When NASA was in the beauty pageant business

Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Miss NASA, 1968 (click any image to enlarge)
Apparently, from 1968-1973 NASA used to run a beauty pageant to select Miss NASA from its workforce. Unfortunately there appears to be no information about them, just pictures of a few of the winners. From Artifacting.


Miss NASA, 1970
Miss NASA, 1971
Miss NASA, 1973

Love thy neighbor



For obvious reasons I'm not much in the mood to see, no matter how ineptly staged, bones being broken. So this week's fight scene to get you over the hump in hump day features a pie fight instead of the usual mayhem.
  

Stratfor and Sissy Spacek

Tuesday, October 30, 2012
In this Stratfor article Friedman discusses American presidential politics. Because my injury makes typing slow and difficult, I'll skip my usual comments.

As for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe, I merged the article's theme of elections with the fact that Halloween is upon us and selected Sissy Spacek for her role in Carrie to receive the honor.

The Carrie of the movie is a socially inept young girl who's been raised by -- what else? -- a religious nut. Through a rather preposterous series of events some mean girls at her high school conspire to get her fraudulently elected prom queen where they then dump pig blood on her. I might ask, where were the adults when all this nonsense was  plotted?

Anyway, big mistake. Unknown to them Carrie has telekinetic power which she then uses to slaughter the lot of them. The end.

Considering the presidential election portion of this post, and in light of the stink eye Obama gives people who piss him off, if he loses the election it's a good thing he doesn't have telekinetic powers. Then again, as a lame duck he would still have a lot of room to do damage.


U.S. Presidential Elections in Perspective
By George Friedman, October 30,2012

The U.S. presidential election will be held a week from today, and if the polls are correct, the outcome will be extraordinarily close. Many say that the country has never been as deeply divided. In discussing the debates last week, I noted how this year's campaign is far from the most bitter and vitriolic. It might therefore be useful also to consider that while the electorate at the moment appears evenly and deeply divided, unlike what many say, that does not reveal deep divisions in our society -- unless our society has always been deeply divided.

Since 1820, the last year an uncontested election was held, most presidential elections have been extremely close. Lyndon B. Johnson received the largest percentage of votes any president has ever had in 1964, taking 61.5 percent of the vote. Three other presidents broke the 60 percent mark: Warren G. Harding in 1920, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 and Richard Nixon in 1972.

Nine elections saw a candidate win between 55 and 60 percent of the vote: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. Only Eisenhower broke 55 percent twice. Candidates who received less than 50 percent of the vote won 18 presidential elections. These included Lincoln in his first election, Woodrow Wilson in both elections, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Nixon in his first election and Bill Clinton in both his elections.

From 1824-2008, 13 elections ended in someone obtaining more than 55 percent but never more than 61 percent of the vote. Eighteen elections ended with the president receiving less than 50 percent of the vote. The remaining 16 elections ended with the winner receiving between 50-55 percent of the vote, in many cases barely above the 50 percent mark -- meaning almost half the country voted for someone else. The United States not only always has had deeply divided elections, but in many cases, minority presidents. Interestingly, of the four presidents who won more than 60 percent of the vote, three are not remembered favorably: Harding, Johnson and Nixon.

Three observations follow. First, for almost 200 years the electoral process has consistently produced a division in the country never greater than 60-40 and heavily tending toward a much narrower margin. Second, when third parties had a significant impact on the election, winners won five times with 45 percent of the vote or less. Third, in 26 of the U.S. presidential elections, the winner received less than 52 percent of the vote.

Even in the most one-sided elections, nearly 40 percent of voters voted against the winner. The most popular presidents still had 40 percent of votes cast against them. All other elections took place with more than 40 percent opposition. The consistency here is striking. Even in the most extreme cases of national crisis and a weak opponent, it was impossible to rise above just over 60 percent. The built-in opposition of 40 percent, regardless of circumstances or party, has therefore persisted for almost two centuries. But except in the case of the 1860 election, the deep division did not lead to a threat to the regime. On the contrary, the regime has flourished -- again, 1860 excepted -- in spite of these persistent divisions.

The Politically Indifferent

Why then is the United States so deeply and persistently divided and why does this division rarely lead to unrest, let alone regime change? Let us consider this seeming paradox in light of another fact, namely, that a substantial portion of the electorate doesn't vote at all. This fact frequently is noted, usually as a sign of a decline in civic virtue. But let's consider it another way.

