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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Someone Call The Janitor, Please

On Tuesday of last week, I gave a class to a Homeowners Association that's been having some difficulties.  They are in one of the California cities that has declared bankruptcy.  They call the police, and unless someone is shot or stabbed, no one shows up.

The class was my Defensive Sprays and Stunning Devices [link] class.  The bulk of the workshop is devoted to how to determine which type of spray or stun gun is best for you - and how they work.

A good amount of time, though, is devoted to safety awareness.  In the class, I give the students 7 different scenarios to think about.  Road rage, date rape, home invasion, etc.  The idea is to think through each scenario before it happens so you can take steps to prevent it, or if you're caught unaware, how to best respond to the situation.

I've been working over the past few weeks on an eighth scenario:  Active Shooters/Zombies.

And then Thursday happens.  The whack-job in Aurora, CO went on the rampage and shot the hell out of a lot of innocent people.

What are Active Shooters or Zombies, and why are they lumped together?

An active shooter is someone (or a group) each with one or more guns whose intent is carnage.  They're not using a gun to rob a store, or stick-up some old lady.  Their goal is to kill as many people as possible.  Usually, they don't care if they themselves live or die.  Many times, they have "an axe to grind" to set some perceived injustice right (they may have been fired or romantically rejected).  Many times they're politically motivated.  They have a silver-screen vision of themselves going down in a blaze of glory and becoming famous for their acts.

Think Virginia Tech, Mumbai, Columbine, a Dutch gunman (6 dead, 16 wounded in shopping mall), the Chechnyan rebels (nearly 400 dead, 800 wounded),  and the  Norway attacks (77 dead, 300+ wounded - Hmmm.  I thought all of these foreign countries were basically 'gun free zones'.....)

A zombie is someone who is usually chemically altered.  They're high on something.  With them, there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to their killing.  They just pick someone in close proximity and attack them.

Think of the face-eating guy in Florida.

Their common thread is their lack of fear of death or capture.  Or remorse.  With a bank robber, for instance, you might be able to "talk them down" to convince them to put down their weapons.  If no one's been hurt, the penalty won't be so bad.

The Active Shooters/Zombies don't give a damn.  They're going to light your ass up regardless of your age, gender, race or occupation.  They're Equal Opportunity Murderers.

The other common thread is that it is very hard to plan a defense against the threat.  Part of my safety awareness is to stay away from certain parts of certain towns after dark.  If I go there, my chances of being robbed, beaten or killed go way up.  Thus, avoidance is part of my safety plan.

The Active Shooters tend to target areas with lots of soft targets.  Malls, schools, theaters, hotels.

As Ol' Remus at the Woodpile Report [link] (you do read it every week, right?) notes, Stay Away From Crowds.  Damned good advice.

But not always possible.  You've got to go to the grocery store for food.  To the mall for clothes and stuff.  To Walmart to keep the Chinese economy afloat (sorry, cheap shot).

You can limit your exposure by not going to movies, for instance.  Wait until they come out on DVD or Pay Per View.  Order your clothes online.  You get the idea.

Still, you don't want to become some sort of a paranoid shut-in.  You've got to live life.

Plus, when you throw in the Zombies, it doesn't matter.  They'll feast on your face where ever you are.

So your planning must revolve around your response to the actions of the bad guys.

This is still a work-in-progress, so I'm going to hold off on more details until I get everything together, plus I want the hype surrounding this latest act of a madman to die down.

I'll share one thought right now.  Just as the USDA and the other alphabet soup agencies require warning labels on food, lawnmowers and coffee pots, I think they need to require "gun free zone" businesses to publish the fact that you are required to be defenseless against guns should their establishment be invaded.

Think how things in Aurora would have turned out differently if Mr. Redheaded Joker Dickhead had drawn his guns and seen this from the assembled movie-goers -

The immediate result would have likely been along these lines -

 And the only public service employee that would have needed to respond to the call would have been this fellow -

Don't be a victim.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Be prepared to protect yourself.  Work within the laws of your state or city if possible, but not to the point of putting your life at risk.

