Free Ma-Ro

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Above is a video clip of Ma-Ro, a Turkmenistani pop star. The song is standard, albeit slightly goofy, generic pop music. It is accompanied by pictures of Ma-Ro (Maksat "Maro" Karakbayev, the singer) and his friends. They appear to be having a good time, and they certainly are stylish in a Turmenistani pop star sort of way. I particularly liked the giant star belt buckle Ma-Ro sports. 

Entertainingly, a giant poster of the Turkmenbashi appears in the background of one of the pictures. Also, another shows what appears to be the base of the Twirling Statue of the Turkmenbashi I so admire.

Recently Ma-Ro appeared on a Tukish television show. Unfortunately for him he said something, nobody knows quite what it was, that infuriated Deputy Prime Minister Maysa Yazmukhamedova, the Minister of Culture or some such thing. He hauled Ma-Ro, his friend the fellow pop star Murad Ovezov and anybody else who appeared in the video (nooo... not Leyli and Angel) in for questioning.

The two pop stars were sentenced to 15 days in jail, but things got worse for Ma-Ro after his release. He, his father, brother and brother-in-law were arrested on trumped up charges over a TV antenna, and the lot of them were sentenced to 2 years in prison.

You can read the whole sordid story in the article: Popular Singers Arrested in Turkmenistan.

The family's best hope now for them now is to be granted amnesty. Unfortunately President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the Turkmenbashi's beloved successor, prefers patriotic music and songs singing his praises over pop music. Oh-oh. I wonder what the floor shows in Avaza are like if Ma-Ro is too risque for Turkmenistan?

At any rate, I say... enough is enough. Oh great and noble leaders of Turkmenistan, as somebody who uses the visage of the great Turkmenbashi as my aviator  I appeal to your sense of justice of free Ma-Ro and allow him to return to his music.

Then again, considering my numerous posts mocking the leaders of Turkmenistan, maybe things would go easier on Ma-Ro if the glorious leaders of Turkmenistan were unaware of my support.

Neutral means 'no'

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
"Members of Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, have begun circulating letters to businesses in southeast Wisconsin, asking them to support workers’ rights by putting up a sign in their windows.

If businesses fail to comply, the letter says, “Failure to do so will leave us no choice but (to) do a public boycott of your business. And sorry, neutral means 'no' to those who work for the largest employer in the area and are union members."
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in the article WSEU circulating boycott letters, is reporting that Wisconsin State Employees Union has started sending letters to businesses in southeast Wisconsin. These letters are threatening a boycott unless the businesses display a sign supporting the Union in its battle with Gov Walker. Union officials claim these letters are also being sent out in other parts of the State.

Bear in mind, this is not just boycotting businesses that contributed to Walker and the Republicans, it is threatening a boycott against any business that will not overtly support them. It is a naked attempt to politicize small businesses and main street.

What next? Boycotts for businesses that don't contribute to Democrats? It is a mere step away from running a protection racket and it is a completely contemptible strategy.

By the way, I got the picture for this post off of the SEIU website. Entertainingly enough, considering the topic of this thread, it is from a flyer they were whining about that 'unfairly' complained about Union intimidation. Poor little angels.

Finally, if you want to help the folks in Wisconsin squaring off against the Unions, the blog Le·gal In·sur·rec·tion has a post, Help Get This Ad On The Air In Wisconsin, that gives information how to contribute money to offset Union money being spent on TV ads for their upcoming Supreme Court Judge election. It's a good cause.

Obama's Libyan speech made perfect sense

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
When I first read Obama's Libyan speech I thought it was contradictory and faintly incoherent. However, as I thought about it and then read it again, I realized that Obama's speech made perfect sense if you viewed it from the perspective of a transnational Europhile, which is precisely the world view Obama holds.

Obama mentions the U.S. Congress in passing in the speech, but in reality it is the international community, and what he calls an "international mandate" that he invokes as justification for the intervention. It is his transnational impulses that lead him to stress that the UN, NATO and the African Union give legitimacy to the action while never really conferring with Congress and largely ignoring the American public for over a week.

Consider his pride in the coalition being put together in only 31 days. We know that the U.S. has acted with greater alacrity in other interventions, but that's the rub -- to him a Nation calling on its allies for action is the old and failed style of diplomacy and war. To him multinational organizations like the UN, the EU, NATO, the Arab League and the African Union trump mere governments. From that view point the agreement was quickly reached, while any previous military actions were merely national in scope and thus suspect and could be safely dismissed as being out-dated and irrelevant.

That is also why, aside from a nod to "democratic impulses" in the region he never discusses democracy. To the transnationalist the citizens are secondary -- after all, they are often little more than bumpkins when all is said and done. Further, it is not congresses or parliaments of individual governments that matter, rather it is the conferences and meetings of governments that confer authority. And, in the end, it doesn't matter not in the least how these leaders came to power, it only matters that they sit at the negotiating tables and support the new civilized order of the world.

