Monday, December 31, 2012

More Occupy Protestors Caught with Explosives and Weapons

The privileged daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend — a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist — have been busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a bombmaking explosive in their Greenwich Village apartment.

Morgan Gliedman — who is nine-months pregnant — and her baby daddy, Aaron Greene, 31, also had instructions on making bombs, including a stack of papers with a cover sheet titled, “The Terrorist Encyclopedia,’’ sources told The Post yesterday.

People who know Greene say his political views are “extreme,” the sources said.

... A detective discovered a plastic container with seven grams of a white chemical powder called HMTD, which is so powerful, cops evacuated several nearby buildings.

Police also found a flare launcher, which is a commercial replica of a grenade launcher; a modified 12 gauge Mossberg 500 shotgun; ammo; and nine high-capacity rifle magazines, the sources said.

Cops also allegedly uncovered papers about creating homemade booby traps, improvised submachine guns, and various handwritten notebooks containing chemical formulas.

... Gliedman, who grew up on Park Avenue, graduated from Dalton in 2002. Her dad, Dr. Paul Gliedman, is director of radiation oncology at Beth Israel Hospital, Brooklyn Division.

Paul Gliedman — who was included in New York magazine’s list of top doctors in 2011 — received his medical degree from Columbia University.

Morgan’s mother, Susyn Schops Gliedman, is a realtor with Prudential Douglas Elliman.

Greene attended Harvard as an undergraduate and did his graduate work at the university’s Kennedy School of Government.

He has five prior run-ins with the police, with the charges including, assault, and weapons possession, sources said.
I don't know their motives, if any, for having the materials, but I would note that privileged backgrounds are pretty typical of left-wing terrorists. I had researched this issue for one of my university courses, and it was a pretty remarkable difference in European terrorist groups between those characterized as left-wing versus right-wing. The left-wing groups drew heavily from the bourgeoisie or their children, whereas the right-wing groups drew mainly from the working class. Although originally from Latin America, Carlos the Jackal is a good example of this (his father having been an attorney).

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Follow the Money

I saw this in an article at PIMCO:

It has been more than a year since President Obama’s controversial decision to delay approval for the permit for the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline. At the time, President Obama suggested the delay was necessary to ensure all environmental issues would be properly addressed and understood, though we and others believe the “no-decision” was motivated primarily by the administration trying to maintain the favor of sections of the Democratic political base ahead of the November 2012 election. 
Additionally, by delaying construction of the proposed $7.5 bilion, roughly 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast, U.S. railroads have benefitted as the primary source of transportation of crude oil from North Dakota to key demand markets in Oklahoma and Texas. Burlington Northern Santa Fe, owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, was among the big winners. None of the drama, bad press and “unintended” consequences of the Keystone XL delay were lost on our neighbors to the north.
(Underline added).

Obama Will Pursue Gun & Magazine Bans

Obama indicated on "Meet the Press" earlier today that he will support a renewed "assault weapon" bill, including bans on magazine capacity. (See here and here).

John McAfee Recounts His Escape from Belize

An article from the Daily Mail, and a more detailed description from Mr. McAfee's blog. I found Mr. McAfee's description of using "social engineering" to affect his escape to be interesting--a hacker style of thinking. In this case, betting that the police in Belize would not stop a car during the rain.

Body in the Bag Murder and Ties to Kazach Family

You may remember the 2010 death of Gareth Williams (who was working for MI-6 at the time of his death) in Britain, who was found stuffed into a bag. British Intelligence has denied any connection between Williams work for MI-6 and his death. (See here).

The Telegraph reports, however:
Police are now examining Gareth Williams’s relationship with Furkat Ibragimov, whose father is a billionaire from Kazakhstan, in the months before the spy’s body was found in an MI6-owned flat.
The disclosure raises fresh questions over the death of Williams and what he was doing in his work for British intelligence and whether he had been encouraged by MI6 to develop a connection with the oligarch’s son.
It is one of a series of key new facts uncovered by The Sunday Telegraph which include how:
• Williams was involved in field activities for the intelligence services and was more than just the computer analyst he had been portrayed as;
• One theory is that Williams may have been followed from secret meetings with undercover MI6 agents;
• MI6 is now fully co-operating with the police inquiry after criticism of its failure to do so initially;
• Police have re-interviewed every one of his friends and acquaintances in the hunt for clues to his bizarre death;
• The mystery couple seen near his flat, who were the subject of the police investigation for months, far from being an assassination squad, were, in fact, trying to find a pizza party in a neighbouring property.
The disclosure of the relationship with Mr Ibragimov, whose father is listed as among the 400 richest people in the world, comes after an exhaustive search by police for answers into how Mr Williams – a GCHQ computer expert on secondment to MI6 – came to die.
His naked body was found locked inside a red North Face bag in the bath of his flat in Pimlico, central London, in August 2010.
An inquest failed to uncover how he had died and left open the possibility that he had been murdered and that his death might have been connected to his intelligence role.
The coroner ruled that the cause of his death was “unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated” and that she was “satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that Gareth was killed unlawfully”.
A fresh police investigation was ordered in the wake of the inquest, leading to the new leads. Detectives have not ruled out the possibility that the spy was murdered.
... Mr Ibragimov’s father and his partners are the major shareholders in the London-based Eurasian National Resources Corporation (ENRC), which controls mines in Kazakhstan, Africa, Eastern Europe and Africa. In 2009, ENRC reported profits of more than £900 million.
Mr Ibragimov senior was ranked at 382 on Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires, with an estimated worth of £1.73 billion, and has homes which include a secluded estate on Lake Zurich in Switzerland.
His son controls an investment portfolio called Glendesk Overseas based in the British Virgin Islands, and with his brothers Davron and Dostan, is also overseeing the construction of the first motor racing circuit in Kazakhstan, where they, and the country’s controversial ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev, hope to stage Formula One racing.

Update on the French Alps Shooting

I've posted before about the shooting of Said Al-Hilli, his family, and French cyclist. (See here, here, here and here). The case has fallen off the radar as police have few new leads in their investigation. However, there apparently where some new facts in the last few weeks.

First, attention is shifting back to the cyclist, Sylvain Mollier. The Daily Mail reported on December 16, 2012:

The Frenchman murdered alongside three members of a British-Iraqi family in the Alps had been involved in a 'bitter dispute' over a million pounds plus inheritance, it emerged today. 
Sylvain Mollier, 45, was the lone cyclist whose dead body was found lying next to a BMW saloon close to Lake Annecy, in eastern France, on September 5th.
He was shot seven times, while the other victims were shot twice: Said Al-Hilli, a 50-year-old engineer from Claygate, Surrey, was killed inside the car with his wife Ikbal, 47, and her mother, Suhaila, 74.
Now it has emerged that Mr Mollier was involved in family arguments caused by having a baby with a wealthy heiress sixteen years his junior.
Claire Schutz, the 29-year-old who shared a home with Mr Mollier, gave birth to Louis, their first child together, in June.
Just a few months before she gave birth, Claire was given a hugely lucrative business by her parents, making her a millionaire.
Court documents from October 2011 confirm the handover of the Schutz-Morange Pharmacy, in Grignon, near Annecy, which is valued at a minimum £1.1million.
The couple had been living together for around a year by this time and Claire would have been pregnant with Louis, yet she describes herself as a 'a spinster not signed up to a civil partnership'. 
Despite this, Mr Mollier started to receive large amounts of cash from Claire — a development which did not go down well with her side of the family.
See also this story from the Mirror.  Interestingly, the Mirror's article also indicates that Mollier was killed before the Al-Hilli family. So, rather than Mollier inadvertently coming upon the shooting of the family prior to the killer leaving, it may have been the other way around.

However, this Daily Mail article from December 8, 2012, notes that there are still many questions regarding Mr. Al-Hilli:

But as yet investigations have drawn a blank prompting the French team to travel to Iraq to hand dozens of pages on Mr al-Hilli to local Intelligence officers in the hope they can uncover a motive for the killings.
Mr al-Hilli returned to Iraq in 2010, ostensibly to take control of the family home and a poultry business they managed before leaving the country in the late 1960s.
But during his time there he was allegedly badly beaten up and was said to have returned to the UK traumatised from the experience.      
Then there is also the question of an estimated £800,000 left by Saad’s father Kadhim in a Swiss bank account.
There have been reports that  his late father, Kadhim, was once close to Saddam's Ba'ath Party  but fell foul of the tyrant in the Seventies, and fled Iraq for Britain. 
Alternatively, it has been suggested this was a smokescreen and that Kadhim's true role was to manage secret accounts for the regime. 
Emails and mobile phone calls intercepted by Swiss intelligence agency FIS and passed to their German counterparts suggest that Saad Al-Hilli may have been about to access the money, or part of it, shortly before he was killed.
Lake Annecy, where the family were staying is a short drive to the Swiss border and over to Geneva.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Should We Intervene in Syria?