First, let's think of it mechanically. The United States is one of the few countries that has not made Election Day a national holiday or held its presidential elections on a weekend. That means that there is work and school on Election Day in the United States. In the face of the tasks of getting the kids off to school, getting to work, picking up the kids on the way home -- all while fighting traffic -- and then getting dinner on the table, the urgency of exercising the franchise pales. It should therefore be no surprise that older people are more likely to vote.

Low voter turnout could also indicate alienation from the system. But alienation sufficient to explain low voter turnout should have generated more unrest over two centuries. When genuine alienation was present, as in 1860, voter turnout rose and violence followed. Other than that, unrest hasn't followed presidential elections. To me, that so many people don't vote does not indicate widespread alienation as much as indifference: The outcome of the election is simply less important to many than picking up the kids from piano lessons.

It is equally plausible that low voter turnout indicates voter satisfaction with both candidates. Some have noted that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sound less different than they portray themselves as being. Some voters might figure there is not much difference between the two and that they can therefore live with either in office.

Another explanation is that some voters feel indifferent to the president and politics in general. They don't abstain because they are alienated from the system but because they understand the system as being designed such that outcomes don't matter. The Founding Fathers' constitutional system leaves the president remarkably weak. In light of this, while politically attentive people might care who is elected, the politically indifferent might have a much shrewder evaluation of the nature of the presidency.

The Role of Ideologues

The United States always has had ideologues who have viewed political parties as vehicles for expressing ideologies and reshaping the country. While the ideologies have changed since Federalists faced off against Democratic-Republicans, an ideological divide always has separated the two main parties. At the same time, the ranks of the true ideologues -- those who would prefer to lose elections to winning with a platform that ran counter to their principles -- were relatively sparse. The majority of any party was never as ideologically committed as the ideologues. A Whig might have thought of himself as a member of the Whig Party when he thought of himself in political terms at all, but most of the time he did not think of himself as political. Politics were marginal to his identity, and while he might tend to vote Whig, as one moved to less committed elements of the party, Whigs could easily switch sides.

The four elections in which presidents received 60 percent or more were all ideological and occurred at times of crisis: Johnson in 1964 defeated Barry Goldwater, a highly ideological candidate, in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination; Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon, an anti-Roosevelt ideologue, during the depths of the Depression; Nixon defeated George McGovern, an anti-war ideologue, during the era of the Vietnam War and the anti-war challenge; and Warren G. Harding won in the wake of World War I and the latter debacles of the Wilson administration and its ideology.

Crisis tends to create the most extreme expressions of hostility to a challenging ideology and creates the broadest coalition possible, 60 percent. Meanwhile, 40 percent remain in opposition to the majority under any circumstances. To put it somewhat differently -- and now we get to the most significant point -- about 40 percent of the voting public cannot be persuaded to shift from their party under any circumstances, while about 20 percent are either persuadable or represent an unrooted voter who shifts from election to election.

The 60-40 break occurs rarely, when the ideological bent rallies the core and the national crisis allows one party to attract a larger block than normal to halt the less popular ideology. But this is the extreme of American politics; the normal election is much narrower.

This is because the ideologues in the parties fail to draw in the center. The weaker party members remain in their party's orbit and the 20 percent undecided distribute themselves fairly randomly, depending on their degree of indifference, so that the final vote depends on no more than a few percentage points shifting one way or another.

This is not a sign of massive divisions. Whereas the 60-40 elections are the moments of deepest political tension in which one side draws the center to it almost unanimously, in other elections -- particularly the large number in which the winner receives less that 55 percent of the vote (meaning that a 5 percent shift would change the outcome) -- the election is an election of relative indifference.

This is certainly not how ideologues view the election. For them, it is a struggle between light and darkness. Nor is it how the media and commentators view it. For them, it is always an election full of meaning. In reality, most elections are little remembered and decide little. Seemingly apocalyptic struggles that produce narrow margins do not represent a deeply divided country. The electoral division doesn't translate into passion for most of the voters, but into relative indifference with the recognition that here is another election "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

The fact that nearly 50 percent of the public chooses not to vote is our tipoff about the public's view of elections. That segment of the public simply doesn't care much about the outcome. The politically committed regard these people as unenlightened fools. In reality, perhaps these people know that the election really isn't nearly as important as the ideologues, media and professional politicians think it is, so they stay home.

Others vote, of course, but hardly with the intensity of the ideologues. Things the ideologues find outrageously trivial can sway the less committed. Such voters think of politics in a very different way than the ideologues do. They think of it as something that doesn't define their lives or the republic. They think of politicians as fairly indistinguishable, and they are aware that the ideological passions will melt in the face of presidential responsibility. And while they care a bit more than those who stay home, they usually do not care all that much more.