Such attitudes explain his contradictions in taking action against Gaddafy while keeping the door propped open for Gaddafy's survival. In the transnational world there are only two avenues for Gaddy to pursue: he either steps down and ends up on the docket of the ICC at some future date, or he moderates his behavior while he keeps pumping the oil. The people's aspirations don't really matter, just ask a Syrian if you doubt that, it is only the stability of the world order that weighs on the scale.   

Yes, there is a lot of spin and BS in his speech, but at its core I think that, considering his embrace of the transnational world view, it is clear he is acting consistently. Too bad it is the Senate, and not the House, that can exert its authority in matters of war and peace. We're on a bad path I fear.

Found Films

Sunday, March 27, 2011
Found Films is a website I visit from time to time. The person who runs it finds old cameras with film still in them, or some times just rolls of old film, and processes them. Much of the film is damaged, and the resulting pictures sometimes have a dream-like quality to them. He posts and comments on the cameras that made them and the mysteries they reveal. The result is gallery after gallery of lost or discarded photos: family gatherings, portraits, picnics, vacations and all the other minutia of life.

The fascination with these photos is that the anonymous people in them are now all either elderly or gone, and perhaps some have been entirely forgotten. Of course, that is the fate of all of us, and all of us share these same sorts of moments the pictures record. Who knows, perhaps one day our photos will be taken from scrap boxes or lost cameras and posted on the internet to puzzle strangers, but in the meanwhile we can only look at these and wonder what is the story that they tell. 

Here's a few more of the pictures, with more after the jump...


Saturday Night Open thread

Saturday, March 26, 2011
Of course I'm joking with the title of this post. Flares doesn't generate a lot of comments -- lately even my beloved Chinese Spambots have deserted me -- so an open thread would be asking for more humiliation than I've already invited with my polls. I've been doing a wee bit of blog maintenance, and just wanted to mention the changes.

First, speaking of comments, I've added the ability for people to log on using OpenID. That choice is now available in the box that pops up when you go to add a comment. 

Secondly I've added a couple of new links to the top of the two right rails. Realizing our email was nowhere to be found on the site, I've added a 'Contact Me' button to the rightmost rail. It pops up a form that will send an email to us. At the moment I have that email going to my account. I know we have a yargb account at gmail, but for the life of me I can't remember or find the password to it. If anybody knows, send it on to me and I'll switch the contact form to point to it.

I've also added a 'Log into Flares' button to the top of the inner rail. I'm always amused at the thought that newer viewers of the blog must wonder why there is such a humongous list of contributors when it must seem I'm the only one posting. A bit of history -- we started out as a group of commentors from Roger Simon's pre-Pajamas Media blog and grouped together so we had a place to post articles without the need to individually maintain a blog. Most have moved on, but  from time to time the other folks still do post articles. So, I'm just entertaining myself by keeping the candles burning -- besides, our archives still get a fair amount of traffic. Nothing sadder than a dormant blog.

Anyway, back to the 'Log into Flares' button. I've gotten a couple of emails lately where contributors had forgotten their password, changed email addresses or weren't sure their accounts were active. It occurred to me some folk might not even remember where to go to add an article. That link takes you to our dashboard where you can login if'n you get the urge.

Finally I've added a couple of links: Bob's Blog and ISRO. The ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) link is part of my latest scheme -- linking to Indian sites to cover that neglected part of the Anglosphere.

By the way, in the likely event that my joke is too obscure, the picture of Duchamp's bicycle wheel readymade is in homage to Charles "Nuttier than a Fruitcake" Johnson of LGF who, in between obsessing over Creationism, has posted a seemingly infinite series of articles featuring pictures of bicycle wheels, spokes, chains, pedals and the like.   

A case for a better euphemism

Friday, March 25, 2011
Regarding Obama's replacing the W word with the phrase 'Kinetic Military Action'. As euphemisms go I suppose it sort of does its job, but I think it needs some tweeking so it can obfuscate in a more efficient and positive manner.

The first word 'kinetic' is just fine, but the second word 'military' needs to go. After all, it does bring to mind brutes with guns, bombs and what-not, and that is counterproductive and unacceptable. I suggest we replace 'military' with 'non-civilian', a word less likely to bring negative images to mind.

Which leads us to the final word 'action'. It is OK I suppose, but I think it could be improved upon to make the euphemism a teachable device as well. Considering Michelle's interest in childhood obesity, I propose we change it to 'excercise', thereby invoking images of sit-ups, deep knee bends and other healthy activities.

And so we end up with... 'Kinetic Non-Civilian Exercise', which is a real winner in my book! However, I'm open to suggestions that make it even better!

UPDATE: When I posted this I forgot to mention that the picture is of a hand crafted Chocolate Soldier from Martine's Chocolate. Yea, you would have to overcome your guilt of betraying Michelle first, but if you want to munch on one of them they can be ordered from the link.
     

Torn from today's headlines...

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I've taken a much longer break than I planned from my "Magical Tour of the Music of Mali" series (Part 1: Father & Son, Part 2: 14 years later). I had originally planned for this to be Part 4, but decided to go with it now because of its ties to Libya.

