Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: Nothing to Envy

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick

This is a study of the people of North Korea during the famine of the 1990's. In other words, a peek into the mindset of the most closed society in the world, combined with the psychology of starvation.

North Koreans are indoctrinated from birth to believe that their political leader Kim Il sung was a god, whose birth on a mountain under a double rainbow was announced by a swallow, and who rules in spirit for eternity. His son - the son of a god, obviously - Kim Jong Il , represented him on earth until his own recent death. It sounds silly to us, and of course it is, but then many Americans believe that a talking snake convinced the world's first woman to eat a magic apple.

North Koreans are also taught - and forced - to depend on their socialist government for everything, from shelter to food. Hunger drove them to defy the ruling elite and become self-reliant and resourceful. In effect, they reinvented the free-market economy. Not even one of the most intrusive governments on earth could repress the black market once people were reduced to eating grass.

So, how do people behave as the infrastructure of their society collapses? Hint: you are most likely to survive if you are chubby, selfish, young, female, and willing to lie and steal. The young, the old and the men perished, in roughly that order. When it got down to women, the sharing, the honest and the slender starved first.

Some of the lessons they learned the hard way may be valuable to us as our own government inexorably approaches defaults on its welfare programs.

When the electricity goes out for good and fuel becomes unavailable, it's better to live in the country than the city, the warmer south rather than the colder north, the coast rather than inland.

The most valuable commodity becomes food, of course. Clothes, books, firewood, medicines, and wheels for making carts are also much sought after.

Foraging for wild edibles becomes an essential skill. Small animals not normally considered food are trapped to geographical extinction. Thieves, gangs and street urchins must be guarded against. If one can't remain below the government's radar, then authorities must be deceived, eluded or bribed. Gardens are planted anywhere space can be made. Human excrement becomes the main fertilizer once animals and synthetics are unavailable.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Greece's New Diet

As the economy continues to worsen in Greece, people are rediscovering the foods and recipes that got their grandparents through WWII.

In occupied Greece, an estimated 300,000 people starved to death. Pets disappeared, and the hills were stripped of wild greens and firewood.

Grapes (and raisins), olives, foraged greens and rationed bread became the nation's staples. Sugar and meat were simply unavailable.

We all suffer from the "It can't happen here" syndrome, but it can and it has. I still have some of my grandfathers ration coupons from WWII:

"Meatless Mondays, Wheatless Wednesdays, vegetable gardens and chickens in every empty lot."

We aren't that far behind Greece. It's time to get retro ourselves. Don't wait for well-mannered, caring government subcontractors to deliver MRE's to your neighborhood. Plant a garden, learn to forage, get a half dozen backyard chickens.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Judicial Activism

Justice Robert Bork has opined that if we were to observe the Tenth Amendment of our Bill of Rights as it is written, we would wreck our federal system as it now functions.

Exactly! Let's get it done!

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

At least one of them gets it:

"Day-by-day, case-by-case, the Supreme Court is busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize."

Justice Antonio Scalia

Friday, November 4, 2011

First (and probably only) Autoknives

Just bought my first autoknives ("switchblades", for those whose knowledge of pocket knives is limited to having seen West Side Story). Both are "out-the-fronts", a Microtech Scarab and a Lightning. They're very similar, except that the latter is a quarter of the quality and a tenth of the price of the former.

I bought them only because the cantankerous curmudgeon who was arrested for possessing them and whose subsequent lawsuit against the state made them legal again is an acquaintance. And as a thumb-in-the-eye to the sort of people who try to regulate what I eat peaches with. Sort of like when I bought my first "assault rifle" just because Hillary said I shouldn't have one.

First impressions:

1. A fixed-blade is in every way superior. Cost, strength, durability, speed of deployment, quietness, reliability, utility, ergonomics.

2. There is an undeniable 'fun factor'.

3. I wonder how long they'll last, since everyone who sees them has to play with them.

4. It was worth it just to see the eyeballs bug out of my wife's friend from Massachusetts when she asked if I had a pocketknife to open a box.

