Cooking with Red Mercury

Folks still want to prove to me the Red Mercury exists and while I knew about the rumors linking Singer sewing machines and landmines to the hoax substance, John from Uganda wrote to me to let me know about another possible source.  John says:

Red Mercury exists 100%; I know someone with a stove of German made in 1914 by King Keizer it does wonders like changing water into red, changing blue pen to red, etc.

Well.  My curiosity was piqued.  What the hell is a King Keizer (Kaiser?) stove and why would anyone believe it contains Red Mercury?  And why doesn’t my kitchen stove have such wonderful magic powers?

First, this is bullshit and yet another means of liberating the gullible from their money.  In Kenya, two conmen were arrested trying to sell a German stove that they said was made of gold for 3 million Kenyan shillings (about US $30,000) (Standard Media).  But that’s somewhat believable: I mean a solid gold stove probably would be worth a few bucks on Antiques Roadshow, but no one, and I mean no one, makes a stove out of a soft metal like gold. No, better to claim that the Germans had imbued their cookware with mystical powers, such as those John mentions.  Of course, John’s stove only changed the color of things. According to the sales folks at this site, German Duss Stoves are also magnetic, disrupt mobile phone signals, and – best of all – “Turns warm then hot when shaken”.  Because, old German stoves are so easy to pick up and shake, right?

German Stove

Does not contain Red Mercury

Now then, not just any magnetic stove than warms up when shaken will do. No, you must look for the following, specific markings:

  • Two upright standing lions with a palm tree in between the lions.
  • The palm tree MUST have exactly five leaves on top.
  • A human portrait or wrist fists clenched on the other side

A very popular design, I’m sure.

 

So, here is another angle on the Red Mercury scam: the same properties ascribed to the hoax substance can be found in a very specific type of German stove made and sold prior to World War I.  Great.

But as ever: Red Mercury does not exist; anyone who tries to sell you some is a liar and con artist and should be reported to the proper authorities.

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

September 20, 2017

 

Advertisements

Big Winner in the Trump Budget? ISIS.

At an event hosted by the United States Institute of Peace and the HALO Trust earlier this month, a State Department official, Jerry Guilbert, told the audience that the Trump Administration’s foreign policy priority is defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) and that the focus of US support for mine action would be clearance of land liberated from ISIS.  Guilbert mentioned increase support for clearance in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen and repeated that mine action funding would advance national security and foreign policy interests.  The release of the Trump Administration’s budget confirms this shift in resources.

On the surface, the allocation for mine action under the Trump Administration is increased by 6% over the last confirmed Obama budget, from $185 million to $196.9 million.  But the distribution of the budget is very different and reflects the “America First” mandate as described by the State Department.

Region  FY16 Actual
(in thousands)
 FY18 Request
(in thousands)
% Change
Africa  $                 12,600  $                 13,000 3%
East Asia & Pacific  $                 41,085  $                 23,000 -44%
Europe & Eurasia  $                   8,530  $                 10,000 17%
Near East  $                 30,900  $                 88,900 188%
South & Central Asia  $                 25,090  $                 24,000 -4%
Western Hemisphere  $                   3,500  $                 20,000 471%
Discretionary  $                 45,874 $                           0 -100%
Management  $                 17,421  $                18,000 3%
Totals  $              185,000  $              196,900 6%

Whereas the Obama administration focused on Cold War legacies and matching resources to the needs, the Trump Administration is focused on ISIS-affected countries and current threats.  The US Ambassador to Cambodia had given a hint of this change in focus in an interview in Phnom Penh a couple of weeks ago and the proof is here.  Mine action support in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) is basically halved, dramatically reducing Obama’s recent commitment to clearance in Laos.  At the same time, support for mine action in Iraq and Syria increases 350% from $23 million to $81.5 million.  Guilbert had mentioned additional support for Libya and Yemen, but funding for Yemen is flat (well, the Trump Administration did just promise $100 billion in new Saudi armaments to continue the war there, so it’s probably a net negative) and funds for Libya are reduced from $2.5 million to $1 million.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the funding appears to be flat ($12.6 million to $13 million), but again the allocation changes greatly.  Support for mine action in Angola is cut by more than half and Senegal would receive no support because neither country figures into conversations of national security or fighting Islamist terror groups.  Those funds are re-allocated to other countries. A positive is to see Chad get a $1 million allocation as is the quadrupling of funds for the Democratic Republic of Congo (form $500K to $2 million).  Countries of the Sahel affected by Al Qaeda also had flat (Somalia) or increased funds (Mali, Mauritania, Niger).  Nigeria, despite the presence of Boko Haram, receives nothing, so clearly all Islamists are no equal in how they figure into the Trump Administration’s prioritization scheme.

