Welcome to Jercol's Back to the Basics. This is where I will post useful information, tips, and gear reviews about what I learn about Outdoor Survival, Activities, and Disaster Preparation. My only goal is to be informative, realistic, and at least a little entertaining.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Killings and Conversations

First off, I'd like to say that I have nothing but my sincerest condolences toward the families of recent firearm violence. The crimes are horrific, horrible, and I can't imagine that kind of devastation. I'm writing this to honor the memories of the victims by trying to start a conversation about what we can do to try and curb the kind of recent crimes that have dominated the news.  Just give me to the end of the post before deciding if I'm crazy or not.

I started writing this about a week ago, after a mall shooting was all over the news, as a pure opinion piece on the Second Amendment. Then came the school shooting only days later and I realized that if I was going to write this than I wanted to do something better. I didn't want to be another talking head, spouting my opinions as if you should care or my opinions mattered. So, I want to talk about some facts that seem to be desperately missing from most of the conversations and offer some suggestions on things we can do to decrease future crimes.

This morning the news was all about the possibility of reintroducing the assault weapon ban. The politicians and news personalities were all talking about how “something needs to be done” and now might be the time to start a “real conversation about fire arm rights”.

I agree, something needs to be done, but banning or restricting firearms is a knee-jerk reaction that is highly unlikely to make any difference. It's far easier to blame the “assault rifle” than it is to try and and actually find the root causes of mass violence.

First off, if you look at the statistics, the original “Assault Gun Ban” made little to no impact on homicide rates. When the Ban expired in 2004, again it made little to no difference on homicide rates. Homicide rates have been in decline for the past 20 years, whatever the fire arm laws, and is currently as low as it was in the 1960's (FBI's Uniform Crime Review).

Secondly, if you look at the homicide rates, you're about three times more likely to be killed by a hand gun than an assault rifle. In fact, you're just about as likely to be killed with a knife as with an assault rifle (Wikipedia, Gun Violence in the United States). Are the politicians and news personalities talking about banning hand guns or knives?  

Thirdly, mass killings account for about 1/10th of 1% of all homicides in the United States (Criminologist James Alan Fox on Discovery News). Yet, look at the time spent on them in the news. Obviously, these crimes are horrific, but if you look at the news coverage you'd think that they were far more frequent than they actually are. The average murders doesn't make national news, but several at once, in an especially violent manner... that's headlines for weeks.

Fourth, Why aren't any of the above facts a factor in the conversation? Because the average situations don't make national news, they don't sell news papers or commercial time. For it to be picked up by the national news the story needs victims, lots of violence, and a bad guy, thus the focus on the “assault rifle” (it even sounds bad, perfect for TV). All of that media time means more people calling their politicians. The politicians want to be seen as doing something, so they go ahead and make some rapid policy decision, namely blame the "bad guy". The media is happy, the politicians are happy, and the general populace is satisfied that something has been done. But does any of that actually change anything?

There are already good, mostly rational laws on fire arms. Look at Connecticut, one of the recent states victimized by fire arm violence, it has some of the most restrictive laws on fire arms, and the violence still happened. Criminals and psychos are not limited by the law.

Let's look at it another way, will suicides drop if you ban pistols? Or will those people just find another way to commit suicide? It's the same with homicidal people. Will banning assault rifles stop them, or will they just find another way to commit homicide? In Japan, where fire arms are severely restricted, there is a history of mass violence with bladed weapons (I'm not going to go into the details, the crimes are horrific. If you're that morbidly curious you can look them up yourself).  The mental issues that drive these people to do horrible things will not be shrugged off just because they can't find an AR-15.

Banning or restricting fire arms will not affect violent crime or mass killings. So what can we do? What are the answers? Well, isn't that the conversation we should be having? We should be finding out the roots behind the crimes, warning signs to look for, better mental health screening, better education, better security in public spaces, quicker response time from law enforcement officers... there are literally dozens of topics that should be examined right now. By limiting the discussion to fire arms we are missing everything else.

My opinion? I think the media is largely to blame for mass killings. Sounds stupid? I've got a couple reasons.

