New wedding traditions in Tukmenistan

Monday, October 31, 2011
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the former dentist and current President of Turkmenistan, is opening a new Palace of Happiness for newlyweds in his country. 

In fact, he is plunging headfirst into the wedding business. At a recent ceremony where he awarded himself the title Hero of Turkmenistan he also issued degrees regarding proper wedding day festivities. 

As the Guardian reports in the article Turkmen couples ordered to plant trees and visit monuments on wedding day
In the latest example of what might generously be called his eccentric approach to power, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has ordered couples to plant trees and visit the city's main monuments on their big day. While most couples might hope to be raising a glass or two of champagne, Turkmen couples will now spend their wedding day visiting such romantic sites as the Earthquake Memorial, the Monument to the Constitution, the Monument to Independence and, finally, a second world war memorial.

The new requirements highlight "the exceptional importance of preserving family values in modern society and raising the younger generation to respect the traditions and customs of the people", Berdymukhamedov said at a government meeting devoted to weddings last week.

I did notice that missing from the list of monuments was the Neutrality Monument, which is of course the giant twirling statue of the Turkmenbashi that I so admire. As the Occupy Wall Street protestors might say, "shame on you Berdymukhamedov, shame, shame, shame!"

At any rate, once the romantic nuptial tour of monuments is completed and they make it to their wedding reception they still haven't freed themselves from Berdymukhamedov's lunacy. As I reported earlier in Good news & bad news: 
Having apparently demolished the visual arts, Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Culture, Television and Radio Broadcasting has stated that all songs should now be orientated towards promoting the New Renaissance epoch. Of course, it goes without saying, the best way to do that is to sing the praises of the Arkadag [ED: another name for President Berdymukhamedov].

As the Chronicles of Turkmenistan report in their article Patriotic repertoire for restaurants and cafes, this even goes so far as dictating to dining establishments that that are "responsible for the content of the songs, performed during staff parties, weddings and other festivities which are held at their venues." In other words, it's now all Askadag praise, all the time. (emphasis added)

Gah, poor Turkmenistanis, there is no escaping the lunatic. Soon he'll be issuing decrees that they need to Honeymoon in Avaza.
 

Mississippi Blues



Monday morning, start of the work week blues by William Brown.

 

The sound of English revisited

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Some time ago I ran a post The Sound of English that featured a song by Adriano Celentano, an Italian singer and comedian, which was sung in nonsense syllables meant to sound like English. Above is the short film Skwerl by Brian Fairbairn which follows two people eating, and then arguing, in gibberish meant to sound like English. Not bad, although there are a few too many actual English words mixed in.

As for the film itself, I was uncertain who's side to take in the argument until the very end, but then -- oh pu-leeze -- everybody knows that tears followed by the ol' "sparklers in a pineapple" gambit is nothing more than theater to cover up the woman's weak position. Stick to your guns fake-English spouting guy, I support you 110%.
  
Although I do admit the symbolism of the sparkles fizzling out brought a tear to my eye. It is an age old story -- boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy is left with nothing but a pineapple to remember the girl by while she gets the house, kids, dog and a monthly alimony check.  
 

World Street Walking



Above is a video of a man walking through the Shilin night market in Taipei, Taiwan. It is from the website World Street Walking which features numerous videos of this fellow walking through various parts of cities in Asia. Fascinating in an odd sort of a way.
 

The Royal Society archive in now online

Saturday, October 29, 2011
Meeting of the Royal Society of London
The Royal Society has placed an archive of their journals online. The archive covers papers published fro 70 years ago to their earliest, which dates to 1665. The archived documents are freely available. As they explain in their announcement of the new online archive:
The Royal Society is the world’s oldest scientific publisher, with the first edition of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society appearing in 1665.  Henry Oldenburg – Secretary of the Royal Society and first Editor of the publication – ensured that it was “licensed by the council of the society, being first reviewed by some of the members of the same”, thus making it the first ever peer-reviewed journal.

Philosophical Transactions had to overcome early setbacks including plague, the Great Fire of London and even the imprisonment of Oldenburg, but against the odds the publication survived to the present day.  Its foundation would eventually be recognised as one of the most pivotal moments of the scientific revolution.
They point to some papers of particular interest are historical pieces such as Isaac Newton’s first published scientific paper, geological work by a young Charles Darwin, and Benjamin Franklin’s account of his electrical kite experiment.

I found myself just plugging a random year into the archive's search engine and browsing the titles for articles of interest. In many ways I found the obscure papers more interesting than the historical ones because they reveal a scope of curiosity that is truly astonishing.

Early subjects like Directions for Sea-Men, Bound for Far Voyages, or later ones like Antony van Lewenhoek reporting on his careful and detailed examination of the Circulation and Stagnation of the Blood in Tadpoles or Robert Boyd's Tables of the Weights of the Human Body and the Internal Organs in the Sane and Insane of Both Sexes at Various Ages give a clear view of the effort and thought that fashioned the individual bricks that built  modern science.

Be warned, if you like the history of science this site is going to consume a lot of your time.

Mongolian Death Worm movie declared a classic

A mortified Humphrey Bogart hits the bottle upon hearing the news that Casablanca
is in the same league as SyFy's Mongolian Death Worm.
As regular visitors to Flares know I have certain obscure topics that I track with a religious fervor. One of them is Mongolian Death Worms. Since it has been a while since I've written about them I decided to cruise the internet for the latest on Mongolian Death Worms.

Imagine my surprise when I read the following startling news in the TechRadar article YouTube Movies launches in the UK:
YouTube has finally brought its film streaming service to the UK, with over a thousand films available to rent on the Google owned video site.

The service, which was previously available in the US and Canada, includes classics such as Reservoir Dogs, Casablanca and Mongolian Death Worm. It also lets you stream more recent titles like Hanna, Red Riding Hood and Mega Piranha. (emphasis added)

Huh? The Mongolian Death Worm mentioned as a classic in the same breath as Casablanca?

I've seen Mongolian Death Worm. It was one of the SyFy channel's Saturday night movies. The plot, and I'm using that term loosely, revolved around a female doctor fighting an epidemic inflicting the locals, a roguish hero with a perpetual 5 o'clock shodow searching for Genghis Khan's lost treasure, some eeeevil oil men drilling in the Gobi Desert for nefarious purposes and a bunch of cheesy looking CGI Death Worms eating people.

In other words, it was a typically nonsensical SyFy channel movie. How did that film ever end up getting named a classic just like Casablanca? What am I missing? Ah well, that's a mystery that will take some time to solve.

Holiday Greetings from the EFLI

Friday, October 28, 2011
I mentioned in my last update about EFLI (Elite Football League of India) that I had signed up for their email newsletter. Today I got holiday greetings from them and I thought I would pass them on.
Happy Diwali

Diwali, also called as 'Festival of Lights' is a very important festival celebrated in India. According to the Hindu calendar it also marks the beginning of a new year hence everyone is wished "Wish you a very Happy Diwali and a Prosperous New Year".

This festival takes its roots from the mythology 'Ramayana' where King Ram returns home after 14 years of exile and all the villagers lit their house with small clay lamps (diyas) to celebrate his return.

