve such problems of calculation - entirely by instinct - while closing on its prey at such speeds, and if scientists can figure out how its brain does it, that might indeed be of considerable interest to aircraft and missile designers and engineers.

I just have trouble visualizing how an animal's instinctive, non-intellectual behavior can be analyzed and studied in such a way as to yield results that can be 'reverse-engineered' into missiles.  However, clearly the USAF thinks something can be achieved.  I guess we'll see.


Quotes of the day

From Ben & Bawb's Blog, where the brothers speculate that "You might be a rural Montanan if . . . "

  • You laugh uproariously almost to the first commercial break before you realize the nature documentary on wolf reintroduction you're watching is not actually a brilliant satire.
  • You know that only two things can spook a horse; things that move and things that don’t.
  • You think “Skype” is just a sound you make when you kneel on a prickly pear.

There are many more at the link.  Giggle-worthy!


President Obama's Middle Eastern dilemma

Robert Kagan has written a very thoughtful analysis in the Wall Street Journal about the choices and conundrums confronting President Obama - and, for that matter, his successor - in the Middle East.  Here's an excerpt.

For several years, President Barack Obama has operated under a set of assumptions about the Middle East: First, there could be no return of U.S. ground troops in sizable numbers to the region; and second, undergirding the first, the U.S. has no interests in the region great enough to justify such a renewed commitment. The crises in the Middle East could be kept localized. There might be bloodshed and violence—even mass killing, in Syria and Libya and elsewhere, and some instability in Iraq—but the fighting, and its consequences, could be contained. The core elements of the world order would not be affected, and America’s own interests would not be directly threatened so long as good intelligence and well-placed drone strikes prevented terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Even Islamic State could be “degraded” and “contained” over time.

These assumptions could have been right—other conflicts in the Middle East have remained local—but they have proven to be wrong ... The multisided war in the Middle East has now ceased to be a strictly Middle Eastern problem. It has become a European problem as well ... The horrific attacks in Paris, likely organized and directed by Islamic State from its base in Syria, and the prospect of more such attacks, threaten the cohesion of Europe, and with it the cohesion of the trans-Atlantic community, or what used to be known as the West. The crisis on the periphery, in short, has now spilled over into the core.

. . .

Where does the U.S. fit into all this? The Europeans no longer know, any more than American allies in the Middle East do. Most Europeans still like Mr. Obama. After President George W. Bush and the Iraq war, Europeans have gotten the kind of American president they wanted. But in the current crisis, this new, more restrained and intensely cautious post-Iraq America has less to offer than the old superpower, with all its arrogance and belligerence.

. . .

Americans remain paralyzed by Iraq, Republicans almost as much as Democrats, and Mr. Obama is both the political beneficiary and the living symbol of this paralysis. Whether he has the desire or capacity to adjust to changing circumstances is an open question. Other presidents have—from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton—each of whom was forced to recalibrate what the loss or fracturing of Europe would mean to American interests. In Mr. Obama’s case, however, such a late-in-the-game recalculation seems less likely. He may be the first president since the end of World War II who simply doesn’t care what happens to Europe.

If so, it is, again, a great irony for Europe, and perhaps a tragic one. Having excoriated the U.S. for invading Iraq, Europeans played no small part in bringing on the crisis of confidence and conscience that today prevents Americans from doing what may be necessary to meet the Middle Eastern crisis that has Europe reeling.

There's more at the link.  Go read the whole thing.  It's worth it.

There's another aspect that Mr. Kagan hasn't mentioned, one that worries me very much.  President Obama has alienated most, if not all, of America's former allies in the region.  For example, in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia is no longer even bothering to consult with or inform the USA about actions it proposes to take in the region.  It's simply doing, rather than talking.  Israel regards the Obama administration as being at least hostile to its interests, if not actually an enemy (in the political and diplomatic sense, at least).  No-one in the Middle East trusts America any more . . . and one can hardly blame them.

That reality is going to be ruinous for any future prospects of US engagement, involvement or intervention.  It'll take a monumental effort to regain the trust of the powers, polities and parties in the region.  Even if we succeed, they'll always have in the back of their minds the fear that another Obama might be elected and undo all that his successors may have achieved.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Russia sends a message to ISIL - and Europe too

I noted with interest the route followed by a Russian airstrike on ISIL in Syria recently.  The Daily Mail provides this map of the route followed by the Tupolev Tu-160 bombers (click it for a larger, more readable view):

There are only two nations in the world possessing bombers with so great an operational range:  the USA and Russia.  President Putin wasn't just demonstrating his resolve to ISIL.  He was also demonstrating to Europe that if they really want to pick a fight with him over Ukraine, or NATO has visions of intervening to a greater extent in Eastern Europe, he's got weapons that no European nation or alliance can match.

Ah, diplomacy . . . the art of saying "Good doggie!" convincingly, while reaching for a bloody great rock!  I suspect Europe and NATO got the message.


Testing a Taurus Tracker .44 Magnum revolver: second follow-up

Regular readers will recall how I 'torture-tested' two Taurus .44 Magnum revolvers at Blogorado last month.  I followed up that post with another, discussing grip options for the Taurus Tracker medium-frame revolver.

