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First World Problem: Antique Arms Collectors Now Face Mostly Fakes

This headline is probably ho-hum to most people, at best.

To others, it is a “here we go again, another whine-fest by history buffs who spend their money badly on old rusty junk.”

But if you are indeed a history buff with a penchant for old weapons, both edged and those that go BOOM, you may be interested in this post.

My opinion is that most antique weapons collectors are facing an overwhelming amount of fakes.

Much more so with Japanese swords, so let’s discuss them first.

Used to be that finding a Gendaito blade was unusual; maybe one or two a year. Now, you go on eBay and find the same several sellers conveying dozens of them annually. Wakizashis, katanas, even various sized dirks and tantos etc.

These must all be fakes, as there simply were not this many Gendaito blades in existence before Chinese smiths began to create them in about 2011.  Having watched these counterfeits move at an ever brisker pace, I simply feel sad. At some point the uninformed collectors will discover their money has been taken for what is a very good reproduction that is probably worth a thousand bucks, simply because it is that good of a copy. But it ain’t real.

Smith-made (hand made art blades) Shinto blades also fall into this counterfeiting scam by the hundreds annually. Again, there simply were not as many of these blades surviving WWII as there are now for sale on eBay.

With guns, it is harder to fake than a sword, because a gun is obviously a gun. A Winchester 1873 is a Winchester 1873, and its condition usually dictates its value.

What makes some gun values go crazy high are rare or historic marks (the ubiquitous spurious stage coach markings on rabbit eared double shotguns being the best example), which can be easily faked by anyone with good control of a metal punch. This is true fakery and it is an area most collectors know about and do more diligence about.

But let’s talk about the area where it is harder to see what has happened, and harder to call it fakery, though it is: The collectible antique sporting rifles.

Demand is high for antique sporting rifles, because their modern day equivalents cost about $35,000 to start and easily get to $100,000 and much, much higher. So in that context, it “makes sense” to pay $5,000 to $20,000 for an antique sporting firearm that functions as it should, rather than several times that amount for a brand new one that goes BOOM just like or nearly like the old one.

Antique sporting rifles are getting lots and lots of makeovers, both in England and here in America. They are marketed at auction and on websites as having been “period upgraded” or “period refurbished” (say from the 1870s to 1930s), when in fact they were very recently “tarted up” by a gunsmith to heighten their attractiveness to unknowing, unquestioning collectors.

I recently purchased – and immediately returned – such a rifle.

Oh it was a rare dandy, and looking past the hyperbole on the well-known seller’s website, which included an obviously fraudulent claim of “original condition,” there was still a fine gun that could take an American bison or a grizzly. If it worked the simple way a rifle should work, it was the gun of a lifetime. In a rare, hard-hitting caliber that I wanted.

So, I busted a move on it.

After joking on the phone with the salesman about the obviously fake claims of original condition, the seller and I eventually reached agreement on price, and the gun arrived in a couple days. Right out of its original 1895 leather and brass case with the original owner’s name and military rank on it (God, what a case!), the red flags were popping up: Improperly refinished wood had pulled the stock away from the receiver, leaving the stock to accept the heavy recoil on only one side.This meant the stock would crack soon after use.

A punch mark on the barrel lump was testimony to the cheap and meaningless effort to temporarily tighten the otherwise loose action. The list of el cheapo work went on. Yes, the bores were immaculate, but the fact is that this gun had been recently “tarted up” for re-sale, and it had been worn down quite a bit recently. Worn down more by the nature of its heavy caliber than by any misuse by previous owners.

Had the seller simply disclosed these facts, I might have made a more informed decision, and he would have received less money. We would have had full disclosure and an honest exchange. But within 48 hours of receiving it, I drove the gun all the way back to the sales room, three hours away, where the sales manager and the business owner tried to talk me out of the return. The refund check arrived ten days later, with none of the additional costs I incurred like shipping, transfer, gunsmith evaluation etc. They knew full well what had been done to that gun, and they simply got caught, and they punished me by withholding cash they should have covered.

This is one of the big names in high end gun sales.