Such knives are most often thought of as "fighting" or "tactical" knives, but they are the worst possible choice for such a thing. They're fun just-plain-everyday pocket knives, though.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Finally, a Machete that Works in the North

Having done some bushwacking in Africa and South and Central America, I appreciate good machetes. They are to jungles what axes are to northern forests. They don't translate well to our hemisphere, though. They're meant for yielding, green vegetation, and they're made light so that they can be swung for hours at a time.

This is an Indonesian style called a "golok", and made by Condor Knife and Tool in El Salvador. It's got a relatively short (14"), heavy blade. Comes with a well-made leather sheath, and weighs about two pounds total. It'll fit in a pack, and isn't too awkwardly long on a belt. It'll zip through green hardwood saplings with a drawing stroke, and can be batoned through fairly impressive diameters. No idea what kind of steel it is, but it's hard enough to hold an edge without being difficult to sharpen. For clearing brush, building shelters and processing enough firewood for a tent stove, it's a pretty good tool. Works well as a drawknife, too. It's the first machete I've come across that I would consider carrying instead of an ax on my canoe camping trips.

The handle is walnut, and comes a little thick, so I've been reshaping it. After using it a while, the high spots become apparent and I file them down. Once it's comfortable, I'll refinish it. It's a very practical design that allows for a loose, non-tiring grip with no worries about it sailing out of your hand. It's got a full tang, so no worries about it breaking, either. Three brass pins and a brass-lined lanyard hole give it a classier look than any plastic handle could.

Long-Term Emergency Food Storage

The information collected here comes from the USDA, Brigham Young University's Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science, the Utah State University Cooperative Extension, and the Church of Latter Day Saints website on 'provident living'. Those crazy Mormons, they're really into food storage, and they're nice enough to share their knowledge with Pagans like me. I also learned quite a lot from a professor in the Food Science Department at Utah State, whom I contacted with some questions and who was very patient and helpful.

Long-term emergency storage foods are meant to keep you alive if you had almost nothing else to eat. That means water, wheat and other grains, legumes, salt, honey or sugar, powdered milk, baking soda and cooking oil.

According to the US gov, the average American man is 5'9" and weighs 190 pounds. The average woman is 5'4" and weighs 164 pounds. We average 37 years old, and eat 2,700 calories per day, which translates to 1996 pounds of food per year, including:

85 fats and oils
273 fruit
24 coffee
415 vegetables
56 corn
198 sweeteners
200 flour
32 eggs
16 fish
74 chicken
110 red meat
600 dairy products other than cheese
181 milk
30 french fries
23 pizza
24 ice cream
31 cheese
3 salt

In some places, the Mormons (who as I said above have made a very serious study of food storage) publish the following recommended amounts per adult per year:

Rice/wheat/corn: 180 kg (397 lbs)
Sugar or Honey: 30kg (66 lbs)
Salt: 4.5kg (10 lbs)
Dry Beans: 36kg (80 lbs)
Powdered Milk: 27kg (60 lbs)
Olive Oil: 10 liters ("extra virgin", i.e. unrefined. Shelf-life of about 2 years) and/or
Coconut Oil: ("virgin", i.e. unrefined. Shelf-life of about 5 years)

In other places, the Mormons recommend putting away 5 pounds of beans and 25 pounds of grains per person per month (that would be 60 pounds and 300 pounds per year, respectively).

For our family's planning purposes, we have settled on 5 pounds of legumes, 25 pounds of grains, 1/4 pound of salt, and 1/8 pound of baking soda per person per month. (Per year, that's 60 pounds of legumes, 300 pounds of grains, 3 pounds of salt, and 1.5 pounds of baking soda.) (Baking soda is necessary for cooking tough old beans and making sourdough bread, and is also useful for cleaning, brushing teeth, etc.)

We don't store a lot of sweeteners because we have our own beehives. We don't store water because we live on a clean lake - although we do have containers in case we anticipate the water becoming fouled.

We also stock up on necessities that require high technology and have a long shelf-life, like razor blades, medicines, soap, shampoo, paper towels, toilet paper, etc.

Probably the most effective and still practical long-term food-storage packaging method is with oxygen absorbers and metallized plastic (Mylar) pouches.