The United States has elected presidents with the narrowest of margins and presidents who had far less than a majority. In many countries, this might reveal deep divisions leading to social unrest. It doesn't mean this in the United States because while the division can be measured, it isn't very deep and by most, it will hardly be remembered.

The polls say the election will be very close. If that is true, someone will be selected late at night after Ohio makes up its mind. The passionate on the losing side will charge fraud and election stealing. The rest of the country will get up the next day and go back to work just as they did four years ago, and the republic will go on.

U.S. Presidential Elections in Perspective is republished with permission of Stratfor.

If Barbie were the model

Monday, October 29, 2012
Picasso Barbie (click any image to enarge)
The website Barbie imagines what great works of art would look like if Barbie was the inspiration (via Wall to Watch). Entertaining stuff. If the gallery gets additions I would like to see a Gauguin and Duchamp's Barbie Descending a Staircase.

Warhol Barbie
Mona Barbie

Man Ray Barbie
Nefertiti Barbie
Venus de Barbie

Bad Whiskey



Monday morning, start of the workweek blues by Smoky Babe.
  

19th Century seed catalog covers

Sunday, October 28, 2012
Click any image to enlarge
These seed catalog covers from the 1800s and early 20th Century are nice examples of graphic design from the era before modernism and its minimalism. I still find it odd that more present day designers don't mine this earlier and often very striking style for inspiration. The again, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, I think most graphic designers are far less creative than they imagine themselves to be -- there is an awful amount of heard mentality in the field.

It also struck me that these covers must have expensive to produce and print back in the day. I wonder if these companies had in-house art departments, or if they commissioned work directly from the printers or from whatever passed for ad agencies back then?

There are more examples after the jump, and many more examples, including flower seed catalogs and back covers at Seed Catalogs from the Smithsonian Institution.


15 laterals later



These types of plays are always fun to watch. Trailing by 2 points and with 2 seconds on the clock Trinity University has to go 60 yards for a TD and the win (found at The Borderline Sociopathic Blog for Boys).
   

This year's perfect Halloween treat

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Last year I suggested candy cigarettes as the perfect Halloween treat. While candy cigarettes and cigars are still a fine choice I would also like to recommend chocolate guns, grenades and bullets from Chocolate Weapons.

Of course stocking up on an arsenal of chocolate weapons to distribute on Halloween is a bit pricier than a few cartons of candy cigarettes, but think of the joy you'll be bringing the little tykes dressed up like ghouls, goblins or, if you live in a liberal neighborhood, women in binders. 

By the way, Chocolate Weapons also has a line of soap weapons. You might consider buying a case of two of them for any foul mouthed brats who show up in need of getting their mouths washed out with soap. Just prepare to have your house get toilet papered or worse if you go that route.

Stratfor and Jennifer Lopez

Friday, October 26, 2012
With my arm in a sling I'm not going to only give a comment about this Stratfor article. The pocket litter Scott Stewart talks about is not only papers a person might have on their person when they're stopped by the police, but information on their smart phones and other devices.

Scott ends by pointing out that criminal, although no where near as proficient as the police, can also do some date mining of pocket litter they get off their victims, so one should be mindful, especially when traveling in dangerous areas, of what pocket litter you have on yourself. It is an interesting read.

As for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe, since litter was being discussed and I just spent a week in a hotel room, hotel maids came to mind. With that in mind, Jennifer Lopez, due to her role in Maid in Manhattan, was the logical choice for the prestigious honor.

The romcom revolves around a Senatorial candidate from a political dynasty who mistakes Ms Lopez for a socialite, puts the moves on her, finds out her real identity but overcomes their social gap and ends up crazy-mad-in-love with her in the end. Since she doesn't end up drowned in a river after a night of drunken debauchery I'm guessing the Senatorial candidate character wasn't modeled on Ted Kennedy.


Pocket Litter: The Evidence That Criminals Carry
By Scott Stewart, October 25, 2012

On Oct. 12, a pregnant medical doctor from Guadalajara, Mexico, attempted to enter the United States through the San Ysidro border crossing. The woman reportedly wanted to give birth in the United States so that her child would be a U.S. citizen. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers arrested the woman, who has since been charged with visa fraud in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

Ordinarily, the arrest of a Mexican national for document fraud at a border crossing would hardly be newsworthy. However, this case may be anything but ordinary: Authorities have identified the woman as Alejandrina Gisselle Guzman Salazar, who reportedly is the daughter of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, one of the world's most wanted men.