Today I am looking at another uncommon rifle on a well known auction site. The gun has clearly been recently overhauled for re-sale. The wood finish is as bright and shiny as the new wood floor in a brand new home. The metal finishes look like they were done weeks ago, and not the 117 years ago that is the actual age of the gun. Yet it is marketed as having a “period” refurbish. Rubbish! Nonsense! Buyer be super aware!

This is not total fakery, as no fake numbers or markings have been punched into the metal or wood. Custer did not purportedly grasp this gun as he fell at the Little Big Horn.

Instead, until a few months ago, this gun’s metal parts were probably a mix of silvered and plum finishes, the welcome, honest patinas of hundreds of days afield in India or Africa, or the Scottish Highlands, chasing big game in the hands of a British, Indian, or Scottish Man of Importance. Until months ago, the wood probably looked like hell, was beat to hell, dented, dinged, and scratched, each a story in itself. Not any more! Now it looks so fake and shiny it about blinds the eye.

Shame, too, because under the fakery is a really cool gun.

Apparently the sellers believe that hiring “gunsmiths” to do quick and dirty upgrades to these collectible old sporting arms is more important than selling the actual honest gun, with its actual original wear and condition.

This means the sellers have gullible buyers who ascribe too much weight to new and fresh appearance, when the opposite is true: An original condition gun that has not been butchered or fooled with by a modern day “gunsmith” is actually more valuable.

The key to fending off the faking is educating new gun collectors and buyers to understand this fact: Fresh, new looking antique guns have been shined up to turn them into shiny objects. Don’t be a foolish fish and bite on them, unless you recognize a) what they are, and b) there are probably problems covered up by the new “improvements” that would have been addressed 100 years ago, but are now papered over, and thus, you are not getting what you paid for.

And as for the Japanese swords out there on eBay, man, what can be said? Be super wary. Ask yourself simple questions about production numbers, survivor numbers, and then answer your own question: How on earth is this one seller repeatedly finding so many of these should-be rare swords? Is every American veteran selling his prized Japanese sword to just these few dealers?

You know the answers to these questions. Run away, and hold on to your money.

In closing, buyer beware. Because there are gullible collectors willing to part with their money, there are unscrupulous sellers willing to sell them things that simply cannot be true. It behooves the smart man to ask the simple questions before biting.

Good luck and be patient!

Turkey Time

And now it is officially Turkey Time, the beginning of the Pennsylvania spring gobbler season.

A gobbler is a turkey that gobbles, which is nearly always a bearded male. Sorry, there are few transgendered turkeys in the wild, and those rare females (hens) who do grow a beard are just as much a target as the males. No artificial PC protections here!

Spring gobbler hunting is one of the lowest pay-off hunts possible, in terms of harvested birds, with success rates somewhere in the high single digits to low double digits. That’s a range of 9-15% success, which means about 85% to 91% of turkey hunters will hang up their shotgun and camo at the end of May without having put a harvest tag on a bird.

Not that hunters won’t shoot turkeys, oh occasionally they will. The question is whether or not the turkey knows it has been shot and decides to die in a place where the hunter can bring it to hand. Wild turkeys are exceptionally tough creatures, and with their tiny pea-sized brains, they can be difficult to actually kill, though shot. A friend of mine “rolled” a turkey at 6:10 am Saturday morning, two days ago, watching it fall over, flop around, and then suddenly stand up, run away, and then fly away. Long gone. It has happened to me, too.

When that happens, the hunter feels awful, for the bird, for himself, for his sense of capability. But like a coyote getting a mouthful of feathers after carefully stalking and ambushing a wild turkey, occasionally we human hunters get just a moment of opportunity and then blow it, too, as all predators must.

Turkey hunting is tough and low-yield not just because the birds are physically tough and can withstand being shot, but mostly because they make up for their low intelligence with a warp-speed sense of wariness.

Turkeys can see through concrete, my old friend John Plowman said.

While that statement is obviously untrue, it is a truism that experienced turkey hunters agree with. Somehow, wild turkeys possess eyesight and hearing so acute that it seems like X-Ray vision and NSA- quality listening capabilities. They bust hunters at every turn, at far distances, even when the hunter has done everything right: Concealment, calling, gun preparation, etc.  So even the best turkey hunters, who are seemingly magical beings themselves, because their understanding of turkey biology and habits is so good, can get skunked or go a long time before harvesting a bird.