PETE bottles are
more permeable to oxygen and moisture than metallized plastic, but still provide a good barrier and are recommended by the Mormon food storage people. PETE bottles are clear plastic made of polyethylene terephthalate. They will have a “1” in the triangular recycling symbol on the bottom, and will probably have the letters "PET" or "PETE" as well. Bottles made of other plastics, such as HDPE, are not suitable.

Mylar pouches and PETE bottles can be used with oxygen absorbers to store food that is dry (less than 10% moisture) and low in fat. PETE bottles that were made for liquids such as juice or soda will have proper tops for this purpose. They will screw on, and have plastic seals, not paper or foam. The oxygen absorbers will prevent insect infestations, and help preserve nutritional qualities. Oxygen absorbers are small packets that contain an iron powder. As the iron oxidizes, it absorbs the oxygen in the bottle, leaving the nitrogen behind and forming a partial vacuum.

1. Place a fresh oxygen absorber packet in each bottle or pouch. (Oxygen absorbers begin working as soon as they are exposed to air, so it's important to use them within about a half hour of taking them out of their original packaging.)
2. Fill with bulk dry products that are low in moisture and oil content.
3. Seal.
4. Label and date.
5. Store in a fairly cool, dry, dark place that is safe from rodents.

Storage at temperatures below 60°F is optimum, but usually impractical. Do what you can. Concrete floors will wick moisture to containers, so set them on something that allows air circulation underneath them.

Foods that are reported to last for 30+ years when stored in this manner:

White rice, not brown.
Split peas
Dry beans
Pasta made without eggs (read the ingredients)

Non-fat powdered milk will allegedly last for 20+ years packaged with oxygen absorbers.

White sugar may harden when packed with oxygen absorbers, but can be bottled without the absorbers and will last indefinitely.

Ditto for baking soda, which is an important ingredient for preparing old, tough beans.

Salt will last forever without oxygen absorbers.

Foods that are NOT suitable for long-term storage:

Brown rice
Pearled Barley
Sesame seeds
Flax seeds
Brown sugar
Milled grains other than oatmeal

What stored foods tend to lack is vitamin C. The good news is that we're literally surrounded by vitamin C, mostly in the form of things tea can be made from. Wintergreen, pine needles, hemlock needles, rose hips, etc.

Another thing that might be handy to know about PETE bottles is that they can be used for solar water disinfection by ultraviolet radiation. It's as simple as filling them with water and setting them out in the sun for a few hours. Not even glass can be used for that, since although it's transparent to visible light, it's opaque to ultraviolet radiation.

Shelf life is one thing, palatability is another. Thirty-year-old food could keep you alive, but you might have to be some kind of hungry to eat it. According to the aforementioned professor, properly packaged dry foods will remain nutritionally stable (except for vitamins) for "dozens of years", but begin to be unpleasant to eat after about the decade mark.

Our current tentative plan is to store salt, sugar and baking soda in PETE bottles without oxygen absorbers. They should last, for our purposes, forever.

Wheat does not need to be stored in a low-oxygen environment, but a couple weeks of such an atmosphere will ensure that no bugs are present. We store it in PETE bottles with oxygen absorbers. ("Hawaiian Punch" gallon bottles are our favorite containers. We don't drink it, but the folks at our local recycling center save them for us.)

Everything else is probably best in Mylar pouches with oxygen absorbers.

We also stock up on necessities that require high technology and have a long shelf-life, like razor blades, medicines, soap, shampoo, paper towels, toilet paper, etc.

After about ten years, we plan on using our stores - converting them to fresh eggs by feeding them to our chickens if nothing else - and replenishing them with fresh stock.

We'll probably never need to use them 'for real', but I'm glad we have them every time I see someone in the aftermath of a hurricane or earthquake shouting "Even if we have money there's no food to buy!" at a TV camera.