If Guzman is indeed the daughter of El Chapo, the arrest could provide much-needed intelligence to those pursuing the fugitive drug lord. Aside from the intelligence gathered during her interrogation, investigators could also learn much from the information she may have been inadvertently carrying on her person. In law enforcement and intelligence circles, the items of miscellaneous information an individual carries are called "pocket litter" and are carefully reviewed for intelligence value. But the concept of combing through pocket litter for critical information also carries with it some important implications for people who are not criminals.

Danger for Criminals

When law enforcement officers arrest someone, they conduct a thorough search of the suspect and his or her immediate possessions. This is referred to as a "search incident to arrest," and items discovered during this search are considered admissible as evidence in U.S. courts (and the courts of many other countries). During the search, officers are looking for items of evidentiary value to the case in question and for items that could endanger the officers -- weapons and handcuff keys, for example. But in addition to these items, a search incident to arrest also gives law enforcement officers an excellent chance to gather intelligence that could be used to identify other individuals involved in the criminal activity.

Of course, items found in pockets, purses or wallets -- business cards, slips of paper containing names, telephone numbers, addresses and email addresses, to name a few -- can provide intelligence leads. But even less obvious items, such as receipts and airline boarding passes, are likewise valuable. In narcotics cases, pocket litter frequently helps identify drug suppliers, and in cases of document fraud, pocket litter helps identify the document vendor.

Once these items of potential intelligence are collected, they are processed. This means determining who corresponds to a particular phone number, address or email account and then running them through local, state or federal law enforcement databases. Public records, the Internet and social media can also be searched for relevant information. Often this process will produce additional leads that can later be investigated.

In addition to its uses in fighting street crime, pocket litter is also important in counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases. It can help identify associates, weapons or explosives components purchases, the location of storage lockers used to house such materials, bombmaking recipes, fund transfers and information pertaining to targets the subject has surveilled.

Since the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. military has turned the collection and processing of pocket litter into a highly sophisticated and productive exercise. When the military captures a militant on the battlefield, or when special operations forces seize or kill a high-value target, his body and the surrounding area are immediately searched for pocket litter, which is then collected, categorized and sent to the appropriate intelligence unit for processing.

Document exploitation teams operating in Afghanistan (and later Iraq) created huge searchable databases containing data from militants. In many cases, these teams proved more successful in satisfying intelligence taskings than did interrogation teams working with captured individuals.

Notably, what we refer to as pocket litter has changed as technology has evolved. Originally denoting physical items like slips of paper, the term now includes electronic devices, such as iPods, smartphones, tablets and laptop computers, from which vast amounts of intelligence can be gleaned. These devices can contain photographs, Internet search histories, voice mails, call logs and text message archives. Many phones also have features that, if activated, can provide historical GPS data on their owners' locations.

How far a search incident to arrest can go in cases involving cellphones currently is a controversial subject in the United States because cellphones can contain vast amounts of information regarding their owners. Conflicting rulings in different U.S. circuit courts make it likely that the topic will be brought to the U.S. Supreme Court at some point. The fact that judges must often compare cellphones to diaries or locked containers while looking for comparable case law illustrates the challenges the new technology has presented to the judicial system.

Danger for Civilians

Pocket litter has been exploited as long as there have been criminals, law enforcement, pockets and writing. Yet despite hundreds of years of this practice, criminals continue to carry incriminating evidence on their persons. The reason for this is quite simple: human nature has not changed. Most people do not trust their memories, and they consider it safer and easier to jot down the information on a slip of paper and place it in a wallet or purse, or in modern times, store it in a cellphone or computer. The number of items jotted down or otherwise stored in this manner can become quite substantial as this practice continues over time.

But these shortcomings exemplified by criminals also pertain to law-abiding citizens. Most people walk around with significant amounts of information on their person, and many cannot account for all their belongings. Some people are completely unaware of the treasure trove of information they carry in their cellphones, tablets and laptop computers. For most civilians, it is not intelligence exploitation by the government that is a concern, but exploitation by cunning criminals, who can use pocket litter to commit credit card, bank or identity fraud.

Therefore, it is imperative that people examine and carefully consider their pocket litter and attempt to reduce that litter to only those items that are absolutely necessary. This is especially true of people traveling in areas with high crime or intelligence threats, but the concept is universal. One can have a wallet, purse or cellphone stolen at a place of worship, the supermarket or the gym. It is also important to remember that pocket litter inadvertently tossed into the trash can be recovered and exploited by criminals.

