Friday, September 22, 2017

Carrot WHAT???


Australians have always been a resourceful, inventive people . . . but I'm not sure about this news.

Australia’s biggest carrot oversupply in 25 years has prompted farmers, along with chefs and winemakers, to get creative and use the popular vegetable in foams, consommes and infuse it in vodka.

. . .

Mr Hinrichsen put the excess in vegetables down to optimal growing conditions, big crop yields and Russia’s ban on European imports for having a domino effect on the world carrot market.

“It seems there’s been a perfect storm of events which have led to an absolutely flooded Australian carrot market,” Mr Hinrichsen said.

One solution to use up excess and “wonky” carrots unsuitable for sale was the creation of carrot vodka.

Alice Gorman and Gen Windley from Kalfresh teamed up with a winemaker to create the carrot vodka which Ms Gorman described as clean and refreshing with a hint of carrot flavour.

Restaurants have also helped farmers get through excess carrots by juicing, roasting and turning the vegetable into a foam to compliment items on their menus.

Rydges South Bank Brisbane executive assistant manager Dominic Rose said the hotel’s restaurant Bacchus were making the most of the oversupply.

“We were in the process of changing the menu and just lightening it up for spring and we put a duck dish on there and it’s a duck ravioli but it’s got a consomme that goes with it,” he said.

“When you make it you put carrots through there as it gives you that nice amber colour.

“Then the dish sort of evolved and the chef that was in the restaurant was working with it and we ended up putting a carrot foam on there and grilled carrots as well.”

There's more at the link.

I know that almost anything can be fermented and/or brewed and/or distilled into some form of alcohol, but carrot vodka?  Sounds like the Soviets won the Cold War after all!  And what's "carrot foam"?  I think of foam as something I see on top of a beer, or on the surface of the sea.  I've never eaten foam on top of my food . . . and as for a foaming (or foamed) duck, that brings to mind rabies rather than a rattling good meal!

Oh, well.  I suppose next, they'll come up with skin cream made from carrots, and claim it's healthy and good for you, because one of the ingredients is beta-carrotene.




Peter

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Almost in the weeds!


Here's a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber making a very, very long takeoff run.  He only just got his wheels off the ground before the tarmac ran out.





You might say that's a military analog to the (in)famous Ilyushin Il-76 long takeoff run in Australia, which we've seen in these pages before.





Both are nailbiters - or, as we used to say in the military, "you'd have to pull hard to get the seat cushion loose from your pants after that!"

Peter

Yet another forecast about the end of the world . . .


. . . this time on Saturday, September 23rd - and I'm betting it'll turn out to be just as false as all the previous ones.

Seriously, why do people listen to this nonsense?  The latest claim is from someone calling himself a "Christian numerologist", who's identified a series of recent events as lining up with Biblical prophecy.  He's also rehashing the old, tired nonsense about a non-existent Planet Nibiru (which, if it were about to collide with Earth as he claims, would long since have been visible to the naked eye, never mind telescopes).

To me, the most telling give-away about all this nonsense is the source's claim to be a Christian.  If he is, his faith is no more than skin deep - because he's ignoring one of the fundamental tenets of Christian revelation (which, as a retired pastor, I take seriously, even if some of my readers may differ).  You'll find it in Matthew 24:36.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only."

That says it all.  Jesus admits that not even he, the Son of God, knows the day or the hour that the end of the world will come.  Therefore, if anyone else claims that they're a Christian, and they've worked it out, and that they know more than Jesus does . . . they're saying they know more than the Son of God.  I call BS, right there.  If they claim that, they are demonstrably not Christian at all, no matter what they say!

Don't bother with anyone prophesying the end times, the Second Coming, or whatever.  We don't know when it's due, and we won't know until it happens.  Down the ages, countless people have thought they recognized the "signs of the times", and believed that the end was nigh . . . and they've all been wrong.  I see no reason to think we know any more than they did.

For Christians, the Biblical message is that we all live, every day, in our own end times.  None of us know the day or the hour of our deaths.  Yesterday, Miss D. and I were driving when someone decided to change lanes - and almost hit our car, because we were in her blind spot.  We could have died then and there, but for some rapid evasive action by Miss D.  There's no guarantee that she (or I) will always be able to react so quickly, or have room in which to do so.

Our own "end times" can come without warning - so we'd better be ready for them, and live our lives in such a way that our actions, our entire way of life, provides evidence of our faith.  That way, when the end does come for each of us, we'll be prepared to give an account of our lives before the righteous Judge of us all.  As Marcus Aurelius famously said, "Do every act of your life as if it were your last."  Words to live by . . . and to die by, when the time comes.

Peter

Sounds logical to me . . .


From Stephan Pastis and yesterday's edition of his Pearls Before Swine cartoon strip (click the image for a larger view at the strip's home page):







Peter

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Too cute!


Courtesy of Borepatch, here's a pup who just wants to be part of the game.





All together, now:  Aaaaaawwwww!




Peter

Contaminated water awareness goes mainstream?


Last week I published some thoughts about emergency water supplies, in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Now Accuweather has put up two interesting articles dealing with the threat from contaminated water following a hurricane, and how to deal with the problem.





I highly recommend reading both articles, as well as my earlier article and a longer one that I wrote on the same subject some years before.  Many people put some effort into storing emergency food supplies, but pay little or no attention to their need for water, keeping only a few flats of 16-20 ounce bottles of water on hand.  That may supply drinking water for a few days, but it won't be enough for cooking, personal hygiene, etc.

Furthermore, I'm hearing many reports from survivors of both Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that sewer lines 'backwashed', flooding bathrooms (if not entire homes) with the contents of sewers pushed back up into toilets, baths and basins by overflowing storm water.  This is particularly problematic if you plan to fill your bath in an emergency, to use it as a water reserve.  Even the smallest backflow will ruin that water.  As the old saying goes, "If you add a glass of wine to a barrel of sewage, you have a barrel of sewage.  If you add a glass of sewage to a barrel of wine, you have a barrel of sewage!"  What's more, any sewer backflow that overflows your toilet(s), basin(s), bath(s) or shower(s) will cause a major contamination problem, one that will probably require (expensive) professional attention to clean up.

It begins to look more and more desirable to install a sewer backflow valve to prevent this problem, particularly in flood-prone areas.  FEMA has instructions on how to do that (link is to an Adobe Acrobat file in .PDF format).  Even though we don't live in a flood-prone area, I'm going to look into that as part of our next residential upgrade.

Peter

More fiscal insanity in Illinois


We've spoken before about Illinois' budget woes - follow those four links for more information.

Now comes this news.

Illinois’ pile of unpaid bills topped $16 billion for the first time as the state deals with the fallout of an unprecedented two straight fiscal years without complete budgets, the state comptroller’s office reported on Tuesday.

The bill backlog is growing despite the enactment of a fiscal 2018 spending plan and income tax increase in July that ended a budget impasse between Illinois’ Republican governor and Democrats who control the legislature.

. . .

A provision in the budget enacted by lawmakers over the vetoes of Governor Bruce Rauner authorized the sale of up to $6 billion of general obligation bonds to pay bills from vendors and service providers that are accruing late payment penalties of as much as 12 percent.

. . .