Copyright 2012 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Homemade MRE Update and Sausage Making

A few years ago, I did a post titled, Homemade MREs [link].  It was about putting together your own meal packs with food you can pick up at the grocery store.   You buy what you like, then use your Foodsaver vacuum sealer to pack it up. 

As I noted in the article, one of the drawbacks is that the "Best By" date on most store-bought foods is much shorter than it is for real MREs.  Commercial MREs generally have a 5 years shelf live.  It's difficult to find store-bought food with anything better than a 2 year life.

As most preppers know, the Best By date is iffy at best.  With few exceptions, food will last longer than the given date.  It may lose a bit of its flavor, or some nutrients, or some of its original color, but it is perfectly healthy to eat.

I'm here to confirm that.

In the packs I put together, I generally had a Main Course and then a bunch of filler food.  The main meals generally consisted of either canned fish (kippered snacks are one of my favorites) or ready-to-heat-and-eat courses like Mac and Cheese, Spaghetti and Meatballs or something similar.  I've really grown fond of these -

 What I like about these is that you can heat them in a number of ways.  You can throw them in the microwave, or if that's not available, you can throw them in boiling water to heat them up. 

This one pictured above of turkey and dressing was 18 months past its Best By date, and I ate it cold.  No nukin' it, no nuthin'.

It was great.  No noticeable difference in taste, color or texture from fresh-off-the-shelf packs.  Really, it was very good. 

I also ate some Mac and Cheese in these little round tubs.  I don't recall the brand.  1 year past its Best By.  This one, I did put it in the microwave.  While its flavor and texture were normal, the color of the cheese had darkened.  Not some hideous mud color, but a "burnt umber" color instead of the usual Day Glo orange.

Lastly, I ate a Compleats of Spaghetti and Meatballs.  Nearly 2 years past the date.  I ate this cold as well.  Like the turkey meal, it rocked.  Very, very good.

In all of the packs, I usually included a bag of dry roasted peanuts and a long-term (1 year) protein bar.  While both were edible, they were nothing to write home about. 

The nuts were packed in a snack sized zip lock bag, which was then placed inside the Foodsaver bag.  They tasted stale.  The protein bar had gotten dry and crumbly.  I choked it down, but I needed a LOT of water.  Not a good thing in a survival situation with scarce resources.

The take-away:  To get the best over-all results, stick with non-cheese meals - at least if you think you will be eating them past their Best By date.  I'd stay away from the nuts as well.  In my new packs, I'll be swapping the protein bars for one or two of the Millennium Energy Bars [link].  These have a 5 year life and are very tasty as well.

As a side note, in my Get Home Bag, I've already swapped out the Mainstay brand survival bars for the Millennium bars.  I like the flavor better, and there is much more variety (10 flavors versus 1 flavor).

Why make your own MREs when the commercial ones, in general, are less expensive and have a longer shelf life?  Variety and comfort.

The commercial MREs - of which I own many cases - have a sterile, rigid "vibe" to them.  I think if it really got bad, popping open something from Quaker or Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee or Hormel would provide a bit of mental comfort.

Maybe right, maybe wrong, but it's how I'm rollin'....

On my recent trip to Idaho, on the way home, we passed through Reno.  Whenever I go to Reno, I MUST stop at the Cabella's that's in the area.

I was snooping around and picked up a couple of small ammo cans and some gun cleaning supplies.  I was in the "Smokers and Dehydrators" area and saw some collagen sausage casings.  I'd used these once before and didn't like the results - I'm a natural casing kinda guy!

I was getting ready to leave the area, when I spied these on the shelf -

Yeah, natural hog casings.  UNREFRIGERATED natural hog casings [link].  They caught my attention.

In reading the package, it tells you that there is at least 50 feet of casings in the package.  They're packed in salt, and are only required to be refrigerated after the pack is opened.  They were $7 in the store (add a dollar if you're buying online).

I picked up a pack and when I got home, I made a batch of my world famous Italian sausage.