In the earlier pieces I talked about how West African music moved across the Atlantic with the slave trade, passing through the Caribbean and split north to the U.S. and south to Brazil. It evolved in the New World during the relative isolation of the Age of Sail, but eventually the music reflected back to Africa, where Latin and blues influences can now be heard.

I happened to see some of that reflection. During the Yom Kippur I was on a ship that ran a blockade of the Bab El Mandeb strait and had a port call in Massawa, Ethiopia. Being a sailor, as soon as I got off the ship I headed to the nearest bar. 

Most of the bars were just an empty room lit by a bare light bulb, with folding chairs to sit on and beer and ice served from a card table. Entertainment was 45 records played on the kind of record players American teens used to have -- the kind where the covers could be detached and had the speakers in them. The records they played, with the volume cranked up to an ear splitting 10 on the dial, were all Motown tunes and featured a lot of James Brown. That, and American pop in general, was the music that dominated many of their radio stations.

The videos accompanying this post are from the Malian band Tinariwen. The rhythms and chorus are definitely African, but the electric guitar and bass are unmistakably influenced by American blues. Specifically,  American blues filtered through rock bands like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix according to their lead guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib.   

The band is composed of rebel Taureg tribesman from the Sahara who moved to Libya in the 1980s to receive military training from Gaddafi. Another name they call their band is The Collective, so that should give you an idea of at least one component of their politics. Today, the mercenaries Gaddafi brought in to bolster his regime are primarily Tauregs.  And so we have West African rebels in blue jeans, listening to rock and soul music, spouting Marx, waving the Koran and worried most of all about clan feuds as we drop bombs on them. Tilt your head a certain way and I suppose it makes some sort of sense.

Of course, in between then and now Tinariwen and other Malian bands landed record contracts and tour dates in the West, but how that happened is a story for another post.




Straight edge, compass and pencil

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I doubt anybody teaches Euclid's Elements anymore, which is a shame. Many years ago, early in my high school days, I had to take a Geometry class. It seemed fairly useless at the time, but it was fascinating none the less. I spent hours with my compass and straight edge working from one proof to the next.

Upon reflection it turned out not to be useless at all. It was the first time I was exposed to a rigorous method of stepping from proof to proof to build a logical structure. In short, in its own abstract way, it did a wonderful job of teaching critical thinking. I wonder if today's school exercises on that skill do anywhere near as good a job?

I found a website dedicated to Euclid's Elements. It has all of his books in HTML form, as well as a java applet that provides you with a digital compass and straight edge.  So, if out of either curiosity, nostalgia or geometric masochism you have a notion to fiddle with the proofs -- have at it.     

Stratfor and Anne Heywood

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The latest Stratfor article concerns the situation in Libya. I think it places too much emphasis on the West expecting Democratic reform in North Africa as a result of their protests and revolutions. I'm sure there is some hope for that, but I suspect much of the West's maneuvering is far more cynical.

I think that Italy and the rest of the southern belly of Europe were horrified at the thought of refugees streaming north and, perhaps most importantly in terms of the drive towards military intervention, France got ahead of events by recognizing the rebel Libyan National Council as the country's legitimate government. When it all started to go pear-shaped after Moleman Gka'addaphee (<= official Flares spelling of his name) successfully pushed east to crush the rebellion I think the French, to try to save the situation, pretty much bamboozled Hillary into committing American military assets. The democracy stuff is just window dressing.

At any rate, for this articles Hot Strafor Babe I looked to ancient Carthage for inspiration, found the movie Carthage in Flames, and out popped Anne Heywood. The movie is an Italian spectacle about the fall and sacking of Carthage by the Romans and presumably has a cast of thousands. It also has a corny soap opera love triangle tacked on which drives the story. One reviewer at the IMDb described it as something that "seemed to have been plotted by a monkey on espresso". Oddly enough, that comment makes me want to see the film all the more for some reason.


LIBYA, THE WEST AND THE NARRATIVE OF DEMOCRACY

By George Friedman, March 22, 2011

Forces from the United States and some European countries have intervened in Libya. Under U.N. authorization, they have imposed a no-fly zone in Libya, meaning they will shoot down any Libyan aircraft that attempts to fly within Libya. In addition, they have conducted attacks against aircraft on the ground, airfields, air defenses and the command, control and communication systems of the Libyan government, and French and U.S. aircraft have struck against Libyan armor and ground forces. There also are reports of European and Egyptian special operations forces deploying in eastern Libya, where the opposition to the government is centered, particularly around the city of Benghazi. In effect, the intervention of this alliance has been against the government of Moammar Gadhafi, and by extension, in favor of his opponents in the east.

The alliance's full intention is not clear, nor is it clear that the allies are of one mind. The U.N. Security Council resolution clearly authorizes the imposition of a no-fly zone. By extension, this logically authorizes strikes against airfields and related targets. Very broadly, it also defines the mission of the intervention as protecting civilian lives. As such, it does not specifically prohibit the presence of ground forces, though it does clearly state that no "foreign occupation force" shall be permitted on Libyan soil. It can be assumed they intended that forces could intervene in Libya but could not remain in Libya after the intervention. What this means in practice is less than clear.