But on Monday, the governor told reporters that the bonds do not solve any problem because lawmakers failed to set aside money to make principal and interest payments over the 12 years the debt would be outstanding.

“We need to come up with roughly half a billion (dollars) of cuts just to be able to service a bond offering,” he said, adding that he planned to meet with legislative leaders for discussion.

There's more at the link.

So, Illinois wants to borrow another $6 billion . . . to pay current bills presently totaling about $16 billion . . . but the state has made no budgetary provision whatsoever to pay the interest on those new borrowings, let alone the principal?  Does that sound like something the average bond investor will find attractive?  I don't know about you, dear reader, but to me, it sounds absolutely insane.

Illinois' current population is reportedly about 12.8 million people.  That means every resident of Illinois, man, woman or child, is on the hook for $1,250 of currently outstanding short-term state expenditure, over and above the state's longer-term debt (estimated to come to $5,041 per resident), and over and above the state's $130 billion backlog in pension funding (equal to another $10,156 per resident, all of whom are liable for the shortfall).  In case you were wondering, that's a total of $16,447 in state government debt owed by every resident of Illinois.  (That leaves out questions of their share of the US national debt, of course - but let's focus on state-level finances here.)

Even leaving aside federal debt, if Illinois owes you money in any way, shape or form - a pension, payment for goods you've sold to a state agency, reimbursement for expenses, whatever - I suggest you urgently begin examining ways to survive financially without it.  I suspect you're not likely to be paid in full - that is, if you're ever paid at all.

(There are, of course, many other states that are almost as badly off, and to which the same caution applies.)

Peter

One has to ask . . .


. . . given the abysmal failure of the War On Drugs:  is it time to just let this stuff come in, and allow the drug addiction problem to solve itself through natural selection?  After all, drugs - particularly 'hard' drugs - are today much easier to find, and far more affordable, than they were at the start of the War On Drugs in 1971.




And then there's this:




Methinks Einstein had the right of it:


Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again
and expecting different results.


*Sigh*


Peter

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Shooting miscellany


Here are a few bits and pieces that have crossed my path, or my consciousness, in recent weeks.

First off, buckshot.  I highly recommend Federal's Flite Control rounds as one's primary buckshot load for defensive use.  I prefer the #1 buckshot reduced-recoil (i.e. slower muzzle velocity) cartridge (15 pellets per load), but others choose 00 buck in standard-velocity or reduced-recoil rounds.  The special Flite Control shot cups hold the load together quite a long distance from the muzzle, so that even out to 30 yards, most of the pellets will hit a human-size target.  Most 'conventional' buckshot is lucky to get half as far without some of the pellets drifting off target, and at 30 yards, you'll be lucky to get two or three buckshot pellets in the kill zone.

However, it's often hard to find Federal Flite Control buckshot.  Many stores simply don't stock it, partly because it's a premium round (and therefore more expensive), and others because they concentrate on hunting rather than tactical firearms and ammunition.  There's a good, and reasonably low-cost, second choice;  Sellier & Bellot's 12-pellet 00 buckshot round.  It's also hard to find, but if you do an online search, you're likely to locate some.  (Note that I'm talking about the 12-pellet round here, not the cheaper 9-pellet load.  Be sure to search for the former.)  It patterns very tightly in most shotguns in which I've tried it.  Tamara tried some a couple of years ago, and found the same thing (and also noted the superior tightness of the Federal Flite Control pattern).

So, if you want good defensive buckshot rounds, Federal Flite Control is still top of the heap;  but the 12-pellet 00 buckshot Sellier & Bellot load isn't bad, and it may pleasantly surprise you (or unpleasantly surprise someone on the other end of your muzzle).  As always, test some of the rounds in your own shotgun to find out how it patterns for you.  Here's an article on how to pattern your shotgun for birdshot rounds;  for buckshot, I recommend shooting at 25 or 30 yards instead of 40, and a human head-and-torso life-size silhouette instead of a 30" circle.

Next, a couple of folks have complained that ported firearms such as the Taurus Tracker or Model 44, which I've reviewed and recommended in their .44 Magnum versions, are too 'noisy' for prolonged use.  I have to admit, they have a point;  but I don't know anyone who uses these things for casual plinking, without ear protection!  They're meant to be used with earplugs and/or muffs.  Given that protection, the louder noise from the ported barrels isn't a problem at all.  Certainly, I'd hate to have to fire one inside a car, or in my bedroom at night - but I don't use them for that purpose.  I have other firearms, better suited to such environments.  The ported barrel does make recoil control easier, and enables faster repeat shots.  That's what it's there for.  The added noise is not pleasant, but given proper equipment, it's not a problem, either.

Finally, here's a US Marine showing us how to cook bacon in the field . . . er . . . sort of.








Peter

Book roundup #1


I'm finding it difficult to post one-off articles about friends' books, so I'm going to try doing a more-or-less regular book roundup article in which I'll mention new publications from friends and fellow bloggers.  I hope you'll give them a try.  I've found a lot of good reading material among them.  I'll limit coverage to books by friends and colleagues, those whom I've come to know in person or in cyberspace.  I'll list them in the order in which I was told (or learned of) their release, to be fair to all concerned.  (I'll also do stand-alone reviews of certain books now and again.)

First off, I recently reviewed Tom Rogneby's short story, 'The Boogeyman'.  He's just released two more starring his new character, in a compilation called 'Working Vacation'.




The blurb reads:

Martin Shelby, called the BoogeyMan by friend and foe, returns in two new stories.

In “The Devil Drinks Sweet Tea”, a young Shelby thought his Grandpa was just being grouchy about having to help out with the gardening. That is, of course, until Grandma's geraniums spontaneously burst into flames and the lilies started chanting in Latin.

In “Working Vacation”, the BoogeyMan just wants to relax on the beach with his wife, but his plans change when an old friend tracks him down to call in a debt. Shelby races against the clock to find a missing client before the full weight of the world falls in on his quiet vacation.

I'm enjoying Tom's new protagonist.  This looks like it might develop into a worthwhile series - perhaps even a full-length novel or two.

Next, Margaret Ball has returned from her decade-long hiatus in writing.  Her new novel is titled 'Insurgents', and is the first book in her new Harmony series.




The blurb reads:

Can one man make both love and war – at the same time?

Harmony, one of the first settlements from Earth’s Age of Expansion, has a totalitarian government which uses the bleak continent of Esilia as a dumping ground for political dissidents. Now they’re surprised that the dissidents want to secede.

Gabrel is totally devoted to his colony’s battle for freedom. Isovel, daughter of the enemy’s invading general, knows exactly why Harmony should continue to rule the exiles. When she is taken hostage by his guerrilla group, he has to draw a line between his personal inclinations and his duty to the insurgency, while Isovel has to remember her duty to escape. There can be no future for two people on opposing sides of this war – so Gabrel will just have to win the war. And the peace.

Margaret's been previously published by Baen Books, and has a well-established writing pedigree.  I think this is her first independently published book.

Last but not least for this week, Dragon Award-winning author John C. Wright has just released the sixth book in his amazing 'Moth & Cobweb' series.  I love the first three books in the series, and I'm planning on reading the next three as soon as I can find the time.  (Isn't it odd that writers are so busy writing that they usually have less time to read than their readers do?  Seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it?)

John's new book is titled 'Tithe to Tartarus'.