The "anti-war" liberals are up in arms, apparently, because the U.S. had decided not to embroil itself in Syria. The Washington Post editorializes:
AS 2012 COMES to a close, Syria is headed toward a bloody and chaotic end to what began as a peaceful uprising against an autocratic regime. This would be a catastrophe that could destabilize much of the Middle East, provide al-Qaeda with a new base of operations, and lead to the transfer or even use of chemical weapons.
... But [the crises] also reflects a massive failure of Western — and particularly American — leadership, the worst since the Rwandan genocide two decades ago.
The appalling consequences of non-intervention by leading nations in Rwanda led, after much soul-searching, to the adoption by the United Nations of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, which provides for the international community to take action to stop crimes against humanity. Some of its leading proponents are senior officials in the Obama administration. But with the U.N. Security Council blocked from action by Russia and China, the administration has utterly failed to take or organize steps that might end the carnage in Syria. ...
... The most likely scenario is that rebel forces will, in a matter of weeks or months, win the war — or at least cause the Assad clique to retreat to its ethnic stronghold on the Mediterranean coast. If the world is lucky, this will happen relatively quickly, or an internal coup will remove Mr. Assad. If not, the bitter endgame could see tens or thousands more deaths and the use by the regime of its chemical weapons. Either way, the postwar scene in Damascus will likely be chaotic, with the Western-backed rebel coalition jockeying with al-Qaeda and remnants of the regime.
If that happens, the United States may find itself with little influence. Most rebel leaders, and average Syrians, are furious at Washington for withholding meaningful aid. They may be disinclined to listen to calls for dismantling the extremist groups that helped win the war. One way or another, Syria will haunt President Obama’s second term — and, based on the record so far, it will be recorded as one of his greatest failures.
The "responsibility to act" seems to be the new theme the past couple of years. Watching The Amazing Spiderman the other day, I noticed that the famous line of "with great power comes great responsibility" had been replaced with one stating that someone with the ability to help another had a moral duty to do so. I don't agree. We, as a nation, do not have an obligation to spend our blood and treasure helping other nations out of their own problems.

There were legitimate reasons to go into Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban backed government. The invasion of Iraq is, perhaps, more questionable. But whatever the ultimate outcome of those conflicts, it is clear that the sheer expense of those wars with the now concomitant "nation building," and the "war on terror" generally, has been greater--monetarily and at the price of our civil liberties--than the country could afford. Our people, our nation, our government, our finances, would all be better if people realized that there are some things that cannot be fixed, and there are some things in which we should not be involved--and fighting unnecessary wars, especially to replace one tyrant with another, is one of those things.

Rwanda represents a completely different situation than Syria. Rwanda involved the slaughter of mostly unarmed Christians by Muslims. The Rwandan Christians lacked adequate means of protecting themselves which could have been easily remedied and, in doing so, created some sort of status quo.

That is not the situation in Syria. First, Syria does not currently present a situation of genocide (although it certainly will if the rebels succeed). Second, aiding the rebels does not advance U.S. interests. Assisting the rebels in Syria will only guarantee the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Al Queda.

In fact, if the U.S. where to intervene, it very well could spread the conflict further. The Debka File notes that Russian forces apparently have taken control of Syria's chemical weapon stockpiles. It reported on December 22:

The chemical warfare threat looming over Syria’s civil war and its neighbors has taken an epic turn with the announcement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Saturday, Dec. 22, that “the Syrian government has “consolidated its chemical weapons in one or two locations amid a rebel onslaught and they are under control for the time being.”
He added that Russia, “which has military advisers training Syria’s military, has kept close watch over its chemical arsenal.”
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report: The Russian foreign minister’s statement was a message to Washington that the transfer of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction to one or two protected sites was under Russian control. This had removed the danger of them falling into the hands of the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra ,which had come ominously close Friday, Dec. 21, when the Islamists spearheaded a Syrian rebel assault for the capture of the al-Safira military complex and Bashar Assad’s chemical and biological stores.
Lavrov did not go into detail about how this arsenal was removed and to which locations. But his reference to “Russian military advisers training Syria’s military” clearly indicated that Russian forces were directly involved in removing the WMD out of the reach of the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists.
His assertion that they were “under control” indicated that Russia was also involved in safeguarding them.
DEBKAfile’s Moscow sources add: Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war achieved four objectives:
1.  The prevention of Western or Israel military action for seizing control of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons arsenals;
2.   The prevention of Western military intervention in the civil war behind the forces dedicated to the removal of Bashar Assad. The Russian military is now engaged in the dual mission of guarding his WMD arsenal and his regime;
3.  The Russian military presence in Syria delivers a heavy swipe to the rebels;
4.   Russia’s intervention and military presence have laid the groundwork for Moscow and Washington to work out an accord that will bring Syria’s civil war to an end.

On other words, direct strikes against Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles, or even more general intervention, could implicate Russian troops. (See also this editorial from The Voice of Russia, claiming that the reports of chemical weapon attacks was intended to draw the U.S. into the conflict. Whether the Russian account is accurate or not, the Russians clearly don't want us there).

This more recent comment from the Debka File also notes increased Russian and Iranian involvement in Syria:

The same sources point to the first appearance this week of Iran-made Fateh A-110 high-precision, short-range missiles in the use of the Syrian army against rebel fighters, under the guidance of Iranian officers and instructors .... 
The Fateh missiles are being fired quite openly by Iranian military personnel in command of Syrian missile units as Tehran’s answer for the deployment of US, German and Dutch NATO Patriots on the Turkish side of the Syrian border.  They also carry a message in response to Israel’s threat of offensive action against Syria if it becomes necessary to thwart its use of chemical weapons. According to our French and military sources, Tehran is using the Fateh missiles and the Iranian military presence in Syria to warn that there is no bar to their use against Turkey, Jordan and Israel as well, in the event of a US or Israel attack on Syria’s chemical stores.
On no account, will Iran permit the overthrow of Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus.  At most, Tehran conceives of his departure in stages and handover to an emergency government led by the military or an armed forces faction to which certain opposition elements may be co-opted. Elections, in the Iranian view, must be deferred until hostilities end and the security situation is stable.
American and French sources agree that Tehran and Moscow have attained full coordination in their strategies for Syria and also on Iran’s nuclear program. They note that it was not by chance that the Russian Navy Wednesday, Dec. 26, launched its largest sea maneuver ever in the Mediterranean and the approaches to the Persian Gulf, just two days before Iranian warships, submarines and aircraft embarked on their week-long Velayat 91 sea exercise in the Straits of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, and northern parts of the Indian Ocean.
The command centers of the Russian and Iranian war games are under orders from Moscow and Tehran to jointly exhibit  naval muscle in order to bolster the Assad regime against collapse.
Parallel to the influx of Fateh missiles from Iran to Syria, Moscow is rapidly expanding the deployment of its highly-sophisticated S-400 air and missile interceptors in Russia’s southern military region near the Turkish border.

Venezuelan Murder Rate Soars

The Telegraph reports:
Venezuela, the most violent country in South America, recorded a new high of 21,692 murders this year along with a surge in kidnappings, prison riots and random shootings.
The number of victims was up by 12 per cent from last year when there were 19,336 deaths, the Venezuelan Violence Observatory said in its annual report.
... Unlike other Latin American countries Venezuela is not involved in a drug war or on-going battle with guerrillas.
But according to the Observatory, a think tank set up by public and private universities, it now has a murder rate of 73 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 67 in 2011.
The rate is well above neighbouring Colombia, and Mexico which has been engaged in a bloody drug war, and is closing in on Honduras, the country with the highest murder rate.
There are more murders in Venezuela than in the United States and the 27 countries of the European Union combined. In Caracas the murder rate is more than 200 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The Observatory said: "Killings have become a way of executing property crimes, a mechanism to resolve personal conflicts and a way to apply private justice."
President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba, rarely talks about violent crime.
...Venezuela's murder rate has soared since Chavez took office in 1999, growing from 4,450 murders in 1998[.] Criminologists expected the rate to fall with decreasing poverty, but income inequality has fallen dramatically and murders are going up.
In a report earlier this year The Brookings Institution said: "No one would guess Venezuela's crime crisis from looking at these (poverty) figures.["]
Maybe because there is no connection between poverty or "income inequality" and murder. Maybe the root cause is corruption and violence by the government, and a collapsing civilization.

