A bike path in Chile

Monday, February 28, 2011


Yikes! That's some downhill street course for a bike. I'm not sure I would even want to be a spectator standing in some of the parts of it much less the bike rider. 

Nothing to Envy

Thursday, February 24, 2011
North Korea is the most opaque country in the world. The few traveler's accounts of visiting the country are little more than a litany of being hustled past monuments by impatient minders. When the people of North Korea are seen they are distant and unapproachable.

Barbara Demick, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times assigned to Peking and Seoul, pierced that veil by interviewing over a hundred North Korean defectors. The result is her Samuel Johnson prize-winning book Nothing to Envy - ordinary lives in North Korea.

The book begins in the 1990s and follows six people who lived in Chongjin, a city in on the Sea of Japan and near the Chinese boarder. The six are a pair of young and chaste lovers - a boy who is eventually selected to learn science in a prestigious University in  Pyognyang and a low caste girl with 'tainted' blood who becomes a school teacher, a women who is a factory worker devoted to the regime and her rebellious daughter, a woman doctor, and an orphaned street urchin. It follows their lives through the death of Kin Il Sung and the fall of the Soviet Union which lead to the economic collapse of North Korea and the dreadful famine that followed.

In the beginning, due to relentless propaganda and isolation they count themselves lucky to be born North Koreans. Many of the characters in the book compare their lot to the Chinese under the chaos and hunger of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, or the South Koreans under the boot
heels of the ghastly Americans, and consider themselves blessed. None the less, they are immersed in a sea of paranoia, trusting neither friends nor family, since the slightest slip-up in revolutionary ardor, or any disrespect - no matter how trifling - of Kim Il Jung can land one in a labor camp.

The economic and social collapse comes slowly and relentlessly. Salaries are reduced until they are no longer paid, factories and offices close, food ration dwindle to nothing. As starvation sets in the young teacher sees her elementary-aged students die one by one, the Doctor's hospital runs out of supplies and Mrs Song, the lady so faithful to the Party, is forced to make her living in the growing black markets. Soon they are all reduced to searching for grass and bark to eat as friends and family members die of hunger.

In the end each, following their own paths, cross the Tumen River into China and eventually on to South Korea. They don't do it for political reasons, in fact it could be argued that in the tightly regimented system they lived in politics has no real meaning to them, rather they do it for economic and emotional reasons. Day by day the famine slowly strips them of the illusions about their government until they have no choice but to abandon their homes (and some of their relatives they've left behind suffer grievously for their actions). 

One of the most affecting scenes is when Dr Kim has just crossed into China, uncertain how long she'll stay, and she swings open gate of a house she hopes she'll find charity in. On the ground she sees a bowl of white rice with bits of meat in it. Puzzled, she hasn't eaten either in months, she wonders why it is there until a dog barks and with shock she realizes that Chinese dogs are fed better than North Korean doctors.

And that is ultimately the strength of the book. It gives a look into lives of the people of North Korea, and the six characters we follow are all compelling and interesting people. One gets to know them, to be horrified at the suffering the experience, and to hope the best for them. One wishes them well.

Altogether it is a fascinating and engaging book. I certainly recommend it for anybody's reading list. Below is an except from the book.

----------

On one trip in 1998, when the North Korean economy was at its worst, Jun-sang was stuck at a small town in South Hamgyong province where he usually switched from the eastbound trains to the northbound line up the coast. The tracks were flooded and a cold, driving rain drenched the waiting passengers. Jun-sang took what shelter he could find on the platform. As he waited, his attention was drawn to a group of homeless children, the kochebi, who were performing to get money for food. Some of them did magic tricks, some danced. One boy, about seven or eight years old, sang. His tiny body was lost in the folds of an adult-sized factory uniform, but his voice had the resonance of a much older person. He squeezed his eyes shut, mustered all his emotion, and belted out the song, filling the platform with its power.
Uri Abogi, our father, we have nothing to envy in the world.
Our house is within the embrace of the Workers' party.
We are all brother and sisters.
Even if a sea of fire comes towards us,
sweet children do not need to be afraid.
Our father is here.
We have nothing to envy.
Jun-sang knew the song by heart from his childhood, except the lyrics had been updated. In the verse "Our father, Kim Il-sung," the child had substituted the name of Kim Jong-il. It was beyond reason that this small child should be singing a paean to the father who protected him when his circumstances so clearly belied the song. There he was on the platform, soaking wet, filthy, no doubt hungry.