There is no question that the intervention is designed to protect Gadhafi's enemies from his forces. Gadhafi had threatened to attack "without mercy" and had mounted a sustained eastward assault that the rebels proved incapable of slowing. Before the intervention, the vanguard of his forces was on the doorstep of Benghazi. The protection of the eastern rebels from Gadhafi's vengeance coupled with attacks on facilities under Gadhafi's control logically leads to the conclusion that the alliance wants regime change, that it wants to replace the Gadhafi government with one led by the rebels.

But that would be too much like the invasion of Iraq against Saddam Hussein, and the United Nations and the alliance haven't gone that far in their rhetoric, regardless of the logic of their actions. Rather, the goal of the intervention is explicitly to stop Gadhafi's threat to slaughter his enemies, support his enemies but leave the responsibility for the outcome in the hands of the eastern coalition. In other words -- and this requires a lot of words to explain -- they want to intervene to protect Gadhafi's enemies, they are prepared to support those enemies (though it is not clear how far they are willing to go in providing that support), but they will not be responsible for the outcome of the civil war.

The Regional Context

To understand this logic, it is essential to begin by considering recent events in North Africa and the Arab world and the manner in which Western governments interpreted them. Beginning with Tunisia, spreading to Egypt and then to the Arabian Peninsula, the last two months have seen widespread unrest in the Arab world. Three assumptions have been made about this unrest. The first was that it represented broad-based popular opposition to existing governments, rather than representing the discontent of fragmented minorities -- in other words, that they were popular revolutions. Second, it assumed that these revolutions had as a common goal the creation of a democratic society. Third, it assumed that the kind of democratic society they wanted was similar to European-American democracy, in other words, a constitutional system supporting Western democratic values.

Each of the countries experiencing unrest was very different. For example, in Egypt, while the cameras focused on demonstrators, they spent little time filming the vast majority of the country that did not rise up. Unlike 1979 in Iran, the shopkeepers and workers did not protest en masse. Whether they supported the demonstrators in Tahrir Square is a matter of conjecture. They might have, but the demonstrators were a tiny fraction of Egyptian society, and while they clearly wanted a democracy, it is less than clear that they wanted a liberal democracy. Recall that the Iranian Revolution created an Islamic Republic more democratic than its critics would like to admit, but radically illiberal and oppressive. In Egypt, it is clear that Mubarak was generally loathed but not clear that the regime in general was being rejected. It is not clear from the outcome what will happen now. Egypt may stay as it is, it may become an illiberal democracy or it may become a liberal democracy. [continued after the jump]

DiploMad 2.0

Monday, March 21, 2011
The Diplomad has resumed blogging at his new site DiploMad 2.0. You may remember him from his excellent coverage of the U.N. and various NGOs in the aftermath of the Indonesian tsunami. I've added him to our blog roll. 

Below is an except of his most recent post Libya: This Doesn't Make Sense:

Then, Qaddafi got himself a rebellion. OK. People in Libya are unhappy. OK. He is a crazy gangster and responded like a gangster. OK. And our interests are what? Are they so pressing as to justify Obama's incredible abuse of Presidential power? Not even an attempt to get Congress, much less the American people on board? How do we justify sending our people into harm's way, spending hundreds of millions of dollars, probably billions by the time this is "over," however, that's defined?  What is the mission? No Fly Zone, or blast Qaddafi into the arms of 72 virgins? What result will make any difference to American national interests? What are our interests in this?

A slight digression, if you will.  This Libya business has served as a reminder that we have a President who is a typical product of our "finest" universities.  In other words, he is glib, narcissistic, feels entitled, and is intellectually lazy.  Despite all the hype to the contrary, I very much doubt Obama reads or reflects much.  We have a U.S. President, totally ignorant of America's history and of world realities, bored by the duties and responsibilities of the Presidency, but enamored of its perks--he launches a war as he goes off on an eminently postponable trip to Brazil.  He needs a distraction from his failed domestic policies, so why not a little PR burnishing on the international scene? A war is good for that; war leaders look tough, and there are always those photos with returning service personnel.

Dining companions

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I wonder which one picked up the check? 

Arab Insult Shoes go global

Saturday, March 19, 2011
While reading Don Suber's post Rio to O: Yankee go home I was struck by something in the accompanying picture (cropped version above). The protesters are burning an American flag, and as they burn it two of them are stomping on it with their shoes. Further, one of them holds a shoe, presumably so he can thump on the flag with the shoe. 

It would appear the Brazilian protesters have added the dreaded Arab Insult Shoe to their arsenal. I wonder if pictures of Walker are being pummeled with shoes in Wisconsin?

I, like most of us I imagine, first encountered Arab Insult Shoes when Saddam Hussein's statue was being pulled down in Baghdad. As we watched, Iraquis kept rushing up to it and beating it with their shoes. Then there was the incident where Muntadar al-Zeidi  threw his shoe at President Bush. Prior to that my notion of shoes as weapons was limited to the Jerry Springer show, where bimbos battling over a seedy Lothario would invariably end up throwing their shoes at each other; but apparently now such antics have been elevated to political statements.