November 21, 2012--The Day We Lost The War On Terror

The title of an op-ed by Henrik R. Clausen at EuroNews:
It may have escaped the attention of most, but on November 21st 2012, we suffered the final defeat in the War on Terror declared by President George W. Bush on September 20th 2001. After more than 11 years of fighting, 56,900 American causalties, cumulutative expenses of between 1.2 and 2.7 trillion dollars and a very complicated series of diplomatic & military alliances, the aim to defeat terror was abolished in Cairo, Egypt on that day.

Here, the triumvirate of Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal announced a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel following a week of intense fighting between the terrorist organisation and the army of Israel.
The author goes on to describe the principle portions of the ceasefire agreement.
... First, and most important: This agreement blocks Israel from taking any military action against Hamas or other terrorist organisations in Gaza. Without a credible threat of military action, Hamas is now at liberty to rebuild its military infrastructure, its rocket launch sites, and not least to replenish its somewhat depleted rocket stocks. Hamas will not voluntarily abstain from this.

Reciprocically, Hamas and the other terrorist organisations in Gaza shall stop attacking Israel. Given that their purpose in life is the annihilation of Israel, that can only be a temporary measure.

Then, Israel is to facilitate the movement of people and goods at border crossings. Given that the borders were never closed, not even during Pillar of Defence, that is a somewhat unclear requirement, and could easily become a bone of contention if either Hamas or Egypt deems it insufficiently fulfilled.

The hindrances to free movement in and out of Gaza came into place in June 2007 after extensive fighting between Hamas and Fatah, leaving over 600 Palestinians dead in the power struggle. After Hamas had gained undisputed control of Gaza, Israel and Egypt implemented stricter border control, blocking transport of materials deemed of military importance. That border control, however, has been perforated by an extensive set of tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border.

The final clause of the ceasefire agreement holds another surprise – Egypt, not some neutral international instution like OSCE or the United Nations, is to oversee the implementation. Given that Egypt is now ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas is a branch of the Brotherhood, this does not seem fair, impartial or even reasonably reliable.
Clausen notes that the battle, initiated by Hamas, was a terrorist failure. That is, the indiscriminate rocket attacks failed to terrorize the Israelis. Partly, this was a result of the use of the Iron Dome defensive system which was highly successful in destroying incoming rockets. Partly is was because of the resolve of the Israelis, who were prepared to strike back--first, with targeted air strikes against high value Hamas targets, but also with a ground attack to clean out the Hamas infestation. Unfortunatley, as Clausen notes:
...  Israel mobilized the army reserves and sent them to the border to Gaza, everything clear to go. At that point, however, world government leaders were scrambling to demand ”Peace in Gaza”, and the ground invasion was kept on hold.

Egypt, in particular, had reason to be concerned. The Muslim Brotherhood had risen to power after the so-call ”Arab Spring”, crowned by the election of Mohamed Morsi as president in June. Since Hamas is rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood and shares the goals of reestablish the Caliphate, protecting Hamas from destruction became a top priority for Egypt.

It might seem paradoxical that Morsi, who refuses to even use the word 'Israel' or meet personally with any representatives of the country, would want to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Hamas. But the influx of foreign diplomats acknowleding his importance surely had an effect. Turkey's prime minister Erdogan, the emir of Qatar, German foreign minister Westerwelle, UN chairman Ban Ki-moon and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton all rushed in to stop the fighting. Not all of these can reasonably be suspected of being driven by anti-Jewish sentiment or sympathy for the terrorists being hammered by Israel, but the end result was that the terrorist organisations were spared extinction and a ceasefire became active on November 21st, 2012.

While the Germans, the Arabs and the Turks may have their own motivations for supporting Morsi, and the ceasefire protecting Hamas, the participation of Hillary Rodham Clinton is peculiar. Hamas, since 1997, is a US-designated terrorrist organisation, and if we were to take the US commitment to conduct war on terror seriously, the US should not have any desire to prevent the Israeli army from defeating a major terrorist organisation. Pulverizing Hamas and liberating the Palestinians from its brutal rule could be declared a major victory for Israel, for peaceful Palestinians, and for international law.

Yet this didn't happen, and thus the stage is being set for another round of fighting, more brutal and lethal than the one that was just interrupted. The reason for this lies in Islamic teachings, which does not recognize a 'ceasefire' in the sense it's understood in the West, a preparation for permanent peace. Rather, Islamists like Yasser Arafat think in the terms of 'hudna', a temporary laying down of arms in order to gather strength for further fighting.

Thus, when attention turns away from Gaza, Egypt and the nomads of Sinai will quietly transport more advanced missiles into Gaza, preparing for another assault on the 'Zionist entity', as anti-semitic regimes designate Israel. That our own leaders do not comprehend this is a source of embarrassment. Worse, it shows that we have entirely lost our moral clarity in the Byzantine game of friends, foes, percieved prestige, deception and betrayal.
Read the whole thing.

Solar Flare in 774 A.D.

Several months ago, I saw an article about research showing a spike in carbon 14 in tree rings dating from 774 A.D.  (See here). The researchers had largely dismissed the idea that the bump was due to a solar flare. However, that was not the end of the matter. From from November 29, 2012:

In their paper, the team from Nagoya described their results in measuring the amount of carbon-14 in Japanese cedar tree rings that represented the years AD 750 to AD 820 with one and two year resolution. In so doing, they found a rapid, 12 percent increase in the amount of carbon-14, over the period AD 774-775, indicating that an extremely energetic event of unknown origin had occurred during that time period. They noted that the bump was approximately 20 times that seen from normal solar activity and for that reason ruled out a solar flare as a possible cause. They also ruled out a supernova as a likely source as it would have been seen and noted by people living at the time.
Carbon-14 is a variant of normal carbon-12 and tends to show up on planet Earth when cosmic particles strike the atmosphere producing showers of neutrons, which in turn strike hydrogen nuclei causing a reaction that results in the creation of carbon-14. That carbon-14 then falls and in this case, abundant amounts landed on some cedar trees in Japan 1,238 years ago. The Japanese team suggest that if such a bump was due to a solar flare it would have had to have been thousands of times larger than any that has ever been recorded, making it an unlikely possibility.
Melott and Thomas disagree and write that it's possible a solar flare could have caused the bump if it shot out in blobs, rather than as a mass ejection that spewed cosmic particles in all directions. If that were they case they say, a solar flare just 10 or 20 times the size of the largest ever recorded (the Carrington event of 1859) could very easily explain the carbon-14 bump during that time period.
(Underline added). This article from Mother Nature Network further explains:

The sun could have released a huge and powerful blast of plasma into space called a coronal mass ejection, which, when it hit Earth, could have sparked the creation of carbon-14, suggest astrophysicists Adrian Melott of the University of Kansas and Brian Thomas of Washburn University, also in Kansas, in a paper published the Nov. 29 issue of the journal Nature.

Carbon-14 is a variant of the normal form of carbon (carbon-12) that is common on Earth and throughout the universe. When cosmic ray particles hit Earth's atmosphere, they can produce showers of particles such as neutrons. Some of these neutrons, in turn, hit the nitrogen nuclei that are rife in the atmosphere, and a chemical reaction occurs that transforms the nitrogen into carbon-14.

This carbon variant is unstable and decays with a half-life of about 5,730 years (meaning half of any amount of carbon-14 will be gone in that time). For this reason, it's a useful date marker: A tree, for example, will stop absorbing carbon once it dies, so the amount of carbon-14 left in it is a reliable indicator of how old it is.

It had been widely known that a jump in carbon-14 occurred in the eighth century, but researchers first pinpointed this rise and fall on a year-to-year basis by looking at tree rings in a paper by Fusa Miyake of Japan's Nagoya University and colleagues, published in the June 14 issue of Nature.

"They found that whatever made that carbon-14 bump happened really fast, and took less than one year, which called out for some really major, powerful event," Melott told

The Japanese researchers considered that it might be a solar flare, but calculated that it would have had to have been thousands of times more powerful than the greatest one ever known, which made such a scenario unlikely.