Have you ever heard of “Suicide Contagion”? It's been studied by psychologists for years, where one suicide is covered in the media and it leads to others committing suicide. Now, the follow on suicides are often people that already have mental issues and are encouraged by the media coverage of the first to go ahead and do it themselves. The bigger the news, the more the coverage, the more it influences follow on suicides (NPR, Media Should Tread Carefully in Covering Suicide). How big a leap is it to think that a mass killing getting major coverage might influence some other mentally disturbed person to do the same? I bet there are psychologists studying this right now.

Also, if someone who already has mental issues has decided to go out in a big way, to be remembered, to make history... they see all the coverage of other grisly murders as a way to do that. That might sounds stupid but do you know who James Wilkes Booth is? Or Hitler?  Or Charles Manson? Or O.J. Simpson (even without being convicted)? Or the Unabomber?  Or Ted Bundy?  

Our society, and especially our media, makes a really big deal out of murderers. There's books, hours and hours of news stories, TV movies, big budget movies, and dozens of websites. The underlying message to the mentally ill is “I'll be a big deal if I'm a murderer, the bigger, the messier, the more disturbing, the bigger I'll be and the longer I'll be remembered”.

So, my suggestion for curbing the mass killing rate is to ban or severely limit media coverage. Ban anyone mentioning the killer's name. Erase the killer from the public record, make sure no one will ever remember them. Send the message that criminals like that don't deserve to be remembered by anyone.  No movies about them, no biographies, or true crime books.  Nothing.  Be extremely respectful of the victim's families, funerals, and their personal space. Don't release victim information, photos, or videos without express consent of the families (ban the media from paying for those things). If a family member wants to talk, that's up to them, but absolutely nothing without permission. Don't glorify the event, keep the coverage short, to the point, and move on.

In that spirit, I'm not listing any of the names or specifics on this site. Notice, I've referenced several of these events in this post without going into any detail (the only ones I mentioned were to make a point and are already infamous). I'll be the first, I don't mind.

Failing media restrictions, at the very least I want us to have a very honest, open, and thorough discussion on the topic. Maybe we can come up with some real solutions.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher

I'm a huge fan of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.  I would call them the modern day version of the James Bond books.  They're a little more graphic, a lot more violent... Ok, they're like modern James Bond movies in novel format.  The main character, Reacher, is a what you would get if you combined the genetics of  James Bond with a caveman, John Wayne, and Rambo.

If you are into well written novels that are action packed, the Reacher series is simply the best you'll find. I have the entire series, love them, and even reread them occasionally (this is a huge compliment coming from me, I almost never reread novels because I remember so much of what I read). Seriously, they are some of my all time favorites... So you can imagine my consternation when I found out Tom Cruise got the role.

Here's a description from the new Jack Reacher novel, where Reacher is trying to hitch hike at night (his normal mode of transportation):

"...he stuck out his thumb and smiled and tried to look friendly.
       Which was not easy.  Reacher was a big man, six feet five inches tall, heavily built, and that night as always he looked a little ragged and unkempt.  Lonely drivers wanted pleasant and unthreatening company, and Reacher knew from long experience that visually he was no one's first choice of companion.  Too intimidating.  And right then he was further handicapped by a freshly broken nose.  He had patched the injury with a length of silver duct tape, which he knew must make him look even more grotesque."
       ---Excerpt from Lee Child's novel, A Wanted Man: A Jack Reacher Novel

Jack Reacher is huge, implacable, violent, and yet extremely clever.  He's intimidating, scary, and that's why his enemies tend to underestimate his intelligence.

I don't get any of that from Cruise.

Yes, Cruise is a great actor, but you can't act your way into the part of a lumbering force of nature (unless you're paying to make the movie).  This is one of those few roles that requires very little acting ability; look big and scary, somewhat dark and foreboding, and dead pan the occasional clever line.  No acting required!  Big, scary, deadpan... easy!  The problem is that of those three vital traits Cruise can only get deadpan, which means having to compensate for the rest.  I'm scared of how this is going to turn out.