We celebrate Diwali by shopping for new clothes, sending sweets and wishing everyone (family/friends/colleagues), lighting your windows with lanterns, placing small clay lamps (diyas) in every corner of the house, making colorful patterns (rangoli) outside your home, bursting lots of crackers and conducting traditional activities (puja) at home.

"On this auspicious festival of lights, may the glow of joy, prosperity and happiness illuminate your days in the year ahead. Wish you a very Happy Diwali and a Prosperous New Year" 
Thanks for the well wishes, and back at ya EFLI.

One thing continues to puzzle me, in my last report I linked to a newspaper article that said that the EFLI had expanded from 8 to 10 teams. In the comments of that post Dan Green pointed out that the EFLI Wikipedia page indicated that Chennai and Jaipur were the two cities that landed the new franchises. Yet, in the newsletter they continue to report only the original 8 teams.

To try to clear this up I went to their website and got even more confused when I read the article City game for ‘American league’. It made no mention of adding two more teams from Indian cities, but it did say they were going to invite two teams from Sri Lanka and one from Bangladesh to play. So, is it 8, 10,11, or 13 teams? I guess we'll find out.

By the way, this section from the above EFLI article is pretty entertaining:
Does the average Indian have the physique or skill to compete in such a “ruthless sport”? All three men laugh it off and Thimmaiah says, “It is nothing like what the public imagine. Played with an elongated ball, the game offers 44 players the chance of being involved in a game (including substitutions). The game accommodates all physical attributes; athletes from any sport can take to this game. It calls for power, speed and agility. It does not need special skills,” he says.

The forwards and interiors do not even touch the ball, leave alone catch it. Their job is only to defend the quarter-backs… to stop the opposition from getting to the quarter-backs,” said Thimmaiah, adding: “You have a defending team, an attacking team and a kicking team. It is not about just 11 on field. Thirty players are used in each game, with the other 14 used for substitutions. So, it involves a lot of people and does not need any one qualification or requirement to play the game.”
 

Stratfor and Greta Thyssen

This Stratfor article examines and IED ambush staged in Mexico this week. The ambush involved drawing a Mexican military vehicle into a position where it was near a small IED that was then remotely detonated.

The bulk of the article discusses why Strafor chooses certain incidents to examine closer, as well as the various reports and analysis they publish on an ongoing basis. In the case of the IED attack it was the location of the attack that piqued their interest in it.

They've concluded that the location of the attack points to it being the work of the Zetas. The size and construction of the bomb indicates it was meant to send a message rather than cause casualties, which is consistent with Mexican cartels history of not escalating the lethality of their use of IEDs. 

Since bombs were involved, tradition dictates that I scour the ranks of Hollywood Blonde Bombshells to select the article's Hot Strafor Babe. After careful consideration I've chosen Greta Thyssen to receive the honor for this article.

Who is Ms Tyseen you ask? Fair question. Truth be told, her career was pretty much of a resounding flop. After winning the Miss Denmark crown in 1952 she moved to Hollywood where her first part was as Marilyn Monroe's body double in Bus Stop. After that she moved on to the pinnacle of her career -- the female lead in a few 3 Stooges shorts. 

While 3 Stooges shorts may not get an actress a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I'm sure that you'll agree that it certainly earns the admiration of us Hot Stratfor Babe fans. Besides, it gives me an easy choice of the bonus video embedded after the article: Part I of Pies and Guys. These is a link to Part II of the film if you have a hankering to see Greta Thyssen get smacked in the face with a cream pie.


Dissecting a Mexican Cartel Bombing in Monterrey
By Scott Stewart, October 27, 2011

Early Oct. 20, a small sedan apparently filled with cartel gunmen rapidly pulled in front of a military vehicle, drawing the military patrol into a car chase in downtown Monterrey, Mexico. After a brief pursuit, the vehicle carrying the cartel gunmen turned at an intersection. As the military vehicle slowed to negotiate the turn, an improvised explosive device (IED) concealed in a parked car at the intersection detonated. The incident appears to have been intended to lure the military patrol into a designated attack zone. While the ambush did not kill any soldiers, it did cause them to break off their chase.

Though this IED ambush is interesting in itself for a number of reasons, we would like to use it as a lens to explore a deeper topic, namely, how STRATFOR analyzes a tactical incident like this.

Why We Look at an Incident

Hundreds of violent incidents take place every day worldwide, from fuel depot explosions in Sirte, Libya, to shootings in southern Thailand to grenade attacks in Nairobi, Kenya — just a few of the things that happened on a single day this week. Indeed, a typical day sees dozens of incidents in Mexico alone, from shootings and beheadings to kidnappings and cargo theft. Unless one has a method to triage such incidents, they quickly can overwhelm an analyst, dragging him or her down into the weeds struggling to understand the tactical details of every one. This can result in information overload. The details of so many incidents simply overwhelm the analyst’s ability to understand them and place them in a context that allows them to be compared to, and perhaps linked with, other incidents.

STRATFOR’s methodology for placing items in context begins with our interrelated array of net assessments and forecasts. Net assessments are high-level overviews of the significant issues driving the current behavior of nations, regions and other significant international actors. Forecasts can be drawn from these baseline assessments to predict how these actors will behave, and how that behavior will impact regional dynamics. In this way, net assessments and forecasts provide a strategic framework of understanding that can be used to help create assessments and forecasts for tactical-level items.

In the case of Mexico, we have long considered the country’s criminal cartels significant tactical-level actors, and we have established an analytical framework for understanding them. We publish this framework in the form of our annual cartel report. The higher-level framework generally shapes such tactical-level analyses, but at times the analyses can also contradict and challenge the higher-level assessments. We also maintain a regular flow of tactical analyses such as the weekly Mexico Security Memo, which serves to explain how events in Mexico fit into our analytical framework. The items we select as bullets for the second section of the Mexico Security Memo are significant and further the analytical narrative of what is happening in Mexico but do not require deeper analysis. This helps our readers cut through the clutter of the reporting from Mexico by focusing on what we find important. We also strive to eliminate the bias so prevalent in today’s media landscape. Our readers frequently tell us they find this analytical winnowing process quite valuable.

Based upon this tactical framework, we then establish intelligence guidance. This lays out tripwire events that our analysts, regional open-source monitoring team and even our on-the-ground sources are to watch for that either support or refute our forecast. (In STRATFOR’s corporate culture, challenging an assessment or forecast is one of the most important things an employee can do. This ensures we stay intellectually honest and on target. There is nothing more analytically damaging than an analyst who falls in love with his own assessment, or a team of analysts who buy into groupthink.)

When an event, or a combination of events, occurs that does not fit the analytical framework, the framework must undergo a rigorous review to ensure it remains valid. If the framework is found to be flawed, we determine if it needs to be adjusted or scrapped. Due to the rapid shifts we have seen on the ground in Mexico in the past two years in terms of arrests and deaths of major cartel leaders and the emergence of factional infighting and even new cartel groups, we have found it necessary to adjust our framework cartel report more than just annually. In 2011, for example, we have felt compelled to update the framework quarterly.