Of course, it must be said the real harvest from turkey hunting is not tagging a bird. Rather, it is the time afield. Time watching the sunrise, listening to the sounds of the forest and field slowly awaken, listen to the sounds of people moving from sleep into active, and so on. And Spring time is a great time to watch the natural world’s most subtle beauties, accomplished by either time lapse photography or by sitting motionless up against a large oak tree for several hours, and taking note of rare wildflowers slowly emerging from under leaf litter, or watching a walking stick bug moving at a snail’s pace along a blueberry bush.

In the frenetic hustle and bustle of today’s American life, we typically rely on naturalists and professional photographers to capture these moments for us.

Turkey hunters go afield at 4:30 am, and discover these hidden other worlds ourselves.

Turtle Time

It is officially turtle time.

Every spring turtles of all types emerge from their muddy hideaways, under stream banks, under logs, or burrowed deep into the soft dirt on the side of a farm field.

Turtles are gentle creatures, hurting no one, and yet when they make themselves vulnerable by appearing on the sides of roads, or trying to cross roads, many drivers go out of their way to hit them. Seems obvious to say, a turtle hit by a vehicle will either die a long, lingering, painful death, or if they are small, they will be crushed outright.

What the hell is that about, anyway?

Seeing these sad, destroyed, dead little things strewn about on the roadsides is painful. Turtles really bother no one, and they should elicit human compassion and empathy for their slow but intense drive to find a safe and soft place to dig a hole and lay their eggs. It is not their fault that humans have built uncrossable roads with no wildlife tunnels, or that some humans delight in maiming little animals.

Please slow down along Front Street in Susquehanna Township and entering into Harrisburg, and give the turtles there a break. After millions of years of moving slowly, purposefully, and deliberately, they have earned it.

A Flyers’ Bill of Rights

If you fly on planes to get long distances, then you know the experience has changed dramatically over the past fifteen years. Ever since 2001, flyers have become suspects, meals have been removed, and it is no longer a fun or exciting experience.

The reduction of personal space allotted to seats, i.e. the increase in the number of seats per plane without increasing the size of the plane, has made it a much more cramped experience.

For most people, flying has become a tense and uncomfortable undertaking.

With United Airlines’ recent assault on the most innocent and gentle Dr. Dao, who suffered a concussion and knocked out teeth because he dared to sit in the seat he had purchased on a United Airlines plane, a national discussion has begun.

This discussion is about what rights do passengers have, and what duties do airlines have.

Shouldn’t passengers have lots of rights?

Shouldn’t airlines have lots of duties to their paying customers?

If the way its staff treat its passengers, United Airlines is an especially poorly run company and is downright dangerous for the passengers. Go online and search out “United Airlines violence passengers” and you will see plenty of videos of innocent flyers who have been targeted by rude, impatient, bullying stewardesses, captains, and other flight staff. The smallest of perceived slights often result in the flight staff accusing the passenger of being “disruptive.”

March in the muscle, and beat the hell out of the person who paid for their seat and wanted to stay there.

United Airlines has cultivated a culture of viciousness against its own flyers.

So much for flying the friendly skies!

Two weeks ago United Airlines booted a just-married couple headed to South America for their honeymoon. The facts are all on the side of the couple. They encountered an especially crabby stewardess who was having a bad day, could not control herself, and who picked a fight with the couple. Even when the couple retreated to their seats and cowered, the stewardess was unrelenting. She was on a power trip.

Other airlines have the same kinds of problems, though not nearly as violent as United Airlines, and thus has the demand begun for a flyer’s bill of rights.

Here is a try:

Declaration One: If a passenger buys a seat on a plane, and arrives there during the seating period, then the passenger is entitled to stay in that seat the duration of the flight.

There can be no bait-and-switch by airlines. If they sell you a seat, then that is your seat.

Declaration Two: Airlines cannot compel passengers to leave their seats for “overbooking.”

Overbooking is gross incompetence, or criminal theft, where the airline tries to hedge its potential losses by taking on more passengers than it has seats for on a plane, and then blames the paying passengers for having bought a seat. The airline then engages in all kinds of bribery and threats. This is where the sad Dr. Dao got tripped up and professionally beaten to a pulp.