In the past, when I've bought casings from my local butcher, they've either come packed in salt like these or in a salt water brine.  They come in very long, whole lengths of 20 feet or so.

These were cut into 5 or 6 foot lengths.  I was making 5 lbs of sausage, so I needed 10 feet of casings.  I rinsed them thoroughly, then soaked them in clean water for 2 hours.  Dumped the water, added some more fresh water, and soaked them for another hour.

Sheathed them up on my sausage stuffer, and here is the result -

The casing performed flawlessly.  They loaded onto the stuffer just fine.  I got no tears or rips while stuffing.  And they held up perfectly when grilled (tip:  Whenever cooking any kind of fresh sausage - commercial or homemade - parboil the sausage first.  Either in beer or salted water.  It toughens up the casings for grilling/frying while melting some of the fat which can cause flare-ups).

I'm tellin' ya, people, there is nothing like homemade sausage.  Besides the improved flavor, you KNOW what's in it.  No snouts, no ears, no peeing parts or whatever.  Just the pork you grind.

If you've never made sausage before, here is are links to two posts I did back in 2009 [Making Sausage - Part 1]  [Making Sausage - Part 2].

Copyright 2012 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Tale Of Three Financial Scandals

Hey, long time, no see.... sorry, folks.

Any-hoo, these past couple of weeks, I've been tied up in finances.  The PM store fiscal year ended a couple of months ago, the firearms training fiscal year ended last month, and the sales tax for the second quarter are due the end of this month.  In short, I've been up to my armpits in different tax preparation issues.

During this time, there have been a number of financial "scandals" that have hit the news pipelines.  What I find interesting is that the least important of the three is getting the largest amount of press.  Smoke and mirrors, folks....

The largest single item - in terms of its impact on most Americans - is likely to be the LIBOR scandal [link:  The Worst Banking Scandal Yet?].  Most folks may have seen a quick mention of this on the news, and then POOF!  it's pretty much disappeared.

In short, LIBOR is one of the many interest rate "benchmarks" that banks use to set their internal rates.  LIBOR is mostly used for home loans, but a bank can choose to use it for any lending product.  The banks that set this rate were artificially forcing the rate downwards.

That might seem like a good thing - the rate you get on a home loan would be lowered.  That may or may not happen, as the bank can charge any margin - a spread above the LIBOR rate - that they wish. 

How this has a good chance of negatively affecting you personally is if you have any kind of retirement account.  By the banks colluding to suppress rates, they ended up paying much less in interest payments on bonds they've issued, and your retirement fund may have purchased for the interest income stream.

How much less?  How does THREE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR grab you?  And that's the low estimate.  It could be as high as seven hundred and fifty billion dollars.

Put this into your personal data banks:  All of the banks doing this are regulated by some sort of federal banking agency (either here or abroad).  How's that working out?  Smoke and mirrors...

Scandal number two is like Groundhog Day.  We've seen this one before - and will likely see it happen again.  And again.

Like the Bernie Madoff scandal, and the MF Global/Jon Corzine scandal, a company called PFGBest reached into the pockets of their customers and stole their money.

So far, this is the smallest of the rip offs.  It ONLY looks to be around $250 million dollars.  Guess it would suck if that was my $250 million....

How did this financial mastermind pull off this theft?  With a PC and an inkjet printer.  The CEO would cut-and-paste information from various checking account statements, and present this information to..... wait for it..... FEDERAL REGULATORS [link].
Wasendorf wrote that he quickly learned how to falsify online bank statements amid the rise of Internet-based banking, and that "regulators accepted them without question."

Know how they caught this guy?  He didn't show up for work, so someone went by his house and they found him sucking the tailpipe of his car.  The razor-sharp regulators decided to re-check the information from their recent audit, and THEN they figured out they'd been hoodwinked.

For all of these years, their "federal audit" had consisted of taking the word of the entities they are "regulating".   No need to verify the information.

Like the LIBOR scandal, this is getting little public notice.  Wouldn't want to embarrass the administration or its top-notch watch-dogs keepin' your money safe.