I need to send off my .44 Magnum Tracker to get a trigger job and have the gunsmith hone the cylinders, to cure the slightly sticky extraction.  However, I must confess that the compact, relatively lightweight Tracker was growing on me.  It's a very comfortable gun to carry - about the same size and weight as a 4" S&W K-frame revolver.  It carries only 5 rounds in larger calibers (.44 Magnum, .45 Colt and .45 ACP, the last two long out of production but still available on the used market), but 7 rounds of .357 Magnum.  I therefore decided that I wanted to try a few more examples of it, while waiting for my own Tracker to come back from the gunsmith.

I've since handled three more Trackers, all in stainless steel (mine's blued steel).  They were a .45 ACP with a 4" barrel, another .45 ACP with a 6½" barrel and a .44 Magnum with a 6½" barrel (shown below).  All three of those models are now out of production, unfortunately, but they're still available from time to time on the used gun market.

Taurus Tracker in .44 Magnum with 6½" barrel

Every one of them had a much nicer trigger than my blued 4" .44, and showed no sign of the 'sticky' extraction that I'd encountered;  so I'm willing to concede that my Tracker may have been a not-so-good example straight out of the factory, and will almost certainly equal or exceed these others once it's been worked over by a gunsmith.  Fitted with Hogue grips, which are (IMHO) a great improvement over the factory 'Ribber' grips, the Trackers balance well in my hand and point very naturally.  Recoil is entirely manageable in .45 ACP, very similar when firing .44 Special rounds in the .44 Magnum guns, and stiff but still manageable with full-house .44 Magnum loads.

I was surprised to find that the 6½" barrel versions of the Tracker didn't feel muzzle-heavy to me at all.  In the large-frame 6½" Taurus Model 44 which I tested at Blogorado, there was definitely a muzzle-heavy feel, thanks to the full-underlug barrel and a heavier frame.  However, the medium-frame Tracker seemed much less prone to this imbalance.  I've no idea why, but the longer barrel is a pleasure to shoot in the medium-frame Tracker.  I think I'm going to buy one for myself to go with my 4" version.  (The latter will be easier to carry, particularly if concealment is important).

The .45 ACP versions are a delight, offering very controllable recoil.  Moon clips are freely available (I bought the Ranch Products version) and make rapid unloading and reloading easy (particularly using the Ranch Products extractor tool to empty the clips;  there's an instructional video here).  If you like revolvers, and live in a state with stringent magazine capacity restrictions (e.g. New York), then the Tracker with its 5-round .45 ACP capacity (or, in non-moonclip models, 5 rounds of .44 Magnum or 7 rounds of .357 Magnum) becomes a very viable option for concealed carry.  I can see a .45 ACP Tracker in my future as well.  They're not easy to find, having been out of production for some time, and they can be quite expensive on the used gun market (prices up to $600 are not uncommon for a good, clean example), but that's still a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than the larger, heavier 6-shot S&W Model 625.

I'm therefore going to give the Taurus Tracker range of revolvers my personal nod of approval, with the caution that you might find an example in need of tuning to get it to 100% operation.  Taurus offers a life-of-the-gun warranty, so you can get any problems repaired (even on a used gun) by sending it back to them.  In my case, I know a good gunsmith whose work I trust, so I prefer to pay him to work over my revolver to my specifications.  New Trackers are available with 4" barrels in .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum (both also able to fire, respectively, .38 Special or .44 Special rounds as well, offering greatly reduced recoil and adequate defensive capability).  My earlier warning about the effects of barrel porting still applies, of course.

I must admit, I've thoroughly enjoyed testing these Trackers.  They're nifty little guns, and they grow on you.  I might find my gun safe breeding more of them, if I'm not careful . . .


The chaotic situation in Syria and the Islamic world

There are two useful sources of information about what's happened in Syria and the Islamic world to fuel the current 'refugee crisis' in Europe and the upsurge in ISIL terrorist activities in the West.

First, Strategy Page brings us a useful analysis of 'What Failure Has In Common'.

The six worst violence hotspots on the planet at the moment (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia) seem hopeless and the search for solutions seems futile. But when you step back and take a closer look you find that all these countries have lots in common, aside from being “failed states.” All are largely Moslem and all have serious problems with governing themselves. This spotlights the fact that Moslems in general and Arabs in particular have developed a peculiar relationship with democracy in an attempt to cure these longstanding problems.

There's more at the link.  Useful information.  I'm not so sure that democracy is, at present, the best possible solution for many of these states.  I suggest that many of them need an Atatürk, a strong dictator to drag them kicking and screaming into modern times whether they want that or not, more than they do a one-person-one-vote scenario where the voters are neither educated nor informed.  However, the problem with an Atatürk solution is that for every enlightened 'dictator', one gets a dozen self-interested despots who'll rule for their own benefit and that of their cronies, rather than the nation as a whole.  How to get around that problem (apart from judicious assassination), I just don't know.  (Turkey is experiencing precisely that right now with the Erdoğan administration, which is Islamic to the core and, despite the obligatory lip-service to his memory, probably regards Atatürk as an unfortunate historical aberration to be corrected as quickly as possible.)

Next, this video report from Vox examines how the current situation in Syria came to be.  I generally don't trust Vox as an objective source, because the site's overtly left-wing, progressive perspective often colors its reporting, but in this case it seems reasonably balanced and accurate.  Judge for yourself.

Putting those two sources together, the background to the Paris attacks and the current tensions in the Islamic world become much clearer.