This is listed as 'Young Adult' reading, but I find it equally gripping as adult fiction.  The blurb reads:

Inflicted with amnesia, Yumiko Ume Moth has managed to discover the identity of the lost love she cannot remember. She has also learned the bitter truth of her mother's murder. And the party responsible for the absence of the one and the death of the other is the same: the Supreme Council of Anarchists.

Now Yumiko hopes to rescue the brilliant young man who may or may not be her fiance while seeking vengeance for the Grail Queen, her mother. But her only allies are a scatter-brained fairy and the Last Crusade, which despite its grand name consists of a young knight and his dog. Nevertheless, the Foxmaiden will not turn from her path, though all the dark forces of Tartarus stand in her way.

If it's anything like as good as its predecessors in the 'Moth & Cobweb' series, this one will be un-put-downable.  I'm looking forward to reading it.

I'll have more book news soon.

Peter

Will homeowners abandon their hurricane-damaged properties?


That's the question posed by CNBC.  It holds profound implications for the mortgage financial sector.

New estimates suggest as many as 300,000 borrowers could become delinquent on their loans and 160,000 could become seriously delinquent, that is, more than 90 days past due, when banks initiate foreclosure proceedings ... That is four times the original prediction because new disaster zones were designated and more homes flooded when officials released water from reservoirs to protect dams. The total number of mortgaged properties in disaster zones is 1.18 million. Houston disaster zones contain twice as many mortgaged properties than Katrina zones, with four times the unpaid principal balance.

After Hurricane Katrina, mortgage delinquencies in Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas spiked 25 percentage points. The same could happen in Houston, as borrowers without flood insurance weigh their options. They will get some federal relief, but if rebuilding would cost more than the principal in their homes, they could decide to walk away.

There's more at the link.

Zero Hedge adds:

Combining the preliminary estimates for both Harvey and Irma suggests that over 3.3 million total mortgaged properties are located in Irma and Harvey-related FEMA Disaster zones, while the dollar amount of total unpaid mortgage balances in these two zones is massive: between Irma's $517 billion and Harvey's $179 billion, the total potential damage could impact as much as a $696 billion in notional mortgage values, which banks could be on the hook for if current occupiers decide to simply walk away.

Again, more at the link.

This highlights an anomaly in US mortgage finance law, one that does not exist in most of the rest of the world.  In several US states, a mortgage is classified as so-called 'non-recourse debt';  i.e. it's secured only by the property against which it is granted.  If the mortgage holder defaults, the property may be seized and sold to pay off as much as possible of the mortgage bond, but the holder's other assets may not be seized in the same way, and the holder may not be sued for the balance (if any) of what was originally owed.  In other states, there is a right of recourse, but it may be more or less limited according to local law.

This issue exposes the mortgage holder to much greater risk when it comes to hurricane-damaged properties.  If the homeowner discovers that his insurance payout is much less than the present value of his home, and/or much less than what it will cost to repair his home, and if the mortgage holder's recourse is limited, he may simply decide to walk away from it, cease paying the mortgage, and let the mortgage holder deal with the problem.

I posed this question after Hurricane Katrina, when I wrote:

What about mortgages on properties that are now underwater? The occupants can't and won't pay, but the mortgage holders will demand payment.  We could end up with massive foreclosures on property that is worthless, leaving a lot of folks neck-deep in debt and without homes (even damaged ones).

The problem is likely to be much worse after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which affected a much larger area between them.  To make matters worse, more storms are already active in the North Atlantic Ocean, and may potentially strike this country.

This problem, in turn, means many financial institutions may have to take a long, hard look at whether or not it's still profitable to grant mortgages in areas vulnerable to such natural disasters.  If they can't adequately protect their investments by insurance or other means, then is it still worth making them?  That may affect potential homeowners in those areas for much longer than the hurricane damage will take to repair.  Some sort of state guarantees may be necessary to persuade financial institutions to continue to finance home construction and purchases - yet another burden on already over-extended state budgets, and on taxpayers.

Peter

Monday, September 18, 2017

South Korea as the wild card in the North Korean game


George Friedman makes a very interesting point.

The US had little to gain from a war with North Korea; it wanted only to destroy the North’s nuclear program. The war plan was complex, and though it was likely to succeed, “likely” is not a term you want to use in war. North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities were scattered in numerous locations, and many were underground or in hardened sites. And the North Koreans had massed artillery along their southwestern border, within easy range of Seoul. In the event of an American attack on North Korean facilities, it was assumed those guns would open up, killing many South Koreans. Destroying those batteries would require a significant air campaign, and in the meantime, North Korean artillery would be firing at the South.

The US turned to China to negotiate a solution. The Chinese failed. In my view, the Chinese would not be terribly upset to see the US dragged into a war that would weaken Washington if it lost, and would cause massive casualties on all sides if it won. Leaving that question aside, the North Koreans felt they had to have nuclear weapons to deter American steps to destabilize Pyongyang. But the risk of an American attack, however difficult, had to have made them very nervous, even if they were going to go for broke in developing a nuclear capability.

But they didn’t seem very nervous. They seemed to be acting as if they had no fear of a war breaking out. It wasn’t just the many photos of Kim Jong Un smiling that gave this impression. It was that the North Koreans moved forward with their program regardless of American and possible Chinese pressure.

Another Player Enters the Game

A couple of weeks ago, the reason for their confidence became evident. First, US President Donald Trump tweeted a message to the South Koreans accusing them of appeasement. In response, the South Koreans released a statement saying South Korea’s top interest was to ensure that it would never again experience the devastation it endured during the Korean War. From South Korea’s perspective, artillery fire exchanges that might hit Seoul had to be avoided. Given the choice between a major war to end the North’s nuclear program and accepting a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons, South Korea would choose the latter.

With that policy made public, and Trump’s criticism of it on the table, the entire game changed its form. The situation had been viewed as a two-player game, with North Korea rushing to build a deterrent, and the US looking for the right moment to attack. But it was actually a three-player game, in which the major dispute was between South Korea and the United States.

The US could have attacked the North without South Korea’s agreement, but it would have been substantially more difficult. The US has a large number of fighter jets and about 40,000 troops based in the South. South Korean airspace would be needed as well. If Seoul refused to cooperate, the US would be facing two hostile powers, and would possibly push the North and the South together. Washington would be blamed for the inevitable casualties in Seoul. The risk of failure would pyramid.

There's more at the link.  It's well worth your time to read the article in full.

This explains, to my mind, why the US response to North Korea's undoubtedly aggressive moves has been so muted.  There is no doubt that the USA could turn the whole of North Korea into a radioactive desert - but that would poison parts of China and most of South Korea with fallout, which neither country will accept.  Short of such an all-out nuclear attack, any US military intervention in North Korea must inevitably involve South Korea.  If South Korea is not willing to permit its territory, or its airspace, or its waters, to be used for that purpose, the USA is effectively stymied.

I see only one way to break the logjam, and force the issue.  That would be for the USA to announce that, in view of North Korea's aggressive actions and stated intentions to become a nuclear power, it is willing to sell nuclear weapons to Japan and South Korea.  Note that I said "sell" - in other words, not station US nuclear weapons in those countries under US control, but give each country its own nuclear warheads and delivery systems, under its own sovereign control.  China would instantly have kittens - a nuclear-armed Japan must be close to its worst nightmare, and a nuclear South Korea wouldn't be far behind that.  If anything could force China to rein in the North Korean regime, that might do it.