Recovering from the theft of a purse or cellphone is difficult enough under the best of circumstances, but it is much more difficult if one does not know what information was compromised or if one unnecessarily exposed documents and information to theft. For example, many people needlessly carry their original social security cards or write their social security numbers and ATM pin numbers down rather than memorizing them. People should maintain a list of the credit cards they carry with them, along with contact numbers for those card companies in a separate place.

While there are many vulnerabilities associated with smartphones, locking them with passwords and using encrypted files for storing information such as account numbers and passwords are steps in the right direction. These measures may not save a terrorist suspect from the computing power of the U.S. National Security Agency, but they will likely prevent most thieves from accessing your important information.

Pocket Litter: The Evidence That Criminals Carry is republished with permission of Stratfor.
 

I Melt With You



Get ready for a weekend of grilled cheese sandwiches
with Nouvelle Vague.

My lucky day

Thursday, October 25, 2012
Click to enlarge my misfortune
Hurricane Sandy got me. I slipped and fell on a wet sidewalk and broke my right shoulder. Dammit, how humiliating -- if only the 'cane could have had a tougher sounding name then Sandy.
 

Wild gun play

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Here's another fight scene to get you over the hump in hump day. My, my, but the citizens appear to be a bit unruly in this one. I did quite like the little old lady with the machine gun. It was a shame to see her get gunned down.
   

Lonely Hot Stratfor Babe

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Just my luck, I'm in Miami with limited time to post and Stratfor doesn't run their usual Tuesday article.Then it came to me -- where is it written you need a Stratfor article to justify a Hot Stratfor Babe award? Nowhere, so this week I present the first orphaned Hot Stratfor Babe, Eva Mendes.

Since I'm in Miami I looked for an actress who starred in a film set in Miami and chose All About the Benjamins where I located Ms Mendes. It's an entertaining comedy, featuring a winning lottery ticket, stolen diamonds and a convoluted plot. If you haven't seen it, catch it next time it crops up on the boob tube.  

If you were looking for a Stratfor article, and I'm sure most of my regular visitors read Playboy for the articles, sorry about this post. We'll catch the next Stratfor article.

Slave Man Blues

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday morning, start of the workweek blues by Bumble Bee Slim.
  
   

Paper or plastic

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I don't generally chase the zeitgeist, but the RCJ article about Sandra Fluke holding a rally of 10 people in a Sak 'N Save parking lot is too funny not to mention. Here's the lede:
Sandra Fluke, the woman at the center of a media firestorm earlier this year after Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut,” spoke Saturday in front of about 10 people at the Sak ‘N Save in north Reno.
It is surprising to see no attempt by the reporter and editors to bury the nonsensical aspect of the story. I guess somebody isn't a fan of having to fork over tax dollars to buy her contraception.

As an aside, I'll be in Miami next week so my posting will be more erratic than usual.
  

A mother throwing knives at her daughters



I often mock helicopter moms, but in this case I'll grant that a little helicoptering would have been in order. I wonder what ever became of the kids?

Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Saturday, October 20, 2012
Click any image to enlarge
These are plates from Curtis's Botanical Magazine. Curtis's started being published in 1787 and is still being published. These plates are from v63 which was published in 1836. There are more after the jump, and many more at the BioDiversity Library Flickr stream where I found them.


Would a lava lamp work on Jupiter?



Neil Fraser, a Google software engineer, got to wondering if a lava lamp would work properly on Jupiter. Deciding it was a question that demanded an answer, he built a Meccano centrifuge to test how a lava lamp would work in higher gravity. As he describes it:
The centrifuge is a genuinely terrifying device. The lights dim when it is switched on. A strong wind is produced as the centrifuge induces a cyclone in the room. The smell of boiling insulation emanates from the overloaded 25 amp cables. If not perfectly adjusted and lubricated, it will shred the teeth off solid brass gears in under a second. Runs were conducted from the relative safety of the next room while peeking through a crack in the door.
Despite the technical hurdles, the centrifuge performed its job well. It turns out that the accelerometers in the Nexus One are badly mis-calibrated; although 0.0 G and 1.0 G are both properly reported, what it reports as 2.0 G is actually 3.0 G (Googlers can view the resulting bug: #2485924). As one can see in the video above, the lava lamp continues to operate well at three times the force of gravity. That's slightly higher than Jupiter's gravity (2.3 G) and it is equivalent to launching in the Space Shuttle.
Although I've got to wonder about him risking demolishing his living room in the hunt for an answer, I've got to admire his his persistence and ingenuity in scratching an intellectual itch. You can read more details, and see still of his centrifuge at his page: Lava Lamp Centrifuge
  

Stratfor and Sally Field

Friday, October 19, 2012
In this Stratfor article Scott Stewart lays out the terminology Stratfor uses to differentiate al Qaeda, al Qaeda franchises and other jihadists. He kicks off his discussion by mentioning the use of the term al Qaeda in the American Presidential race. That seems a very tenuous hook to me, since Americans use the term al Qaeda and jihadists quite differently than common usage in the U.S.