Now, in a new calculation, Melott and Thomas say a solar flare is a reasonable explanation.

"Their mistake was, they assumed that the energy shot out by the sun in one of these coronal mass ejections goes out in all directions, like the light from a light bulb, but in fact it's kind of shot out in blobs," Melott said.

That adjustment meant that a solar flare need have been only about 10 or 20 times more powerful than the greatest flare on record, the so-called Carrington event of 1859. ...
... Still, the scientists can't completely rule out other explanations, such as the possibility of a supernova star explosion, or a special type of supernova called a gamma-ray burst. Both could have created a strong wave of cosmic rays as well.

However, a nearby supernova would have been extremely bright, and likely noticed by the residents of Earth at the time, who largely noted nothing unusual. A gamma-ray burst, which condenses much of the radiation released from a supernova into two strong beams, could conceivably have packed the punch necessary for the carbon-14 spike, but Melott says this scenario is still less likely than a strong solar flare.

... while a strong sun flare would have had little effect on people in 774, a similar event could wreak significant havoc today. That's because our modern technology, including satellites, radio transmissions and power grids, could be seriously hampered by the particles sweeping in from a coronal mass ejection.

Inconsistencies in the Sandy Hook Reporting

I am not buying into the conspiracy theories, but this article points out some interesting inconsistencies in the reporting concerning the Sandy Hook/Newtown shooting.

Certainly, it wouldn't be the first time that the media and/or authorities failed to report critical information. For instance, I've never seen domestic news sources describe the Trolley Square shooter's Muslim background (see, e.g., here), nor explore the possibility that it was an Islamic terrorist incident. Similarly, the government still obtusely ignores the obvious Muslim motivations of Nidal Hasan's shooting at Fort Hood.

Returning to the Sandy Hook shooting, I had previously noted reports of a possible accomplice being arrested in woods near the school. However, there has been no follow up by media that I've been able to find that identified the person or what happened to him.

Early reports also indicated that an AR-15 rifle was found in the trunk of the shooter's vehicle or inside the school. Several sites have pointed to video of police recovering a long arm from the trunk of the shooter's vehicle as proof that the AR was in the trunk. However, in looking at the video of police removing a firearm from the trunk of the vehicle (see here and here), it is obviously a shotgun that the police are handling.

Site 911

From the Business Insider:

Leave it to legendary Walter Pincus from the Washington Post to flesh out a Request for Proposal construction project planned for Israel called Site 911.
The oddly named project will cost up to $100 million, take more than two years to complete, and can only be built by workers from specific countries with proper security clearances. Palestinians need not apply.
When complete the well-guarded compound will have five levels buried underground and six additional outbuildings on the above grounds, within the perimeter. At about 127,000 square feet, the first three floors will house classrooms, an auditorium, and a laboratory — all wedged behind shock resistant doors — with radiation protection and massive security.
Only one gate will allow workers entrance and exit during the project and that will be guarded by only Israelis.
The bottom two floors are smaller, according to the full line of schematics uploaded to the Army's Acquisition Business Web Site, and possibly used for equipment and storage.
The story also notes very specific requirements for the mezuzahs for each door in the facility. The purpose of the facility is unclear.

More on the ISON Comet

I've previously posted about the ISON comet (here and here). However, I noticed several news stories about it during the past week, so I thought I would see if there was any additional information. So far, not much. The orbital information seems to be still the same; as is the uncertainty on whether it will be spectacular or a dud. 

Discovery News has a couple articles. The first, here, reports:
The International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center predicts Comet ISON could be visible without binoculars or telescopes to skywatchers on Earth from early November through the first few weeks of January 2014.
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover also may get a look when the comet sails past the red planet in early October.
The comet's journey likely started in the Oort Cloud, a cluster of icy rocks that circle the sun about 50,000 times farther away than Earth's orbit. Comet ISON is expected to pass as close as 700,000 miles, or 1.1 million kilometers, from the sun on Nov. 28.
If it survives, the comet could be the brightest to appear in Earth's skies since 1965 and could even be visible in daylight.
The other article, here, notes:
So why all the uncertainty over Comet ISON's brightness as it careens through the inner solar system?

Comets originate from the outermost reaches of the solar system and are composed of icy volatiles such as water, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia, plus dust, rocks and any other debris that happened to be floating around as our sun evolved. In the case of Comet ISON, it appears to originate from a hypothetical cloud of frozen comets surrounding the solar system.

The Oort Cloud -- located approximately one light-year from the sun -- is thought to contain billions of cometary nuclei that formed during the early evolution of the solar system.

"This is quite possibly a 'new' comet coming in from the Oort cloud, meaning this could be its first-ever encounter with the sun," added Battams. "If so, with all those icy volatiles intact and never having been truly stressed (thermally and gravitationally), the comet could well disrupt and dissipate weeks or months before reaching the sun."
As comets approach the sun, the increase in solar energy causes frozen volatiles to sublime -- i.e., turn from a solid ice to vapor, without passing through a liquid phase. This sublimation causes an eruption of gas and dust that gets swept back by the solar wind, forming a tail. The solid cometary nucleus continues its journey past the sun and, depending on its constituents, can create a very impressive tail that scatters sunlight, producing an impressively bright show.

But it all depends on what material the comet contains and how it formed in deep space. The comet may erupt early, fracture and break apart long before close approach, or it may remain solid long after it has swung past the sun, releasing very little material.

... According to the ace comet-hunters at Remanzacco Observatory, Italy, ISON will make closest approach with Earth around the beginning of January 2014 -- at a distance of 0.4 AU (that's 40 percent the Earth-sun distance, or 60 million kilometers).

Israel Finds 2,750 Year Old Temple

Archaeologists have uncovered a 2,750-year-old temple near Jerusalem, along with pottery and clay figurines that suggest the site was the home base for a ritual cult, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.
The discovery was made during excavations at the Tel Motza archaeological site, about 3 miles (5 kilometers) west of Jerusalem, during preparations for work on a new section of Israeli's Highway 1, the agency said in a statement.
"The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple," excavation directors Anna Eirikh, Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz were quoted as saying in the statement.

The Bible says the First Temple was built in Jerusalem by Solomon, son of King David, and archaeologists estimate that construction was undertaken in the 10th century B.C. ...
... Tel Motza was thought to be associated with the ancient settlement called "Mozah" in the Book of Joshua. During previous work, archaeologists uncovered a large structure with storehouses and a number of silos. They said that structure might have served as a storage facility for Jerusalem's grain supplies.

... The newly discovered structure has massive walls and a wide, east-facing entrance, conforming to the tradition of temple construction at the time, the site directors said. "The rays of the sun rising in the east would have illuminated the object placed inside the temple first, symbolizing the divine presence within," they said.
Inside the temple, archaeologists found what appeared to be a square altar, with a cache of ritual items nearby. Those items included fragments of pottery chalices, decorated ritual pedestals and two types of pottery figurines. Some of the figurines represented animals — mainly horses in harnesses— while others were humanlike heads with curling hair and flat headdresses. Such figurines hint at the influence of Philistine coastal culture.

Friday, December 28, 2012

LAPD Buys Useless Fiberglass Tubes (Updated)

Well, actually, they are calling them anti-tank rocket launchers, but that is basically what they are--empty fiberglass tubes. Part of a "gun buy-back" by the Los Angeles Police Department. It was, once again, a "no questions asked" buyback, providing an opportunity for people to anonymously dispose of stolen weapons and weapons used in crimes in exchange for a gift card, and the Department destroying the weapons for the perp.

UpdateHere is another story, with a photo of one of the rocket launchers.

Facebook Purging Pro-Gun Accounts

Infowars is reporting that Facebook has been purging and freezing pro-Second Amendment and pro-liberty accounts. I wonder if Facebook's management has even bothered to check with their attorneys before doing this. One of the primary defenses of companies that host content, but do not generate it, is that they do not exercise control over the content. If, however, Facebook is choosing to exercise control over the content that is posted by its users, I think it runs a serious risk of exposing itself to liability for defamatory statements or publications. And since Facebook is essentially a "gossip" site, I would suspect that a great deal of what is published is potentially defamatory.

3-D Manufacturing

From DW, an article on customizable "mass" production using 3-D printers, discussing the current status and problems, and possible solutions:
Until now, products printed using 3D have mostly been prototypes. But the technology can also be applied to serial production, and is set to revolutionize industry, the nature of production, and consumption.