Jun-sang reached into his pocket and gave the boy 10 won, a generous tip for a street performer. It was less an act of charity than gratitude for the education the boy had given him.

He would later credit the boy with pushing him over the edge. He know knew for sure that he didn't believe. It was an enormous moment of self-revelation, like deciding one was an atheist. It made him feel alone. He was different from everybody else. He was suddenly self-conscious, burdened by a secret he had discovered about himself.
     

All work and no play

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
If you're so inclined, take a break from the news of the day and play The Great Gatsby for NES

It is an old school side scroller with pixelated graphics and 8 bit music honking away in the background. You toss your hat to kill butlers and flappers, and jump to collect coins, better hats, martinis and other power-ups as you progress through the levels.

I've made it through the party and the garden to a cut scene that made no sense to me, then found myself battling birds and whatnot on top of a train. Entertaining foolishness that is nostalgic in its presentation of retro gaming and, I suppose, in its view of the Great Gatsby. 

For those interested, the Kotaku article How The Great Gatsby Became A Long Lost NES Game explains how the game came to be written, as well as several screen grabs from the game.

Life goes on

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Burial of the Flowers - Cao Xueqin

Flowers fade and fly,
and flying fill the sky;
Their bloom departs, their perfume gone,
yet who stands pitying by?
And wandering threads of gossamer
on the summer-house are seen,
And falling catkins lightly dew-steeped
strike the embroidered screen.
A girl within the inner rooms,
I mourn that spring is done,
A veil of sorrow binds my heart,
and solace there is none.

I pass into the garden,
and I turn to use my hoe,
Treading over fallen glories
as I lightly come and go.
There are willow-sprays and flowers of elm,
and these have scent enough.
I care not if the peach and plum,
are stripped from every bough.
The peach-tree and the plum-tree too
next year may bloom again,
But next year, in the inner rooms,
tell me, shall I remain?

By the third moon new fragrant nests
shall see the light of day,
New swallows fly among the beams,
each on its thoughtless way.
Next year once more they'll seek their food
among the painted flowers,
But I may go, and beams may go,
and with them swallow bowers.
Three hundred days and sixty make
a year, and therein lurk
Daggers of wind and swords of frost
to do their cruel work.

How long will last the fair fresh flower
which bright and brighter glows?
One morning its petals float away,
but to where no-one knows.
Gay blooming buds attract the eye,
faded they're lost to sight;
Oh, let me sadly bury them
beside these steps tonight.
Alone, unseen, I seize my hoe,
with many a bitter tear;
They fall upon the naked stem
and stains of blood appear.

The night-jar now has ceased to mourn,
the dawn comes on apace,
I seize my hoe and close the gates,
leaving the burying-place;
But not until sunbeams dot the wall
does slumber soothe my care,
The cold rain pattering on the pane
as I lie shivering there.
You wonder that with flowing tears
my youthful cheek is wet;
They partly rise from angry thoughts,
and partly from regret.

Regret that spring comes suddenly;
and anger that it cannot last.
No sound to announce its approach,
or warn us when it's passed.
Last night within the garden
sad songs were faintly heard,
Sung, as I knew, by spirits,
spirits of flower and bird.
We cannot keep them here with us,
these much-loved birds and flowers,
They sing but for a season's space,
and bloom a few short hours.