While Stewart's taxonomy of terror groups is interesting, and no doubt more rigorous than the American shorthand which conflates the two, it should be accepted that how Americans use the terms in their political discourse to understand such campaign positions.

There is a certain rhetorical dishonesty in trying to shift from common usage to claiming you were actually employing a more rigorous and technical use of language. That's what is offensive about Obama's attempt to elevate the throwaway clause “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation” over his weeks long argument that it was the youTube video that sparked riots and then the attack.

Stewart should have avoided the campaign issue altogether. While he may not have intended it, his statemt, "As with most political rhetoric, both claims bear elements of truth, but the truth depends largely on how al Qaeda and jihadism are defined" has no bearing on what transpired during the debate and comes across looking like a weak setup for a rationalization of Obama's dishonesty.

 Since the article dealt with numerous terrorist identities the old pop-psychology fad of multiple personalities came to mind. That led to the movie Sybil and so its female lead, Sally Field, was the only choice for the honor of being this article's Hot Stratfor Babe.

Ms Field started out on TV playing the annoyingly perky teenager Gidget, and followed that up with The Flying Nun, another ridiculous character. In spite of such preposterous type casting to start her career she's flourished as an actress including an academy Award as Best Actress for her part in Places in the Heart. She continues to work steadily to this day.
     

Defining al Qaeda
By Scott Stewart, October 18, 2012

The Obama administration's efforts to counter the threat posed by al Qaeda and the wider jihadist movement have been a contentious topic in the U.S. presidential race. Political rhetoric abounds on both sides; administration officials claim that al Qaeda has been seriously crippled, while some critics of the administration allege that the group is stronger than ever. As with most political rhetoric, both claims bear elements of truth, but the truth depends largely on how al Qaeda and jihadism are defined. Unfortunately, politicians and the media tend to define al Qaeda loosely and incorrectly.

The jihadist threat will persist regardless of who is elected president, so understanding the actors involved is critical. But a true understanding of those actors requires taxonomical acuity. It seems worthwhile, then, to revisit Stratfor's definitions of al Qaeda and the wider jihadist movement.

A Network of Networks

Al Qaeda, the group established by Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, was never very large -- there were never more than a few hundred actual members. We often refer to this group, now led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, as the al Qaeda core or al Qaeda prime. While the group's founders trained tens of thousands of men at their camps in Afghanistan and Sudan, they initially viewed themselves as a vanguard organization working with kindred groups to facilitate the jihad they believed was necessary to establish a global Islamic caliphate. Most of the men trained at al Qaeda camps were members of other organizations or were grassroots jihadists. The majority of them received basic paramilitary training, and only a select few were invited to receive additional training in terrorist tradecraft skills such as surveillance, document forgery and bombmaking. Of this select group, only a few men were invited to join the al Qaeda core organization.

Bin Laden envisioned another purpose for al Qaeda: leading the charge against corrupt rulers in the Muslim world and against the United States, which he believed supported corrupt Muslim rulers. Al Qaeda sought to excise the United States from the Muslim world in much the same way that Hezbollah drove U.S. forces out of Lebanon and Somalia forced the U.S. withdrawal from Mogadishu.

Al Qaeda became a network of networks -- a trait demonstrated not only by its training methods but also in bin Laden's rhetoric. For example, bin Laden's 1998 "World Islamic Front" statement, which declared jihad against Jews and Crusaders, was signed by al-Zawahiri (who at the time was leading the Egyptian Islamic Jihad) and leaders of other groups, including the Egyptian Islamic Group, Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan and the Jihad Movement of Bangladesh.

Following the 9/11 attacks, the United States applied against the al Qaeda core the full pressure of its five counterterrorism levers: intelligence, military, law enforcement, diplomacy and financial sanctions. As a result, many al Qaeda members, eventually including bin Laden, were captured or killed and their assets were frozen. Such measures have ensured that the group remains small for operational security concerns. The remaining members of the group mostly are lying low in Pakistan near the Afghan border, and their isolation there has severely degraded their ability to conduct attacks. The al Qaeda core is now relegated to producing propaganda for guidance and inspiration for other jihadist elements. Despite the disproportionate amount of media attention given to statements from al-Zawahiri and Adam Gadahn, the al Qaeda core constitutes only a very small part of the larger jihadist movement. In fact, it has not conducted a successful terrorist attack in years.