And this brings us back to our IED attack in Monterrey. When we learn of such an event, we immediately apply our analytical framework to it in an effort to determine if and how it fits. In this case, we have certainly seen previous IED attacks in Mexico and even grenade attacks in Monterrey, but not an IED attack in Monterrey, so this is clearly a geographic anomaly. While we don’t really have a new capability, or a new actor — Los Zetas were implicated in a command-detonated IED attack in January in Tula, Hidalgo state — we do have a new location in Monterrey. We also have a new tactic in using a vehicle chase to lure a military vehicle into an IED ambush. Past IED ambushes in Juarez and Tula have involved leaving a cadaver in a vehicle and reporting it to the authorities.

Some early reports of the Monterrey incident also indicated that the attack involved a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). If true, this would contradict our assessment that the Mexican cartels have refrained from employing large IEDs in their attacks.

Also, according to our analytical framework and the intelligence guidance we have established, Monterrey is a critical Zeta stronghold. We already have asked our tactical analysts to keep a close eye on activity there and the patterns and trends represented by that activity for indications that Los Zetas might be losing control of the city or that other cartels are establishing control there.

Because of all these factors, the Monterrey attack clearly demanded close examination.

How We Look at an Incident

Once we decide to dig into an incident and rip it apart analytically, we task our analysts and regional open-source monitors to find everything they can about the incident. At the same time, we reach out to our network of contacts to see what they can tell us. If we have employees in the city or region we will rely heavily on them, but when we do not, we contact all the relevant sources we have in an area. Depending on the location, we will also talk to our contacts in relevant foreign governments with an interest in the incident. Of course, like open-source reports, information we receive from contacts must be carefully vetted for bias and factual accuracy. [continued after the jump]

Thioro Baye Samba



Get ready for a crazy weekend with the propaganda of Fulgencio Batista
accompanied by the music of Orchestra Baobab.

 
Thursday, October 27, 2011
View the large set of full sized pictures at The Frame
The Frame, the Sacramento Bee's photo section, has an article Japan marks 6 months since earthquake, tsunami that shows a large number of photographs, taken from the same angle, showing the damage immediately after the earthquake/tsunami struck, 3 months later and 6 months later (the above sample only shows the immediate aftermath and 6 months later). 

It is a remarkable set of photographs and a sobering reminder of the scale of damage Japan experienced and the size of the cleanup they've done in the last half of year. It is heartening to see the progress they've made.
 

The flying sphere




The Japanese have demonstrated a spherical flying drone developed by their Ministry of Defense. It can hover, move forward at 60 km/h, maintain control after bumping into an obstacle, and even land and move across the ground. They say it was built out of off-the-shelf parts that cost only about $1400. They hope to use it for reconnaissance and rescue operations.

The only videos of it I've seen show it indoors, I wonder how well it handles in a wind? Also, the report didn't give its range or endurance. Then again, this is just a prototype so it should be viewed as primarily a proof of concept vehicle. 

Now all we need is a crazy Chinese farmer to build a manned version of it. 

(via Damned Cool Pictures.)
 

War has been declared

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The above is one of the more ludicrous videos I've ever seen posted on YouTube, and that's saying something. As near as I can tell the young fellow who made it worked himself into a lather watching TV reports and following Twitter feeds about the riot that happened when the Oakland police department enforced the closing of the Occupy camp this morning.

To say he went around the bend is an understatement. It starts with the following:
“This is a video message to the Oakland Police Department. You have committed violations of state and federal law. If you continue with your activity, I will personally come to Oakland and arrest every single officer involved. You have committed not only civil rights violations but also criminal acts against the people of the United States. Further continuance of said acts will be a declaration of war. You have 24 hours to respond.”
Hilariously, it gets more ridiculous as he expands upon his rant. My favorite line is when he ominously threatens, "I have a pair of handcuffs and I know how to use them."

Yeesh, talk about writing a check you can't cash. Via Zombie's post Rioting in Downtown Oakland as Occupiers Clash with Police.
 

Jammin' the Blues



Some jazz to get you over the midweek hump. This extraordinarily stylish film was directed by Life magazine photographer Gjon Milli.

 

Stratfor and Elsa Lanchester

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
This Stratfor contrasts Libya, Iraq and Syria with regards to Western vs Iranian diplomatic and military moves in the region.

Friedman points out that in Libya the Gadhafi's defeat was accomplished by a fractious group of rebels who had the backing on considerable military support from NATO. 

With Gadhafi now gone a stable government is still not likely, rather the various rebel factions, and any remnants of Gadhafi's old power base, are likely to slip into a bloody civil war that will still require NATO intervention at some level.

In some ways this is similar to Iraq, where a tenuous coalition government was unable to negotiate terms of a continued American presence, which led to Obama having to try to claim his withdrawal plans were an American initiative rather than a breakdown in talks to allow a US troops to continue to be based in the country.

Freidman then contrasts those two efforts with Syria, another country in the region in turmoil, but this one with Iran providing the external military intervention. Of course, if Assad survives then Iranian power will expand in the region just as the American presence recedes. 

This whole business reminded me of the creation of Frankenstein's monster -- it probably seemed like a good idea at the time but it turned out to be botched. Of course that led to Elsa Lanchester, the Bride of  Frankenstein, as the natural selection for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe.

Ms Lanchester, who was Charles Laughton's wife, is best remembered as the big lug's bride, started out as a dancer. However, she began to act in the silent era and had an extremely long career in movies and on TV, with her last movie role in 1980.

As the bonus, after the article I've included the scene where Frankenstein meets his new sweetie. Sadly, the courtship doesn't exactly go according to plan.


LIBYA AND IRAQ: THE PRICE OF SUCCESS
By George Friedman, October 25, 2011

In a week when the European crisis continued building, the White House chose publicly to focus on announcements about the end of wars. The death of Moammar Gadhafi was said to mark the end of the war in Libya, and excitement about a new democratic Libya abounded. Regarding Iraq, the White House transformed the refusal of the Iraqi government to permit U.S. troops to remain into a decision by Washington instead of an Iraqi rebuff.

Though in both cases there was an identical sense of “mission accomplished,” the matter was not nearly as clear-cut. The withdrawal from Iraq creates enormous strategic complexities rather than closure. While the complexities in Libya are real but hardly strategic, the two events share certain characteristics and are instructive.

Libya After Gadhafi

Let us begin with the lesser event, Gadhafi’s death. After seven months of NATO intervention, Gadhafi was killed. That it took so long for this to happen stands out, given that the intervention involved far more than airstrikes, including special operations forces on the ground targeting for airstrikes, training Libyan troops, managing logistics, overseeing communications and both planning and at times organizing and leading the Libyan insurgents in battle.

Perhaps this length of time resulted from a strategy designed to minimize casualties at the cost of prolonging the war. Alternatively, that it took seven months to achieve this goal might reflect the extent of the insurgents’ division, poor training and incompetence. Whatever the reason, the more important question is what NATO thinks it has accomplished with Gadhafi’s death, as satisfying as that death might be.

The National Transitional Council (NTC), the umbrella organization crafted to contain the insurgents, is in no position to govern Libya by any ideology, let alone through constitutional democracy. Gadhafi and his supporters ruled Libya for 42 years; the only people in the NTC with any experience with government gained that experience as ministers or lesser officials in Gadhafi’s government. Some may have switched sides out of principle, but I suspect that most defected to save themselves. While the media has portrayed many of these ex-ministers as opponents of Gadhafi, anyone who served him was complicit in his crimes.