Declaration Three: Airline staff who falsely accuse passengers shall be charged with felony assault and shall pay treble damages to said passenger.

One of the classic tricks these evil airline staff do is start a dispute with a passenger, and then blame the passenger. They accuse them of being “disruptive.” A flight passenger is in a precarious and especially vulnerable position. When flight staff exploit that weakness and falsely accuse the passenger, a bright line separating civilization from barbarism has been crossed. The right kinds of disincentives have to be created to dissuade flight staff from acting like petty tyrants, and to behave professionally.

These declarations might sound simple and obvious, but apparently the law of the jungle is not working on our airplanes right now, and we have to start somewhere to reintroduce basic human rights and civility.

And to think that when I was a kid I looked forward to getting on a plane!

UPDATE April 22: Now American Airlines has new video and still photos of a flight attendant gone wild, a burly man who hit a passenger, a mother carrying twin babies. He hit her on her head with the metal stroller her kids had been in, and then he challenged other passengers who objected to fight him, and then threatened to have them thrown off the plane. Folks, what we are seeing is the result of too much leeway, responsibility, and decision making being given to people with no background, experience, or training to handle it. As a result, the powertripping opportunities and ego rushes take over, and these flight attendants go bananas on people who are literally flying from one end of the earth to the other. We deserve a Passenger Bill of Rights.

Book Review: Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook 4th Edition, Data Rifle Handgun Calibers Molds

My apologies up front to the authors, but this is a disappointing book, sorry to say. The good news is there is an obvious need for a fifth edition that addresses the deficiencies.

Despite its title, this is not a handbook about cast bullets.

It is first and foremost a handbook about Lyman reloading products.

Second, it is a long listing of popular pistol and rifle round dimensions, as cast in an undefined lead alloy (probably linotype alloy, judging by that alloy’s popularity in the book).

Beyond that this book is a random assortment of poorly structured and brief, incomplete descriptions of elements of lead bullet casting. I hate to do this, but here are some specific criticisms:

1) It has few European cartridges and no (British, German, Swedish, Austrian, French) Black Powder Express calibers. This is a gaping hole in any case, but especially in light of the tremendous upsurge in interest in BPE rifles.

2) Nothing about paper patching, which has seen a resurgence because it works very well, and a lot of, if not most 1870s-1890s black powder guns in America and Europe shot paper patch cast lead bullets.

3) Unbelievably lame and incomplete lead alloy list, missing critical and most practical field-use characteristics for each alloy. When I purchased this book new, I was expecting some discussion of the relative merits of pure lead, 50:1, 40:1, 30:1, 20:1, 16:1, and 12:1 lead alloys, and perhaps a discussion of their different purposes i.e. thin skinned or thick skinned game, at what ranges, their hardness and weight out of the same mould relative to one another, plain base vs. gas check, etc. There are some lead alloys that are predominant or most popular (40:1, 20:1, 16:1) among reloaders, because they are very practical, cheap, easy to make, easy to cast. There is zero recognition of this simple fact here. Instead the authors treat us to their own narrow interest in very hard Linotype alloy, which of course has its use on the toughest big game, but my gosh, gentlemen, there is a whole world out there of LEAD.

4) Lots of wasted pages and space on scientific nonsense about melting lead. I have a graduate degree in statistics and economics, which indicates I can think hard and well when I have to, and I have a lot of interest in the subject of casting lead bullets (and sinkers, and jigs). And yet, I still fell asleep after the first paragraph about the physics of melting lead. This section is unreadable, as well as pointless and useless for practical lead casters.

5) Very little is written about mould types or materials i.e. relative merits of bronze vs. brass vs. iron vs. steel, or should we use the antique moulds or have new ones made, or how to care for moulds, single block vs. split block, etc. This is a huge subject as more and more mould makers have come on line all over America and Canada to meet the strong demand for custom bullet moulds, each offering their own preference of mould material.

6) Nothing about the Ideal tool, which is also becoming popular again, i.e. how do you properly store and travel with your paper patched bullets, so you can load them on-site?

7) It is pre-Internet, although an Appendix is roughly tacked on promoting certain Lyman wares and suppliers available on the Web.