Frankly, I see no other way of breaking the stalemate over North Korea.  Can readers suggest anything better?

Peter

Cutting out the deadwood in the State Department


In his 1971 book 'The Foreign Affairs Fudge Factory', Alastair Campbell relates:

Ellis Briggs, when he was ambassador to Czechoslovakia shortly after the Communist coup d'êtat in 1948 ... had been pestering Washington, without success, to cut his staff of eighty personnel ... by half ... One day the Czech government, unaware of this background, declared sixty-six of the American embassy's personnel persona non grata and gave them forty-eight hours to leave the country ... to Briggs it was a blessing in disguise.  "The American embassy in Prague then consisted of thirteen people," Briggs remarked.  "It was probably the most efficient embassy I ever headed."

With that example in mind, it's encouraging to read this report.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is finishing what he calls a “redesign plan” that would shrink the State Department and revamp American diplomacy in ways that already have drawn bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill.

Tillerson said he is determined to do more with less even as the Trump administration grapples with growing foreign policy challenges in North Korea, Syria and Russia.

"The most important thing I can do is to enable this organization to be more effective, more efficient,” Tillerson told U.S. Embassy employees in London on Thursday. “Because if I accomplish that, that will go on forever and you will create the State Department of the future."

Since taking office, Tillerson has moved slowly to fill traditional leadership slots at State, leaving many offices vacant or nearly so. Retirements, removals, hiring freezes and fewer promotions have trimmed staff. A few diplomats have publicly quit to protest administration policy.

Among the most vulnerable have been diplomats at programs now out of favor, like climate change and women’s empowerment, as well as special envoys. Some special fields, such as religious freedom, are being subsumed in other bureaus.

Tillerson delivered a progress report on his redesign plan to the White House Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday. It quickly prompted a bipartisan protest.

. . .

Tillerson last month denied he is “hollowing out” the department. He said that reorganization will take months to implement and that some positions are best left unfilled until all the pieces are in place.

Congress already has pushed back hard on the staffing and budget cuts.

This year, Tillerson backed President Trump’s proposal to cut State’s budget from about $55 billion to about $39 billion. He told a Senate committee in June that he aimed to cut about 1,300 jobs — 327 foreign service officers and about 1,000 civil service employees.

State has about 13,000 foreign service employees and 11,000 civil service employees.

There's more at the link.

The "swamp" is already pushing back against Secretary Tillerson's plans, as the above article makes clear;  but I think they're long overdue.  Part of the problem is that the State Department has been its own worst enemy when it comes to justifying its enormous cost (over $50 billion annually) and bloated bureaucracy.  The Washington Examiner noted:

With its image still tainted ... by the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, the State Department has struggled to shake public perceptions of failure after spearheading a controversial nuclear agreement with Iran and failing to improve battered relationships with Russia and Israel, among others.

Its deep transparency problems were exposed in a January inspector general report, which found several examples of FOIA requests for politically charged documents that were suppressed by officials who should have had nothing to do with the FOIA process. In 2014 alone, the State Department spent $2 million of taxpayer money fighting FOIA lawsuits in court instead of simply turning over documents, as the law requires.

Again, more at the link.

There's historically been a great deal of tension between the US armed forces and the State Department, and between American businesses and the restrictions imposed by State on their overseas marketing and promotional activities.  The State Department appears to have done little to justify many of those restrictions and its activities except to state that they exist "because we say so".  Many of its activities in Africa have been blunders of the first magnitude.  I know, because I witnessed many of them at first hand.  Benghazi was only the most recent example, and one of the most publicized.  There have been many more.

I think Secretary Tillerson is doing exactly the right thing.  Get rid of the deadwood, streamline the State Department, and restructure the organization to effectively address today's priorities, rather than those of the Cold War.  Faster, please!

Peter

THIS is why the Federally subsidized flood insurance program needs to be killed!


Late last month I opined that there should be restrictions and/or limits on how much subsidized insurance and government funding is applied to rebuilding flooded houses after a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey.  My view wasn't universally approved;  some readers objected, in comments and via e-mail, claiming that I was being heartless and uncaring, or words to that effect.

Well, now comes this report, which demonstrates exactly what I meant.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

Brian Harmon had just finished spending over $300,000 to fix his home in Kingwood, Texas, when Hurricane Harvey sent floodwaters “completely over the roof.”

The six-bedroom house, which has an indoor swimming pool, sits along the San Jacinto River. It has flooded 22 times since 1979, making it one of the most flood-damaged properties in the country.

Between 1979 and 2015, government records show the federal flood insurance program paid out more than $1.8 million to rebuild the house
—a property that Mr. Harmon figured was worth $600,000 to $800,000 before Harvey hit late last month.

. . .

As they tally up the losses from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, government officials are looking for ways to step up purchases of frequently-flooded houses, which have become a huge drain on the financially troubled federal flood insurance program.

Homes and other properties with repetitive flood losses account for just 2% of the roughly 1.5 million properties that currently have flood insurance, according to government estimates. But such properties have accounted for about 30% of flood claims paid over the program’s history.

“We are seeing a very acute need to move far faster” on property buyouts, said Roy Wright, who directs the National Flood Insurance Program. “It’s a clear priority to address these multiple-loss properties.”

In a buyout program, homes are typically razed and the land left as open space.

Even before Harvey and Irma, the flood program owed the U.S. Treasury $24.6 billion, as payouts have exceeded the amount of insurance premiums it takes in.

The program paid out more than $47 billion in insurance claims since 2000, according to government figures.

Insurance payouts from Harvey alone are expected to total $11 billion, said Mr. Wright, noting the program had already received nearly 85,000 claims tied to the disaster as of Wednesday. It is too early to estimate losses tied to Irma, but Mr. Wright expects both storms to be among the most costly in the program’s history.

There's more at the link.

Let's assume that Hurricane Irma will cost about the same as Hurricane Harvey in terms of insurance payouts.  That's $22 billion in total.  Let's assume, too, that the historical average holds, and that about 30% of those claims will be repeat claims from properties that had previously been damaged by flooding.  That's $6.6 billion.  That money might as well be poured down the drain . . . because it's merely repeating previous repairs.  What's more, if those properties are permitted to reinsure at subsidized rates, we - the taxpayers of America - will be on the hook yet again for future repairs, which are certain to arise when the next hurricane hits those properties.

This is stupid.  It's sick.  It's disgusting!  It's our money, as taxpayers, being wasted.

The taxpayer-subsidized federal flood insurance program should be modified AT ONCE.  Those who are presently insured under it should be able to keep their insurance . . . but for one future claim only.  As soon as they make a flood-related claim, the payout should be in the form of a forced purchase of their property, and a razing of any and all buildings on it.  The property owner(s) can use the payout to settle any outstanding debts on the properties, and apply the balance to buying or building another home in a less flood-prone area.  We, the taxpayers of this country, should no longer be liable for any repeat claims on their former property - otherwise we're subsidizing failure.  We're subsidizing the repair, cleanup and construction industries, as well as the property owners.