If only I on a feathered wing
might soar aloft and fly,
With flower spirits I would seek
the rooms within the sky.
But high in the air
What grave is there?
No, give me an embroidered bag
within to lay their charms,
And Mother Earth, pure Mother Earth,
shall hide them in her arms.
Thus those sweet forms which spotless came
shall spotless go again,
Nor pass dirty with mud and filth
along some filthy drain.

Farewell, dear flowers, forever now,
thus buried as was best,
I have not yet divined when I
with you shall sink to rest.
I who can bury flowers like this
a laughing-stock shall be;
I cannot say in days to come
what hands shall bury me.
See how when spring begins to fail
each opening flower fades;
So too there is a time of age
and death for beautiful maids;
And when the fleeting spring is gone,
and days of beauty over,
Flowers fall, and lovely maidens die,
and both are known no more.

Shooting yourself in the foot

Friday, February 18, 2011
The situation is Wisconsin has spun itself into an extraordinary story. We all know the outline of it - Governor Walker proposed his Budget Repair Bill which included limits to the State's Public Unions collective bargaining, as well as requiring them to pay for a percentage of their health and retirement plans.

The Teacher's Union responded by organizing their teachers to call in sick, which forced the closing of several schools in the process, so the teachers could engage in a boisterous protest in the capital. Naturally, the teachers positioned themselves as acting for the good of the students. This tactic, which may be an illegal strike under Wisconsin law, angered many Wisconsinites who saw it as little more than ignoring their students welfare over union politics.

Meanwhile, to prevent a vote on the bill by denying a quorum, all 18 Democratic Senators fled across the border into Illinois. Apparently it never occurred to the dimwits that the Illinois Tea Party would track them down, but track them down they did. So we now know they hid out in the Clocktower Resort with its attached Hooteresque Tilted Kilt restaurant and bar. Smooth move guys and gals, you now have recall petitions circulating because the voters are so fed up with your abdication of your responsibilities.

Further, and to the point of this post, Obama waded into this mess today defending the unions.

A few days earlier he had submitted his budget proposal to Congress. Many saw this as partially a tactical move prior to the upcoming vote to raise the Nation's debt ceiling. The Republicans have signaled they're not going to raise it, and that further they plan on trimming $100 billion from the remainder of this year's budget. The Democrats have been making noises that they think if they force a confrontation and a resulting Government shut-down they hang the blame on the Republicans.

Which makes their moves in Wisconsin baffling. When the 18 Wisconsin Senators crossed the state line they made it clear that they were forcing a shut-down of  Wisconsin's legislature. Has it not occurred to them that the perception of them being intransigent is going to carry through to a shut-down of the  National Governmental ?

It seems to me that for little gain, in a State level fight they're bound to lose anyways, they've fumbled away a lot of leverage in the upcoming budget fight on the national stage. I don't think they quite thought this through as much as they should have -- in Wisconsin they've painted themselves as the Party of Obstruction with indelible ink.   

BTW, the picture is from a photoshop contest at FreakingNews.

Stratfor and Candice Bergen

Wednesday, February 16, 2011
This week's Stratfor article concerns the case of Raymond Davis. If you're not familiar with the story, Davis is a low level security officer attached to the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan and a few weeks ago his car was approached by two thieves on a motorcycle who pointed a pistol at him in a robbery attempt. He shot and killed the two men in the exchange. 

Witnesses have corroborated his story; but, fanned by anti-Americanism and radical groups calling for Davis to be hung,  it has bloomed into a serious crisis none the less. 

The article discusses Davis' situation, and then examines the threats to American facilities and businesses should the situation lead to rioting mobs.


In angling about for a Hot Strafor Babe to connect to the article, the film The Sand Pebbles came to mind.