... The technology for printing components in 3D form has already been available for several years. Until now, it has mainly been used for manufacturing rare or expensive prototypes for the research and development departments of major companies. But the technology has advanced enough to be put to use elsewhere, and is now increasingly being used in serial production. The big advantage of this technique is that each component can still be different, even as part of a series.

The sky's the limit
All sorts of objects can be printed directly using 3D technology. The most common process involves selective laser melting (SLM).... First a laser beam fuses the contours of the object into an extremely thin layer of plastic and metal powder. Then the machine pushes fresh powder over it, and the laser melts on another layer. Layer for layer, a new component is created.

Other processes exist which do not require powder, and which are even more similar to an ink-jet printer: for example, a print head shooting melted plastic, layer for layer, onto a plate.
Such printers can manufacture more or less anything, as long as a computer model for it exists and the objects aren't larger than the printers themselves. Materials of all sorts can also be printed: plastics, alloys, even glass and ceramics. Metal components produced in this way are just as durable as those that are cast or forged. Furthermore, the manufacturing process creates no waste, as any leftover powder is simply reused.

Computer tomography can even be employed to make 3D images for the digital models. That's one reason why this technology is absolutely booming in the field of medicine. Each year, thousands of individual implants - such as cobalt-chrome knee replacements and titanium hip prostheses - are made using the technology.

In the future, end consumers could design their own models on computers and then send the files to manufacturers via the Internet. The objects would then be printed and sent back to customers. "This means that customers will be much more intensively involved in the product development process," says Meiners.

... But the technology faces one major hurdle: the printing process simply takes too long. It can take hours for a printer to create even the smallest objects, since the layers that compose them are exceedingly thin.

That's why researchers and manufacturers are working to improve the machines - for example, by using more intense lasers that can melt the powder faster. However, this is only possible when the materials can withstand the heat without evaporating. Where that doesn't work, manufacturers aim to use more laser heads simultaneously.

... It would be more efficient, Uckelmann says, if the implants came out of the machine one by one as each is finished, like on a conveyor belt. ... But this only works when the powder is slanted toward the construction platform....

Printing components in this tilted position is then not only faster: "You can also manufacture products that are as long as you want them to be," Uckelmann explains. "Theoretically, I could print out a wing for an Airbus plane, provided I had a machine that was deep enough - that would be no problem."

Britain's and Australia's Experience with Gun Control

In 1987, Michael Ryan went on a shooting spree in his small town of Hungerford, England, killing 16 people (including his mother) and wounding another 14 before shooting himself. Since the public was unarmed—as were the police—Ryan wandered the streets for eight hours with two semiautomatic rifles and a handgun before anyone with a firearm was able to come to the rescue.

Nine years later, in March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, a man known to be mentally unstable, walked into a primary school in the Scottish town of Dunblane and shot 16 young children and their teacher. He wounded 10 other children and three other teachers before taking his own life.

... After Hungerford, the British government banned semiautomatic rifles and brought shotguns—the last type of firearm that could be purchased with a simple show of fitness—under controls similar to those in place for pistols and rifles. Magazines were limited to two shells with a third in the chamber.

Dunblane had a more dramatic impact. Hamilton had a firearm certificate, although according to the rules he should not have been granted one. A media frenzy coupled with an emotional campaign by parents of Dunblane resulted in the Firearms Act of 1998, which instituted a nearly complete ban on handguns. Owners of pistols were required to turn them in. The penalty for illegal possession of a pistol is up to 10 years in prison.

The results have not been what proponents of the act wanted. Within a decade of the handgun ban and the confiscation of handguns from registered owners, crime with handguns had doubled according to British government crime reports. Gun crime, not a serious problem in the past, now is. Armed street gangs have some British police carrying guns for the first time. Moreover, another massacre occurred in June 2010. Derrick Bird, a taxi driver in Cumbria, shot his brother and a colleague then drove off through rural villages killing 12 people and injuring 11 more before killing himself.
 The author indicates that Australia has had greater success reducing gun homicides, but violent crime increased.
Six weeks after the Dunblane massacre in 1996, Martin Bryant, an Australian with a lifelong history of violence, attacked tourists at a Port Arthur prison site in Tasmania with two semiautomatic rifles. He killed 35 people and wounded 21 others.

At the time, Australia's guns laws were stricter than the United Kingdom's. In lieu of the requirement in Britain that an applicant for permission to purchase a gun have a "good reason," Australia required a "genuine reason." Hunting and protecting crops from feral animals were genuine reasons—personal protection wasn't.

With new Prime Minister John Howard in the lead, Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement, banning all semiautomatic rifles and semiautomatic and pump-action shotguns and imposing a more restrictive licensing system on other firearms. The government also launched a forced buyback scheme to remove thousands of firearms from private hands. Between Oct. 1, 1996, and Sept. 30, 1997, the government purchased and destroyed more than 631,000 of the banned guns at a cost of $500 million.

To what end? While there has been much controversy over the result of the law and buyback, Peter Reuter and Jenny Mouzos, in a 2003 study published by the Brookings Institution, found homicides "continued a modest decline" since 1997. They concluded that the impact of the National Firearms Agreement was "relatively small," with the daily rate of firearms homicides declining 3.2%.

... In 2008, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported a decrease of 9% in homicides and a one-third decrease in armed robbery since the 1990s, but an increase of over 40% in assaults and 20% in sexual assaults.
 I would also note that, absent America's protective umbrella, Australia is now a sitting duck for any of its more populous neighbors (India, Indonesia, China, etc.) that decide to pursue a strategy of territorial expansion.

The Boy Who Played With Fusion

Glenn Reynolds linked to this article at Popular Science about Taylor Wilson, a young genius that became the youngest person to achieve fusion. However, it must have been difficult being his parents. From the article:
Almost from the beginning, it was clear that the older of the Wilsons’ two sons would be a difficult child to keep on the ground. It started with his first, and most pedestrian, interest: construction. As a toddler in Texarkana, the family’s hometown, Taylor wanted nothing to do with toys. He played with real traffic cones, real barricades. At age four, he donned a fluorescent orange vest and hard hat and stood in front of the house, directing traffic. For his fifth birthday, he said, he wanted a crane. But when his parents brought him to a toy store, the boy saw it as an act of provocation. “No,” he yelled, stomping his foot. “I want a real one.”

This is about the time any other father might have put his own foot down. But Kenneth called a friend who owns a construction company, and on Taylor’s birthday a six-ton crane pulled up to the party. The kids sat on the operator’s lap and took turns at the controls, guiding the boom as it swung above the rooftops on Northern Hills Drive.

To the assembled parents, dressed in hard hats, the Wilsons’ parenting style must have appeared curiously indulgent. In a few years, as Taylor began to get into some supremely dangerous stuff, it would seem perilously laissez-faire. But their approach to child rearing is, in fact, uncommonly intentional. “We want to help our children figure out who they are,” Kenneth says, “and then do everything we can to help them nurture that.”

At 10, Taylor hung a periodic table of the elements in his room. Within a week he memorized all the atomic numbers, masses and melting points. At the family’s Thanksgiving gathering, the boy appeared wearing a monogrammed lab coat and armed with a handful of medical lancets. He announced that he’d be drawing blood from everyone, for “comparative genetic experiments” in the laboratory he had set up in his maternal grandmother’s garage. Each member of the extended family duly offered a finger to be pricked.

The next summer, Taylor invited everyone out to the backyard, where he dramatically held up a pill bottle packed with a mixture of sugar and stump remover (potassium nitrate) that he’d discovered in the garage. He set the bottle down and, with a showman’s flourish, ignited the fuse that poked out of the top. What happened next was not the firecracker’s bang everyone expected, but a thunderous blast that brought panicked neighbors running from their houses. Looking up, they watched as a small mushroom cloud rose, unsettlingly, over the Wilsons’ yard.

For his 11th birthday, Taylor’s grandmother took him to Books-A-Million, where he picked out The Radioactive Boy Scout, by Ken Silverstein. The book told the disquieting tale of David Hahn, a Michigan teenager who, in the mid-1990s, attempted to build a breeder reactor in a backyard shed. Taylor was so excited by the book that he read much of it aloud: the boy raiding smoke detectors for radioactive americium . . . the cobbled-together reactor . . . the Superfund team in hazmat suits hauling away the family’s contaminated belongings. Kenneth and Tiffany heard Hahn’s story as a cautionary tale. But Taylor, who had recently taken a particular interest in the bottom two rows of the periodic table—the highly radioactive elements—read it as a challenge. “Know what?” he said. “The things that kid was trying to do, I’m pretty sure I can actually do them.”