8) Finally, adding insult to injury, the cover contradicts the text. The primary author describes how he ladle – pours with the spout right in the mould pour-hole. Yet the cover shows a dramatic looking stream of molten lead leaving the ladle and landing in the mould some distance below. And that right there summed it up for me: The cover shows one thing, the text describes another. I am frustrated and disappointed by this book, and so I rank it at the very bottom of reloading books.  And yes, I have been shooting black powder since I was a kid, so I know of which I speak. Frankly, you can get much better, more useful, more accurate, more up-to-date information from the guys at various web pages (castboolits, nitro etc.) than you will get from this book.

How sad this is. But as noted, if the authors address these concerns, the next edition should be truly a bible on cast bullets.

 

Ooh-ooh, that smell

Dedicated readers of this site might wonder why we are not commenting about the lameness of a political party that filibusters everything in the US Senate, used “the nuclear option” themselves to advance the most radical and extreme federal judges and political appointees from 2010 to 2015, but which now is screaming bloody murder that the other political party followed their lead, did exactly what they did with the Senate rules, and allowed a simple majority vote to confirm the next US Supreme Court justice (Gorsuch) yesterday.

Why would a normal, healthy person spend time on that issue? It is obviously quite insane. One political party is dominated by people with an agenda that does not fit in with America’s political model. Would you normal people please stop supporting the Democrat Party, until its leadership is replaced with normal, mainstream Americans?

Instead, this essay here takes a line from a Lynyrd Skynyrd song about drug abuse, “Oooh-ooh that smell.”

This is about a daily personal health issue that seems to be unknown and unaddressed, despite having a real effect on Americans across the country. If you care about your health, read on.

We Americans are so addicted to cheap Chinese junk (tools, food, clothing, furniture, shoes, tires) that we shop ever more in big box stores filled to the brim with that cheap Chinese junk.  Or buy from Amazon, which imports from China by the shipful.

And when you enter the doorway of these big box stores, you are confronted with an odd, sickly sweet smell associated with the vast majority of Chinese manufacturing: Formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is used to pickle human remains for wakes and open casket funerals. It is used to stash scientific specimens in glass containers, so they will not rot, so they can be viewed and studied.

Formaldehyde is dangerous, toxic, and both acutely and chronically dangerous. And yet Americans work around hugely elevated amounts of formaldehyde in these ubiquitous big box stores, and Americans shop daily in these same places, all blissfully unaware that they are inhaling a significant amount of nasty chemical.

The formaldehyde you smell in the store is off-gassing from the consumer items sitting in cardboard boxes on the store shelves. This chemical permeates everything made in China, and there is so much of it that for years it keeps leaking out of the plastics, fabrics, and woods sent here, which we then put in our homes and garages as furniture and tools.

You are worried about ambient cigarette smoke? Cut us a break! Exposure to air-borne formaldehyde in these amounts is far worse for the human body, far riskier than the occasional cigarette, as is standing on a street corner in down town Manhattan, waiting for a street light to change, for that matter, because of all the ozone, particulates, and sulfur/ carbon dioxide/monoxide smog.

But nothing is being done about ambient formaldehyde risk, because it is associated with too much money and economic activity. And it is invisible, except to the nose.

There are no sexy prohibitionist crusades about ambient formaldehyde like there is with tobacco use (an upcoming subject here).  And yet take a good whiff the next time you go to a big box store. That weird sickly sweet smell is formaldehyde. Your lungs are getting a free embalming when you enter.

Note: If we bought American products, made in USA facilities where formaldehyde is not allowed to be used, then we would not be exposed to it when we went shopping. But we are like drug addicts, addicted to cheap Chinese junk, to our own detriment.

Coach Joe Paterno Vindicated

While there is a lot to learn from the Penn State – Jerry Sandusky debacle, such as adults should do common sense things, and adults should not rush to judgment, etc., there is one thing that has emerged from the recent trials involving former PSU president Graham Spanier and former assistant football coach Mike McQueary (who just hours ago won yet more millions of dollars from Penn State): Coach Joe Paterno was totally innocent.