These individuals are the least likely to bring reform to Libya and the most likely to constitute the core of a new state, as they are the only Libyans who know what it means to govern. Around them is an array of tribes living in varying degrees of tension and hostility with each other and radical Islamists whose number and capabilities are unknown, but whose access to weapons can be assumed. It also is safe to assume that many of those weapons, of various types of lethality, will be on the black market in the region in short order, as they may already be.

Gadhafi did not rule for 42 years without substantial support, as the tenacity of those who fought on his behalf suggests. (The defense of Sirte could well be described as fanatical.) Gadhafi is dead, but not all of his supporters are. And there are other elements within the country who may not be Gadhafi supporters but are no less interested in resisting those who are now trying to take charge — and resisting anyone perceived to be backed by Western powers. As with the conquest of Baghdad in 2003, what was unanticipated — but should not have been — was that a variety of groups would resist the new leaders and wage guerrilla war.

Baghdad taught that overwhelming force must be brought to bear in any invasion such that all opposition is eliminated. Otherwise, opponents of foreign occupation — along with native elements with a grudge against other natives — are quite capable of creating chaos. When we look at the list of NTC members and try to imagine them cooperating with each other and when we consider the number of Gadhafi supporters who are now desperadoes with little to lose, the path to stable constitutional democracy runs either through NATO occupation (unofficial, of course) or through a period of intense chaos. The most likely course ahead is a NATO presence sufficient to enrage the Libyan people but insufficient to intimidate them.

And Libya is not a strategic country. It is neither large in population nor geographically pivotal. It does have oil, as everyone likes to point out, and that makes it appealing. But it is not clear that the presence of oil increases the tendency toward stability. When we look back on Iraq, an oil-rich country, oil simply became another contentious issue in a galaxy of contentious issues.

The Lesson of Baghdad

Regarding Libya, I have a sense of Baghdad in April 2003. U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement of a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq gives us a sense of what lies at the end of the tunnel of the counterinsurgency. It must be understood that Obama did not want a total withdrawal. Until just a few weeks before the announcement, he was looking for ways to keep some troops in Iraq’s Kurdish region. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta went to Iraq wanting an agreement providing for a substantial number of U.S. troops in Iraq past the Dec. 31 deadline for withdrawal.

While the idea did appeal to some in Iraq, it ultimately failed. This is because the decision-making structure of the Iraqi government that emerged from U.S. occupation and the war is so fragmented it has failed even to craft a law on hydrocarbons, something critical to the future of Iraq. It was therefore in no position to reach consensus, or even a simple majority, over the question of a continued presence of foreign troops. Many Iraqis did want a U.S. presence, particularly those concerned about their fate once the United States leaves, such as the Kurds and Sunnis. The most important point is not that the Iraqis decided they did not want troops; it is that the Iraqi government was in the end too incoherent to reach any decision. [continued after the jump]

OK - but I refuse to exploit cows

As regular Flares readers know, since the 2010 elections I have been a huge supporter of the Green Party. As a result, it was naturally with considerable interest that I learned that Jill Stein had announced her candidacy to run for President under the Green banner. That's her pictured to the left.

You can go to the Jill Stein for President website and watch her announcement speech. I tried to watch it but, although the spirit was willing the flesh was weak, and so I must confess I dozed off a few minutes in to the 13 minutes it took for her to toss her hat into the ring.

I haven't endorsed her yet -- that depends upon whether she accedes to my request to be named Ambassador to Brazil (conditional upon allowing me to move the Embassy from Brazilia to a condo in Rio overlooking Ipanema beach) -- but of course I'll consider her.

The American Glob post Green Presidential Candidate Lays Claim To OWS, Panics Democrats points out that she is an enthusiastic supporter of the Occupy protests, so if I get that Ambassadorship I guess I'll have to stop mocking them and start supporting them instead.

Exploited cows
That's OK by me, I can be bought. However, I'm afraid I won't be able to join one of their camps. Aside from the fear of developing splitting headaches from the ceaseless bongo drumming, I don't think I could afford to buy all the cigarettes the bums would mooch off me. I would show support by buying them pizza, but I wouldn't want to offend Vegans who object to exploiting cows, goats and other mammals to produce cheese, and of course Vegan cheese is not a humane solution either.

They'll just have to accept my word that I support them 110%
 

I wonder what the French are up to these days...



Hmmm...I suppose the Occupy protestors would like one of those rotary drum gizmos. As for me, should I ever win the lottery, I think I would want to buy one of those Piano Chuckers. It would make a dandy conversation piece at a party with my new, lottery bought, hoi-polloi friends. 
 

Occupy's next move?

Monday, October 24, 2011

At Chicago Boyz Sgt Mom has a post So – Whither Occupy What Street? where she wonders what sort of end game the Occupiers have for their protests. Specifically, she discusses how Tea Party folk moved from their early demonstrations to the trenches of local politics and wonders if the Occupy crowd has it in them to do the same:
I do have to hand it to the Occupy Whatever Street – the major national news media are already giving the various protest events the warm sloppy tongue-bath, even to the point of serving your public relations functions. It took the SATP a good six months of outreach and conferences with various local TV news directors and newspaper editors to get any respect at all. But, as a sort-of PR professional, I have to say that this good-will towards the OWS probably will not last, and may already be shriveling. A long-established protest site in the heart of a big city can only be made to seem cool, subversive, and glamorous for so long, in the face of ongoing noise and vandalism, reported harassment of local residents and law-enforcement personnel, and just the general rat’s nest appearance of the average OWS protest camp. This will not go over well in the long run with ordinary, hard-working, peace-loving citizens, even those in general sympathy with some of the stated goals. There are a fair number of new reports indicating that your immediate neighbors in your various venues are growing sick and tired of your presence. This is something that you should pay attention to; bad optics, from a public affairs point of view. Which brings me to my next point –

A street protest is just a starting point for a truly broad-based and ground-up political movement. Getting together in a public space all those who are moved enough to be unhappy about things as they are  . . .   that is only the first step. The next one is to go home after a decent interval, to fully understand the issues and the various options that would perhaps alleviate those of most concern, and to continue the outreach, the consultations, the epic convention calls, the even-more-epic meetings among the most dedicated and skilled – the formulation of email lists, the cultivation of donors  . . .  all of that. It’s much more of a job and not as attention-catching as a simple temporary event. It’s work, and it’s hard and dedicated work. It is not fun – hardly a romp in the park, if I may be so kind as to draw that analogy. It’s work. Hard work and it will almost always take a lot more temporal and psychic energy than you might think at first. Been there – done that, ever since working to resettle Vietnamese refugees in 1975-75.

My own guess is no. I would guess that their immediate hope is that city authorities get fed up with their camps and close them down. That way they'll be able to go home, escape the bums pestering them, swap tales of police brutality and claim a moral victory of sorts. The alternative is the arrival of cold weather and the whole thing fizzling out and ending like a Cindy Sheehan book signing.

At any rate, with their Progressive Stack of Speakers, People Microphones and unending concensus building they have a different style. I think if you asked them they would consider local and state politics part of the problem, and would go off on a rant about needed to entirely rebuild the structure of politics -- which is to say they'll do a lot of vague talking, but their actions will be protests in bank lobbies, at businesses leaders homes and other such protest theater pranks.