Hmmm I wonder what other Middle Eastern protest tactics might catch on with their brothers and sisters in the West? Perhaps Egyptian Riot Headgear?


Edited to add: Oh no! Maybe Egyptian Riot Headgear has already started to spread to protests around the world!





We will throw our baseballs in your lawn

Friday, March 18, 2011

Above is a picture of old-timey strikers at a steel mill beating up a scab. Images like the above, along with stories of Union members battling owner controlled police forces and teamsters with lead pipes wrapped in newspapers to serve as concealed clubs are part of the iconography of the labor movement. In their imagination they are still staging those street battles and factory strikes, with justice on their side and steel in their hearts.

But that was then, and this is now. When the Union folk gather now they sing old Woodie Guthrie songs about the cruel boss man, coal mine disasters and the injustice of the looms of Pennsylvania, but they also sing of more modern things; such as this outrage covered by the song All Saturdays Included or is it Advance Solutions Inc./SBC by David G. Hurlburt:
They go to the window and their Parents aren't there,
Another Saturday working, ASI it just isn't FAIR.
We agreed to rotate Saturdays not work every one,
Give us back our Saturdays we all need some fun.
There in lies a problem for modern Unionistas. They have an institutional memory of the good fight fought long ago, but those old battle fields have faded away and in their place are early retirement, free pensions and Saturdays off to watch the kids play soccer. 

In fact today's Union/non-Union worker conflicts will not be a scab being beaten like in the picture above, but rather teachers bickering in school break rooms in Wisconsin as some stop paying union dues and other continue to write checks. There is no muscle left in the unions and the argument can be made that their forced dues and closed shops are among the most onerous workplace injustices of today.

Which brings us to Jim Shankman (the title of this post is from his unhinged rant against Ann Althouse) and all the other threats in Wisconsin and elsewhere. 


Lacking bodies to man the picket lines, much less intimidate their foes in the time honored Union way, Trumka and the other union bosses have called for a coalition of the Unions and progressives of every stripe. That's why you see so many students, student hangers-on and geriatric hippies in videos of the protests. The call for a general strike went no where, and this is the only army they can raise. 

The danger in all of this for the Unions is that they cede their strategy and tactics to these other groups. Striking teachers can be portrayed sympathetically, but Jim Shankman and his deranged threat to toss baseballs onto Althouse's lawn so he can trespass to retrieve them is just juvenile lunacy of the first order. Crazed death threats, broken windows, nails on drive ways and Public Hearings disrupted are just more of the same lunacy.

I think that in the end that will be a problem for the Unions. They won't control their own portrayal. Instead, and regardless of the media's efforts to cover for them, loons like Jim Shankman will yell loud enough to seem to be the messengers. 

ADDED: the Gormogons have a post Delusional Union Leaders about Trumla's absurd attempt to link the current Union uproar with the anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. More lunacy on display and further evidence that the labor movement seems hellbent on trivializing itself these days. 

Stratfor and Yoko Yaguchi

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
This Stratfor article deals with Japan's energy dependence and how their problems with their nuclear reactors, as well the unrest in the Middle East, the main source of their oil, are converging to show how fragile of a base their industrial economy rests upon. 

Freidman discusses how Japan's nuclear plants were an attempt to provide itself with an alternative to having to import 100% of their energy needs and how the post-tsunami problems with the reactors have shaken Japan's faith in that supposed safety net.

The last time Japan felt threatened over imports led them to war with the U.S. and so I reached back to the WWII Japanese propaganda film The Most Beautiful for today's Hot Stratfor Babe, Yoko Yaguchi. As far as I can tell that's her above.   

The Most Beautiful was released in 1944 and is Akira Kurosawa's second film as a director. It is a propaganda film which centers on a group of teenage girls working in an optics factory to support the war effort. Yoko Yaguchi was the star of it, and she was to eventually marry Kurosawa.   

My best wishes go out to the Japanese. The scale of suffering and destruction they have endured these last several days in unimaginable. It is going to take extraordinary effort and treasure for them to rebuild. I hope the U.S. gives them our full support.  


JAPAN, THE PERSIAN GULF AND ENERGY

By George Friedman, March 15, 2011

Over the past week, everything seemed to converge on energy. The unrest in the Persian Gulf raised the specter of the disruption of oil supplies to the rest of the world, and an earthquake in Japan knocked out a string of nuclear reactors with potentially devastating effect. Japan depends on nuclear energy and it depends on the Persian Gulf, which is where it gets most of its oil. It was, therefore, a profoundly bad week for Japan, not only because of the extensive damage and human suffering but also because Japan was being shown that it can't readily escape the realities of geography.