It is an engrossing story of an American gunboat, the U.S.S. San Pablo, on the Yangtze river in 1920s China. The country is torn by civil war and the crowds grow increasingly hostile. The situation breaks down entirely as an American seamen (Paul Newman (Edit - as pointed out in the comments, it should be Steve McQueen not Paul Newman. I blame Bush for the error.)) is falsely accused of murder and the authorities demand he be turned over to face justice. Eventually violence erupts as the gunboat moves upriver to rescue some missionaries (one of which is Candice, hence her appearance in this post).

If you haven't seen it, the movie is well worth a watch.

THE THREAT OF CIVIL UNREST IN PAKISTAN AND THE DAVIS CASE

By Scott Stewart, February 16, 2011

On Feb. 13, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issued a statement demanding that the government of Pakistan execute U.S. government contractor Raymond Davis or turn him over to the TTP for judgment. Davis, a contract security officer for the CIA, has been in Pakistani custody since a Jan. 27 incident in which he shot two men who reportedly pointed a pistol at him in an apparent robbery attempt.

Pakistani officials have corroborated Davis' version of events and, according to their preliminary report, Davis appears to have acted in self-defense. From a tactical perspective, the incident appears to have been (in tactical security parlance) a "good shoot," but the matter has been taken out of the tactical realm and has become mired in transnational politics and Pakistani public sentiment. Whether the shooting was justified or not, Davis has now become a pawn in a larger game being played out between the United States and Pakistan.

When one considers the way similar periods of tension between the Pakistanis and Americans have unfolded in the past, it is not unreasonable to conclude that as this current period plays out, it could have larger consequences for Davis and for American diplomatic facilities and commercial interests in Pakistan. Unless the Pakistani government is willing and able to defuse the situation, the case could indeed provoke violent protests against the United States, and U.S. citizens and businesses in Pakistan should be prepared for this backlash.

Details of the Case

One of the reasons that the Pakistanis have been able to retain Davis in custody is that while he may have been traveling on a "black" diplomatic U.S. passport, not everyone who holds a diplomatic passport is afforded full diplomatic immunity. The only people afforded full diplomatic immunity are those who are on a list of diplomats officially accredited as diplomatic agents by the receiving country. The rest of the foreign employees at an embassy or a consulate in the receiving country who are not on the diplomatic list and who are not accredited as diplomatic agents under the Vienna Convention are only protected by functional immunity. This means they are only protected from prosecution related to their official duties.

As a contract employee assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Davis was likely not on the diplomatic list and probably did not enjoy full diplomatic immunity. He was probably considered a member of the administrative or technical staff. Protecting himself during a robbery attempt would not be considered part of his official function in the country, and therefore his actions that day would not be covered under functional immunity. So determining exactly what level of immunity Davis was provided will be critical in this case, and the information provided by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry will have a big impact on the Pakistani judge hearing the arguments.

In all likelihood, Davis was briefed regarding his legal status by his company and by the CIA prior to being assigned to post. He also would have been told that, while he had limited immunity, the U.S. government would do its best to take care of him if some incident occurred. However, it would have been made clear to him that in working as a protective contractor he was running a risk and that if there was an incident on or off duty, he could wind up in trouble. All security contractors working overseas know this and accept the risk as part of the job.

At the time of the shooting, of course, Davis would not have had time to leisurely ponder this potential legal quagmire. He saw a threat and reacted to it. Undoubtedly, the U.S. government will do all it can to help Davis out -- especially since the case appears to be a good-shoot scenario and not a case of negligence or bad judgment. Indeed, on Feb. 15, U.S. Sen. John Kerry flew to Islamabad in a bid to seek Davis' release. However, in spite of American efforts and international convention, Davis' case is complicated greatly by the fact that he was working in Pakistan and by the current state of U.S.-Pakistani relations.



Happy Birthday Mr. Lincoln

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Today is Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Above is my favorite picture of him. It is called the  Cracked glass portrait of Lincoln, was taken on April 10th 1865 and is considered the last known picture of Lincoln before his death.