I would expect to see something more along the lines of the Madison protests, which started out with an occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building and edged towards odder and more confrontational tactics as the protest's energy spun down.
 

Rain so hard



Monday morning, start of the work week blues by Otis Taylor.

 

Amazing carved pumpkins

Sunday, October 23, 2011

To inspire you for your Halloween pumpkin carving task, here are a few examples of Ray Villafane's work. They're from Fresh Pics. You can see many more pictures of his carvings there.

I have included one more example of his work other than the ones on this page. However, it is so terrifying that I thought it best to include it after the jump. I beg you, if you have a weak heart please not to follow the 'Read more' link to it -- I would hate to be responsible for traumatizing you for life.


Strange Japanese choreography



I meant to post the above video months ago, but forgot to bookmark it and, since I knew neither the band or song's name, had a devil of a time finding it again. In fact, I found it by accident while looking for another weird Japanese video I neglected to bookmark.

The song is by Genki Sudo and the slow-motion robotic business men are a dance troupe called World Order. Sudo is a former martial artist who has since retirement from the ring written books, acted, choreographed dances and became a musician. 

He's also a practicing Buddhist, so --  rather than the "man as a cog in the machine of modern society" type message his visuals evoke in a Westerner -- in his songs he's more likely examining the interplay between what is real, what is false and where does the truth lie.

The above song was written as a reaction to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The Examine article Are we living in a 'Machine Civilization' asks Genki Sudo discusses the song and includes the lyrics. As you can see he dwells on the themes of dreaming, awakening, illusions and the mundane that are common in Buddhist literature.

Below is another video of his, this one staged in New York. Its lyrics follow it.



We have opened the veil of the world
and heard two voices
One is the soothing beautiful lie
and the other the distorted truth that fills the hollows
What is right and what is wrong
Truth is always the paradox
One era has gone by
and I awake in sleep

The rhythm of the universe the rhythm of your love
Dreaming cycle Beautiful Venus

The rhythm of the universe the rhythm of your love
Now in this moment I 'dance'

World Order

Sideshow banners

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Sideshow banners have long been a staple at fairs. Made of durable canvas with colorful and lurid scenes painted on them, they've long been parting the rubes from their pocket change for a chance to see the wonders and curiosities they advertise.

The French site La boite verte has a post, Bannières pour des spectacles de fêtes foraines, that shows examples of sideshow banners from the 40s and 50s. 

I picked the 'Popeye' banner to lead off this post because I distinctly remember seeing him in a sideshow when I was a kid. He started his act by inviting a cute young girl up to the stage and telling her to cup her hands because he had something to give her. When she did, he leaned in and popped his eyeballs out of his sockets. Needless to say, she screamed and ran off, and the audience howled with laughter at the prank. 

His act, although extremely weird, was pretty good. He mixed a lot of humor into it. After the show you could go up and talk to him, an opportunity my brothers took advantage of. I remember him being a friendly old guy who chatted with us and good-naturedly answered our stupid, and in retrospect slightly offensive, questions about what the life of a freak in a sideshow was like. 

There are more of the banners after the jump, and of course even more at La boite verte. By the way, those banners also improved my vocabulary -- from them I learned what the word legerdemain meant. 


Recursive moochery

Detail of a Lego hobo camp.
Picture from MOCpages.
New York magazine has an interesting article called The Organizers vs. the Organized in Zuccotti Park. It deals with divisions and frictions within the group of Occupy Wall Street protesters camping in Zucotti Park. The following excerpt amused me (emphasis added):
“The sunshine protestors will leave,” said “Zonkers,” a 20-year-old cleaner and longtime occupier from Tennessee. (He asked that his name not be used due to a felony marijuana conviction.) “The people who remain are the people who care. You get a lot of crust punks, silly kids, people who want to panhandle ... It disgusts me. These people are here for a block party.”

Another argument broke out next to the pile of appropriated belongings, growing taller by the minute. A man named Sage Roberts desperately rifled through the pile, looking for a sleeping bag. “They’ve taken my stuff,” he muttered. Lauren Digion, the sanitation group leader, broke in: “This isn’t your stuff. You got all this stuff from comfort [the working group]. It belongs to comfort.”

And as I spoke to Michael Glaser, a 26-year-old Chicagoan helping lead winter preparation efforts, a physical fight broke out between a cleaner and a camper just feet from us.

“When cleanups happen, people get mad,” Glaser said. “This is its own city. Within every city there are people who freeload, who make people’s lives miserable. We just deal with it. We can’t kick them out.”

Then again, the #OWS protesters also aren't exactly welcomed with open arms by the community they've embedded themselves in. As the New York Post report in the article Angry Manhattan residents lambast Zuccotti Park protesters:
Infuriated lower Manhattan residents went ballistic on Zuccotti Park protesters at a chaotic Community Board 1 meeting tonight while blasting politicians for allowing the siege to continue without any end in sight.

"They are defecating on our doorsteps," fumed Catherine Hughes, a member of Community Board 1 and a stay at home mom who has the misfortune of living one block from the chaos. "A lot of people are very frustrated. A lot of people are concerned about the safety of our kids."

Fed up homeowners said that they've been subjected to insults and harassment as they trek to their jobs each morning. "The protesters taunt people who are on their way to work," said James Fernandez, 51, whose apartment overlooks the park.

So you have a group of street people and bums, attracted by the free food they can mooch, embedded in a group of protesters camped out in a park. One of the biggest complaints of the #OWS protesters is student debt they've piled up which they would like to be able to mooch their way out of paying back.

Irritating moochery embedded inside of irritating moochery. Hmmm... if one of the street people was a crazy cat lady then you could add neighborhood felines mooching food and spraying tents, and of course the cats would be loaded down with fleas mooching cat blood, and who knows what little parasite mooches are tormenting the fleas.

Aside from the poor neighborhood residents -- a veritable daisy chain of free-loaders getting on each others nerves. Maybe there is justice in this world after all, even if it is just a small hint of justice.
 

Human octocopter flight -- the final frontier

Friday, October 21, 2011


Well, I assume that it would be a final flight if this lunatic ever got this contraption off the ground. I've posted about filming with model octocopters, the video above shows a Chinese fellow who's trying to build a full scale version he can fly. 

The words 'death trap' come to mind. He's attached 8 motorcycle engines with wooden propellers and coke bottles as gas tanks to a frame. The motors have to be hand started and he sits in a fabric basket in the middle and tries to control its flight. It throws out clouds of exhausts and bucks around a bit, but never really gets off the ground. 

I'm guessing that's a good thing -- off hand I can think of hundreds of ways that that thing could kill people while idling on the ground, the number of possible deaths would surely go up exponentially if it ever got airborne. Still, even if he deserves no credit for foresight, you have to give him credit for trying.

From Hack a Day's article Octocopter will someday kill somebody. From a commentor at that article:
Since no one of HAD clicks through or reads….the video above is “showing an earlier model with rings of fabric around four of the propellers meant to help direct the downward thrust as a steering mechanism.”

If you clicked the link and read you would find…..