Live debt-free, have food put away, plant a garden and some fruit trees and bushes, assure access to water, reduce dependence on oil, have a bicycle and a patch kit, learn to forage, build good will with your neighbors, get healthy. It's just common sense, which isn't very common.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The latest peeps out of the incubator recognize a good mom when they see one. Hilarious to watch, they follow her around and run underneath when she crouches down. And this should be the definition of 'natural beauty' - looking good while squatting on chickens.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The True Cost of our Government

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Federal government will spend 3.8 trillion dollars this year. State and local governments will spend an additional 1.6. The cost of complying with government regulations will add another 1.8, bringing our total cost of government this year to 7.2 trillion dollars. That is equal to every penny earned by every American from January first through august twelfth. The eight years of George Bush's presidency added 18 days to our annual sentence. The (so far) two-and-a-half years of Barak Obama's presidency have already added 27 days.

Our leaders no longer even discuss actually reducing our national debt, only how much deeper to go into it. If you've been losing sleep worrying that we might be heading for a fiscal disaster you can relax now, because it's here. Social Security is broke. Medicare is broke. The Obamacare freight train hasn't even hit us yet, and it's already broke.

Prediction: we'll raise taxes, inflate the currency, and then default on entitlements. The only question is when.

Speaking of entitlements, and to make matters worse, we've trained a huge percentage of our population to depend on social welfare programs and to think of work as an undesirable lifestyle choice. When the Mailbox Money stops arriving the inner-city people whom the politically-correct media refers to as "youths" will riot like they've done in Watts, Detroit, Washington D.C., Miami and New Orleans.

As politically-incorrect journalist Fred Reed puts it, "Imagine a black kid of seventeen in Detroit... He has never read a book, and never will. He doesn't know where England is, or Africa, or the United States. His mental world is small beyond the imagining of the literate. He has no grasp of government, and has never heard of any author. He cannot do simple arithmetic. He has perhaps never seen a checkbook, and will never have one. He doesn't watch the news. If he did, would not understand what he was seeing...

Of history, the kid knows only that blacks were enslaved by whites. He cannot approximate the dates of the Civil War... and cannot name a single country in Africa, but he knows that blacks were stolen from their homes and very badly treated.

He has in all likelihood never been out of Detroit, or perhaps his neighborhood. He has no contact with the larger society except through the police and television, where he sees whites leading glamorous lives in a wide world beyond his grasp...

He doesn't have a job or, if he does, it will be of a very low level with no future that he can see. There is a reason why cash-register keys in fast-food chutes have pictures of hamburgers and milk shakes instead of words, why the registers make change automatically. The kid in Detroit can't make change. Little commercial demand exists for the illiterate and innumerate who have very bad attitudes.

Which the kid has. He hates whites, whom he blames for all of his troubles and inadequacies. He hates Asians, who excel in school. It is an ugly hatred on a hair trigger and explodes readily in savage violence. The media play this down, hard, but what you pretend doesn't exist still does."

My daughters tell me I'm a racist for believing the above. In a way I'm glad that they're naive about the ghetto culture. But I saw the riots in Detroit and Miami with my own eyes. And you can turn on the news almost any night and hear about "flash mobs" of "hooded youths" - Madison, Philadelphia and Maryland in just the past few days.

I believe that the true cost of our government is going to be most of our savings, most of what we've been forced to invest in the Ponzi schemes of Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare, and large portions of many of our major cities.

The Way Things are in Venezuela

These signs are in most of the restaurant and shop windows in the Caracas airport. A Columbian fellow translated for me and said that the Chavez government allowed the businesses to remodel and stock inventory, then imposed an onerous new social security tax. Those that can't pay are being nationalized. He thinks that was the plan all along. He also told me not to ask Venezuelans about it because they're very afraid of informers, who are rewarded with cash.

"La Nueva Seguridad Social cumple con los Venezolanos" - The New Social Security works for Venezuelans

"Empresa inspeccionada" - Examined business

"En Mora" - In default

Amazing how fast a beautiful country can go down the drain. I've seen it firsthand both here and in Zimbabwe.

Also interesting:

There was a Cuban flag flying at the airport.

There were Chinese petroleum engineers staying at the hotel.

Friday, May 27, 2011

How Far will Amoral Ambition take a Guy?

When I was a Lieutenant of Marines, this guy was a Major in the same squadron. One of the most unscrupulous, Machiavellian people I have ever known, willing to use up subordinates, back-stab contemporaries, and tell superiors anything they wanted to hear. He would have sold his grandmother into sexual bondage to get ahead.