More smoke and mirrors....  Gotta divert the attention of the masses....

Our third scandal is the smoke and mirrors.  Like Congress huffing and puffing over the Roger Clemens steroid scandal (something over which they have no Constitutional control), JP Morgan is being drawn and quartered in the public press and before Congress.

For an insignificant loss as a result of a failure in their internal controls.

Chief!, you may be saying, they had a loss of nearly $6 billion dollars!  Well, yeah, they did.

So what?

They have assets totaling nearly $2.5 trillion.  A six billion dollar loss is equal to about ONE QUARTER OF ONE PERCENT of their asset base.  To put that into perspective, if you had $100 in your pocket, it's the equivalent of losing twenty-five cents.

It's nothing.  Unless you're Congress and the administration in charge of financial regulation, and see yet another opportunity thump your chest and shake a bony finger at some rich-assed banker.

And to divert attention away from your real failings.

You see, the LIBOR and PFGBest scandals cost real people real money.  The only people potentially hurt by the JP Morgan incident were the shareholders.  How did the markets react last week after JP Morgan discussed the changes they've made and reported their most recent earnings?
Investors cheered the bank for capping losses and taking steps to ensure it avoids similar bad bets in the future. JPMorgan's shares rose 6 percent on Friday.
Yeah.  Scandalous. 

Accept The Challenge

I think I have a new Rule Of Thumb.  If Congress is holding hearings, it is probably a diversion away from a real problem.  When hearings happen, I'm going to start sniffing around the edges to figure out the real issue.

Sure, sure, sure, occasionally, Congress actually does its job.  The Fast And Furious hearings are a perfect example of Congress performing its oversight duties.  The Administration is in full CYA-mode, but Congress is at least trying to do its job.

It would sure be nice if the Compliant Press devoted as much air time and column inches to real scandals and instances of law-breaking, as they do to issues which are used to get Americans to take their eye off the ball.

I know.  Keep dreamin'....

No one but YOU is responsible for your education.  If you choose to take what's being fed to you, you are responsible for the end result.  They want to feed you the hot-and-juicy burger, and you're slurping it up.  Don't complain when you end up a fat, listless blob.

Copyright 2012 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

PM Caveat Emptor

This past Saturday, I saw the result of the biggest screwing I've seen with regards to buying numismatic (collectible) coins.  As my staff and I noted afterwards, he had, uhm, involuntarily engaged in a form of sexual congress which is illegal in many states.

This guy came into our PM store with a certified coin by one of the reputable grading companies.  These certified coins are called "slabs" as they are encased in a clear plastic case, which if broken, invalidates the certification of the coin.

He asked me if I had ever seen this coin before.  It was a 1907 $20 Saint Gaudens gold piece.  It was a special variation which had a flat rim.  It was graded AU55.

Coin grades range from 1 to 70.  The higher the number, the better the coin.  The 50's range is called About Uncirculated (or AU).  These are coins which have very little wear from circulation.  An AU53 has more wear than an AU58 - this last grade being just below the 60's range of Mint State (or MS - uncirculated).

Slabbed coins have a serial number on them.  You can go to the website of the grading company, and verify that the coin in the slab is in fact the coin that was graded.

I keyed in the serial number, and I verified the coin.  With certain coins, the grading agency will estimate the market value of the coin.

This coin had a market value of $14,000.  Yeah, fourteen thousand dollars!

To put that into perspective, the coin contained about $1,550 in gold.

The vibe I got from the guy was that he didn't know what he had.   I asked him if he knew that he had a very special coin.


I asked him how much he paid for the coin.


Sweet!  Twenty-six hundred?

Nope.  Twenty-six THOUSAND!  Actually, twenty six thousand, five hundred.

Oh crap.  When did you buy this coin?

This week.

I did a bit more research, and found out that the value the grading company affixed to the coin was high.  By about $2000.  [Note:  These companies are guaranteeing the grade of the coin, not the value.  They all tend to pump up the price to make themselves look like they are the ones that handle all the pricey coins.]  I could probably get my hands on the same coin for around ten or eleven thousand, and would retail it to him for about twelve or thirteen thousand.  Tops.