Japan is the world's third-largest economy, a bit behind China now. It is also the third-largest industrial economy, behind only the United States and China. Japan's problem is that its enormous industrial plant is built in a country almost totally devoid of mineral resources. It must import virtually all of the metals and energy that it uses to manufacture industrial products. It maintains stockpiles, but should those stockpiles be depleted and no new imports arrive, Japan stops being an industrial power.

The Geography of Oil

There are multiple sources for many of the metals Japan imports, so that if supplies stop flowing from one place it can get them from other places. The geography of oil is more limited. In order to access the amount of oil Japan needs, the only place to get it is the Persian Gulf. There are other places to get some of what Japan needs, but it cannot do without the Persian Gulf for its oil.

This past week, we saw that this was a potentially vulnerable source. The unrest that swept the western littoral of the Arabian Peninsula and the ongoing tension between the Saudis and Iranians, as well as the tension between Iran and the United States, raised the possibility of disruptions. The geography of the Persian Gulf is extraordinary. It is a narrow body of water opening into a narrow channel through the Strait of Hormuz. Any diminution of the flow from any source in the region, let alone the complete closure of the Strait of Hormuz, would have profound implications for the global economy.

For Japan it could mean more than higher prices. It could mean being unable to secure the amount of oil needed at any price. The movement of tankers, the limits on port facilities and long-term contracts that commit oil to other places could make it impossible for Japan to physically secure the oil it needs to run its industrial plant. On an extended basis, this would draw down reserves and constrain Japan's economy dramatically. And, obviously, when the world's third-largest industrial plant drastically slows, the impact on the global supply chain is both dramatic and complex. [continued after the jump]

Students get slapped with detention slips in Madison

Monday, March 14, 2011
Via Gateway Pundit the site Madison.com is reporting that the Madison School board reached an agreement with Madison Teachers Inc regarding make-up time for the 4 days schools were closed due to the teachers calling in sick to attend the protests. 

They're adding up to 20 minutes each day for the rest of the year to make up for the lost school days. From the article:
"The School Board reached an agreement with Madison Teachers Inc. over the weekend that allowed the district to set the makeup calendar. The agreement also ensures teachers with unexcused absences will not be paid for those days and that teachers who submitted fraudulent sick notes will be suspended.

The district has not yet released the number of teachers that missed school to work those days. The district received more than 1,000 sick notes, including some from doctors who were handing them out at the Capitol protests, assistant legal counsel Matt Bell said."
Sounds like detention to me. I wonder if the kids are now happy that they got the days off so the teachers could drag them to protests where they could listen to simple-minded drumming, admire hand crafted protest signs, learn how diabolical the Koch brothers are and chant, "this is what democracy looks like" all day long? 

In other fall out from the bill, one of the reason collective bargaining was limited was that the Teachers Union often bound districts to WEA Trust, the controversial Union-ran health insurance provider for teachers. Along with being rather expensive, it is another cash cow for Unions because WEA Trust kicks back millions of dollars to the Union under the guise of 'consulting' fees.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Cedarburg School Board is looking to switch from WEA Trust to a cheaper carrier as a cost savings measure. Other school boards are expected to do the same.

Finally, although Doug La Follette, the Democrat Secretary of State, is holding of publishing the bill as long as legally possible (primarily to extend collective bargaining time for some school districts), he will have to publish it by the end of March. This means that early in April there will be Do-or-die Union Votes to determine if the Unions are decertified. To survive the Unions will need to get 51% of the total Union membership (not just of the votes cast) to vote for the Unions. Of course, the dues will also stop being automatically deducted from the workers' paychecks at that time.

As I said in my last post, that's the first vote -- predating any recall elections by months -- that Walker's bill is going to face. Further, it is a vote that is limited to the Union people who are supposedly his biggest foes. If that vote leads to Unions losing their certification, and significant amount of cash from dues, then it will be another resounding defeat for the Unionistas. They may discover they don't have near the votes they hope they have for the recalls.

While we were gone, democracy failed in so many ways

Saturday, March 12, 2011


"While we were gone, democracy failed in so many ways,"
said Sen. Lena Taylor.

The 14 Democratic Senators have returned to Wisconsin. Above is my favorite quote from the linked article. The absurdity of it is breath taking in its oblivious irony.

First the Democrats got clobbered in the election, losing both houses of the state legislature and the Governor's office. Then they got clobbered when the Budget Repair bill got passed in spite of their maneuvering.

Now they've returned to Madison for the Michael Moore called protests and they're circling the Capitol Building like conquering heroes. Apparently, in defense of democracy, they next plan on transitioning into campaign mode for the recall election.

However, prior to any recalls, the first vote that will be held will be the number of current Union members who don't send in their checks to cover Union dues. I suspect they'll find scant comfort in the count of those numbers.

The first Flares Poll of International Opinion

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

In a comment thread below OMMAG of the blog One More Middle Aged Guy was wondering why there was not more discussion of Agent 99 from Get Smart. I was wondering the same thing. 

So, in spite of the apparent utter lack of interest in the topic, I -- perhaps unwisely -- decided to make it the topic of the first Flares Poll of International Opinion. I'll confess that my greatest fear is that a lack of votes will vividly demonstrate just how anemic the traffic to this blog is. So, vote early and vote often to spare me the shame.  