After I left the service, I don't think I ever gave him another thought. But I just read today that he's "Obama's favorite general". I'm at a loss.

There was a time when I thought Generals were demigods, with some sort of wisdom beyond ours.

And speaking of amoral ambition, there's Hillary sharing the photo op....

Honey Bees

Almost all the bees in a hive are female, and only one of them, the queen, is sexually mature. These two hives came from Vermont. So most of the occupants aren't just immature females, they're liberal immature females consumed by righteous anger who don't shave their armpits. Every fall they evict all the males to starve and freeze. Sometimes they kill their queen and commit mass suicide. Sometimes half of them just up and leave. On their best days, they ignore me. Sometimes, for no discernible reason, they come boiling out on a mission to inflict pain. More than once my neighbors have seen me running around the yard screaming like a little Japanese girl being chased by Godzilla.

The advantage of pain-based training is that the learning curve is steep. The Department of education should station liberal Vermont girls with armpits that make them look like they have Gary Busey in a headlock in every classroom, to stab kids who make mistakes with little syringes of burning venom. Those delinquents would be ready for Princeton by about seventh grade. I don't know, maybe that's how China and India are churning out all those scientists and engineers while our kids major in 'Black Studies' and 'Gender Issues'.

Anyway, my experience with these hives combined with a careful reading of Winnie the Pooh has convinced me that bears are the predators that most of their defenses have evolved in response to. Anything that reminds them of bears sets them off, like "furry" clothing (sweaters or fleece), dark colors, rough handling and nocturnal prowling. When you mess with bees, wear smooth-textured fabric in light colors, do it close to high noon, and try to move like fluid.

If you open a hive at night, everybody's home and perturbed about being bothered after working hours. If you open a hive on a warm sunny day, most of the workers will be off gathering, and the nurse bees left at home will be relatively mellow. Even so, keep it brief. Bees are like snapping turtles and ex-wives: if you mess with them long enough, they'll find a way to get you. Plus, bee brood is sensitive to chills and dehydration. Instead of examining details in person, maybe take photographs that can be magnified and perused at your leisure.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Anyone Else Getting Nervous?

Have threats to freedom been exaggerated in order to restrict freedom?

Are police powers being expanded for the pubic good?

Is an ignorant electorate enthusiastic about national socialism?

Is there a movement to disarm the citizenry for it's own safety?

Are we "bringing peace and democracy" to foreign countries that purely coincidentally happen to have, oh, I don't know, maybe lots of oil?

Are there truths you hesitate to speak because politically correct informers at work might turn you in?

Have we been trained to meekly line up and show our papers for things like travel?

Have you so been conditioned by intrusive regulations that you now obey even ridiculous laws?

Welcome to Germany in the 1930's.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gear that Works: Swedish Reflector Oven

Reflector ovens are designed for baking on a fireplace hearth or by a campfire. I've also had good results propping one against the metal side of my wood-burning tent stove. It doesn't seem to matter if they're shiny or dark, so don't bother polishing them, as some people advocate. Think of them as "trapping" heat rather than "reflecting" it.

My folding Boy Scout reflector oven is a flimsy, frustrating piece of junk. An antique we own is sturdy but bulky. My favorite is from Sweden, made by a fellow named Svante Freden. I bought it here:

It's an ingenious folding design, and his workmanship is outstanding. It's replaced my Dutch oven for almost everything but car camping. It's far lighter, and doesn't require coals - in fact, it prefers flames. It's the perfect size for a nine-inch pan. Biscuits or a bannock are ready in about ten minutes.

Svante Freden was kind enough to post plans for anyone who would like to build their own. Just Google "Do It Yourself Svante Freden foldable Reflector Oven". I've been thinking about building a large, non-folding version that could double as a food storage container, with a wooden cutting-board lid. I have no illusions about being able to match his quality of construction, though.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Politically-Correct Term for Beavers

On a canoeing website, a thread about beavers and beaver dams of all things became quite heated and personal. Thinking that it needed an injection of levity, I posted that the word "beaver" was now considered pejorative, and that the politically correct term was "vagina squirrel".