Recall that legendary head football coach Joe Paterno was wrongly blamed for the actions and then results of past assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s mass child molesting ways. The whole thing was correctly a shock, but everyone who was around Sandusky was blamed. Hell, I think the board of trustees even tried to blame a janitor, no lie. The infamous Louis Freeh report was issued, one of the great works of bad fiction, and Joe Paterno was summarily fired.

The man had devoted himself to Penn State, to the improvement of college sports, to the improvement of college athaletics, to the novel idea that a gifted college athlete could also receive a quality education and go on to have a meaningful and successful career after college football, including (gasp) those athletes who did not make it into the NFL.

This is novel, because 99.8% of college football teams are like puppy mills, where young men are used up in a short term quest for wonderful ratings and glamour. It’s a pile of crap and it is wrong. Only Coach Joe Paterno and a couple others (Coach Lou from Notre Dame, of course) stood against that sick tide.

And that is why Coach Joe Paterno was pilloried in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.

Not because Paterno had done anything wrong, by act or by omission, but because he stood so far above everyone else around him. As college sports standards sank lower and lower, Joe stood for old fashioned values like hard work, earning your way, mentorship, patriotism, community, and all the other quaint values and ideas that are passe when so much money and fame are to be made.

So Paterno was fired early into the Sandusky scandal, by a spineless PSU board of trustees scared of its own shadow and lacking in the bravery and honesty that had marked Joe’s entire life, when he answered his front door on a weekend morning.

The results of this week’s trials are a kind of trial of Joe Paterno in absentia. Had Spanier been found guilty of certain charges, then one might have been able to ascribe the same guilt to Joe. And had PSU prevailed against Coach McQueary, and not lost for the umpteenth time, each time costing PSU millions of dollars, then one might have been able to say that PSU was right in firing Joe because he had failed to act when learning that Sandusky was a monster.

But none of that happened. Yes, this week Spanier was found guilty of the misdemeanor of child endangerment. Given that everyone on Planet Earth now knows the facts surrounding this, this makes sense.

What does not make sense is how Paterno’s great name has not been cleared.

Fact: Paterno called Spanier on a Sunday morning, having heard from McQueary the night before that Sandusky was seen raping a little boy in the football locker room.

Fact: Spanier then went on to hush it all up because of his fear of bad press. Fact: Spanier is a slime; hell, we could tell that just by his appearance and demeanor. But it is now official.

And it is also official that McQueary was a good guy and did what he was supposed to do.

What has not yet been made official is that Coach Joe Paterno remains one of the best human beings to have ever played a role in American sports, and he was wrongly accused, wrongly persecuted, wrongly terminated, and wrongly maligned even after his death.

This week’s court results vindicate Coach Joe Paterno’s good name and reputation.

Now put his damned statue back up and name Old Main after him.

A mighty wind

Astute followers of weather may have noticed the past few years have been marked by strong winds, each and every year. Usually around seasonal changes. Really strong winds. Howling.

Silly people will jump to the conclusion that this is yet more evidence of “global warming,” or “climate change,” because God knows, everything that happens is “evidence” for these theories, no matter what.

But the truth is actually much more interesting and compelling. The cause of these winds is Planet Earth’s changing polarity.

Our planet’s magnetic polarity switches every 100,000 years, or so, give or take.

This means that what is now the North Pole becomes the South Pole, and vice versa.

The magnetic field surrounding our planet is responsible for our existence here, because it provides a shield against cosmic rays and radiation, including from our own sun. Mars was once a watery oasis, a lot like Earth, but when its magnetic shield weakened, solar radiation stripped the planet’s surface of water and everything else needed for life. Including its atmosphere.

Because Earth’s magnetic shield is so strong, we survive. However, our magnetic shield is weakest when the polarity shifts. It’s like trying to walk when you’ve bent over with your pants around your ankles…you can kind of shuffle forward, but you won’t be winning any running or walking competitions.

As a result of our weakened magnetic shield, it is kind of like Star Wars ship-to-ship fighting scenes, where some of the laser bolts get through and kind of rock the ship. It is alarming, but not really damaging.

Oh, people can be damaged by the unusually strong sun’s rays, if they are out without clothes. But we already know that is foolish behavior.