I also propose that any new or replacement construction in flood-prone areas, and any repairs to properties formerly covered by the federal flood insurance program, should be automatically denied access to that program.  Those who build or rebuild in such areas should be forced to pay for insurance at commercial rates, which should not be subsidized by the rest of us.  Why should we pay for damages that we know are almost certain to be incurred in future?  Is that a proper use of our taxes?  I maintain it's not.

What say you, readers?  Are you happy at the thought that your taxes are about to be used for the 23rd time to rebuild that flooded house in Kingwood?




Peter

Doofus Of The Day #978


Today's award goes to a would-be carjacker who just wouldn't learn . . . or let go.

A carjacker picked the wrong driver to try to steal a car from, when the driver of that car refused to cooperate and drove off down the street, dragging him along the way.

The incident occurred about 7 PM on Friday, August 25 ... Video shows the suspect punching the driver repeatedly, and the driver then manages to close the vehicle’s door, and drove off.

The video shows the suspect being dragged along a busy street, with his pants falling to his ankles.

The car stopped at least once in the video, but the would-be carjacker wouldn’t give up; he tried again to get the driver out.

The driver then took off again, dragging the suspect alongside the car ... Kent police officers responded, and the suspect was tased “multiple times” after refusing to follow their commands.

There's more at the link. Here's the video.  Nudity alert, if that bothers you.





I enjoyed Blue Lives Matter's closing remark on this report: "WARNING – Bare carjacker butt. Dangly bits were harmed in the making of this film."




Peter

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday morning music


Miss D. and I are experimenting with making our own Van Der Hum, a South African brandy-based liqueur of which we're fond.  Sadly, there's no longer a US importer of the stuff, so once our last bottle has been consumed, we'll be without it . . . unless we can find an alternative.  Fortunately, it's been home-made for generations in South Africa, and there are several recipes online and in print, so we're giving it a try.  I'll let you know how it works out once we've got past the first, experimental batch, and we're closer to the real thing.

Be that as it may, I got to thinking about the number of songs out there concerning whisky (with or without an 'e'), brandy, and other "waters of life", as spirits have often been described.  I don't think it's possible to tally all of the songs.  The number must measure well into three figures, if not four!  However, I've had fun looking.  This week, I thought I'd tackle whisk(e)y.  I may tackle different spirits in weeks and months to come.  Let me know in Comments if you have a favorite you'd like to see (or hear).

Many whiskeys contain barley as one of their ingredients, so I thought we'd begin with a traditional ballad, performed by English rock group Traffic as the title track of their 1970 album 'John Barleycorn Must Die'.





From now on, the pace picks up.  Let's hear the O'Reillys and the Paddyhats perform 'Barrels of Whiskey', from their album 'Seven Hearts:  One Soul'.





In a more folksy vein, here's the Irish Rovers with 'The Rare Old Mountain Dew'.





Crossing the Atlantic for the American version of uisce beatha, here's Willie Nelson and Toby Keith in a live performance of the title track from the album 'Beer for my horses'.





In a lighter-hearted vein, here's Irish group Patrick Street with the tongue-in-cheek song 'Humors of the King of Ballyhooley' from their 1993 album 'Irish Times'.  It's about a distiller of illicit whiskey, and how he found the love of his life.  I'd never heard of an illegal whiskey still being used as an incentive to marriage, but I'm sure it's happened!





And finally, here's a live, rollicking, foot-stomping, folk rock rendition of the traditional Irish ballad 'Whiskey In The Jar' by the Killdares.  I've cut out the long, slow violin introduction to concentrate on the song itself - click over to the YouTube version for the full track.





That's a rattling good collection of songs about at least one 'spirit of the age' (just about any age, I guess!).  I'll see if I can find equally good ones about other spirits for future consumption (you should pardon the expression).

Peter

Saturday, September 16, 2017

This stuff is so good, there's probably a law against it somewhere


Last year I mentioned Killer Bees Honey, a small business started by Sean C., a long-term online acquaintance.

I've just received my latest order of their products.  I'm sitting at my desk, eating Sourwood Amber honey on sourdough bread, trying to keep from dripping honey on the keyboard as I type these words.  Ohhhh, man, this is good - and seriously addictive!

Reading Sean's blog, and looking at the pictures on Killer Bees Honey's Web site, I note that he seems to have a lot more hives now.  He's also teamed up with another apiary nearby, so he'll soon have a lot more honey to send to deserving causes like Miss D. and I.  We'd better start budgeting accordingly!

If you like really, really good natural honey, unfiltered, unprocessed and unpasteurized, I can't recommend Sean too highly.  I'm a repeat customer, and expect to remain one.  You can read more about it at my previous post.  (No, Sean didn't ask me to advertise his wares, and he's not paying me to do so, and I don't get any freebies from him in return for mentioning them on this blog.  I do so because it's the best honey I've tasted in many years, and I think it deserves a wider audience.  Besides, I like to share good news with my readers and friends.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's another piece of sourdough bread crying out to be slathered with honey.  See ya!

Peter

The "Greatest Generation" would spit in disgust


Tom Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation" applied that label to those who lived through the Great Depression, fought and won World War II, and then came home to build new lives for themselves and their families.




My parents were among that generation, albeit in another country.  The Greatest Generation did all that without much in the way of government assistance.  Sure, there was the "New Deal" and its programs, but they didn't mollycoddle people - they required hard work, too.  There were few, if any, "freebies", and people didn't expect them.  They knew that their future was up to them, not anyone else.  They tried to raise their children in that ethos (or, at least, my parents certainly did).

Compare and contrast that approach with this news report (bold, underlined text is my emphasis).

It's been one week since Margherita Lopez has taken a shower. She's been shuffled to three different shelters since evacuating her home in Key West last week as Hurricane Irma approached. She's slept on a gymnasium floor without a cot, has struggled to find food and says she feels like emergency management officials have forgotten her.

"It's been a nightmare ... there should have been a better plan," said Lopez, a 43-year-old woman...

. . .

Wearing a donated Mickey Mouse T-shirt, Lopez sat in a room Thursday on Florida International University's campus that had air conditioning but smelled like a pet store. She shared the space with about 30 fellow evacuees from the same organization, their room lined with green cots with Red Cross blankets. Three shopping carts full of donated water, canned food and clothes sat in the entryway.

Everyone sleeping there had been housed together because they had been deemed to have "special needs." Lopez is bipolar and has panic attacks.

Or how about this one?  (Ditto on the emphasis.)

Officials at the Florida nursing home where eight residents died in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma reportedly called Gov. Rick Scott for assistance hours before the first death, but help never arrived.

. . .

In Scott’s defense, the health department claims nursing home officials could have easily walked across the street to Memorial Regional Hospital and sought help.

There are many more reports like them.  In every case, people expected - and still expect - others to do everything for them.  They seem mentally incapable of getting off their butts and doing anything for themselves.

In contrast, where private individuals and organizations did get off their butts and do it themselves, things went much better.  Unfortunately, some observers appear to look upon self-help efforts (i.e. non-governmental, unofficial, grassroots organizations) with not just disdain, but concern.  Consider this perspective from the New Yorker.

... the stories of [Hurricane Harvey] are consolidating, much as they did following the floods last year in Baton Rouge, around the failures of the government’s preparations and response to the disaster, and the successes of private individuals’ rescue efforts.