I once read that while Lincoln was sitting for the picture the photographer Alexander Gardner had some problems with his equipment. As Gardner fiddled with his camera Lincoln sunk deeply into thought. As a result, it is the closest you'll get to a candid in 19th century photographic portraiture. The melancholy etched on Lincoln's face is unbearably sad.

Happy birthday Mr. Lincoln.


Stratfor and Bar Refaeli

Wednesday, February 09, 2011
This week's Stratfor article concerns the strategic quandary that would face Israel should the uprising in Egypt lead to the cancellation of the Camp David accords. 


The Hot Babe I decided to connect to this article is the Sports Illustrated cover girl and Israeli model Bar Refaeli. 

Not for the obvious reason of the dangers that the Muslim Brotherhood would pose towards swim suit models, although that is a most alarming thought, but rather because of a controversy in Bar Refaeli's past.


Apparently Bar Refaeli, who is an Israeli swimsuit model,  dodged the Israeli draft by marrying a relative to avoid being called up, and then quickly divorcing him when that possibility passed. This caused a bit of an uproar in Israel, with calls for boycotts and criticism from other models who were serving their time in the military. 

You can read about it, and gawk a picture of her in a rather fetching gray dress, in The Independent's article: Israeli supermodels in catwalk spat over draft-dodging.        

 
EGYPT, ISRAEL AND A STRATEGIC RECONSIDERATION

By George Friedman, February 8, 2011

The events in Egypt have sent shock waves through Israel. The 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel have been the bedrock of Israeli national security. In three of the four wars Israel fought before the accords, a catastrophic outcome for Israel was conceivable. In 1948, 1967 and 1973, credible scenarios existed in which the Israelis were defeated and the state of Israel ceased to exist. In 1973, it appeared for several days that one of those scenarios was unfolding.

The survival of Israel was no longer at stake after 1978. In the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the various Palestinian intifadas and the wars with Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in Gaza in 2008, Israeli interests were involved, but not survival. There is a huge difference between the two. Israel had achieved a geopolitical ideal after 1978 in which it had divided and effectively made peace with two of the four Arab states that bordered it, and neutralized one of those states. The treaty with Egypt removed the threat to the Negev and the southern coastal approaches to Tel Aviv.

The agreement with Jordan in 1994, which formalized a long-standing relationship, secured the longest and most vulnerable border along the Jordan River. The situation in Lebanon was such that whatever threat emerged from there was limited. Only Syria remained hostile but, by itself, it could not threaten Israel. Damascus was far more focused on Lebanon anyway. As for the Palestinians, they posed a problem for Israel, but without the foreign military forces along the frontiers, the Palestinians could trouble but not destroy Israel. Israel's existence was not at stake, nor was it an issue for 33 years.

The Historic Egyptian Threat to Israel

The center of gravity of Israel's strategic challenge was always Egypt. The largest Arab country, with about 80 million people, Egypt could field the most substantial army. More to the point, Egypt could absorb casualties at a far higher rate than Israel. The danger that the Egyptian army posed was that it could close with the Israelis and engage in extended, high-intensity combat that would break the back of the Israel Defense Forces by imposing a rate of attrition that Israel could not sustain. If Israel were to be simultaneously engaged with Syria, dividing its forces and its logistical capabilities, it could run out of troops long before Egypt, even if Egypt were absorbing far more casualties.

The solution for the Israelis was to initiate combat at a time and place of their own choosing, preferably with surprise, as they did in 1956 and 1967. Failing that, as they did in 1973, the Israelis would be forced into a holding action they could not sustain and forced onto an offensive in which the risks of failure -- and the possibility -- would be substantial.



Maybe Obama was telling the truth after all?

Monday, February 07, 2011

When Obama claimed he was a huge Bears fan I figured he was just making that up to foster some "Man O' The People" cred. However, it appears that Obama has yet to call the Packers and congratulate them. Hahaha... that is the sort of pique one expects from a Bears fan, so maybe he was telling the truth.