“Local farmer Shu Mansheng starts the engines of his self-designed and homemade flying device before a test flight in front of his house in Dashu village on the outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei province September 21, 2011. The round steel flying device, which cost more than 20,000 yuan ($3,135), is the fifth model made by Shu, a junior middle school graduate. It measures around 5.5 meters (18 feet) in diameter, and is powered by eight motorcycle engines. Shu managed to hover for 10 seconds at about 1 metre (3.3 feet) above ground during a recent test flight.”

A lot of the rest of the comments at that article are a complete hoot. A one of my favorite exchanges:
nootropic says: I’m an optimist. This is the safest octocopter I’ve ever seen.

Patenomics says: Yeah I agree. Everyone is being a bit too motherly. I’m sure we’ve all almost lopped off one of our appendages in the name of science before.

Almost? says: I lost three fingers to an electric motorcycle built from chainsaws. This guy looks like he could mow down a crowd.

Stratfor and Anita Yuen

In this Stratfor article on the recently revealed charges of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the United States. Foregoing commenting on the credibility of the charges, Scott Stewart instead examines two facets of the case he believes deserve further discussion.

The first concerns the Iranians using such a dodgy agent as Manssor Arbabsiar, the unemployed used car salesman who was arrested for trying to hire what he thought was a member of the Los Zetas cartel to commit the killing. As Stewart points out, in both Europe and the U.S. Iran has a history of using such types of cut-outs to conduct their plots -- particularly their plots against dissidents living in the West. 

His second point is that he doubts that Los Zetas would actually get tangled up in an Iranian scheme like this because the blow-back from the U.S. would be so ferocious. Killing drug dealers on American soil is one thing, a political killing such as the one planned would certainly bring the full weight of U.S. law enforcement down on Los Zetas' heads. For that reason Stewart doubts any concerns that Iran and Los Zetas are anywhere near forming an actual partnership.

Since this article was about assassins, for the hot Stratfor Babe I naturally turned to female assassin movies and selected Anita Yuen from the movie A Taste of Killing and Romance for the honor. 

To be honest, I don't know anything about the movie -- I only picked it because it has such a ridiculous title -- and I don't know much about Anita Yuen either. All I know about her is she was Miss Hong Kong 1990 and has appeared in a bunch of movies and TV shows since. Being a Hot Stratfor Babe, if she's true to form, I would be willing to bet that she also has a half-baked singing career, but I'm not sure about that.

Amazingly, I found a clip from A Taste of Killing and Romance and so I've included it as the bonus video after the article. It looks like quite the movie. Early in the clip we meet Ms Yuen who enters an office, assassinates the boss and gets in a wild shoot-out where she massacres most of the rest of the staff. She then kidnaps some schmo in a sports car. I assume this is the movie's "meet cute" scene since he seems to find her rather fetching as she jams a pistol into his ribs. The best part is the end of the clip when she's in her apartment having an asthma attack. A priest enters, and it turns out she's turbning over her assassin fees to him to support the orphanage she grew up in. Ka-boing! 


REFLECTIONS ON THE IRANIAN ASSASSINATION PLOT
By Scott Stewart, October 20, 2011

On Oct. 11, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that two men had been charged in New York with taking part in a plot directed by the Iranian Quds Force to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, on U.S. soil.

Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri face numerous charges, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives), conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism transcending national borders and conspiracy to murder a foreign official. Arbabsiar, who was arrested Sept. 29 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, is a U.S. citizen with both Iranian and U.S. passports. Shakuri, who remains at large, allegedly is a senior officer in Iran's Quds Force, a special unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) believed to promote military and terrorist activities abroad.

Between May and July, Arbabsiar, who lives in the United States, allegedly traveled several times to Mexico, where he met with a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confidential informant who was posing as an associate of the Mexican  Los Zetas cartel. The criminal complaint charges that Arbabsiar attempted to hire the DEA source and his purported accomplices to kill the ambassador. Arbabsiar's Iranian contacts allegedly wired two separate payments totaling $100,000 in August into an FBI-controlled bank account in the United States, with Shakuri's approval, as a down payment to the DEA source for the killing (the agreed-upon total price was $1.5 million).

Much has been written about the Arbabsiar case, both by those who believe the U.S. government's case is valid and by those who doubt the facts laid out in the criminal complaint. However, as we have watched this case unfold, along with the media coverage surrounding it, it has occurred to us that there are two aspects of the case that we think merit more discussion. The first is that, as history has shown, it is not unusual for Iran to employ unconventional assassins in plots inside the United States. Second, while the DEA informant was reportedly posing as a member of Los Zetas, we do not believe the case proves any sort of increase in the terrorist threat emanating from the United States' southern border.

Unconventional Assassins

One argument that has appeared in media coverage and has cast doubt on the validity of the U.S. government's case is the alleged use by the Quds Force of Arbabsiar, an unemployed used car salesman, as its interlocutor. The criminal complaint states that Arbabsiar was recruited by his cousin, Abdul Reza Shahlai, a senior Quds Force commander, in spring 2011 and then handled by Shakuri, who is Shahlai's deputy. The complaint also alleges that, initially, Arbabsiar was tasked with finding someone to kidnap al-Jubeir, but at some unspecified point the objective of the plot turned from kidnapping to murder. After his arrest, Arbabsiar told the agents who interviewed him that he was chosen for the mission because of his business interests and contacts in the United States and Mexico and that he told his cousin that he knew individuals involved in the narcotics trade. Shahlai then allegedly tasked Arbabsiar to attempt to hire some of his narco contacts for the kidnapping mission since Shahlai believed that people involved in the narcotics trade would be willing to undertake illegal activities, such as kidnapping, for money.

It is important to recognize that Arbabsiar was not just a random used car salesman selected for this mission. He is purportedly the cousin of a senior Quds Force officer and was in Iran talking to his cousin when he was recruited. According to some interviews appearing in the media, Arbabsiar had decided to leave the United States and return permanently to Iran, but, as a naturalized U.S. citizen, he could have been seen as useful by the Quds Force for his ability to freely travel to the United States. Arbabsiar also was likely enticed by the money he could make working for the Quds Force -- money that could have been useful in helping him re-establish himself in Iran. If he was motivated by money rather than ideology, it could explain why he flipped so easily after being arrested by U.S. authorities.

Now, while the Iranian government has shown the ability to conduct sophisticated operations in countries within its sphere of influence, such as Lebanon and Iraq, the use of suboptimal agents to orchestrate an assassination plot in the United States is not entirely without precedent.

For example, there appear to be some very interesting parallels between the Arbabsiar case and two other alleged Iranian plots to assassinate dissidents in Los Angeles and London. The details of these cases were exposed in the prosecution and conviction of Mohammad Reza Sadeghnia in California and in U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks pertaining to the Sadeghnia case.

Sadeghnia, who was arrested in Los Angeles in July 2009, is a naturalized U.S. citizen of Iranian descent who at one point ran a painting business in Michigan. Sadeghnia was apparently recruited by the Iranian government and allegedly carried out preoperational surveillance on Jamshid Sharmahd, who made radio broadcasts for the Iranian opposition group Tondar from his residence in Glendora, Calif., and Ali Reza Nourizadeh, who worked for Voice of America in London.