Not only did exactly no one appreciate the joke, but I was soundly excoriated for "foul language", and told never to post anything that shouldn't be said in front of wives and mothers.

Do those people realize that their wives and mothers have those V-word things? What do you suppose they call them? Do their mothers say "Doctor, will my bearded love oyster need an episiotomy?" Do their wives say "Children, it's time we discussed the cave of wonders"?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

My new favorite walking stick:

Is a blowgun. Although a casual observer wouldn't know it. There's a chair leg protector on the bottom (removed before shooting, of course), a wrist lanyard and a cloth-tape grip.

My curiosity about blowguns was piqued when a friend told me about killing a feral cat with a heart/lung shot from one. I had no idea that they were capable of such a thing without, you know, curare or poison frog juice or something. I have an interest in primitive weapons, but didn't know much about this type. My extensive experience shooting beans through straws in elementary school probably led me to write them off as toys. Took a more serious look at the adult equivalent and was amazed at the accuracy and velocity of blown darts. Those of .40 or .50 caliber might not be suitable for taking game, but larger diameters emphatically are. A dart going right through something the size of a cat was not a fluke.

Amused myself on a rainy day experimenting with different lengths of 1/2 inch inner-diameter conduit, which is actually about .62 caliber. A friend of mine has a Creek Indian blowgun, and that's about what it's bore is. Five feet seems like the minimum length for good velocity, six is better. Optimum likely varies depending on your lung capacity. Ideally you should probably run out of air just as the dart exits the muzzle. A mouthpiece is necessary, you just can't get enough oomph behind a projectile without one. Easy enough to fabricate from wood with a drill and a little whittling.

Tried a few variations on darts, like nails through pieces of foam and long wood splinters with the aft end wrapped in cotton. (Our southeastern Indians seem to have used primarily locust wood and thistle down, although I also found references to mulberry and white oak with feathers and rabbit fur.) My best by far were made with bamboo skewers from the grocery store, with paper cones super-glued to their bases. Also made some more durable plastic cones by heating an appropriately cone-shaped piece of brass on top of the wood stove and pressing it into a milk jug. Finally decided to save myself time and trouble and bought a variety of manufactured darts online, along with a commercial five-foot .625 blowgun. Money well spent, although the experimenting was fun and now I have the knowledge to improvise both darts and gun.

Steel darts with flattened tips - like miniature broadheads - are probably best for non-flying, non-burrowing critters on the ground. Very consistent and therefore accurate. They easily penetrate quarter-inch plywood, and after a little practice are accurate enough to hit cans consistently at ten to fifteen yards. They penetrate a little too well sometimes. It's difficult to pull them out of a tree without pliers, and it's easy to pin a squirrel to a trunk high enough to make retrieval difficult. They tend to zip through practice targets and continue on to parts unknown, leaving their plastic cones behind. Something like a phone book makes a good backstop.

Haven't shot anything live with the blunts, but they're good for target practice, and surely they have some hunting utility. At least you wouldn't worry about a skewered bird flying off for the bunny-huggers to find, especially since every dart automatically has your DNA on it. And they're easy to carry in a pocket. They hit with a pretty impressive thud and easily punch through two layers of corrugated cardboard. They'd be a fun way to train the neighbor's dog not to poop in your yard.

Bamboo darts are my all-around favorite. They penetrate squirrels, but not trees. Their length helps prevent chipmunks from scrambling down holes before they expire, and birds from flying off. A lot of the ones I bought were warped, but even those still fly well enough for practice and plinking. The straightest ones can be reserved for more serious targets. The shafts are biodegradable, and no worries about hitting one with the lawn mower. They float, which opens up some interesting target practice opportunities that won't result in lost, broken or even dulled darts.

There are some videos on YouTube of a guy using explosive darts made by taping two percussion caps back-to-back and then super-gluing them to the tip of a metal dart. He was blasting some fairly impressive holes through plywood. Looked like a really fun way to lose an eye - there's no telling where such a dart will rebound.

There are also videos of a guy shooting bluegills in shallow water. He ties a fifteen-foot length of fishing line from his wrist to the dart and loads from the muzzle. Looking forward to trying that when the ice melts. (If you shoot fish, remember to aim low because of the refraction of the water.)