The poll is on the top of the sidebar column to the right. Naturally, feel free to discuss this important issue in the comments if you feel the need.

Strafor and Golshifteh Farahani

Tuesday, March 08, 2011
This Strafor article discusses the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran in light of the United States' withdrawal from Iraq. For the Hot Strafor Babe I've selected the Iranian actress and musician Golshifteh Farahani.

Farahani was a star of Iranian cinema who eventually moved on to making movies outside of Iran. Her role in Body of Lies made her the first Iranian actress to have a significant part in a Hollywood movie. Her part in that movie also caused the Iranian authorities to seize her passport while they investigated her. Nearly a third of her movies are banned in Iran.

After several months she eventually made it out of Iran and is now living in Paris with her husband. She is too paranoid to return because there is still a court there is weighing whether she broke Islamic law by making the film without permission. In fact, when the film premiered she skipped its premier in Dubai for fear of the Iranians. The article Love interest in Leonardo DiCaprio's new film fears exile from Iran briefly discusses her situation.

What a world we live in. The Jetsons promised us hover cars and robot maids in the 21st Century, instead we get the barbarism of religious zealotry.


BAHRAIN AND THE BATTLE BETWEEN IRAN AND SAUDI ARABIA

By George Friedman, March 8, 2011

The world's attention is focused on Libya, which is now in a state of civil war with the winner far from clear. While crucial for the Libyan people and of some significance to the world's oil markets, in our view, Libya is not the most important event in the Arab world at the moment. The demonstrations in Bahrain are, in my view, far more significant in their implications for the region and potentially for the world. To understand this, we must place it in a strategic context.

As STRATFOR has been saying for quite a while, a decisive moment is approaching, with the United States currently slated to withdraw the last of its forces from Iraq by the end of the year. Indeed, we are already at a point where the composition of the 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq has shifted from combat troops to training and support personnel. As it stands now, even these will all be gone by Dec. 31, 2011, provided the United States does not negotiate an extended stay. Iraq still does not have a stable government. It also does not have a military and security apparatus able to enforce the will of the government (which is hardly of one mind on anything) on the country, much less defend the country from outside forces.

Filling the Vacuum in Iraq

The decision to withdraw creates a vacuum in Iraq, and the question of the wisdom of the original invasion is at this point moot. The Iranians previously have made clear that they intend to fill this vacuum with their own influence; doing so makes perfect sense from their point of view. Iran and Iraq fought a long and brutal war in the 1980s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran is now secure on all fronts save the western. Tehran's primary national security imperative now is to prevent a strong government from emerging in Baghdad, and more important, a significant military force from emerging there. Iran never wants to fight another war with Iraq, making keeping Iraq permanently weak and fragmented in Tehran's interest. The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq sets the stage for Iran to pursue this goal, profoundly changing the regional dynamic.

Iran has another, more challenging strategic interest, one it has had since Biblical times. That goal is to be the dominant power in the Persian Gulf.

For Tehran, this is both reasonable and attainable. Iran has the largest and most ideologically committed military of any state in the Persian Gulf region. Despite the apparent technological sophistication of the Gulf states' militaries, they are shells. Iran's is not. In addition to being the leading military force in the Persian Gulf, Iran has 75 million people, giving it a larger population than all other Persian Gulf states combined.

Outside powers have prevented Iran from dominating the region since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, first the United Kingdom and then the United States, which consistently have supported the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. It was in the outsiders' interests to maintain a divided region, and therefore in their interests to block the most powerful country in the region from dominating even when the outsiders were allied with Iran.

With the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, this strategy is being abandoned in the sense that the force needed to contain Iran is being withdrawn. The forces left in Kuwait and U.S air power might be able to limit a conventional Iranian attack. Still, the U.S. withdrawal leaves the Iranians with the most powerful military force in the region regardless of whether they acquire nuclear weapons. Indeed, in my view, the nuclear issue largely has been an Iranian diversion from the more fundamental issue, namely, the regional balance after the departure of the United States. By focusing on the nuclear issue, these other issues appeared subsidiary and have been largely ignored.

The U.S. withdrawal does not mean that the United States is powerless against Iran. It has been reconstituting a pre-positioned heavy brigade combat team set in Kuwait and has substantial air and naval assets in the region. It also can bring more forces back to the region if Iran is aggressive. But it takes at least several months for the United States to bring multidivisional forces into a theater and requires the kind of political will that will be severely lacking in the United States in the years ahead. It is not clear that the forces available on the ground could stop a determined Iranian thrust. In any case, Iraq will be free of American troops, allowing Iran to operate much more freely there.

And Iran does not need to change the balance of power in the region through the overt exercise of military force. Its covert capability, unchecked by American force, is significant. It can covertly support pro-Iranian forces in the region, destabilizing existing regimes. With the psychology of the Arab masses changing, as they are no longer afraid to challenge their rulers, Iran will enjoy an enhanced capacity to cause instability.