But more than anything is the effect on our climate, and the resulting winds. Though it is not totally understood, the increased heat and solar radiation on our planet’s surface definitely causes temperatures to rise, and it can cause what feels like rough weather, though it is probably relatively calm compared to other planets.

There is nothing we can do about this polarity shift, and the resulting mighty winds, other than batten down the hatches and try to adapt.

More than anything, watching this happen reminds us of how tenuous life on Planet Earth is, and what a narrow window it was that opened to permit us to move forward technologically and materially.  We have perhaps foolishly built high rise buildings and overhead power lines during a relatively narrow window of relative calm, but it is what it is. We cannot go back over all our infrastructure and rebuild it, though we are seeing the benefits of buying up private property along floodways to prevent further material destruction.

With these strong winds, we are just going to have to get used to them, and hope the polarity shift doesn’t poop out halfway through. Because then we’d all become Martians.

 

 

Conservation vs Environmentalism

After decades of environmentalism, many Americans are burnt out on the movement’s constant sky-is-falling hype and never-ending Defcon 5 emergency messaging. Environmentalists’ craving for full control of our every motion and breath understandably scares the daylights out of normal Americans.

Though environmentalism is sold as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition by its proponents, the truth is that it represents an unnecessarily confrontational and expensive approach to environmental and public health, with misplaced priorities and unmeasurable outcomes.

Simply put, Environmentalism is the over-reliance upon government coercive force, command-and-control, one-size-fits-all sledgehammer policies to problems that might require a screwdriver, if needing anything at all.

The premise behind environmentalism is that mere daily acts of human existence are pitted against a static natural environment that must be defended at all costs, in the face of change being this planet’s biggest constant. Un-anointed humans are vermin in environmentalism.

Oh, sure, pollution and environmental destruction from human activity do exist: Over-fishing of the shared oceans is resulting in catastrophic population reductions of the most valuable fish (tuna, sharks, some salmon). Low-density residential development and warehousing goes up on our flattest, best, most fertile farmlands while national food security is an ever growing concern. Where will we grow our own clean food, if not on our best farmland closest to our largest population centers? Preventing water pollution is a constant effort. And certain chemicals were not vetted properly, with the burden of proof placed on the hapless citizenry before they were discovered to pose unacceptable health risks.

Republican President Richard Nixon said it best: “What a strange creature is man, that he fouls his own nest.” This is just being honest, though the very people most radicalized about environmental issues are also and equally fouling our collective nest with their own reliance on cars, iPhones, and hip clothing. They aren’t special. In fact the most “special” among them have their own personal jets and huge cars and boats with daily carbon footprints the size of small towns. Hypocrisy has a way of passively degrading and delegitimizing people, and that has happened with environmentalism’s biggest messengers, like Al Gore, Leon DiCaprio, et al.

Each of the real environmental health issues we face can and will be tackled with all of our best Yankee ingenuity. Not every day needs to be the summer of 1968, and not every environmental issue is Love Canal or will result in Planet Earth’s extinction if we don’t implement drastic policies right now. At its worst, environmentalism is virtue signaling and fake moral outrage.

A more measured, more adult approach is needed.

America is hopefully about to see a blossoming of conservation.  Aldo Leopold called it a “conservation ethic,” where a sense of stewardship results in concrete steps to protect natural resources for future generations of Americans.

Yet, conservation is mostly boring as hell. It lacks the screaming and yelling, the gnashing of teeth, the drama of environmentalism. It lacks the big demands for dramatic lifestyle changes and income redistribution that falsely substitute for self-examination, introspection, personal change.

By relying on market forces and free choices by people inside those markets, conservation empowers the very people environmentalists despise.  Conservation involves a lot of actual heavy lifting among and by people who care: Raising private money and judiciously spending public taxpayer money on carefully ranked projects that are of both great symbolic and tangible meaning to the citizens.

It involves natural resource management and planning, which environmentalists decry while using more than their fair share of those same resources.

While land conservation is the best example of conservation, there are plenty of successful, subtle, fish and wildlife management models and even agricultural management models (with pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fertilizer inputs). Back in 2002, I co-founded the Conestoga River Nutrient Management Project in Lancaster County, to use market forces to address waterway sedimentation finding its way to the Chesapeake Bay.