If you look at photos of aboriginals shooting blowguns, you'll notice that they usually hold them in a way that at first seems odd, with both hands, palms up, right in front of the mouthpiece. Trying it made the reason apparent: by holding it that way, you are much less likely to move the muzzle inadvertently when you exhale forcefully. My accuracy decreases dramatically if I hold it like a rifle, with one hand further down the tube. Keep both eyes open and center the target between the two "ghost images" of the muzzle. Use your diaphragm for an explosive puff - it's even good exercise. Hold a spare dart between your fingers like the hunter above for a quick reload.

For gathering protein,a large-bore blowgun isn't quite in the same league as a .22 pistol, but not as far out of it as you probably think. And a lot less likely to attract unwanted attention. They're so quiet that sometimes a missed wee beasty will stick around to give you a second chance. Besides, you can use it as a tent pole, or to breathe your fire to life without getting down on your hand and knees in the mud and smoke. I'm trying to come up with a way to further constrict the flow of air for the latter purpose, perhaps a piece of metal tubing that will friction-fit over the muzzle and can be hammered partially closed.

The downsides are limited range, projectiles that are sensitive to wind, and being somewhat unwieldy to transport. The latter flaw could be obviated with a take-down model. You could probably take a two-piece, uh, hiking staff on a public bus to, ah, feed the pigeons in the park without anyone raising an eyebrow.

They're good fun, even indoors. You'll be a hit with your kids and your kid's friends. A simple stroll now becomes a hunt, with the attendant increase in awareness and purpose. It might be a productive way to pass time on a deer stand without alarming the big game, too. Seems like every year I get squirrels almost sitting on the barrel of my rifle.

Haven't figured out a good way to carry pointed darts yet. A leather belt quiver might be most practical. Commercial blowguns come with convenient built-in clips, but then there goes the pretense of a hiking staff. I like the idea of "urban camouflage" for a variety of reasons. Blowguns are banned in the People's Republics of Taxachussettes and Kalifornia, so it's about the only viable option for you poor guys other than voting with your feet and moving to a free state.

Encasing a six-foot length of conduit completely in wood might be a fun project. Rip a 2x2 down the middle, cut channels with a router table and a half-round bit, then epoxy it all together and shape the outside. The top of the "hiking staff" could be carved as a mouthpiece. An inch or so of the conduit could protrude beyond the wood at the muzzle and be covered with a chair leg protector. It would take a close inspection for someone to figure out it's primary purpose, and the increased heft would be conducive to a steady hold and good follow-through.

*This seems like a better way to make darts, from an old issue of Mother Earth News I just came across:

"To make the darts, all you have to do is lay one of the empty milk jugs on its side, and with the propane torch set at a low flame, carefully heat an area about the size of a quarter until the plastic turns clear. Then push the pointed end of the plumb bob into the soft spot and hold it there until the dimpled area clouds. Make several rows of cones in this manner (leaving a bit of room between each), and cut the dimpled wall from the jug. You can use a short piece of scrap tubing to separate the cones from the rest of the sheet. Just bevel one end of the conduit to a sharp edge, then place the plastic-points up-on your wooden block. Center the tubular cutter over each cone to be removed, and give the back of the tube a smart rap with the hammer.

Once you've freed a number of cones, it's easy to make darts out of them by pushing nails or wire stubs through the pointed ends from the inside. A dab of silicone sealant or clay set behind the metal will serve the threefold purpose of securing the point, sealing it, and giving the dart some necessary weight. A bit of research will help you to determine which combination of points and putty works best - though we're partial to drywall nails backed with silicone."

And a couple references to Cherokee blowguns:

"...turkeys, geese, ducks of several kinds, partridges, pheasants, and an infinity of other birds, pursued only by the children, who, at eight or ten years old, are very expert at killing with a sarbacan, or hollow cane, through which they blow a small dart, whose weakness obliges them to shoot at the eye of the larger sort of prey, which they seldom miss." The Memoirs of Lt. Henry Timberlake, pages 71-72

"The common killing range for small game is 40-60 feet. The Cherokee cane 9-10 feet in length and throws a dart of 21 inches length, having a piston of thistledown. The Cherokee stance is to hold the cane with both hands near the mouth, not with one hand extended forward as does (some other shooters)." Speck; The Cane Blowgun in Southeastern Ethnology; American Anthropologist N. 9, vol. 40, 198-204

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where to put money now?