As important, the U.S. withdrawal will cause a profound shift in psychological perceptions of power in the region. Recognition of Iran's relative power based on ground realities will force a very different political perception of Iran, and a desire to accommodate Tehran. The Iranians, who understand the weakness of their military's logistics and air power, are pursuing a strategy of indirect approach. They are laying the foundation for power based on a perception of greater Iranian power and declining American and Saudi power.
[continued after jump]


Milwaukee teachers go soft on Viagra

Monday, March 07, 2011
Sorry, I don't really have anything to say about this, I just couldn't resist the headline. From Drudge, Milwaukee teachers drop Viagra suit

The way to a man's heart

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Above is a chart dealing with food self-sufficiency. It is measuring, in calories, (exports-imports)/consumption. Green marks countries with high food self-sufficiency and the scale moves to red, which marks countries poorly able to feed themselves, much less export food (original Net Trade in Food chart).

Anybody following the current unrest in North Africa and the Middle East will immediately note that the area is bathed in red. Add in the percentage of a person's income spent on food and the picture looks even worse. For example, both Spain and Algeria are dark red, yet the Spanish spend only 14.6% of their incomes on food, while Algerians spend a whopping 44% on food.

That means that if World food prices go up they'll cut into the discretionary spending of the Spanish, while they'll cut to the bone in places like Algeria. 

The Chinese are having a crop failure, but they have money to buy food imports. That, and the increasing transport costs due to rising oil prices, means that the price of food will go up. This does not bode well for stability of any post demonstration/revolution Middle Eastern and North African governments. I think it will almost certainly extend the instability of an already unstable region. 

I suspect that whatever governments arise from the latest unrest -- be they better, worse, or more or less more of the same -- that it is likely those governments themselves will be swept away if people grow hungrier. This is going to be a multi-year bumpy ride - Europe, which is already turning to the right is going to face an onslaught of refugees, while the food exporting countries are going to be relentlessly hectored by the UN Food Justice folks.

To end this post, Peter Menzel has put together a series of photographs showing family's weekly expenditures in food around the world. Below, and after the jump, are a few of those photos (from Fresh Pics' What the World Eats Around the World which has more pictures as well as descriptions):

(Hellooooooo visitors from Instapundit)
(Hellooooooo visitors from Small dead animals)


Egypt


USA

Stratfor and Barbara Feldon

Thursday, March 03, 2011
 The latest Strafor article, with the Raymond Davis case as a starting point, discusses the tension between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) as they both operate in that country.

Fishing about for a Hot Stratfor Babe to accompany I naturally settled on Agent 99 from Get Smart. This posed a bit of a problem since there are two Agent 99s, Barbara Feldon of the TV series, and Anne Hathaway from the more recent movie remake of the show.

Bearing in mind the purposes of the Hot Stratfor Babe, which is just to lure unsuspecting traffic to this blog, Anne Hathaway would probably be the better choice of the two. Still, and I think we can all agree on this, Barbara Feldon pretty much owns the role. So, for that reason, I've chosen her as the Hot Strafor Babe for this article.  

By the way, at the end of the article, after the jump, I've added a bonus -- the video clip "Max and 99 meet the Sacred Cows".

PAKISTANI INTELLIGENCE AND THE CIA: MUTUAL DISTRUST AND SUSPICION

By Scott Stewart, March 3, 2011

On March 1, U.S. diplomatic sources reportedly told Dawn News that a proposed exchange with the Pakistani government of U.S. citizen Raymond Davis for Pakistani citizen Aafia Siddiqui was not going to happen. Davis is a contract security officer working for the CIA who was arrested by Pakistani police on Jan. 27 following an incident in which he shot two men who reportedly pointed a pistol at him in an apparent robbery attempt. Siddiqui was arrested by the Afghan National Police in Afghanistan in 2008 on suspicion of being linked to al Qaeda.

During Siddiqui's interrogation at a police station, she reportedly grabbed a weapon from one of her interrogators and opened fire on the American team sent to debrief her. Siddiqui was wounded in the exchange of fire and taken to Bagram air base for treatment. After her recovery, she was transported to the United States and charged in U.S. District Court in New York with armed assault and the attempted murder of U.S. government employees. Siddique was convicted in February 2010 and sentenced in September 2010 to 86 years in prison.

Given the differences in circumstances between these two cases, it is not difficult to see why the U.S. government would not agree to such an exchange. Siddique had been arrested by the local authorities and was being questioned, while Davis was accosted on the street by armed men and thought he was being robbed. His case has served to exacerbate a growing rift between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).

Pakistan has proved to be a very dangerous country for both ISI and CIA officers. Because of this environment, it is necessary for intelligence officers to have security -- especially when they are conducting meetings with terrorist sources -- and for security officers to protect American officials. Due to the heavy security demands in high-threat countries like Pakistan, the U.S. government has been forced to rely on contract security officers like Davis. It is important to recognize, however, that the Davis case is not really the cause of the current tensions between the Americans and Pakistanis. There are far deeper issues causing the rift.