Although, I have to admit, as a Packer fan if I were President (unlikely) and the Bears won the Super Bowl (even more unlikely) I would make them cool their heels for some time before calling them and gagging out my congratulations. In fact, I would probably also do the bit where I crinkled paper near the phone and faked that there was static on the line and I couldn't hear them.

Surviving the unthinkable

Saturday, February 05, 2011


Above is an Australian educational film which was made in the the 1980s and only recently 'discovered'. It gives tips on surviving WWIII. There is much pragmatic and valuable information in it. (HT: Open Culture)

Two-faced politicians

Friday, February 04, 2011
 The other day I stumbled across Julian Wolkenstein's post Symmetrical Portraits. He took frontal photos of people, and then split the photos in half, flipped them and made images of the people if their face were composed of two left or right sides. I was struck how different the two manufactured faces ended up appearing. Inspired by that, I decided to try my hand with current political types.



First I did Barak Obama's official portrait. As with all pictures in this series, the first is his right side and the next his left. The difference in his skin tone between the two pictures is from the lighting of the original picture, I did not adjust it at all. Still, at the risk of being accused of racism, I was amused by how scrawny, dorky albeit friendly looking, the right-faced version of him was while the pursed lips and intense stare of his left-faced version gives off a hint of menace. 



Right-faced Sarah, again because of the lighting of the original portrait, looks like she fell asleep in a tanning bed. Meanwhile, left-faced Sarah looks positively demented with her giant smile and large eyes.



Right-faced Reid, with his close set, beady eyes looks pretty dodgy, but left-faced Reid looks like a fiendly old coot.


Yikes! John Boehner is either an NFL lineman or a bobble-head doll. Unless his face was titled slightly to the left in the photo I used (and it didn't appear to be), he has a very asymmetrical face to say the least.


Gadzooks!!!  And I thought Boehner was a asymmetrical. Thick or thin, the right and left faced versions of the botoxed Pelosi both make her look completely bonkers. Hmmm... I wonder if there is a message in that?

I hope you enjoyed this foolishness, but I don't think I dare find out if the two faces of Pelosi can be topped for strangeness.

Stratfor and M.I.A.

Thursday, February 03, 2011
The most recent Stratfor article discusses using social media as a tool for protest. The hot babe I've chosen to link to the article - in a shameless and transparent attempt to draw extra traffic to Flares - is the rapper/singer M.I.A. (Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam). 

Her connection to protest and social media is admittedly a thin one: she is the daughter of one of the leaders of the Tamil separatist movement and she was one of the first musicians to sucessfully promote herself largely through the internet.

Her biography is rather strange. She was born in England, where her parents met, but her family returned to Sri Lanka when M.I.A. was a baby. Her father became one of the founders a Marxis militant group, that also welcomed radical Sri Lankan Moslems as members, called Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS). An altogether nasty group as you'll see if you follow the link.

As a child M.I.A. was estranged from her father. For what I imagine were security reasons he lived apart from M.I.A. and her mother. When he did visit her he was introduced as her uncle. Eventually the civil war got dicey enough that M.I.A. and her family, sans Dear Ol' Dad, returned to England as refugees. This is when M.I.A. learned English. 


She received a degree in fine art, film and video from London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. She started in graphic design, and only later moved into music. She mixed all of her early music and distributed it via file sharing. As such, she is considered on of the first sucessful musicians to use the internet to distribute her music and build a fan base.

Her music probably won't appeal to most of the older readers of this blog, but it is actually pretty good. Of course her lyrics are the usual nutty leftest flapdoodle, but her rhythms can be quite clever. She does a combination of electronica, rap, hip-hop and world music. If you're interested, here's a link to a YouTube video of her song Bucky Done Gun.