. . .

Behind everything, escalating the stakes, is the willful ignorance of climate change that many local and national political leaders still cling to. In contrast to this, the actions of the Cajun Navy and other groups are celebrated. The heroism of the boaters is so vivid and so moving that it obscures the most important question about them: Why are they so needed in the first place?

. . .

There were hundreds of families ... who felt that they owed their safety not to the distant forces of government but to a neighbor who had put himself at risk to help them.

. . .

There is a cyclic pattern to the erosion of faith in government, in which politics saps the state’s capacity to protect people, and so people put their trust in other institutions (churches; self-organizing volunteer navies), and are more inclined to support anti-government politics. The stories of the storm and the navies exist on a libertarian skeleton. Through them, a particular idea of how society might be organized is coming into view.

It's clearly never occurred to the author of that opinion piece that "the failures of the government’s preparations and response to the disaster" has been the rule, rather than the exception, in almost every major disaster that has struck this country. I've had up-close-and-personal exposure to some of them;  Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, for example.  I went through the Nashville flood of 2010.  I've also seen the authorities at work in more distant disasters:  9/11, Hurricane Sandy, tornadoes in several states, and so on.  In almost every single case of which I'm aware, home-grown, spontaneous disaster relief efforts, informally organized by locals, were on-scene faster, and did more effective work, than the much slower, more ponderous, bureaucratic official responders.  Salon found the same thing when it examined the role of the 'Cajun Navy' in Hurricane Harvey, and citizen responders after other major disasters such as 9/11.  It's sub-headline read "Unconventional emergency rescue operations during natural disasters demonstrate the strength of community".  Note that it did not say "the strength of government".

On the flip side, you have the increasingly common response of individuals and organizations to wait for the authorities to provide.  They appear to have no inclination, or feel any sense of personal responsibility, to provide for their own needs before an emergency arises.  They're the people who swamp the stores, buying supplies like water, canned food, and plywood sheets in a last-minute panicked rush, rather than buying them in more peaceful times when there's less pressure to do so.  They're the people who complain that they can't afford to spend money on emergency preparations - but they can afford smartphones, and big-screen TV's, and luxuries like that.  They're the people who sit in evacuation shelters, demanding that the government "do more" for them - but not lifting a finger to do it themselves.  They're organizations like that nursing home in Florida, calling the Governor's office to demand help - but not even walking across the road to obtain readily-available assistance!  They're behaving like sheep, not like responsible adults . . . and we all know what happens to sheep.  They get sheared, or slaughtered, or both.  That's what they're there for.

There are those who would argue that someone who's a domestic violence victim and suffers from panic attacks, like Ms. Lopez mentioned above, should not be expected to do such things for themselves.  Well, I have news for them.  Mother Nature is a stone cold bitch, who'll kill you as soon as look at you if the opportunity arises.  It simply won't do to plead excuses.  Some things have simply got to be done.  You do them, or you die.  Your call.  However, don't blame others for not helping you enough!  It's in your hands, first and foremost.

I've seen that reality uncounted times in the Third World, where those who don't have the gumption to do something are the first to go to the wall (which usually means getting killed, or dying slowly of disease or starvation, in those parts of the world).  For all that the USA is a first world nation, the same realities are in effect here.  Your personal problems, and handicaps, and incapacities, are just as potentially lethal here as they are anywhere else.  Get over them, or make a plan to work around them, before they kill you.  That's the cold, hard, brutal reality of this world.  Mollycoddling won't change that.  If you can't get over or work around them, don't rely on some nebulous government bureaucracy to change that reality.  Sometimes, it might.  Other times, it won't.

Miss D. and I live with that reality every day.  We're both permanently affected by injuries we've suffered.  In the event of disaster, those injuries and the burdens they impose on us might kill us - so we'd better plan ahead, and already have what we need in case of emergency.  If we don't, we'll be among the casualties.  That's life.  We've learned to live with it.  So have many others like us, some with physical issues, some with psychological or emotional or other needs  We all know that in the event of an emergency, it's up to us, particularly when everyone around us is in the same boat.

It's not an exact Scriptural quote to say that "God helps those who help themselves", but that principle is found in the Bible, in so many words - and it's found in other cultures and religions, too.  However, we seem to have raised a "Millennial" and "Generation X" society that expects government - or, at least, other people - to do it all for them . . . and too many of them blame God when that doesn't happen!  Fortunately, there are exceptions;  but there aren't enough of them.  How do we get through to the others?  How do we wake them up to reality?  I don't know.  Do you?

Peter

Friday, September 15, 2017

Very low and very fast


Here's a Sukhoi Su-33 of the Russian Navy performing two very low, very fast passes down the runway of its base.





I'd imagine that broke all sorts of safety regulations . . . but the cameraman didn't seem too concerned.

Peter

I was a victim of the Equifax data breach - and then things got interesting


I was one of the victims of the recent Equifax data breach, which compromised my credit card numbers.  Someone tried to use one of them, but fortunately the transaction raised some security flags at the issuing bank, which contacted me to confirm the transaction was mine.  As soon as they knew it wasn't, they canceled my card and reissued it with a new number.  Needless to say, this was inconvenient and frustrating - and it put me on my guard.

A few days later, my cellphone carrier's customer service department left a voice message on my phone, thanking me for my call and wanting to know whether their customer service had been satisfactory.  Would I please return their call and complete a short survey?  That was all very well . . . except that I hadn't called them!  I immediately got hold of their local office, and asked them what was going on.  It turned out someone had called them, saying that they'd lost their (my) phone, and had bought a new device.  Would they please switch my phone number to the new device?  The caller wasn't able to provide the account PIN that I'd (fortunately) set up, so the representative to whom he spoke didn't comply with his request, instead advising him to call back when he could remember or locate the PIN.

I asked the local customer service people for more information.  It turns out that this is an increasingly popular fraud technique.  If scammers can get hold of your financial information (as they did mine), but find that every important account is protected by mobile phone two-factor authentication (as mine are), they'll try to switch your phone number to their device.  If they succeed, they can strip your assets in no time.  The New York Times reports:

In a growing number of online attacks, hackers have been calling up Verizon, T-Mobile U.S., Sprint and AT&T and asking them to transfer control of a victim’s phone number to a device under the control of the hackers.

Once they get control of the phone number, they can reset the passwords on every account that uses the phone number as a security backup — as services like Google, Twitter and Facebook suggest.

. . .

A wide array of people have complained about being successfully targeted by this sort of attack, including a Black Lives Matter activist and the chief technologist of the Federal Trade Commission. The commission’s own data shows that the number of so-called phone hijackings has been rising. In January 2013, there were 1,038 such incidents reported; by January 2016, that number had increased to 2,658.

. . .

Mobile phone carriers have said they are taking steps to head off the attacks by making it possible to add more complex personal identification numbers, or PINs, to accounts, among other steps.

But these measures have not been enough to stop the spread and success of the culprits.

. . .

Adam Pokornicky, a managing partner at Cryptochain Capital, asked Verizon to put extra security measures on his account after he learned that an attacker had called in 13 times trying to move his number to a new phone.

But just a day later, he said, the attacker persuaded a different Verizon agent to change Mr. Pokornicky’s number without requiring the new PIN.

There's more at the link.