Also, spare a thought for the Vulnerable Populations Funds, like the Leahy War Victims Fund which was one of the first sources of landmine victim assistance support.  In the Trump Administration budget, the Special Populations Funds are eliminated and replaced with this:

DISABILITY PROGRAMS SEC. 7047. (a) ASSISTANCE.—Funds appropriated by this Act under the heading “Economic Support and Development Fund” may be made available for programs and activities administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to address the needs and protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities in developing countries.

The Trump Administration’s budget for mine action reflects its singular foreign policy priority: ISIS.  For Syria and Iraq, this is good news (or at least the parts of Iraq liberated from ISIS; the rest of Iraq may not benefit.  And it is unclear how mine clearance will be handled in Syria since the US does not have the ability to operate there in any significant manner), for the rest of the world not so much.  By allocating the budget according to foreign policy priorities and not humanitarian needs, the Trump Administration has dealt as serious blow to the vision of a landmine free world in 2025.

Michael P. Moore

May 24, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 


The Month in Mines, March 2017

So, the big news lately featured a certain second son of Princess Diana and his efforts on behalf of a landmine free world by 2025.  At Kensington Palace on April 4th, Prince Harry delivered a powerful speech calling on people and nations to commit to a mine free world.  Harry’s call, made personal by his own visits to minefields in Angola and Mozambique (and presumably by what he saw during his tour of duty in Afghanistan), was quickly answered by the British Minister for International Development, Priti Patel, who announced a three-fold increase in British funding for mine action (The HALO Trust; Mines Advisory Group).  Many other countries have made similar pledges for new or sustained funding for mine action (Landmine and Cluster Munition Blog), but what I have not seen are pledges from the mine-affected countries to meet their obligations to clear minefields and support survivors.  With new money available, mine-affected countries need to step up and meet the challenge.

 

Somaliland

For the first time, Somaliland’s parliament ordered the deportation of two foreigners who had “disrespected Islam.”  Both of the individuals deported worked for the Danish Demining Group (DDG) which conducts community safety programs including mine risk education and small-scale clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa, Danish Demining Group).

 

The Gambia

In the far eastern section of The Gambia, just on the border of Senegal’s Casamance region, a landmine killed a father and his son.  The area is known as a safe haven for Casamance rebel groups, but this is the first known mine in the area (Freedom Newspaper).

 

Egypt

Two civilians were killed by a landmine pace in a village near the border with Israel on the Sinai Peninsula (Al Araby). Another landmine near the Suez Canal killed one person and injured four more.  The mine was believed to have been a remnant from the war with Israel in the 1950s (Ahram). In a third incident on the Sinai Peninsula, three people, including two children, were killed and two others injured when their car stuck a mine (Ahram).

 

Angola

The government of Japan has made a US $550,000 grant to the HALO Trust to help clear the 20 remaining minefields in Huambo Province.  Having already cleared 270 minefields, the HALO Trust is looking to finish the job in Huambo, once one of the most mine-affected areas of Angola (Relief Web).

 

Nigeria

A Cameroonian soldier was killed by a landmine in Nigeria’s Borno State.  The soldier was part of the multi-national force fighting against Boko Haram and he was killed when his vehicle struck a mine in the roadway (Cameroon Concord). To support Nigerian capacity to clear landmines and other ERW, the United States government donated training aids and hosted a humanitarian mine action training program at the Nigerian Army’s military engineering school in Abuja (NTA).

 

Libya

Two Libyan soldiers were injured by a landmine attributed to the Islamic State in the liberated city of Sirte (Libya Observer).  In Benghazi, a military deminer was killed in the line of duty and the Gawarsha neighborhood of Benghazi has been deemed too mine-contaminated to allow for the return of civilians (Libya Observer).

A dozen deminers from the Russian company, rsb Group, have been conducting mine clearance in the eastern part of Libya (The Trumpet).

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 17, 2017

 


My challenge to the snake-oil salesmen

Revising to add Arizona State University’s robot turtle swarm made of cardboard (I wish I was making that up…). Welcome, I guess. 

 

Oh, look: researchers at Hebrew University have come up with an “innovative” technique to find landmines using genetically-modified bacteria that fluoresce when in the presence of explosive vapors (Jerusalem Post). I really, really want these new technologies to work to improve landmine detection and clearance, but over the last five years I have seen a lot of innovative ideas that have received a lot of funding for development but have not resulted in a single cleared landmine.  These include:

Robot Turtle Swarm

The Mine Kafon

The Landmine Boys

Croatian honeybees

Danish plants

Indian drones and

Pianos.