... Kenneth and Tiffany agreed to let Taylor assemble a “survey of everyday radioactive materials” for his school’s science fair. Kenneth borrowed a Geiger counter from a friend at Texarkana’s emergency-management agency. Over the next few weekends, he and Tiffany shuttled Taylor around to nearby antique stores, where he pointed the clicking detector at old radium-dial alarm clocks, thorium lantern mantles and uranium-glazed Fiesta plates. Taylor spent his allowance money on a radioactive dining set.
 Taylor eventually was enrolled in the the Davidson Academy, a school in Nevada for the extremely gifted where he was able to pursue his dream of developing small fusion reactors to produce neutrinos to detect weapons. The article indicates that he has even received a DHS grant.

Anyway, it is an interesting read. Check out the whole thing.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Buried Christian Kingdom in Yemen

Der Spiegel reports on a pre-Islamic Christian kingdom discovered in Yemen. The article notes:
Paul Yule, an archeologist from the southwestern German city of Heidelberg, has studied the relief, which is 1.70 meters (5'7") tall, in Zafar, some 930 kilometers (581 miles) south of Mecca. It depicts a man with chains of jewelry, curls and spherical eyes. Yule dates the image to the time around 530 AD.

The German archeologist excavated sites in the rocky highlands of Yemen....

... Yule has concluded that Zafar was the center of an Arab tribal confederation, a realm that was two million square kilometers (about 772,000 square miles) large and exerted its influence all the way to Mecca.

Even more astonishing is his conclusion that kings who invoked the Bible lived in the highland settlement. The "crowned man" depicted on the relief was also a Christian.

Conquerers from Ancient Ethiopia

Yule has analyzed the mysterious, robed figure in a report for the academic journal Antiquity. He is barefoot, which is typical of Coptic saints. He is holding a bundle of twigs, a symbol of peace, in his left hand. There is a crossbar on his staff, giving it the appearance of a cross. In addition, he is wearing a crown on his head like the ones worn by the Christian rulers of ancient Ethiopia.

All of this suggests that the man with a strange, round face is a descendant of the conquerors from Africa who succeeded in making one of the boldest landing operations in ancient times.

In 525 AD, the Negus, or king, of Aksum dispatched a fleet across the Red Sea. Soldiers and fighting elephants were ferried across the water to the East on un-tarred, raft-like ships to spread the gospel. In the ensuing decades, his army captured large parts of Arabia.

The first spearhead was targeted at the capital Zafar. Like a fortress in the sky, the town was perched on an extinct volcano, at an altitude of 2,800 meters (9,184 feet) above sea level. Its walls, riddled with towers and alarm bells, were four-and-a-half kilometers long. About 25,000 people lived in Zafar.

According to Yule, between the 3rd and the 5th century the confederation managed to complete a "meteoric rise" and become a superpower. Its merchants traded in sandalwood from Ceylon and valerian from Persia. The state controlled the port of Aden, where the ships of spice traders from India docked. Frankincense, which was made in Arabia, was also traded. It was a place of luxury. Yule found wine amphorae, the remains of precious fish condiments and palaces decorated with sphinxes and lions.

A Peaceful Multi-Cultural Community

The social structure in Zafar also appeared to be unique. The city had a large Jewish community, as evidenced by a seal with a Torah niche. Hebrew inscriptions were discovered. Zafar's residents also included Christians, who built a church there in 354 AD. Arabs who worshipped old idols lived in the alleys.

But this peaceful, multicultural community soon came to an end, as tensions began to mount in the 5th century, and Arabia was transformed into a
[war] front [between the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Sassanids].

... To stop the advance of Christianity, individual Arab kings initially converted to Judaism. The entire ruling class of the realm eventually followed suit. From then on, people were given names like Yehuda and Yussuf.

Then they took up arms. In approximately 520 AD, they attacked the Christian colony of Najran, where there were churches and monasteries. Countless Christians were slaughtered. The shocking news traveled all the way to Europe.

A 'Puppet King'

Now the spiral of violence began turning more rapidly. The furious Byzantines and their allies from Africa were out for revenge. Kaleb, the Aksumite king of Ethiopia (who wore gold jewelry in his hair and had himself driven around in an elephant carriage) went on the counter-offensive.

If the sources are correct, his first naval maneuver was a miserable failure. In 525 AD, with the help of additional warships provided by the Byzantines, he successfully completed the crossing to the other side of the Red Sea.

The relief of the "crowned man" from Zafar was apparently created during this period of invasion. Yule interprets it as a representation of the Christian "puppet king" of the Ethiopians.

The invaders continued their attacks. Southern Arabia's holy warrior, Abraha, had taken control of large areas before long. He even attempted to free bishops being held prisoner by the Persian enemy in Nisibis (in modern-day Turkey), some 2,500 kilometers away.

The man embarked on a religious crusade at the same time. He rebuilt the churches that had been destroyed in Najran, and he had new ones built in Marib and Aden.

His most beautiful church was in Sanaa. It had gilded doors and a throne made of ebony and ivory. In the morning, the rays of the sun shone through an alabaster panel in the dome. The Byzantines supported the project, sending craftsmen, marble and mosaics.

The result was an architectural miracle, the likes of which all of Arabia had never seen before.
The story goes on to describe destruction of the church and contentious relations with the early Muslims. It then adds:
But many things are still unclear. Our perspective is complicated by the fact that the birth of Islam occurred at a time of severe hardship. Climate data obtained from limestone caves in Oman prove that there was a terrible drought in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula in the middle of the 6th century. There was also a plague epidemic [i.e., Justinian's plague] that began in 541 and afflicted the entire Orient. Other, smaller epidemics followed, causing thousands upon thousands of deaths.
It was these horrors that probably triggered the demise of Zafar. Yule suspects that the drought devastated the "fragile ecology of the highlands." Cattle died of thirst and barns remained empty.

Are the archeologist's suspicions correct? Even Muhammad, as a young child, was threatened by disease and hunger. According to Ibn Ishak, his wet nurse was deeply concerned when she was told to bring the little boy back to his native city.

The reason, he writes, was the "plague in Mecca."

Lackluster Holiday Sales May Mean Good Buys for Consumers

Yahoo! News reports that, overall, holiday sales were lackluster and weak--the worst since 2008. Many retailers now face the possibility of excess inventory. The good news for consumers is that fears of excess inventory may push retailers into offering deep discounts in order to reduce their stock.

Piers Morgan -- Man Without A Country

Piers Morgan is the CNN hack that recently went into a bizarre tirade against a Gun Owner's of America spokesman he was interviewing. This led to a petition to the White House requesting that he be deported, and a counter-petition by the British not wanting him back. Not content with insulting Americans about their belief in self-defense, Morgan has now broadened his attacks to include all Christians. From the Blaze:
During a discussion on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Monday — Christmas Eve — with Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, Morgan argued that there needs to be an “amendment to the Bible” for same-sex marriage, because like the Constitution, the Bible is “inherently flawed.”

“Both the Bible and the Constitution were well intentioned but they are basically, inherently flawed. Hence, the need to amend it,” Morgan told Warren during a conversation where Morgan emphasized the need for America to separate Church and State.

“My point to you about gay rights, for example, it’s time for an amendment to the Bible.”
In Britain he could be prosecuted for his hate speech.

Hitting Back Twice as Hard

Dianne Feinstein has released a summary of her proposed "assault weapon" ban. You can see the details at the link, but here are the high points:

(i) It will ban by specific model and feature "assault weapons," and the determination of whether it is an "assault weapon" will be determined by one "military feature" rather than two as with the prior AWB. However, this ban will not consider flash hiders or bayonet lugs (one of the easiest features to remove under the prior ban) nor allow "thumb hole" stocks.

(ii) It will allow the grandfathering of weapons already owned and manufactured, but those weapons would become subject to the National Firearms Act--i.e., they would become subject to the same restrictions as true machine guns, grenades and explosives, and other truly military weapons.

(iii) Magazines larger than 10-rounds would be banned. Since there is no provision for "grandfathering" mentioned in the summary, I presume that this is an outright ban that would require everyone to turn in or destroy the offending magazines.