I've no idea why the fraudster(s) concerned would have tried to hack my phone account in that way.  I'm no financial fat-cat with lots of money in the bank.  It may be linked to the hacking of my credit card account;  that particular card had a relatively high credit limit, so the hacker(s) may have wanted to use it to buy something expensive.  At any rate, the fact that I'd set up a PIN on my phone account prevented them from having the number transferred - this time, at least.  I've added a security note to my file with the service provider, asking them not to permit any remote request to transfer the number to a new device.  That may be inconvenient for me in the event of an emergency, but I hope it'll add another layer of security to my arrangements.

Karl Denninger waxes vitriolic at the phone companies for allowing this to continue.

See, it typically doesn't take one such attempt, because most [cellphone company] agents will follow protocol and refuse without you in some way verifying who you actually are -- such as by using a PIN number you put on the account, and which the thief doesn't know.

So why is it that these guys get dozens or even hundreds of bites at the apple?

See, that's the problem, and it's an intentional problem.  In other words the cell companies could trivially log the number of bad attempts -- when you call into the company asking them to do something and don't know the password their call management software could increment a counter and after some reasonable number of failed tries in some period of time, say three, it would then require you to go to a physical store and present positive identification.

. . .

One or two wrong responses is one thing -- yes, people forget, or they use a couple of different PINs and they get the wrong one the first or second time.

Thirteen times?  No, that's quite obviously attempted fraud and not only did Verizon not lock his account against those repeated attempts after a rational number of failures to authenticate they didn't call him either nor did they follow their own rules despite being warned in advance that his account was under attack!

There's utterly no reason to allow this sort of horse**** to go on, but just like all the other scams of the day utterly nobody at the telcos will be held accountable for what amounts to being an accessory before the fact to grand theft ... Firms that intentionally ignore repeated hack attacks on a customer's account and not only fail to stop them they also fail to notify the customer that they're under attack need to be held financially and criminally responsible for the harm that ensues.

Again, more at the link.  It's hard to disagree with him.

Friends, the Equifax data breach is very serious indeed - but it's only the latest in a long series of such breaches.  Our personal and financial information is no longer secure, and we need to take strong measures to protect ourselves as best we can.  I urge you to use Equifax's inquiry Web page to find out whether your information was compromised, and if so, to make use of the free credit monitoring service Equifax is offering to all affected consumers.  Also, I strongly suggest that you use two-factor authentication on all your financial accounts, and contact your cellphone service provider to ensure that you've implemented all the security measures available to you, to prevent this sort of thing happening to you.

Peter

The most ridiculous firearms accessory I've seen all year


There have been many weird accessories developed for firearms - some ostensibly serious, some with tongue firmly in cheek.  For example, who can forget the pistol bayonet?




Or how about the awesomely-named (NOT!) "Tactical Military Multifunction Aluminum Detachable Carry Battle Rail Mug Cup"?




The latest entrant in the 'ridiculous' category is a baseplate for Glock magazines that the manufacturer calls the "Meat Hammer".




That may be a great steak tenderizer, but I'm hard-pressed to recall a more stupid idea for a gun part.  Think about it.
  1. The standard malfunction drill for a pistol is "Tap-Rack-Bang":  tap the magazine (hard) with the base of your off hand to re-seat it if necessary, then rack the slide to eject any non-firing cartridge or case and load a new round, then aim the gun and pull the trigger.  It usually happens at high speed, under great stress.  In the heat of the moment, if you slap your non-firing hand hard against that thing . . . need I say more?
  2. Let's imagine that you have to use your firearm to defend yourself.  Even if you only display it, and never fire a shot, just think what the prosecuting attorney (or the attorney for the attackers against whom you defended yourself) is going to say in court.  "Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant deliberately equipped his firearm with a device called a 'Meat Hammer'.  This proves his malicious, premeditated intent to inflict grievous bodily harm!  He bought and installed a torture device!"  Good luck winning that court case.  You've handicapped yourself from the get-go.

Nope.  I won't be buying or installing one.  We can add that to the long, long list of accessories likely to be encountered only on rooney guns like this one.




Peter

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A useful tip for storing emergency water supplies


I thought that, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, my readers might like to hear a useful tip about keeping reserve water supplies.  FEMA suggests keeping a minimum reserve supply of one gallon per person per day, for a minimum of three days.  However, I regard that as far too little.  It leaves nothing for personal hygiene, and precious little for cooking, cleaning, etc.  I prefer to work on three gallons per person per day, and keep a minimum of one week's water on hand at that rate - preferably two.

I use three sizes of storage container;  5-gallon, 6-gallon and 7-gallon (follow the links to see them at their respective suppliers).  Their price and availability can vary widely from time to time, as demand waxes and wanes, so it might pay you to shop around, and wait for better prices if necessary.  Also, if you're limited in terms of physical strength or dexterity, these large containers are very heavy and awkward to handle when full.  You might do better to purchase smaller containers (such as, for example, one of the many 2-gallon designs).  I also try to keep half-a-dozen flats of drinking water bottles in stock, each with 24-28 16-20oz. bottles of water.  We use them regularly, and replenish our stocks as needed.

Unfortunately, every aftermarket plastic water container I've ever used has tasted strongly of plastic - or, rather, the water in it has tasted of plastic.  The only way I've found to reliably remove that taste is to follow these steps.
  1.  Pour half a gallon of plain ordinary white vinegar into each container, fill it with water to the very brim, then put the cap on.
  2. Stand the container in the hottest place available (e.g. direct sunlight in a warm place, or next to a heater if it's in the middle of winter - but don't melt it!).  Let it stand there for a couple of days.
  3. Dispose of the water/vinegar mixture, rinse out the container, and refill it to the brim with fresh water.  Cap it, and repeat step 2.
  4. Empty the container and allow it to air-dry.  That should remove most of the plastic taste from the next batch of water.

It's important to use a potable water hose to fill the container.  Ordinary garden hoses can have contaminants such as lead that will leach into water passing through them - something that you really, really don't need!  I also store an inline potable water filter with the hose, in case our local water supply becomes dirty or polluted.  That will remove a lot of contaminants that you'd otherwise have to filter out, jug by jug, as you use the water for drinking and cooking.  I add water treatment drops to each container prior to putting it away.  They keep the contents fresh for up to four years.  I have powdered "Pool Shock" chlorine bleach in my emergency supplies, so I can purify any water I get from unknown, untrustworthy sources (here's how to use it);  and I have a family-sized water filter as well.

Finally, we have in reserve a 100-gallon-capacity WaterBOB.  Given even half an hour's warning of an emergency, we can unfold this in a bathtub and fill it with water.  With all our containers full, including the WaterBOB, we'll have over 200 gallons available, plus (hopefully) the contents of our 50-gallon hot water heater.  That should last Miss D. and I for up to a month or more, all being well;  and even if we don't have time to fill the WaterBOB, we'll have enough water for two to three weeks.  I sleep better at night, knowing that.

(I covered this subject in a lot more detail some years ago, if you're interested.)

Peter

In preparing for an emergency, flexibility is vital


Ferfal over at Surviving in Argentina makes a very important point.

I was reading about this in a forum. The guy lives in South Carolina, spent a lot of his money over the years prepping his home yet when evacuating because of Irma all he actually ended up putting to use was the gas (and vehicle). He mentioned that he felt he failed at prepping because he didn’t build his house of reinforced concrete.

