Monday, August 31, 2009


mer de tranquilite, originally uploaded by in touch.

Gigatons of Ice

While we all know that global warming is accelerating, this article has some nice imagery.

The glaciers of Greenland are the fat, restless fingers of its vast ice sheet, constantly moving, stretching down into fjords and pushing ice from the sheet into the ocean, in the form of melt water and icebergs.

Before their first expedition, [glacier scientists] Hamilton and his colleague Leigh Stearns, from the University of Kansas, used satellite data to plan exactly where they would land on a glacier.

"When we arrived there was no glacier to be seen. It was way up the fjord," he says. "We thought we'd made some stupid goof with the co-ordinates, but we were where we were supposed to be." It was the glacier that was in the wrong place. A vast expanse had melted away.

When Hamilton and Stearns processed their first measurements of the glacier's speed, they thought they had made another mistake. They found it was marching forwards at a greater pace than a glacier had ever been observed to flow before. "We were blown away because we realised that the glaciers had accelerated not just by a little bit but by a lot," he says. The three glaciers they studied had abruptly increased the speed by which they were transmitting ice from the ice sheet into the ocean....

Driven by the loss of ice, Arctic temperatures are warming more quickly than other parts of the world: last autumn air temperatures in the Arctic stood at a record 5C above normal. For centuries, the ice sheets maintained an equilibrium: glaciers calved off icebergs and sent melt water into the oceans every summer; in winter, the ice sheet was then replenished with more frozen snow. Scientists believe the world's great ice sheets will not completely disappear for many more centuries, but the Greenland ice sheet is now shedding more ice than it is accumulating.

The melting has been recorded since 1979; scientists put the annual net loss of ice and water from the ice sheet at 300-400 gigatonnes (equivalent to a billion elephants being dropped in the ocean), which could hasten a sea level rise of catastrophic proportions.

As Hamilton has found, Greenland's glaciers have increased the speed at which they shift ice from the sheet into the ocean. Helheim, an enormous tower of ice that calves into Sermilik Fjord, used to move at 7km (4.4 miles) a year. In 2005, in less than a year, it speeded up to nearly 12km a year. Kangerdlugssuaq, another glacier that Hamilton measured, tripled its speed between 1988 and 2005. Its movement – an inch every minute – could be seen with the naked eye. |The Sermilik fjord in Greenland: a chilling view of a warming world - Guardian|(emphasis added)

What will we call Iceland after all the glaciers melt?

The Discipline of Steel

Samurai Marghe, originally uploaded by IL_Razza.

Seppuku for Pundits

Since I recently suggested that Paul Wolfowitz would committ seppuku if he had an honorable bone in his body (via Facebook), I thought I'd do some research and I found a fascinating page on the ritual of seppuku.

If he isn't going to kill himself, he should at least have the decency to shut the fuck up and not go around writing whiny articles suggesting Obama follow his example of ruining our national honor in the pursuit of some ridiculous neoconservative vision of a democratic middle east.

Of course, these four writers make the case in a much more reasonable way.

You'll have to forgive me that I'm still bitter over the catastrophe that Iraq has become. And not just for the US. We've lost many good men and women and wasted several trillion dollars in Iraq, but this pales next to the tragedy inflicted on the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have lost everything.

Even assuming that Wolfowitz's intentions were genuinely benevolent, that is not enough. At the end of the day, his policies were a humanitarian and political disaster and consequences matter when you hold yourself out as a pundit and a policy wonk.

Monday, August 24, 2009


DSC04907, originally uploaded by granitepics.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Coercive Use of Force

Whether increased Taser use is good public policy is a complex question.

Tasers essentially give law enforcement a portable cattle prod to use to obtain compliance. If you're a law and order type and think compliance with law enforcement is a good thing, then the Taser is a blessing because it's hard to argue with a Taser.

On the other hand, even if you believe in civil disobedience, a Taser is certainly more kind than a bullet, or an attack dog, or even a baton.

Pepper spray is one of my favorite weapons, but it does tend to contaminate everything in site, including the cop using it.

Cops are also highly skilled at subduing individuals with their hands as well... a lot cops in the States have played a lot of football and excel in the open field tackle, and the hands are much "softer" than these other options.

But tackling or fighting with people takes a huge physical toll on police officers over their careers and risks a "gun grab," which often leads to someone being shot.

So, I think tasers are generally beneficial to law enforcement and society.

I think the question we should be asking as a society is if we want police officers to be as coercive as they are. Police can abuse their power, but this is true with all weapons.

UK Police eye Taser Shotgun

Human Rights groups don't like taser products in general and the new Taser X12 shotgun-based module even less. The X12 is a shotgun that only loads the new XREP ammo. XREP stands for extended range electronic projectile.

Here's an image of the X12 with a single-shot pistol taser (X26) below:

But as the following article concludes, the other alternatives are even less appealing. For the UK, I can see how this is far more controversial than it is in the States.