I was going to encourage everyone to boycott the movie but that's not fair to the author.  Lee Child deserves to get a blockbuster movie under his belt.  So, go see the movie... then go buy one of his books.  Just don't read the book first, it'll probably ruin the movie for you.

Originally, I wasn't even going to go see the movie, I didn't want Tom Cruise's face plastered on one of my favorite fictional characters.  But I've since decided that, while this might not be the Jack Reacher movie that I was looking for, it might still be entertaining in it's own right.  Kind of like the Red Dawn remake, it might not be exactly what we wanted but it might still be a decent movie if the viewer can keep out their preconceived ideas.

Even if the movie turns out alright, Tom Cruise is NOT Jack Reacher

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Couple more book reviews

I love survivalist/prepper/zombie books, I've mentioned that before.  Since my last book review post I've read a few good books, so I figured it was time to share again.

  • Apocalypse Law 1-3, John Grit.  A devastating plague wipes out a large portion of the world's population.  Nate Williams, a decorated war vet, must keep his son safe as the world around him and his remote farm gets worse and worse.  There are some good survival tips for those planning on home steading, the main character lives on a farm and does his best to keep it going to feed his son.  There is also a lot of combat, which keeps the tension and excitement up.  The third book finishes nicely but left it open to a fourth book.   I really liked these books and hope that the John Grit keeps putting them out (he has a couple of short fiction books that are also worth a read, especially Fierce Blood).
  • Joshua, John Wilson.  The economy collapses and leads to a rapid deterioration of society.  In this bad situation a young man stumbles upon a two year old boy, Joshua.  He decides to take care of the boy, despite how difficult that makes his own situation.  This is now one of my all-time favorite survival books.  Seriously, it's that good.  It's extremely well written, interesting, and with enough emotional themes to surprise and entrance even the most hardened survivalist.  The only thing that really bothered me about this story was how the main character is never named, he's just "the man", and how we know next to nothing about him.  It takes half the book to even find out what his profession was before SHTF (despite the frequent mentioning of "his training").  Honestly though, I think the author did this deliberately, taking attention away from the man to put it on the relationship with Joshua.  While mildly annoying, it does not detract much from this otherwise awesome book.
  • Path of Survival (Passion Killers, Blood Beyond the Abyss, A Dark Wind of Vengeance), David Maudlin.  During a terrible economic down turn, two hurricanes strike, and a terrorist attack damages the world's supply of oil, causing a rapid collapse of societies across the world.  These books are about several different people and their different paths to the relative 'safety' of the mountains.  There are lots of characters with intertwined story lines, a good mix of family values, action, survival, and the different ways that people deal with these stressful situations.  These are light, easy reads that are entertaining, with enough action to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.  I hope the author keeps this series going.
Those are a few of my recent reads that were good enough to pass on as recommendations.  These are all available in the kindle store and are relatively inexpensive.  Any of these would make a good addition to your reading list.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Movie Review: Red Dawn Remake

I don't normally do movie reviews, but there was so much hoopla around this one that I figured I would put in my two cents.

The first and most important thing I have to say is that if you are a big fan of the original and want a tribute movie, this movie isn't for you.  However, if you like modern action movies than you'll probably get a kick out of it.  It keeps some of the themes and ideas from the original movie but puts a new, modern, spin on the classic.  This movie is big action, over the top, lots of explosions... not real big on plot or dialogue.  So, yeah, it's another hollywood action movie.  Think "Transformers" with teenagers instead of robots.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie.  I knew it wasn't going to be as good as the original, but it was entertaining in a cheesy, explosive kind of way.

Alright, here are a few things I picked up watching the movie.  Here's a couple things that bugged me, later on I'll list a few things I liked.