These are definitely not sexy policies. Conservation does not involve the glitzy rock star concerts, Hollywood celebrity interventions, and spectacular claims of imminent world-end that environmentalism has going for it.

Conservation is for adults, and now the adults are in charge. Hopefully the adults can teach the children to eat their vegetables, so to speak.

 

The Lure of a Two-Barreled Rifle

Double rifles are becoming all the rage now. Once the province of the geekiest of gun nerds and the quietest collectors of oddball firearms, double rifles are now being rapidly bought up around the world, and especially in America. Once the top producer of top quality rifles, Britain is now hemorrhaging nearly all its best rifles to America.

With an abundance of bolt action (Remington Model 700), lever action (Winchester 94), and pump action (Remington 760) rifles shooting up to five bullets in a dizzying array of calibers available to North American big game (deer, elk, moose and bear) hunters, why would a rifle with just two shots be more attractive?

It’s that last word that probably lures more men, especially, into owning and hunting with double barreled rifles: “attractive.”

Look at all of the rusty junk that guys accumulate around them as they stultify through life.  These are objects “highly attractive” to guys, like all sorts of edged weapons, and especially knives, and guns. They are attractive not just by how they look, though many have been carefully and artistically engraved and adorned, but also because each object feels right when hefted in the hand. That feeling is translated into the aesthetics of weapons, but it comes from a place deep inside a guy’s pea-sized brain.

Not that the average guy needs 367 knives, but the caveman hunter in him will not let him ignore yet another perfected blend of form and function immediately evident to the grip-hand of so many top-quality knives. So he must have it, and he will buy it, because it feels right, and it looks right. And so it is with guns, especially hunting guns, especially the apex of hunting guns – double rifles, are where the felt symbolism goes beyond imaginary defense or opening bills after dinner, but rather toward feeding the family and tribe.

A North American hunter puts in more work, more effort, more time, and more money chasing big game than he or she will see in return, in terms of financial value. For all the money a good gun and even a “free” day afield on Game Lands, you can buy 20 pounds of prime steak at Giant.

This is because hunting, with a good gun, creates that rare combination of core purpose plus purpose-made tool in hand to carry through the core purpose. In today’s tepid, desultory, video game-infested, lazy, fat, low-T western society, few opportunities exist to feel so alive as this moment of hunting. The knife is a short term substitute, when you can’t get out and hunt. But when you do get out and hunt, it actually feels good to have kit you know is up to the task. Double rifles are innately attractive because they feel ready for use.

A double rifle is the most purpose-made gun you can find. Single shots are the least so, despite a crazed following of late-to-the-party buffalo hunters and Civil War reenactor sharpshooters running amok today in period clothing.

A double barreled rifle is clearly made for a no-fail hunt, where that all-important first shot has an immediate followup that should not err. With your cheek firmly welded to the stock, your eyes follow the quarry through the thick timber as it tries to put distance between it and you. You might have over-shot the first time, but you didn’t have to lift your head from the gun to reload, or to try and see where it went. Rather, your eyes stayed glued on it the whole time, and you pulled the rear trigger….

Hey, you, why are you so close to a wild animal? Why not use a plastic stocked stainless steel rifle with a 600X magnification scope, and just snipe your quarry from a mile away? I won’t do this, and you should not do this, because it is not hunting. This sort of activity is really just an assassination. Actual hunting involves good woodcraft, knowledge of your quarry, and hard work. Using a basic mechanical rifle requires you to get close to the animal, close enough to scare it away. Close enough to make a careful shot under pressure, and actually earn the kill.

Sure, lots of double rifles were from bespoke makers, made to custom order for wealthy men and women, but even 125 years later they still function flawlessly, which tells us everything we would ask about the quality of “Best” grade firearms. They are not effete, or wimpy. The nicest ones have loads of engraving and are beautiful to look at, art in steel and wood.

But in the end, it is feeling that honed purpose of the second immediate shot that is so alluring, the knowledge that by staying steady on the second shot, if not on the first, it will earn one an honest meal and a lot of genuine satisfaction as a real hunter.

And that is why Americans are squabbling over antique guns now. They want to get back to having a satisfactory hunt and experience afield.