How likely is this to pass? Kurt Schlicter at The Town Hall suggests that liberals have lost the gun control debate again, as evidenced by their obvious panic. He writes:
When you argue for a living, you can tell how an argument is going for you. The evidence and my gut both tell me that the liberals have lost control of the gun control narrative.

Not for lack of trying – it was almost as if they were poised to leap into action across the political, media and cultural spectrum the second the next semi-human creep shot up another “gun free zone.” This was their big opening to shift the debate and now it’s closing. They’ve lost, and they are going nuts.

The evidence is all around that this is not going to be the moment where America begins a slide into disarmed submission through an endless series of ever-harsher “reasonable restrictions” on our fundamental rights. You just have to look past the shrieking media harpies to see what’s really happening.

Let’s start with the most obvious omen that this tsunami has peaked. President Obama thrilled his base by grandstanding at the memorial, and then promptly washed his hands of it by handing it over to a “blue ribbon commission.” Making Joe Biden its chairman was like staking a vampire through the heart, then hosing him down with holy water before burying his body beneath the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Why does Obama want this gun thing buried? While intensely popular with metrosexual pundits, coastal liberals, and cultural bigots slobbering at the opportunity to stick it to those banjo –strummin’, God-believers out in the hinterlands, gun control remains poison to Red State Democrats.

... So, the politicians’ actions have spoken louder than their words, but what of the media? We lawyers always say that when your case is strong, pound on the law and the evidence, and when your case is weak, pound on the table. The furniture is splintering in Liberalland.

Their post-Newtown strategy was always to prevent an effective response from the pro-gun freedom side by both rapid action and by demonization. But the holidays and the kabuki theater that is the fiscal cliff drama meant that legislative action, their Holy Grail, would have to wait. That gave people time to think and the gun freedom side the time to react.

Demonizing those who support gun freedom was always intended as a weapon to silence them. It was also critical that we, law-abiding gun owners, become the Other. By dehumanizing us and painting us as evil, it is that much easier to strip us of our rights.

But gun freedom advocates fought back. Using the mainstream media, conservative media and especially social media – we need to understand its huge significance here – gun freedom advocates countered liberals’ bogus “facts.” Media reports about “automatic” weapons were corrected, clownish statements about “high caliber magazines” and “large capacity round” were mocked. The struggle raged over millions of Facebook posts. The average citizen saw gun banners ask “When will America control access to weapons?” and then saw several experts among his or her friends post about the significant hurdles one needs to get over to get a gun. Truth bypassed the mainstream media and became a weapon for the side of fundamental rights.

The banners overplayed their hand, losing credibility with every distortion, evasion and smear. The cries of “Blood is on your hands!” failed to resonate – reasonable Americans just did not blame the actions of a single sociopath on millions of their fellow neighbors. And it did not help when third-string celebrities and wizened literary has-beens took to hoping gun rights advocates would be shot for daring to oppose disarmament.

... Their credibility and motives already in question, the gun banners became vulnerable to a shift in the paradigm from depriving law-abiding citizens of effective defensive weapons to the idea of protecting kids with armed personnel in schools.

Suddenly, the gun banners had to argue two ridiculous positions. The first was that allowing trained educators or police having weapons in schools is a danger. The problem is that people generally like and trust teachers and cops. The second position was even worse, that armed personnel or police are somehow utterly useless against untrained, amateur creeps who seek to confront six-year olds. All over America, millions of parents noted how none of the wealthy gun banners were disbanding their personal security teams and thought, “You know, I think I’d like having a cop around my kid too.”
 And since we are on the subject of the liberal media panicking, Weasel Zippers has responding to the posting of the names and addresses of gun permit holders by the NY Journal News by posting the addresses of the journalists and editors behind the story. (See here).

Confirmation of Nerve Gas Attack in Homs, Syria? (Updated)

The Independent reports that a Syrian general that has defected to the rebel side has indicated that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons. The story indicates:
The head of Syria’s military police defected to the opposition, accusing the Assad regime of systematic “murder” and claiming that reports of chemical weapons being used against rebels in the restive city of Homs were true.

Maj-Gen Abdul-Aziz Jassim al-Shallal became one of the highest ranking Syrian military officers to throw their support behind the rebels, accusing forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of turning their weapons on innocent civilians in the now 22-month-long civil war.

... But it is his claim that chemical weapons were used in Homs during a deadly attack on Christmas Eve that is likely to be of greater interest to the Syrian opposition and their foreign backers.

Reports from Homs had suggested that a type of nerve agent was used by the Syrian forces in the attack, a point that General Shallal appeared to verify yesterday. Al Jazeera reported at the time that at least seven people had died after inhaling a poisonous gas “sprayed by government forces in a rebel-held Homs neighbourhood”.

“We don’t know what this gas is but medics are saying it’s something similar to sarin gas,” Raji Rahmet Rabbou, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera.

It is not clear that the substance used in Homs was banned by international law, even the though the General yesterday specifically referred to a “chemical weapons” attack. Nonetheless, the use of non-conventional weapons is considered a “red line” by some in the international community who have been reluctant to intervene directly.
Update: The chemical weapons may not have been sarin nerve gas. This article from the Business Insider indicates that it may have been a chemical weapon the Syrians call "Agent 15" that is only toxic if a nerve gas antidote is administered. From the article:
Doctors at SAMS [Syrian American Medical Society] describe a "probable" use of what chemical specialists refer to as "Agent-15," or 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate, or what NATO calls "BZ." They classified their report as "probable" because the higher classification of "confirmed" would require laboratory testing.

From SAMS:
The Gas effects started [a] few seconds after the area was shelled. Right after the shelling, patients described seeing white gas with odor, then they had severe shortness of breath, loss of vision, inability to speak, flushed face, dizziness, paralysis, nausea and vomiting, and increased respiratory secretions. Doctors who treated patients said that patients had pinpoint pupils and bronchospasm. Patients were treated in a field hospital. Gas masks were not available.
The particularly nasty aspect of this chemical weapon is that use of atropine needles, a common countermeasure against nerve agents, is actually a toxic combination and can lead to exacerbation of symptoms, even death.

... the worst known non-lethal reactions to high doses of BZ include stupor, hallucinations and "regressive" phantom behaviors such as plucking at one's hair and disrobing.
Meanwhile, Israel Hayom reports that the U.S. may be stepping up its preparations for intervention in Syria:
The U.S. is gearing up for a possible military intervention in Syria in the event that chemical weapons are used on Syrian citizens or alternately fall into the wrong hands, Strategic Affairs Minister and Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon told Israel Radio on Thursday.

Ya’alon voiced conviction that it was unlikely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's sizable chemical weapons stockpiles would be used against Israel at this time, but said, “The very discussion of the issue, and the U.S.'s need to draw red lines, points to how dangerous Assad really is."

"The U.S. and others have drawn two red lines recently,” Ya'alon said.

“One [was] back in September, for the event that these weapons fall into hostile, irresponsible hands, perhaps Hezbollah, or other groups, possibly al-Qaida. The other red line was drawn approximately four weeks ago on the understanding that Assad was considering and preparing and planning to use chemical weapons on his own people. That is why all the neighboring countries in the region are concerned, including Israel.

“The U.S. is certainly spearheading the battle here, both diplomatically and in preparation for the possibility of intervention. I don't know about deploying forces, but certainly there are different options to prevent this. Therefore, all the interested parties, including Israel, are closely monitoring the situation."

Earlier, in an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday, Ya’alon dismissed reports that Syrian government forces had fired chemical agents at rebels fighting to topple Assad's government.

"As things stand now, we do not have any confirmation or proof that [chemical weapons] have already been used, but we are definitely following events with concern," he said.

Meanwhile, Israeli media reports confirmed Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman to discuss the risk of Syria's chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist militants.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all my readers. 

From Matthew, Chapter 1:

 18 ¶Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
While we are all children of our Heavenly Father, it is only through coming to Christ that we become sons and daughters of Christ, and by and through him, joint heirs of the Father.

The prayers of me and my family go out to all of you on this day, with the wish and hope for peace on Earth; but if not peace in the world at large, at least peace to your hearts.