Sadeghnia's clumsy surveillance activities were a testament to his lack of tradecraft and were noticed by his targets. But even though he was fairly inept, a number of other factors seem to support claims that he was working as an agent for the Iranian government. These include his guilty plea, his international travel, and the facts that he conducted surveillance on two high-profile Iranian dissidents on two continents, was convicted of soliciting someone to murder one of them and then returned to Tehran while on supervised release.

Sadeghnia's profile as an unemployed housepainter from Iran who lived in the United States for many years is similar to that of Arbabsiar, a failed used car salesman. Sadeghnia pleaded guilty of planning to use a third man (also an Iranian-American) to run over and murder Sharmahd with a used van Sadeghnia had purchased. Like the alleged Arbabsiar plot, the Sadeghnia case displayed a lack of sophisticated assassination methodology in an Iranian-linked plot inside the United States.

This does raise the question of why Iran chose to use another unsophisticated assassination operation after the Sadeghnia failure. On the other hand, the Iranians experienced no meaningful repercussions from that plot or much negative press.

For Iranian operatives to be so obvious while operating inside the United States is not a new thing, as illustrated by the case of David Belfield, also known as Dawud Salahuddin, who was hired by the Iranian government to assassinate high-profile Iranian dissident Ali Akbar Tabatabaei in July 1980. Salahuddin is an African-American convert to Islam who worked as a security guard at an Iranian diplomatic office in Washington. He was paid $5,000 to shoot Tabatabaei and then fled the United States for Iran, where he still resides. In a plot reminiscent of the movie Three Days of the Condor, Salahuddin, who had stolen a U.S. Postal Service jeep, walked up to Tabatabaei's front door dressed in a mail carrier's uniform and shot the Iranian diplomat as he answered the door. It was a simple plot in which the Iranian hand was readily visible.

There also have been numerous assassinations and failed assassination attempts directed against Iranian dissidents in Europe and elsewhere that were conducted in a rudimentary fashion by operatives easily linked to Iran. Such cases include the 1991 assassination of Shapour Bakhtiar in Paris, the 1989 murder of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in Vienna and the 1992 killing of three Iranian-Kurdish opposition leaders at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.

All that said, there was a lengthy break between the Iranian assassinations in the West in the 1980s and 1990s and the Sadeghnia and Arbabsiar cases. We do not know for certain what could have motivated Iran to resume such operations, but the Iranians have been locked in a sustained covert intelligence war with the United States and its allies for several years now. It is possible these attacks are seen as an Iranian escalation in that war, or as retaliation for the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in Iran, which the Iranians claim were conducted by the United States and Israel.

South of the Border

One other result of the Arbabsiar case is that it has re-energized the long-held U.S. fears of foreign entities using the porous U.S.-Mexico border to conduct terrorist attacks inside the United States and of Mexican cartels partnering with foreign entities to carry out such attacks.

But there are reasons this case does not substantiate such fears. First, it is important to remember that the purported Iranian operative in this case who traveled to the United States, Arbabsiar, is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He is not an Iranian who illegally crossed the border from Mexico. Arbabsiar used his U.S. passport to travel between the United States and Mexico.

Second, while Arbabsiar, and purportedly Shahlai, believed that the Los Zetas cartel would undertake kidnapping or assassination in the United States in exchange for money, that assumption may be flawed. Certainly, while Mexican cartels do indeed kidnap and murder people inside the United States (often for financial gain), they also have a long history of being very careful about the types of operations they conduct inside the United States. This is because the cartels do not want to incur the full wrath of the U.S. government. Shooting a drug dealer in Laredo who loses a load of dope is one thing; going after the Saudi ambassador in Washington is quite another. While the payoff for this operation seems substantial ($1.5 million), there is no way that a Mexican cartel would jeopardize its billion-dollar enterprise for such a small one-time payment and for an act that offered no other apparent business benefit to the cartel. While Mexican cartels can be quite violent, their violence is calculated for the most part, and they tend to refrain from activities that could jeopardize their long-term business plans.

One potential danger in terms of U.S. mainland security is that the Arbabsiar case might focus too much additional attention on the U.S.-Mexico border and that this attention could cause resources to be diverted from the northern border and other points of entry, such as airports and seaports. While it is relatively easy to illegally enter the United States over the southern border, and the United States has no idea who many of the illegal immigrants really are, that does not mean that resources should be taken from elsewhere.

As STRATFOR has noted before, many terrorist plots have originated in Canada -- far more than have had any sort of nexus to Mexico. These include plots involving Ghazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, a Palestinian who was convicted of planning a suicide bombing of the New York subway system in 1997; Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested when he tried to enter the United States with explosives in 1999; and the so-called Toronto 18 cell, which was arrested in 2006 and later convicted of planning a string of attacks in Canada and the United States.

Moreover, most terrorist operatives who have traveled to the United States intending to participate in terrorist attacks have flown directly into the country from overseas. Such operatives include the 19 men involved in the 9/11 attacks, the foreigners involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the follow-on New York landmarks bomb plot, as well as failed New York subway bomber Najibulah Zazi and would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. Even failed shoe bomber Richard Reid and would-be underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to fly directly into the United States.

While there is concern over security on the southern U.S. border, past plots involving foreign terrorist operatives traveling to the United States have either involved direct travel to the United States or travel from Canada. There is simply no empirical evidence to support the idea that the Mexican border is more likely to be used by terrorist operatives than other points of entry.

This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution to www.stratfor.com. Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.


I see a darkness



Get ready for a weekend of struggling with your Evil Twin with Johnny Cash.

 

Wankel powered go-kart

Thursday, October 20, 2011


My obsession with video from min-cameras continues. Last time we were aboard a dragster, this video is a test drive of a go-kart powered by a Wankel engine. The driver starts by running the course cautiously and then, a few minutes in, he slows down as he fiddles with the kart's settings. When he's done with his adjustments he kicks it up a notch and starts running the laps very fast. I would be nervous going that fast in such a tiny vehicle.

While watching the video, I got curious as to how a Wankel engine works. I swiped the animation to the right from the Wikipedia article on Wankel engines.

A Wankel engine is an internal combustion engine, but rather than having pistons, it has a triangular shaped rotor. The shape of the cylinder compresses the fuel mixture after intake and the motion of the rotor exhausts the gas.

Wankel engines have only been sporadically used. They're perhaps best known as powering the Mazda  RX series of sports cars (coincidentally, the same forward-looking car company that built the Flares Eco-Mobile). 

However, this year Mazda halted the production of their rotary engine sports cars. As a result, Wankel engines are now mainly being produced in the mini, micro, and micro-mini engine sizes. So, although not powering passenger vehicles, the Wankel engines are increasingly being used where very small and efficient motors are needed.

Trey Ratcliff's HDR photography

Click any picture to enlarge
 The photographs in this post were taken by Trey Ratcliff and use a technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range) to achieve their striking look.  There are more samples of his work after the jump.

HDR is done by taking a number of exposures of the same picture (you can get a similar effect by doing this artificially with a picture's RAW file) so you get a range of intensity and details from the highlights down through the shadows. These are then merged using special software to create the final HDR picture.