The Brits are not used to police carrying guns and shooting suspects... which is old hat here in the US. In the US, less than lethal is decidedly better than lethal force.

But in the UK, they are weighing options that are all less than lethal, so it's a much closer question.

A new Taser that fires wireless electric shock projectiles up to 30 metres is being considered for use by UK police forces, the Home Office has confirmed.

The eXtended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP), which went on sale in the US last month, attaches itself to its target with a series of barbed electrodes and delivers a 20-second, 500 volt shock....

The Home Office confirmed it was evaluating the XREP for possible use by law enforcement in Britain. "The Home Office Scientific Development Branch are considering it as part of their ongoing remit to evaluate new less lethal technologies" a spokesman said.

Taser rejected Amnesty's concerns, saying the XREP would cause less pain when it hit than other "less lethal" impact munitions and was a safer way to immobilise someone than shooting them with live ammunition.

"The premise behind the XREP is not to cause or impart physical pain, it is to cause incapacitation," spokesman Steve Tuttle said.

"I'm not saying this is risk free: it will leave potential bruising and it could cause a contusion. But when you compare it to a traditional impact munition it will be significantly less likely to cause injury and much more accurate." |UK Police may be issued with new high-power Taser - Guardian|

PoliceOne has a BluTube video on the X12 available as well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


THE TURTLE, originally uploaded by Alice Linck.

Milk Fed Suburban Blues

So, even though I fancy myself as Safety Neal and I read all these first aid manuals and buy my cutting edge safety gear, I don't necessarily assume that I know how to survive the apocalypse.

If being smart and having a backpack was enough to survive the apocalypse, then it's not really an apocalypse.

That's why I usually cannot stand disaster movies. If the cute female love interest is going to be saved by the ruggedly handsome main character, then I'm not interested.

Or some fairy tale happy ending like The Day After Tomorrow where all the survivors are airlifted to Mexico.

Giving me a break. When the SHTF, people are going to die and get maimed and life is going to suck.

Sure, I try to stack the deck in my favor, but in reality I'm a reasonably athletic librarian, not Rambo.

At least I'll be able to pass some neat survival gear to the cannibals that eat me...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Between sky and snow

Between sky and snow, originally uploaded by Anna Kovaleva.

Repeating the Mistakes of Vietnam in Afghanistan

If you aren't reading Nightwatch, you should be.

I've absolutely no power to change any of the strategic mistakes Nightwatch identifies, but at least I won't be surprised when our foreign adventurism blows up in our face.

Afghanistan: The new NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said there is no purely military solution to Afghanistan, and to win, the core of the new NATO strategy is to provide Afghan people with better opportunities in life, to win their "hearts and minds." Rasmussen also said in several weeks NATO field commanders will submit reports on the situation, which will be used to formulate a plan on how to proceed.

NightWatch Comment: The Dane has been preaching the NATO gospel all week, but it is time to raise a red flag to the pontification about winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan. First, the hearts and minds of the Afghans in general are probably less significant as targets than ensuring the tomato harvest and bringing in the other food crops before winter without having to dodge bullets.

Second, how does a “hearts and minds” strategy work with the Durani Pashtuns vs the Ghilzai Pashtuns vs the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, gypsies, and Nuristanis plus the hundreds of clans. What makes modern people think Afghans are all cast of the same mold? They pride themselves on being the world’s greatest tribal society, according to Dupree, extolling difference not similarity.

The evidence that one idea fits all Afghans is an insult to a tribal society that was ancient and honorable before the time of Alexander the Great. There could never be one hearts and minds program for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The tribes are culturally too diverse. Ask them.

As for the Western capability to understand the hearts and minds of the pre- and semi- modern ethnic groups, history is not on the side of success. Southeast Asia after World War II featured a succession of blunders owing mostly to profound ignorance and arrogance. Events in South Asia and Palestine after World War II and Sub-Saharan African in 1960 are testaments to western misunderstanding about the importance of security over “being liked,” paid for in the lives of local populations.

Older experts, every bit as educated, insightful and sensitive as modern experts, failed to understand the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese a generation ago. The evidence is lacking that a new generation of theorists, strategists, planners, experts and generals have superior knowledge, scholarship and insight about a still more primitive people than the Vietnamese. The results of so much “human terrain” study are not apparent on the ground in Afghanistan after nine years. Expertise is never enough.

And, do serious minded people today really think the enormously complex actions of living systems are comparable to the study of geography, as implied in the term “human terrain? “

Somehow the US society at large, including the defense establishment, has forgotten the lessons of Vietnam. One judgment they forgot is that the Veterans of Vietnam universally judged the hearts and minds program of that era to be a source of ridicule and shame. And does anyone today seriously believe that all government resources were not applied to the Vietnam conflict? The US was at war then, not just the Defense Department.

It is hard for the older generation of ex- and retired soldiers and government officers to believe that their younger successors would actually “swallow” slogans as a substitute for serious problem solving. One wonders who dug up this slogan of past failure.