I don’t know all the details of this particular case, or even if it’s true at all, but I do understand what it means to put all your eggs in one basket and see it disappear right in front of you.

. . .

You need to plan for what’s likely, but you also need to think about those worst case scenarios.

There's more at the link.

Ferfal is right.  We can make the best plans we can for what we think is likely to happen, and prepare for it - but what if something else happens?  What if we get Disaster A (for example, a hurricane) combined with Disaster B (for example, a failed dam or levee some distance away sends floodwaters into areas that have never before known that problem)?  Our preparations might be adequate for Disaster A, but completely inadequate for Disaster B - even more so if both happen at the same time.

Due to my partial permanent disability, there's not much point in my planning to "bug out".  I can't walk very far without increasing pain, and my endurance is very limited.  Therefore, I plan to remain in my home during a disaster, if that's possible, and I prepare accordingly.  Nevertheless, it might be unwise to remain where I am, for any number of reasons.  In that case, I'd better be ready to move, whether I want to or not!  I have to ensure that my preparations are packaged in totes, five-gallon buckets, and other storage devices that will allow me to load them onto a pickup truck or a trailer and depart, if that becomes necessary.  If I leave them scattered around higgledy-piggledy, it'll take far too long to gather them up and pack them, and I'm bound to forget something important - so my preparations need to take account of that before the need arises.

There's also the problem of being too attached to "things".  I've known many people who suffer from this.  For example, a friend has a large collection of firearms.  He can't bear the thought of leaving them behind for "looters" in the event of disaster, so he's hardened his home as best he can and made preparations to stay there during any emergency, to defend his collection.  Nevertheless, the time may come when he'll be safer leaving than staying.  In that case, he'll have to "bite the bullet" (you should pardon the expression), take the guns and ammunition he needs to ensure his personal safety and that of his family, and abandon the rest.  He may not like the idea, but when the devil's pounding at the door with blood in his eye, it's best not to wait until he gets inside!

(While on the subject of emergency-use arms and ammunition, be practical.  Take what you need, with the understanding you may have to carry them - so don't get too heavy!  Keep your emergency-use magazines loaded with ammunition.  You may not have time to load mags when you need them.  Full mags take as much space as empty ones to store - but you save on the space you'd need for ammo boxes.  [If stress on magazine springs is a potential issue, download them.]  Make sure you also have belt pouches or web gear to carry them all, too.  If you have to abandon your vehicle, you need to take them with you;  and you can't do that if your hands are already holding a gun, or something else, like a child!)

The same principle applies to everything else you own.  Be prepared, if necessary, to take the essentials and get out of town.  If you lose the rest . . . well, that's what insurance policies are for.  You can replace things.  You can't replace your life.  Make sure that your emergency preparations reflect that reality, and give you the flexibility to either stay, or go, depending on the nature of the emergency and other factors that you may not have considered at all.

An example of the latter hit many towns and cities after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Thugs, gang members and criminals from New Orleans (which had a surfeit of them) were evacuated to many other locations.  When they got there, they carried right on with their criminal activities - and the crime rate in those locations skyrocketed.  I wrote about this at the time.  For one city's experience of the problem, see these news reports (and don't believe later, politically-correct reports "whitewashing" the problem out of existence):

That's certainly a factor I must consider in my own emergency preparations.  I live in a very low crime area . . . but a major metropolitan area is only a couple of hours away by road.  If it evacuates many of its residents in our direction, I can expect to see similar problems arise here, with little or no warning.  I need to include that possibility in my emergency preparations, and ensure that they're flexible enough to deal with it, if need be.

Peter

The President, DACA, and the border wall


I've seen and heard recently a number of supporters of President Trump grumbling that he has no business making deals with Democrats over DACA, and needs to "build the wall" along the US-Mexico border, rather than just talking about it.  They view his deals with Democrats as a betrayal of his preelection promises.

To them I can only say:  have you forgotten the nature of our constitutional system of government?  The President may propose policy, but only Congress and the Senate can pass laws to implement those policies - and despite having Republican majorities in both bodies, the Republican Party has steadfastly refused to get behind the President's policy initiatives.  He can't get Republicans to do what he wants them to do.  The "old guard", the "denizens of the swamp", still control the Stupid Party, and they're not about to let "that upstart Trump" spoil their fun.

President Trump finds himself at an impasse.  He's been elected to do what he promised, but those who have to implement what he promised are refusing to do so.  He has three choices right now.
  1. He can abandon his pre-election promises and policies.
  2. He can try to work within the system, attracting what bipartisan support he can for those policies that can be passed under the present impasse, and postponing those that simply aren't feasible, given current legislators.
  3. He can try to assist the election of legislators who will work with him, rather than against him, to implement his policies.

I think President Trump won't even consider the first option;  so he's employing a combination of the second and third approaches.  He's willing to work with anyone in Congress - even the Democratic Party - to accomplish what is politically feasible at the moment.  That does not include the border wall, because he can't muster enough votes to pass a law funding it.  He's stymied.  On the other hand, by agreeing to certain points that are important to Democrats, such as DACA, he can gain their votes to support other measures that are important to him.  It's a give-and-take situation.  He's making the most of what he can get.

At the same time, he's unashamedly campaigning for a better set of legislators with whom to work.  I think his intervention in the Arizona Senate race for 2018 is a "shot across the bows" to Republicans.  He's demonstrating that if they won't play ball with him, he'll actively seek to replace them with others who will.  I have no doubt he'll repeat his intervention in the constituencies of other legislators who are actively seeking to undermine his agenda.  Why shouldn't he?  He has nothing to lose - and everything to gain.

I think the Republican Party establishment has a tiger by the tail.  It hates and loathes President Trump because he's not "one of them".  He's an outsider who's upset their comfortable arrangements and carefully-plotted deals.  However, he has the power of the Presidency behind him, and unquestionably is more popular with the electorate than either Congress or the Senate.  If they alienate him, he'll probably use that popularity to strike back at them with those on whose votes they have so far relied.  Can he swing enough votes away from establishment candidates to further entrench "the power of the people"?  He clearly thinks he can - and I think the establishment would be unwise to wager that he can't.

I think President Trump would like nothing better than to "build the wall".  Unfortunately, given the active opposition he's encountering in Congress and the Senate right now, that looks to be politically impossible at present.  I won't criticize him for not doing the impossible.  Instead, I'll watch carefully to see what he does next.  This man is known for deal-making.  He's proved that in business over decades, and every time he's been down, he bounced right back up.  I'm willing to bet he's already planning to do the same in the political world.

What's more, he has the perfect excuse for lack of progress on the border wall.  He can tell his supporters the truth - that he can't get it done without the support of Congress and the Senate - and then urge them to use their votes, and their voices within the Republican Party and its primary process, to elect representatives and Senators who'll provide that support.  That might happen within the context of the existing two-party system, or it might upend that system and bring in a populist uprising that may expand it, as Angelo Codevilla has suggested (which we examined earlier this week).

Either way, that will mean kicking out many of those who are currently obstructing President Trump.  That should worry the incumbents, and the party establishment, very much.  It certainly would me, if I were in their shoes.

Peter