However, the core group has not been destroyed. It could regenerate if the United States eased its pressure, but we believe that will be difficult given the loss of the charismatic bin Laden and his replacement by the irascible al-Zawahiri.

In any case, the jihadist movement transcends the al Qaeda core. In fact, Stratfor for years published an annual forecast of al Qaeda, but beginning in 2009, we intentionally changed the title of the forecast to reflect the isolation and marginalization of the al Qaeda core and the ascendance of other jihadist actors. We believed our analysis needed to focus less on the al Qaeda core and more on the truly active and significant elements of the jihadist movement, including regional groups that have adopted the al Qaeda name and the array of grassroots jihadists.

Franchises and Grassroots

An element of the jihadist movement that is often loosely referred to as al Qaeda is the worldwide network of local or regional militant groups that have assumed al Qaeda's name or ideology. In many cases, the relationships between the leadership of these groups and the al Qaeda core began in the 1980s and 1990s.

Some groups have publicly claimed allegiance to the al Qaeda core, becoming what we refer to as franchise groups. These groups include al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Even though these franchises bear the al Qaeda name, they are locally owned and operated. This means that the local commanders have significant latitude in how closely they follow the guidance and philosophy of the al Qaeda core.

Some franchise group leaders, such as AQAP's Nasir al-Wahayshi, maintain strong relationships with the al Qaeda core and are very closely aligned with the core's philosophy. Other leaders, such as Abu Musab Abd al-Wadoud of AQIM, are more distanced. In fact, AQIM has seen severe internal fighting over these doctrinal issues, and several former leaders of Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat left the group because of this conflict. Further, it is widely believed that the death of Somali al Qaeda leader Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was arranged by leaders of Somali jihadist group al Shabaab, which he had criticized sharply.

The last and broadest element of the global jihadist movement often referred to as al Qaeda is what Stratfor refers to as grassroots jihadists. These are individuals or small cells of individuals that are inspired by the al Qaeda core -- or increasingly, by its franchise groups -- but that may have little or no actual connection to these groups. Some grassroots jihadists travel to places such as Pakistan or Yemen to receive training from the franchise groups. Other grassroots militants have no direct contact with other jihadist elements.

The core, the franchises and the grassroots jihadists are often interchangeably referred to as al Qaeda, but there are important differences among these actors that need to be recognized.

Important Distinctions

There are some other important distinctions that inform our terminology and our analysis. Not all jihadists are linked to al Qaeda, and not all militant Islamists are jihadists. Islamists are those who believe society is best governed by Islamic law, or Sharia. Militant Islamists are those who advocate the use of force to establish Sharia. Militant Islamists are found in both Islamic sects. Al Qaeda is a Sunni militant Islamist group, but Hezbollah is a Shiite militant Islamist group. Moreover, not all militant Muslims are Islamists. Some take up arms for tribal, territorial, ethnic or nationalistic reasons, or for a combination of reasons.

In places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and northern Mali, several militant groups are fighting foreign forces, their government or each other -- and sometimes all of the above. Some of these groups are jihadists, some are tribal militias, some are brigands and smugglers, and others are nationalists. Identifying, sorting and classifying these groups can be very difficult, and sometimes alliances shift or overlap. For example, Yemen's southern separatists will sometimes work with tribal militias or AQAP to fight against the government; other times, they fight against these would-be allies. We have seen similar dynamics in northern Mali among groups such as AQIM, Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, various Tuareg groups and other tribal militias in the region.

Taxonomy becomes even more difficult when a group uses multiple names, or when multiple groups share a name. Groups adopt different names for discretion, confusion or public relations purposes. AQAP called itself Ansar al-Shariah during its fight to take over cities in southern Yemen and to govern the territory. But radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was arrested in the United Kingdom in 2004 and extradited to the United States in 2012, has long led a movement likewise called Ansar al-Shariah. Even the Libyan jihadist militia that attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi uses the same name. But just because these groups share a name, and just because members or leaders of the groups know each other, does not necessarily mean that they are chapters of the same group or network of groups, or that they even subscribe to the same ideology.

As we mentioned long before Moammar Gadhafi was ousted in Libya, jihadists and other militants thrive in power vacuums. This assertion has proved true in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, and more recently in Libya, northern Mali and now Syria. Weapons flooding into such regions only compound the problem.