I am sure there are others, which offer great promise, but simply don’t work.

So, here is my challenge: If you will vouch for the efficacy of your innovation and set up a true field demonstration (in an actual minefield or suspected hazardous area), I will fly to your site, at my own cost, and document the test.  If successful, I will shout it from the mountaintops and share with everyone I meet.  If unsuccessful, you will reimburse me for my trip, make a donation to the mine-clearing organization of my choice and publish a full-page ad apologizing to landmine victims everywhere for squandering money that could have been used on tried and true methods for clearance.

Any takers?

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 12, 2017

 


Trump Administration proposes 10% reduction in Mine Action support

Today is the International Day for Mine Action and Awareness.  From Great Britain, we are looking forward to new commitments to the the goal of a landmine-free world by 2025, but in the United States, the proposed budget from the Trump Administration threatens that goal.

The Trump Administration’s FY18 budget includes a nearly US $3 billion cut in State Department funding (Politico).  That includes a 10% reduction in the line for Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism and Demining Programs, from $505 million in FY17 to $451 million in FY18:

Capture

According to the Administration, this reduction will have “minimal impact” upon programming.  Well, what would “minimal impact” look like?  Let me paint one scenario.

According to the State Department’s 2016 report on mine action, “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” the State Department invested $154.6 million in landmine clearance and risk education activities across dozens of countries.  However, $63.2 million went to just five countries (Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Laos and Syria).    If we assume that the commitments for these five countries will remain unchanged (because the Obama Administration made landmine clearance a priority for Colombia and Laos; and the Trump Administration’s rhetoric suggests that Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will remain priority areas as part of the fight against Islamic State), the 10% cut, or $15.5 million, will be made across the rest of the portfolio.  Support for African countries (Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe) totaled only $13.5 million and any reduction there, especially with emerging needs for mine action support in Mali and Nigeria, could hamper clearance efforts.

Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State, spoke of the importance of landmine clearance in Iraq as a means of helping people return to their homes after the ouster of the Islamic State from Mosul (State Department). Mine action has been used as a soft power tool; peacebuilding efforts in Burma, Colombia and Senegal have benefited from US commitments to mine action.  The US support for landmine and UXO clearance in Southeast Asia has helped heal some of the wounds from the US involvement in the wars of Vietnam and Cambodia. But the current Administration values “hard power” in the form of the military over soft power efforts like mine action, despite Tillerson’s remarks.

Cutting mine action funding would be short-sighted and leave many thousands of people exposed to the threat of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.  At a time when other countries and actors are re-affirming the pledge to a mine-free world by 2025, the US should improve upon its past investments, not reduce them.

Michael P. Moore

April 4, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


All the Tools in the Toolkit: Demining Machines

My elder son is three years old and is enamored with construction vehicles.  He has a big yellow Tonka truck (probably the same basic design I had when I was his age) that he plays with in the back yard and the playground.  He’ll fill the back with rocks, dirt, water, toy bulldozers, water, anything that will fit.  And then they will get dumped out.  He can do this for as long as he can do anything and it’s a joy to watch.  I was thinking about him while I got to see some demining machines at work (or not, more on that momentarily) in Angola.

Landmines can be cleared manually, through the painstaking process of locating mines and digging them out by hand, or they can be cleared through the use of mechanical means.  Using what looks like amped up farm equipment, most demining machines fall into one of two types: flails or tillers.  Flails use weighted chains to beat the ground, setting off mines upon contact.  Tillers use fixed spikes to dig the ground.  Both flails and tillers rotate around a horizontal axis and are mounted on the front of the machines.

01 - Demining Machnies

02 - Demining Machnies

Mechanical demining is pretty much limited to areas with anti-personnel landmines and small explosives.  Anti-vehicle mines and large pieces of unexploded ordnance would damage even these heavily armored machines.  Soil and terrain are also important to consider when using mechanical means. Tillers aren’t much use in rocky areas and if an area is subject to flooding, the machines can get caught in the mud (they are not light and nimble).

Most smaller machines are remote controlled drones, enabling the “driver” to operate the machines from a safe distance.  Some of the bigger machines, like the one below, will have a cab for the driver, but the size of the machine puts the driver out of harm’s way.

03 - Demining Machnies

The benefit of using mechanical means, beyond the safety of the operator, is the speed at which the machines can clear land. According to Digger DTR and using data from clearance work in Senegal, mechanical demining can clear land six times faster than manual teams.