I'm going to try not to spoil it too much, but if you're seeing it soon you might want to skip this:

  • There were a couple things that bugged me when it came to the time line.  There is absolutely no sense of the time that passes between the start and finish of the movie.  Is it two weeks or two months or two years?  There is a training montage, a la "Rocky" style, where the kids go from ordinary to trained killers.  Did that take two weeks or two months?  Then, when they pick up new people there is no apparent break-in period, they seemlessly join the experienced Wolverines.
  • Chris Hemsworth is too tall.  Yeah, I said it.  He's like two feet taller than everyone else in the movie.  Most people probably didn't notice or care, but he looks like a giant in several scenes.
  • Hemsworth's character gets shot too many times.  Like most modern action movies, the main character shakes off the same damage that drops his enemies in their tracks.
  • In the beginning, their old Dodge truck is apparently invincible.  It soaks up a TON of damage and keeps ticking, despite the fact that it destroys military grade trucks when it rams them.
  • At one point they jump from one building to the roof of another, about two stories down from their window.  Who does that and doesn't break anything major?  Why would you even try it?
  • At one point, the Daryl character is aiming his AK-47 at some enemies on a podium with his flip-up scope cover down.  I probably wouldn't have noticed this but they kept going to a close up of his face behind the scope, cover clearly down, multiple times.
  • Most movies I don't notice the musical score, but every time there was a speaking moment the music was really obvious.  Music during an action scene?  Cool.  But when there's an inspirational speech  with loud, inspirational music... it's just over the top.  Every time something was going on, it was obvious by the music what we were supposed to "feel".  Loud sad music?  I guess it's a sad scene.  Maybe the director didn't think the actors could pull off the scenes and over did the music to compensate.
  • The lack of opposing military technology.  They partially cover this by saying that there is an EMP style weapon that was used, so maybe that played a part in limiting the Korean's technological capabilities.  However, when everything else seems to be working; tanks, phones, trucks, aircraft... it's hard to believe that the Koreans didn't have any tech advantages up their sleeve.  Mostly there was the obvious lack of air support, especially ones with with infrared cameras.  Granted, when the Wolverines were in town than infrared wouldn't have been very useful, but when they were being hunted in the wilderness (the Koreans used dogs) one high altitude plane/helo/UAV with infrared cameras would have ended the Wolverine's streak really quickly.  Hell, one satellite and they could have tracked the Wolverines without ever tipping them off.  There was none of that.  
  • There was no examination or character development on the Korean side.  They were all pretty generic bad guys.  That's kind of expected in most big budget hollywood action movies, they don't want you to feel bad when the bad guys get torn up with .50 cal fire, or exploded.  However, it would have added some depth to the movie if there had been a bad guy glancing at a picture of his girl friend thousands of miles away, or one who felt bad about invading another country, something.

Ok, there were some good points too:

  • I liked that none of the main characters were perfect.  In fact, the main characters weren't even all that likeable.  It wasn't a case of hollywood creating the 'perfect' good guy with no character flaws, these characters all made mistakes, had temper tantrums, and were honestly annoying at times.  Those traits made the movie better than most modern action movies.
  • The actors were all pretty good.  I mean, there isn't a heavy acting burden in modern action flicks, but they got the job done without being distracting.  It was all pretty straight forward.  I was honestly surprised that Hemsworth did so well, he had probably the most nuanced role and played it well.
  • There's lots of action.  LOTS.  They rush through the non-action scenes, which might bother some people (ie. the training montage), but the action scenes were exciting and frequent.
  • There were some tribute moments where they directly or indirectly tipped their hat to the original.  I'm sure you'll recognize them when you see them (if it's been a while, it might not be a bad idea to watch the original before you see the remake just so you can appreciate them).
  • It puts a modern spin on Red Dawn: one of the main characters is an Iraq war vet (gives the whole teenagers successfully fighting trained soldiers slightly more credibility), it does a decent version of modern guerilla warfare, and it has far more urban combat than the original (I consider that points toward realism since so much of the population lives in cities these days).  It stuck to the ideas and themes while managing to update the time frame.
  • It has a couple good twists, if you're expecting it to strictly follow the original storyline you will be in for a few surprises.
  • I liked the how the movies ends.  It felt like it wrapped up well and I liked the last scenes (the music was annoying, but I already mentioned that).  Die hard fans of the original will probably hate this ending since it's wrapped up with a pretty bow compared to the original, but I've already said that you have to go into this one with an open mind.  The original will always be a classic, this movie won't be, but it does have some good moments on it's own.