SOCIAL MEDIA AS A TOOL FOR PROTEST 


By Marko Papic and Sean Noonan, February 3, 2011

Internet services were reportedly restored in Egypt on Feb. 2 after being completely shut down for two days. Egyptian authorities unplugged the last Internet service provider (ISP) still operating Jan. 31 amidst ongoing protests across the country. The other four providers in Egypt -- Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr -- were shut down as the crisis boiled over on Jan. 27. Commentators immediately assumed this was a response to the organizational capabilities of social media websites that Cairo could not completely block from public access.

The role of social media in protests and revolutions has garnered considerable media attention in recent years. Current conventional wisdom has it that social networks have made regime change easier to organize and execute. An underlying assumption is that social media is making it more difficult to sustain an authoritarian regime -- even for hardened autocracies like Iran and Myanmar -- which could usher in a new wave of democratization around the globe. In a Jan. 27 YouTube interview, U.S. President Barack Obama went as far as to compare social networking to universal liberties such as freedom of speech.

Social media alone, however, do not instigate revolutions. They are no more responsible for the recent unrest in Tunisia and Egypt than cassette-tape recordings of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini speeches were responsible for the 1979 revolution in Iran. Social media are tools that allow revolutionary groups to lower the costs of participation, organization, recruitment and training. But like any tool, social media have inherent weaknesses and strengths, and their effectiveness depends on how effectively leaders use them and how accessible they are to people who know how to use them.

How to Use Social Media

The situations in Tunisia and Egypt have both seen an increased use of social networking media such as Facebook and Twitter to help organize, communicate and ultimately initiate civil-disobedience campaigns and street actions. The Iranian "Green Revolution" in 2009 was closely followed by the Western media via YouTube and Twitter, and the latter even gave Moldova's 2009 revolution its moniker, the "Twitter Revolution."



If the minute hands ticks towards midnight.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Any regular reader of this blog knows that I have little use for Obama. However, the notion that Obama fumbled away Egypt is misguided in my opinion. Yes, he was caught flat-footed, and I have little confidence he'll do anything other than make a bad situation worse, but in the end it will be the Egyptians, and nobody else, that have fumbled away Egypt if it sinks into a theocracy. 

Above are two pictures from Phyllis Chesler's post The Steady Erosion of Women’s Rights in Egypt: A Photographic Story. They are both of Cairo University graduating classes, the top one is from 1978 while the bottom is from 2004. In the first they are dressed in secular fashions, in the second the women all wear hajibs.  Their dress is not something the West forced on them. Their dress is a cultural reaction to the failure of the Islam against the West. 

Whether forced or not, and let's remember that Saudi Arabia, the epicenter of Wahhabism, has to enforce Moslem piety with canes and police beatings, their dress is their embrace of political Islam. Further, that embrace is spreading as Arab push-back against it falters.

When 9/11 happened I feared a widespread war. I still harbor that fear. There was a long thread at Slashdot after the 9/11 attacks. Every one was wondering what the future held and to do moving forward. There was on post in the midst of it all that worried that we already knew the answer to our dilemma: we had reduced both Japan and Germany to rubble and misery, and we could do it again. What a horrible thought, to bath the 21st Century in even more blood than the 20th. Still, it is a potential end game if all goes pear-shaped.

It is a knife's edge the world has been balancing upon, as each side increasingly sees existential threat in the other. I hope we can maintain the balance, because the alternatives are ghastly.  

Then again, maybe I'm just being jittery. I do tend to brood and fear the worse. Perhaps we'll all come out of this crisis in better shape than we entered it. Perhaps the Egyptian populace will embrace the Iraqi rather than the Gazan model of Moslem democracy; and, who knows, but there may be people in Tehran tonight -- and I don't mean the Mullahs -- who are looking at Cairo and seeing an opportunity to reignite their struggles against their repression. After all, history never moves in a straight line.

I apologize for this somber post. If it is any consolation, I am not an Arab or Islamic expert -- I'm just a dilettante. Ah, I should have never gone back and revisited Wretchard's Three Conjectures this afternoon.