If you go to Trey Ratcliff's website Stuck in Customs -- along with seeing many, many more examples of his work -- he has links to a large number of tutorials and resources for photographers who are interested in trying their hand at HDR photography.


Slow motion flamenco set to Chopin

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Very odd, but it sort of works. 

The perfect Halloween treat

I'm sure with Halloween approaching many of you are agonizing over the right treat to buy to hand out to the little tykes that will be ringing your doorbell. 

Sure, you could be unimaginative and buy little candy bars, or demonstrate you were too lazy to shop by handing out coins, or -- worse of all -- prove that you're a complete wanker by giving the little ghosts and ghouls a healthy snack. 

Fear not, I have the prefect treat choice: a pack of candy cigarettes! You can buy them online in various assortments, and even get them in gum or chocolate as well as cigars rather than cigarettes if you prefer.

Just think how their little eyes will light up when they seem a pack of candy smokes, with simulated red glowing tips, as they dig through their treat bags. Why, they'll be able to pretend to be adult and sophisticated as they pose with their cigarettes. Add a little glass of soda and they can also pretend that their knocking back hi-balls just like mommy and daddy.

Plus, if you're a guy in the dating pool, you'll have another benefit. I guarantee that the single moms in your neighborhood, upon seeing your thoughtful treat, will be banging on your door and screaming your name. Win! Win! Win!

DISCLAIMER: Flares is not responsible for broken bones and/or shattered reputations you may receive should you actually hand out candy cigarettes/cigars for Halloween.
 

Stratfor and Barbara Stanwyck

Tuesday, October 18, 2011
In this Stratfor article George Friedman reviews the core of the area of the Middle East that the U.S. has been involved in He discusses his prior analysis of the region, and where he's been right and wrong in his predictions, by touching upon the major players: Egypt, the Palestinians, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iran Afghanistan and Pakistan.

His biggest surprise was that Hamas was not as aggressive against Israel as he anticipated. I do have to pat myself on the back a little here -- I've stated several times that because of the Iranian/Arab competition,  Hamas, which is Sunni, could find itself in a difficult spot because their Iranians patrons were Shiites.

I still think Syria is the immediate lynchpin, pry it from the Iranian orbit and both Hamas and Hezbullah would be in extremely difficult situations because their supply lines to their Shiite allies would be cut cut and people in the region having long, long memories.

Then again, I'll give my usual caveat -- I'm far from an expert so you can, and should, take my analysis with a huge grain of salt.

Since the article discussed the diplomatic scheming in the region, I decided to look for a scheming woman for its Hot Stratfor babe. Barbara Stanwyck wins the honor, for playing the manipulative Phyllis Dietrichson who conned the poor sap Walter Neff, played by Fred MacMurray into killing her husband in Double Indemnity.

The film was written by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler as so it drips with excellent dialog and atmosphere. Poor Neff gets played like a fiddle by the seductive Mrs. Dietrichson and, as you can no doubt imagine, nothing good comes of it for the two. As a bonus, after the article I've included a video of Neff putting the moves on Dietrichson when they first meet. Little does he realize what's in store for him.


FROM THE MEDITERRANEAN TO THE HINDU KUSH: RETHINKING THE REGION
By George Friedman, October 18, 2011

The territory between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush has been the main arena for the U.S. intervention that followed the 9/11 attacks. Obviously, the United States had been engaged in this area in previous years, but 9/11 redefined it as the prime region in which it confronted jihadists. That struggle has had many phases, and it appears to have entered a new one over the past few weeks.

Some parts of this shift were expected. STRATFOR had anticipated tensions between Iran and its neighboring countries to rise as the U.S. withdrew from Iraq and Iran became more assertive. And we expected U.S.-Pakistani relations to reach a crisis before viable negotiations with the Afghan Taliban were made possible.

However, other events frankly surprised us. We had expected Hamas to respond to events in Egypt and to  the Palestine National Authority's search for legitimacy through pursuit of U.N. recognition by trying to create a massive crisis with Israel, reasoning that the creation of such a crisis would strengthen anti-government forces in Egypt, increasing the chances for creating a new regime that would end the blockade of Gaza and suspend the peace treaty with Israel. We also thought that intense rocket fire into Israel would force Fatah to support an intifada or be marginalized by Hamas. Here we were clearly wrong; Hamas moved instead to reach a deal for the exchange of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, which has reduced Israeli-Hamas tensions.

Our error was rooted in our failure to understand how the increased Iranian-Arab tensions would limit Hamas' room to maneuver. We also missed the fact that given the weakness of the opposition forces in Egypt -- something we had written about extensively -- Hamas would not see an opportunity to reshape Egyptian policies. The main forces in the region, particularly the failure of the Arab Spring in Egypt and the intensification of Iran's rise, obviated our logic on Hamas. Shalit's release, in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, marks a new stage in Israeli-Hamas relations. Let's consider how this is related to Iran and Pakistan.

The Iranian Game

The Iranians tested their strength in Bahrain, where Shiites rose up against their Sunni rulers with at least some degree of Iranian support. Saudi Arabia, linked by a causeway to Bahrain, perceived this as a test of its resolve, intervening with military force to  suppress the demonstrators and block the Iranians. To Iran, Bahrain was simply a probe; the Saudi response did not represent a major reversal in Iranian fortunes.

The main game for Iran is in Iraq, where the  U.S. withdrawal is reaching its final phase. Some troops may be left in Iraqi Kurdistan, but they will not be sufficient to shape events in Iraq. The Iranians will not be in control of Iraq, but they have sufficient allies, both in the government and in outside groups, that they will be able to block policies they oppose, either through the Iraqi political system or through disruption. They will not govern, but no one will be able to govern in direct opposition to them.

In Iraq, Iran sees an opportunity to extend its influence westward. Syria is allied with Iran, and it in turn jointly supports Hezbollah in Lebanon. The prospect of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq opened the door to a sphere of Iranian influence running along the southern Turkish border and along the northern border of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi View

The origins of the uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad are murky. It emerged during the general instability of the Arab Spring, but it took a different course. The al Assad regime did not collapse, al Assad was not replaced with another supporter of the regime, as happened in Egypt, and the opposition failed to simply disintegrate. In our view the opposition was never as powerful as the Western media portrayed it, nor was the al Assad regime as weak. It has held on far longer than others expected and shows no inclination of capitulating. For one thing, the existence of bodies such as The International Criminal Court leave al Assad nowhere to go if he stepped down, making a negotiated exit difficult. For another, al Assad does not see himself as needing to step down.

Two governments have emerged as particularly hostile to al Assad: the Saudi government and the Turkish government. The Turks attempted to negotiate a solution in Syria and were rebuffed by Assad. It is not clear the extent to which these governments see Syria simply as an isolated problem along their border or as part of a generalized Iranian threat. But it is clear that the Saudis are extremely sensitive to the Iranian threat and see the fall of the al Assad regime as essential for limiting the Iranians.

In this context, the last thing that the Saudis want to see is conflict with Israel. A war in Gaza would have given the al Assad regime an opportunity to engage with Israel, at least through Hezbollah, and portray opponents to the regime as undermining the struggle against the Israelis. This would have allowed al Assad to solicit Iranian help against Israel and, not incidentally, to help sustain his regime. [continued after the jump]