04 - Demining Machnies

In Angola, mechanical demining is used by all the NGO operators – MAG, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the HALO Trust – as well as the National Institute for Demining (IND). NPA gave us a demonstration of their MineWolf which kicked up a tremendous amount of dust.  Per NPA custom, they had named their machine, Vanessa, after a former program manager.

05 - Demining Machnies

06 - Demining Machnies

MAG inherited their MineWolf machine from DanChurchAid which had used the machine for clearance in the far eastern regions of the country, but due to funding limits, had been forced to close down operations.  This is the machine, currently out of commission and waiting for repairs that will cost many thousands of dollars (but still much less than the cost of a new machine).  You can see that the tiller attachment on this machine differs from that of NPA’s.  The design of the machines are such that the clearance attachments can be swapped out to match the clearance need, or be replaced if they are damaged.

07 - Demining Machnies

Rarer than flails and tillers are sifters which dig into the ground, scoop up a shovel-full and then shake loose the dirt.  MAG uses a sifter attachment on a standard construction excavator (see below) on some of its sites in Angola.

08 - Demining Machnies

In 2016, the HALO Trust took delivery of a new remote-controlled Digger DTR tiller that will be used in an around Huambo in central Angola.

09 - Demining Machnies

For a complete list and discussion of the types of mechanical demining machines and their uses, please see the GICHD’s publication here.

Michael P. Moore

March 24, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Every Tool in the Toolkit, The Royals

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s visit to Angola.  During that visit she donned protective gear and walked through a recently cleared minefield and met with landmine victims at the Red Cross’s prosthetic clinic.  At this time, negotiations on the Mine Ban Treaty were ongoing and Diana’s visit to the minefield and her subsequent advocacy helped galvanize public opinion against anti-personnel landmines.

In February 1997, BBC1 aired a special on Diana’s trip which is available in three parts on YouTube:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

 

Diana’s visit was coordinated by the British Red Cross and the minefield aspects were last minute additions to the program.  I have been told that the HALO Trust team received a call from the trip organizers one afternoon asking if Diana could visit a minefield the next day.  Recognizing the opportunity, the Trust made the necessary arrangements.  Looking at the photos and the video, I am struck by how terrifying the experience must have been for Diana.  The civil war in Angola had only ended a couple of years before (and would re-ignite soon enough) and despite wearing protective gear, you will notice that no one is walking with her in the recently cleared minefield and humanitarian demining was still in its infancy. Every step she took she could see the warning signs and the white stakes you see mark where a landmine had been laid and removed.

diana-in-a-minefield1

And yet, she managed a smile for the cameras.

diana-in-a-minefield2

Since Diana’s death in August 1997, other members of royalty have stepped forward. Jordan’s Prince Mired bin Raad serves as the special envoy for universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty and has traveled to multiple countries including China, the United States, Tonga and Peru to encourage accession to the Treaty. Princess Astrid of Belgium serves in a similar role, promoting the Mine Ban Treaty and advocating for the rights of landmine survivors. Prince Harry, Diana’s younger son, has also carried on her mantle serving as the patron of the HALO Trust’s 25th anniversary appeal and traveling to Mozambique and Angola to personally witness the mine clearance work.  The presence and interest of royalty in landmines helps keep the focus on the subject and ensures that public attention and support continues.

The 20th anniversary of Diana’s visit affords an opportunity to review what has been done over the last two decades. The results are astonishing.  The below picture shows the comparison of what the minefield looked like during Diana’s visit and what it is now: a city street with no signs of its past as a minefield.

diana-in-huambo-then-and-now

In addition to the progress on landmine clearance in Angola, the victim assistance situation in Angola and Bosnia which was a large focus of Diana’s advocacy can also be reviewed.

diana-at-the-icrc-facility

When the movie, Diana, came out a couple of years ago, the Daily Mail tracked down the survivor in the below photo and gave an update on her life since meeting Diana. The 20th anniversary is another opportunity to check in on Sandra and the other survivors Diana met.

sandra-and-diana

In August of 1997, Diana made her last formal trip, visiting landmine survivors in Bosnia with the founders of Landmine Survivors Network. In the years following that trip, an annual sitting volleyball tournament was held in Diana’s honor, emphasizing her role in bringing attention to the issues in Bosnia.  If the anniversary of Diana’s visit leads to a 20-year review of the progress in Bosnia, that would be a positive.

diana-in-bosnia

 

Michael P. Moore

January 4, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org