Next time there's a bear market, I'm probably just going to keep things really simple and put what's left of my retirement all in an index fund. What to do in the meantime is the problem.

Nothing constructive has come to me, but here's a summary of my random ramblings:

The stock market has doubled in the last 3 years and is just coming down from an all-time high. Seems like a good time to get out, not a good time to get in.

Precious metals likewise would have been good three years ago, but are also at an all-time high.

Serious inflation is at some point inevitable unless we stop deficit spending, and there's absolutely no indication that we will.

That makes debt a good thing IF you have an income that will keep pace with inflation. I don't have that.

A devalued dollar will favor companies who export, and hurt those who import. Trying to find export stocks, though, makes you realize how little the US exports these days. Apple would have been a great one last year. The whole world wants iPhones and iPads. But their stock is way up, too - another boat I missed.

Long term, oil and food prices are going to increase dramatically now that there are over 7 billion people on the planet. I just can't quite figure out how to invest in energy and food, though. Farmland?

Real estate and mortgage rates are low, BUT the ruling elite need money, and property owners are their bitches any time they want to raise taxes.

My Budweiser buddy says buy booze stocks - when times are good, people drink. When times are bad, people drink.

My banker neighbor says "tangible goods" that are not easy to manufacture and won't become obsolete or spoil and are easy to store are good investments, but what exactly are those? Gold is the obvious answer, but as pointed out above, that ship has sailed.

What will people want in the future that they can't make, that won't rot or go out of date, and that can be compactly stored?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lord of the Flies for real

There have been so many books and movies about the mutiny on the Bounty that everyone knows the basics. Although Hollywood has taken its usual license, the facts are very well documented and preserved in, for example, British Admiralty records.

Less well known is what became of a group of the mutineers who, along with some Tahitians who threw in with them, settled on a very remote tropical island. Pitcairn's Island, Nordhoff & Hall, is a historical novel fleshing out what is known of their subsequent fate. The book isn't particularly well-written, but the subject matter more than makes up for it.

It's a fascinating study of small-group social dynamics, especially if you precede it by familiarizing yourself with some biographical and geographical background. Tahitian nobles and serfs, British officers and rough seamen, men and women, Christians, Heathens and atheists, alcoholics and teetotalers, a mix of races, religions, classes, sexes and perspectives all stranded for perpetuity on a tiny island.

The island itself was a paradise with a benign climate and an abundance of easily foraged food and building materials. Life was too easy, and some of the men became preoccupied with a still. Spoiler alert: an orgy of rape and murder followed, and the best men didn't last long.

There are still descendant of those settlers living on Pitcairn's Island. It's one of those places I'd love to see for myself.

Interesting factoids:

The mutineers went through an interesting religious evolution, from atheist/Christian/Pagan to a mixture of the latter two. Their children were converted to the Church of England by visiting ship's chaplains but still kept incorporated some of their mother's Tahitian beliefs. Still later, Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries converted the island population en masse and imposed a strict code of no drinking, smoking or dancing.

The average island girl bears her first baby between the ages of 12 and 14.

Most of the adult men have been charged with sex crimes by British authorities.

The island has one of the last completely healthy honeybee populations on earth.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This is why I haven't blogged in a while:

I borrowed a very good friend's pride and joy and did this to it. He's been very gracious, but I feel about three inches tall for letting him down. And there's a lot of fallout to deal with between the government, insurance company, recovery and repair people, etc. I'm still waiting anxiously to see what the final bill will be, and how much the insurance will cover.

The biggest lesson I've taken away from the experience: When an ambulance shows up and some bimbo with a clipboard tells you to sign a waiver refusing treatment: Don't do it.

She will:

A. Immediately release your name and address to the media along with her ambulance-bimbo interpretation of what might have happened, and,

B. Send you a bill for services you didn't need, want, request or use.