So, if you managed your way through all of that, it was a decent movie as long as you weren't expecting the original.  There were a couple of things I didn't like, but I could say that about any movie these days.  On it's own Red Dawn was entertaining in a big budget hollywood kind of way.  If you liked movies like Transformers and GI Joe (the style, not the quality), fast paced, lots of action, and explosions, than you'll probably get a kick out of the new Red Dawn.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Homeopathic remedies

So, this is kind of weird story and it's a little embarrassing but I learned something that I figured I would pass on.  Not one of my proudest posts, but maybe the topic will make up for the content.

At some point during my travels over the past couple months I picked up a particularly stubborn fungus.  We're all familiar with athlete's food, jock itch, swimmers ear... we've all had it before, it's usually not a big deal.  However, this was something different.

This weird fungus I picked up was very specific and especially resistant to treatment.  It was only on the pads of my fingers and absolutely nothing I tried even slowed it down.  Within a week or so every finger tip had at least some peeling skin and it was getting pretty bad in places.  I tried every over the counter cream and powder I could find.  That over the counter stuff?  Two weeks of nothing other than watching it make mince meat out of my hands.

Finally, I got so frustrated that I googled anti-fungal homeopathic remedies.  I have nothing against homeopathic but I usually try the over the counter stuff first (when that takes care of the problem, I usually don't have to move on to the homeopathic stuff).   This was such a weird case, I wasn't sure what would work and what would just make it worse.

The most common advice I found?  Soak in vinegar.  The vinegar is so aggressive that it kills most of the fungus and creates a hazardous environment for the rest.  I soaked each hand for about 30 minutes a night.

Holy **** did that work.  Three nights of soaking my hands in vinegar made a drastic improvement.  Immediately, I could tell that it stopped progressing and the damage started to heal.  Three days!  I kept it up another couple days to make sure it was all gone, but it certainly did the trick.

Modern medicine fail, natural medicine win.  One more reason to get a natural remedies book or two to add to the library.

Now, it most survival situations people will be wearing boots or shoes or socks (and underwear) for long periods of time, questionable hygiene, fungus will be a problem.  With how common vinegar is, keeping it in mind as a remedy might just keep you whole in the long run.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Airplane Survival Kit: Pics

After my last trip out of state I spent a lot of time thinking about making a better airline kit.  I haven't seen much information on the forums or on the sites about them, so I figured I would work on my own.

This is what the basic kit looks like.  The main bag is in my new Camelbak Mule 3L.  To the right is a good pair of walking shoes, to the left is a Columbia fleece jacket and a good Camo shell jacket to go over. I also made sure to bring good clothes, not pictured.  Clothes will vary a lot depending on what area you're going to, that's why I didn't put much emphasis on them here.  Also, one would hope that you bring appropriate clothing to begin with, whether or not you're building a kit.

Hat, gloves, two jackets, neck gator, pack above, Nalgene bottle...

Stainless steel bottle cup, extra pack strap, water purification drops, flashlight, extra batteries, Buck folder, Gerber multi-tool, 40ft of cordage, first aid kit (a simple one: neosporin, alcohol wipes, ibuprofin, asprin, antihistamines, gauze, bandages, good tape), duct tape x2 (without the tube they're the size of a AA battery), chapstick x2 (for lips and fire starting), emergency blanket, waterproof matches, Camelbak Tabs (electrolytes), flint and steel.  I didn't have a poncho, I need to add one or a small tarp for shelter building.  Also not shown, extra socks/underware, other clothes.

One of my discoveries that led to making this kit was the cool folding flint, steel, and magnesium fire starter I found at a local hiking store.  It folds and fits into a small pouch, it was fairly expensive ($30), but is very nice quality from a company in Alaska called Kodiak.  Folded and in the pouch it's not too big, about the size of my thumb.

The second discovery that led to this kit was a pre-made emergency kit by the same hiking store.  It's a simple emergency kit that they fit into a Nalgene bottle.  It was a decent but meant only for short term outdoor emergencies (granola bar, emergency blanket, first aid kit, gauze and tape, water purification drops, and 10ft of cord).  I thought this was such a cool idea that I picked one up and then modified it.