Gun Control Breeds Disobedience and Black Markets

Over at Reason Magazine (h/t Instapundit) there is a lengthy piece by J.D. Ticcille who describes his experience in attempting to become the first member of his family to legally own a firearm in New York City--and how his frustrations with the system led him to purchase, cheaply and easily through the black market, a semi-auto AK-47 that is wholly illegal in New York. From there, he notes that in the United States, and throughout Europe, when governments have enacted registration and buy-back schemes, such schemes are often met with massive civil disobedience, and create a black market for the very arms they seek to prohibit. The results are that, in the cases cited by Mr. Ticcille, are states and nations where the newly designated illegal firearms vastly outnumber the legal firearms. He writes, in part:
Well, says the Small Arms Survey, a research outfit established by the Swiss government, the United Kingdom, with just shy of 1.8 million legal firearms, has about four million illegal guns. Belgium, with about 458,000 legal firearms, has roughly two million illegal guns. In Germany, the number is 7.2 million legal guns and between 17 and 20 million off-the-books examples of things that go “bang” (a figure with which the German Police Union very publicly agrees). France, says the Survey, has 15-17 million unlawful firearms in a nation where 2.8 million weapons are held in compliance with the law.

Even those numbers may understate the case. While the 2003 Small Arms Survey report put the number of legal guns in Greece at 805,000 and illegal guns at 350,000, just two years later, the Greek government itself nudged those figures up, just a tad, to one million legal guns and 1.5 million illegal ones.

So New Yorkers aren’t alone in being armed to the teeth outside the law.

It’s not that governments haven’t tried to grab those guns. One government after another has implemented schemes for registration, licensing, and even confiscation. But those programs have met with … less than universal respect.

In a white paper on the results of gun control efforts around the world, Gun Control and the Reduction of the Number of Arms, Franz Csaszar, a professor of criminology at the University of Vienna, Austria, wrote, “non-compliance with harsher gun laws is a common event.”

Dr. Csaszar estimates compliance with Australia’s 1996 ban on self-loading rifles and pump-action shotguns at 20 percent.

And even that underwhelming estimate gives the authorities the benefit of the doubt. Three years after Australia’s controversial ban was implemented, when 643,000 weapons had been surrendered, Inspector John McCoomb, the head of the state of Queensland’s Weapons Licensing Branch, told The Sunday Mail, "About 800,000 (semi-automatic and automatic) SKK and SKS weapons came in from China back in the 1980s as part of a trade deal between the Australian and Chinese governments. And it was estimated that there were 1.2 million semi-automatic Ruger 10/22s in the country. That's about 2 million firearms of just two types in the country."

Do the math. Two million illegal firearms of just two types, and only 643,000 guns of all types were surrendered …

The Australian Shooters Journal did its own math in a 1997 article on the “gun buyback.” Researchers for the publication pointed out that the Australian government’s own low-ball, pre-ban estimate of the number of prohibited weapons in the country yielded a compliance rate of 19 percent.

But maybe success is in the eye of the beholder. After the expected mountains of surrendered weapons failed to manifest themselves, then-Australian Attorney General Darryl Williams’s office revised its estimate of total firearms in the country to a number lower than its pre-ban estimate of prohibited firearms, and declared victory.
The author goes on to discuss the rise of black markets, including a specific incident involving the Odessa Mafia importing 30,000 tons of weapons into Europe, including anti-tank missiles. Ticcille's conclusion:
So, by imposing restrictions on one type of product, governments have driven people to the black market where all forbidden products and services are available, and likely increased the wealth and power of active sellers in that market.

If you were trying to enrich and empower the folks who thrive beyond the reaches of polite society, you couldn’t come up with a better plan.

Hmmm … but those guns come from somewhere, right? Before black marketeers turn them into illicit commodities to be sold alongside cocaine and tax-free cigarettes, they have to be manufactured. So, what about putting tighter controls on the companies that make these killing machines and cutting off the supply?

Good luck on that.

In 2007, Suroosh Alvi, a co-founder of Vice magazine, pulled a few family strings in Pakistan to gain access to the turbulent Northwest Frontier Province. Specifically, he wanted to see the gun markets that are feeding a steady supply of arms to Afghanistan. More specifically, he wanted to see just how modern firearms were being cranked out in wholesale lots under the most primitive conditions imaginable. His opening comment in the resulting video documentary—“I’ve seen kids making guns with their bare hands in caves”—only barely overstates what he presents. Thousands of 9mm pistols, knock-off AK-47s, machine guns, and anything else you can imagine are manufactured there over wood fires with hand tools—and so is the ammunition to match.

Pakistan isn’t alone. Danao, in the Philippines, has a thriving underground gun-manufacturing industry that is reputed to employ as much as 20 percent of the local population. Starting decades ago with crude revolvers, the “paltiks” turned out by the backyard gunsmiths of Danao now include working replicas of modern assault weapons manufactured with basic technology.

Just how do you shut down underground craftsman who don’t seem to require much more than their skills, some scrap metal, and access to Third-World tools that barely begin to compare to the equipment in the garages of many Western suburbanites?

That’s a rhetorical question. The evidence suggests that underground manufacturers will step up to meet any demand that arises.

Monday, December 24, 2012

More on Syria's Possible Use of Poison Gas

Wired Magazine reports:
The regime of embattled Syrian president Bashar Assad gassed rebel forces in the battleground city of Homs, anti-government activists told Al Jazeera on Sunday. If the unconfirmed report is true — and that’s a huge if — the chemical attack could signal the biggest escalation yet of 20-month-old Syrian civil war, with serious implications for the rest of the world.

Danger Room first reported in early December that the Assad regime was preparing some of its nerve weapons for possible use against rebel forces. Washington and its allies have repeatedly said they would not tolerate such an attack. “This would cross a red line and those responsible would be held to account,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned previously.

Even Sergei Lavrov — foreign minister of Assad’s ally, Russia — called the use of chemical weapons “political suicide.”

So far, however, U.S. officials contacted by Danger Room have declined to confirm or deny whether such weapons have been used.

Al Jazeera reported that seven people died after inhaling a gas sprayed by government forces in a part of Homs held by the rebel Free Syrian Army. “We don’t know what this gas is but medics are saying it’s something similar to sarin,” rebel Raji Rahmet Rabbou told the Qatar-based news organization.

The “poisonous material” was deployed by government warplanes, Haaretz reported, citing a rebel statement. The Assad regime, meanwhile, is blaming the rebels for the attack.

Al Jazeera posted two videos it said were obtained from “a field clinic in the city.” The graphic videos indeed appear to depict gasping victims of what could be a nerve agent attack. Again, however, the origins and contents of these videos have yet to be verified by other sources.

Sarin can cause paralysis, choking and even death. But the symptoms shown in these videos might have been caused by other chemicals — possibly chlorine, phosgene, cyanogen chloride, according to one independent review of the clips (.pdf). Or we might simply be seeing a severe asthma attack.

We Shouldn't Emulate Britain

British media has been particularly critical of the United States gun ownership--notwithstanding that it was only 1 1/2 years ago that Britain was rocked by massive rioting and looting that left the English bemoaning their lack of any means of defending themselves--and the overall impression I get is that they (the British) would like to see the U.S. adopt gun control laws similar to those in the U.K. or Australia (not that it is any of their business ... just saying).

How has that worked out? The Daily Mail (one of the most vocal voices calling for greater gun control in America) has in the past reported that gun crime has consistently been increasing in the U.K. since its gun ban. For instance, this article from 2003 noted that crimes where firearms were used had increased overall in the U.K. by 35% in just the preceding 12 months, and that it had doubled since the post-Dunblane massacre gun ban had gone into effect. This article from October 2009 noted that gun crime (not including air guns) had increased 89% during the prior decade. More significantly, this article from July 2009 notes that Britain is the most violent nation in Europe, and has rates of violent crimes much greater than the United States. It noted that the U.K. had 2,034 violent crimes per 100,000 residents; whereas, the United States only had 466--that is 4.4 times the crime rate of the U.S. When you look at that article, also note that the violent crime rate in the U.S. is well below any of the European countries listed, and even less than Canada. Even Britain's vaunted Big Brother camera system has had, at best, only a negligible impact on crime. So, the British model is obviously a failure.

The Australian model does not appear to be much better. As I noted in a post from earlier this summer, Australia's crime rate also exploded after it enacted its gun ban. The Truth About Guns blog recently took a look at Australia's homicide and suicide statistics and found that while murders and suicides due to firearms had declined, the overall murder and suicide rates had not changed one wit. Apparently people wanting to kill others or themselves simply found other tools to do it with. So, the Australian model is also a failure.