He had purchased a half dozen coins.  All graded.  All over priced.  He remembered the specifics on two of them and paid more than double what he should have for each of them.  He only got screwed out of a couple of thousand on each of those coins.

I asked him about the outfit that sold him the coins.  It is located in Texas.  They promised him that he could return the coins for a full refund if he wasn't satisfied.  He said that, if he must, he will go to Texas to get his money back.

If he gets his money back, I will make a campaign contribution to Obama.  My money is safe.

I asked him why he was buying numismatic coins as opposed to bullion.  His reasoning wasn't horrible.  He was putting his retirement funds into collectible coins, since he had heard that they retained their value better than straight bullion.

I told him that, if buying collectibles was his investment strategy, now really is a very good time to do it.  The premium for collectibles is way down.  It's a good time to buy them, and a bad time to sell them.

I asked him if he understood the risks involved.  His coin, for example, even if he had only paid market values, still had greater than an eight-fold premium assigned to the value of the coin.  I told him that personally, I don't want my investments dependent upon someone's opinion of its value.  Market risk is enough for me, thankyouverymuch!

I gave him my card, and told him to come back when he got his money back, or when he was ready to spend some more of his retirement on coins.

You guys have seen these ads on TV.  The "Gold Buffalo Tribute Proof".  If you don't know what I'm talking about, go here [link].

They've taken the US mint's pure gold $50 Buffalo coin (with about $1600 in gold in them), and made a "tribute" proof coin.  They tout the coin as containing 14 milligrams of pure, 24 karat gold.

They tell us that the coins were originally slated to be offered at $50 each, but it's just your luck that they're going to give them away for ONLY $9.95 (plus $4.95 s/h).  Fifteen bucks all in.  You're strictly limited to only 5 coins.  Act now!


Let's do some math.  Let's say an ounce of pure gold is going for $1600.  There are roughly 31.1 grams per troy ounce (troy ounces are used in measuring precious metals).  So, one gram of gold is worth $51.45.

A milligram is one one-thousandth of a gram.  That would make one milligram worth around 5.1 cents.  Multiply that by the 14 milligrams and the gold value in the Tribute Proof is valued at 72 cents.

The coin itself is made from bronze and weighs about an ounce.  I have no friggin' idea what an ounce of bronze would cost.  Bronze is around 90% copper.  That runs $3.50.  A POUND!  Since there are 16 ounces to a pound (NOT a troy pound) that gives us -  at most - another 22 cents.

Let's round this up and say there's a buck's worth of metal.  And you can have one delivered for $15!

I wonder if my Saint Gaudens guy has heard about this great deal.....

Accept The Challenge

When making any kind of investment, knowledge is king.  It's clear that the guy that paid $26,500 for a coin worth half that had no idea whatsoever about what he was doing.  None.

No one would knowingly spend twice what they had to for a given item (unless you're a government agency).

I think this has to do with how our society has been trained by our schools and other government institutions to simply follow instructions.  Don't drink this.  Do eat that.  Don't buy this.  Do buy that.

His very skillful - if dishonest - salesman told him to buy these coins, and he did so.  Unquestioned obedience can be expensive.

If you're going to buy precious metals - numismatics or bullion - do yourself a favor and read this post of mine from April of last year [link Entering The PM Pool].  It has links to 5 other much more detailed posts I've written on most facets of buying precious metals.

These posts shouldn't be your be-all-end-all for PMs.  They could be your starting point.

They could overwhelm you and make you more confused.  If that happens, you shouldn't buy PMs.

If they pique your curiosity, dig deeper.  Get more education.  Go to a coin shop and talk to the staff.  Find out their opinion and why they believe as they do.  Does their view jibe with yours?

Start slow.  Be alert to market influences.  Stay educated.

Oh, and don't buy crap off of TV or from some faceless voice on the telephone.  Those TV ads and bullpens full of telemarketers don't come cheap...

Copyright 2012 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.