The NightWatch suspicion is that the politicians’ continual references to the need to win Afghan hearts and minds are a shallow strategem to deflect blame onto the NATO armed forces in the event the Afghanistan adventure miscarries. |Nightwatch|

Why Killing Insurgent Leaders Backfires

I find this analysis persuasive. Unfortunately, when the only tool the DoD has is a hammer...

NightWatch Comment: The death of Baitullah Mehsud produced a leadership gap that lasted less than 36 hours. That is the downside of decapitation tactics – billed as strategies -- against tribal insurgencies and uprisings. Decapitation has never proven to be a permanent solution that produces the destruction of a pre-modern armed opposition movement.

The western model of leadership posits that elimination of the leader collapses the opposition. That is mythology in the West as well as everywhere else. More importantly, decapitation appears to strengthen organizational commitment to the remaining leaders.

Poisoning the host, as in the Sri Lankan anecdote above, is a more durable and devastating strategy for suppressing insurgency and terrorism than decapitation because of what Professor Bob Jervis describes as Systems Effects, in his book with the same name.

A new study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace highlighted another down-side of decapitation. The author of the study pointed out that in killing the more experienced Taliban field commanders the Forces of Order denied themselves opportunities to fracture the insurgent movement, by exploiting the grounds for disagreement.

Experienced field commanders are prone to balk at unreasonable orders and break away from senior religious leaders who fail to appreciate their operational problems, responding with platitudes and suras (i.e., Quranic verses) to requests for ammunition and explosives.

On the other hand, new leaders strive to prove their loyalty to the cause, however unreasonable its directives. This results in greater organizational integrity in the short term.

Decapitation is a useful short term tactic, but no one should confuse it with a strategy. At every level of targeting wisdom the drone campaign has been an expensive, long term failure in the sense that it has produced dead men but no measurable reduction in the threat to US interests in Afghanistan or Pakistan; no reduction in the determination of anti-US fighters to die for the Taliban; no reduction in the spread of Taliban influence and attacks in Afghanistan or in the fighting in Pakistan; no disincentive to other terrorist groups in attacking pro-US interests anywhere in the world and it has made Pakistani hostility to the US nearly nation-wide. It has backfired for eight years.

In the National Security Advisor’s search for metrics, this program is a negative model. It is tempting to imagine what might have been accomplished in Afghanistan by devoting the drone resources and finances to simpler proven tactics, like bribery and good old fashioned human source intelligence work.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Worship me!

electrocution warning!, originally uploaded by iron ming.

First Aid for Electrocution Victims

Hopefully I'll never encounter an electrocution victim (much less become one) but just in case, I thought I'd check into electrocution first aid.

I like the suggestions at UMC:

Electrical shocks can stop a person's breathing or heart, and also cause burns.

If the victim is still in contact with the electricity source, be extremely careful that you don't become the next casualty. Switch off the current if you can. If this is not possible, push the person away from the electricity source using some form of insulated or non-conducting lever (a wooden chair, a broom handle). Remember that water is an extremely good conductor, so beware of wet hands, wet floors, and anything damp.

High-voltage electricity - the kind carried by power lines or railway cables - is usually instantaneously fatal. Never go near a person suffering this type of electrocution; high voltage electricity can 'arc' several meters through the air.

As soon as you have switched off the electricity or separated the victim from the faulty appliance, check for breathing and pulse, and give artificial respiration or cardiac resuscitation as necessary, place in the recovery position, and dial 911.

First Aid for Electric Shock Victims

  • Don't touch them!
  • Unplug the appliance or turn off the power at the control panel.
  • If you can't turn off the power, use a piece of wood, like a broom handle, dry rope or dry clothing, to separate the victim from the power source.
  • Do not try to move a victim touching a high voltage wire. Call for emergency help.
  • Keep the victim lying down. Unconscious victims should be placed on their side to allow drainage of fluids. Do not move the victim if there is a suspicion of neck or spine injuries unless absolutely necessary.
  • If the victim is not breathing, apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If the victim has no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Then cover the victim with a blanket to maintain body heat, keep the victim's head low and get medical attention.

First Aid for Electrical Burn Victims

Electrical burns vary in severity depending upon: (1) how long the body is in contact with the electric current; (2) the strength of the current; (3) the type of current; and (4) the direction the current takes though the body. Often these burns are deep. There may be more than one area burned. One area may be where the current entered the body and another may be where it left. Electrical burn wounds may look minor on the outside, but could be severe on the inside.

If a person has received an electrical burn, check for shock and follow the steps outlined above. If the person is conscious and there are no signs of shock (such as being cold, clammy, pale and having a rapid pulse), begin treating the burned area. Do not apply grease or oil to the burn. Cover the burn with a dry, sterile dressing, but do not cool the burn. Keep the victim from getting chilled. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Backup Bag

I thought I was a safety geek, but this guy puts me to shame.