One of my biggest concerns with the Airline kit was how to package it and keep the different items from being damaged in my checked bags and not taking up too much space.  The Nalgene bottle was a really good idea, nearly all of the smaller items fit inside the bottle, with the cup fitting on the bottom.  The Camelbak tabs, first aid kit, knives and multi-tool were the only small items that didn't fit inside.  Then, I used my neck gator as packing at the top to keep everything from rattling around.

With the 3L bladder collapsed, and with the added bottle, that gives me an easily packed 4 liters of capacity. The clothes, shoes, and jackets I was already packing, so that's nothing extra.  I used the Camelbak Mule pack as a carry on along with my laptop bag, so overall this kit added very little to my pack out but added a lot of capability.

For those of you with travel plans, I hope this gives you some ideas.  Thoughts or suggestions always welcome, as usual.

I Think I Pulled it a Little...

I recently purchased a scout scope for my Ruger Gunsite Scout.  You might remember my previous posts on the GSS (Range Review, The Scout Rifle Concept, and Some Thoughts on Caliber).  I love my Gunsite Scout, it shoots great and it's pretty...  What more is there to ask for?

I got my new Leupold FX-II Scout 2.5x28mm today and simply had to go to the range.  I sighted it in, put a couple magazines through it at 50 yards, and eventually moved the target out to 100 yards.  As usual, I had a blast.

Well, when I did my post about Calibers I was really surprised when the .308 did less damage to my wooden target frame than .38sp.  I figured that the velocity of the .38 was lower and therefore it expanded quicker when it hit the wood (small entry, big exit), the .308 had so much more velocity that it passed through the wood before having time to expand (small entry, small exit).  (I'm sure there are some people with far more knowledge than me, there could be a completely different explanation)

Well, every once and a while we throw a shot.  It happens.  You pull the trigger and almost immediately you're thinking "Shit..."  You chamber another and keep going.

Well, this is the result of a shot I F'd up at 100 yards.  It might not do so much damage to wood but, yeah, .308 packs a punch.

I use four of these steel clamps to hold the cardboard target to the wooden frame.  One of the shots I threw caught one of them.

Wham, bam, thank you ma'am, that's four bucks down the drain.

The only complaint I have with this Leupold is that, for me, at longer ranges I would not mind a little more magnification.  At 100 yards the 2.5 magnification is better than iron sites but not by much.  I wouldn't want to try shots much further than that.  A scout scope with the option to dial in a little higher would be nice if those longer shots are necessary.

Other than that, the .308 is obviously enough lead for the job if you don't pull your shots.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Scout Rifle Concept

If you're unfamiliar with the scout rifle concept I'm going to go over some of the basics.  For more information there are dozens of other sites out there that can give you more details.

Basically, Jeff Cooper (a legend in the rifle world), came up with a general purpose rifle concept.  The idea is to have a light weight rifle that's easy to carry, bolt action, accurate, and can quickly and humanely kill anything within sight.  The concept also included a forward mounted "extended eye relief" scope.  

These scout scopes are usually only magnified 2-4x, and works kind of like an early incarnation of the red dot site.  You keep both eyes open, put the rifle to your shoulder, and you're almost immediately on target.  With both eyes open you keep your peripheral vision, you can track moving targets quicker.  It's very fast, that's the idea. 

(Ruger Gunsite Scout with Scout Scope)

Probably the most true-to-concept rifle mass produced is the Ruger Gunsite Scout.  Gunsite is the organization founded by Jeff Cooper, they collaborated with Ruger to make a rifle to fit Cooper's specifications.  Gunsite held a show and tell with the rifle and dozens of Rifle reviewers showed up.  The videos are very cool and describe the rifle and the concept very well.
Here are the videos put out by Gun Talk TV:

A lot of people think that the Scout Rifle is a pointless idea, that it compromises too much.  To be decent at a lot of things means it's isn't really good at anything.  It's not a sniper rifle, it's not a hunting rifle, it's always somewhere in the middle.  

However, for people like me that think the idea of a 'general purpose' rifle is a good one, the Ruger GSS or similar scout platforms are definitely worth a look.  And yes, this would make a good Bug Out rifle, or one **** of a zombie killer.