Militant Islamists have seized the opportunity to grow in influence in such places, as have the subset of militant Islamists we call jihadists. So in this context, while the al Qaeda core has been crippled, other portions of the jihadist movement are thriving. This is especially so among those that aspire to mount local insurgencies rather than those more concerned with planning transnational attacks. The nuances are important because as the composition and objectives of jihadist groups change, so do their methods of attack.

Defining al Qaeda is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Shake Rattle and Roll


Get ready for a weekend of angry feminists
with Bill Haley and the Comets.

   

News about OMMAG

Thursday, October 18, 2012
One More Middle Aged Guy (OMMAG) is one of the blogs I read daily. He's my view into the antics of Canadian liberals. OMMAg is also a frequent commenter at Flares. I noticed he had stopped posting in mid September, with his last post rather cryptic. I wondered what had became of him.

The other day I received a message from him that he had gone in for surgery and had some complications. He's OK now, but is dealing with the aftermath of it all. Here's hoping he gets back on his feet and back into the flow of things soon. My thoughts are with him.

If anybody knows him from another blog/forum and people are wondering where he's been, please pass on the news.

If we target one, we must target all

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Click to enlarge
Above is a picture from 1963 of Willard Scott as the first iteration of Ronald McDonald. I must say, that's one insane looking mascot. Interestingly, considering Ronald's prominence in McDonald's advertising, Ronald was not created by McDonald's marketing department. As explained by Active Rain:
From August 1959 to August 1962 Willard Scott portrayed Bozo the Clown on a local Washington DC area television station. When the TV station dropped the licensing rights contract with Larry Harmon and discontinued the Bozo character, Willard Scott wanted to keep the Bozo thing going. So, he created a spin-off version of the Bozo character, which became Ronald McDonald.

Willard Scott created the Ronald McDonald character for the two local businessmen who owned the DC area McDonald's drive-in restaurant franchise.

The McDonald's corporation liked the concept and eventually hired a different actor to portray the Ronald McDonald character in national commercials. Obviously, the character and costume evolved over time and continues to be a cornerstone of the McDonald's corporation marketing campaigns to this day.
So, Ronald bubbled up from the ranks. Of course these days the Food Police would be more than happy to legislate or regulate Ronald into oblivion from the top. As Elaine Fogel wrote:
Is junk-food marketing to kids fair? Should it be allowed? Is Ronald McDonald responsible for childhood obesity and its associated diseases?

Recently, more than 550 very credible health institutions and professionals challenged McDonald’s to stop marketing junk food to kids. Initiated by Corporate Accountability International, full-page ads appeared in several dailies across the country urging people and professionals to sign the open letter and share it with peers.

An American interagency government group has developed standards for marketing food to children to help food companies determine which foods should be marketed as a way to encourage a healthful diet and which foods shouldn’t be marketed to children.

Studies do demonstrate that reducing junk-food marketing to kids could help improve millions of children’s health. But, let’s be honest. Who is responsible here? Ronald, parents, educators, or all of the above?

Personally, I’d like nothing better than to see healthier kids in North America. As a former educator, I’ve seen how vulnerable many kids are to marketing in general. But, why are we penalizing one company? Sure, McDonald’s is the largest in its category, and Ronald McDonald is a widely-recognized figure, but if we target one, we must target all marketers of high-sugar cereals with premiums in the boxes, chocolate syrup that contains high fructose corn syrup, candy bars, sugary drinks, etc.
Well, why not? And if that doesn't work -- and we all know it won't be enough for the likes of Ms Fogel -- we can complete our descent into Puritanism by sticking people in stocks to publicly shame them. After all, it is for the kids.

Me... I would rather put up with so-so hamburgers, a slightly creepy clown and the occasional junior fatso than letting the helicopter moms of the world start managing my life.

Drop those fries and eat some broccoli or else!

Man vs Ape



Sorry for this poor quality fight scene to get you over the hump in hump day, but how could I pass up a fight between a Hindu Tarzan and a guy in a bad chimp suit. Also, aren't Tarzan and apes supposed to be buddies? Anyway, as bad as the suit is, it is still better than the monkey suits in the average 'Bigfoot captured on film" offering.
    

Stratfor and Naz Elmas

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
This Stratfor article by Reva Bhalla deals with the complications Turkey is facing as it tries to exert itself as a regional power during the present Syrian crisis.

Turkey is attempting to manage the situation to its benefit diplomatically while not getting entangled militarily, but the U.S., Russia, Iran and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia and Israel all have their interests in the Syrian situation as well. 

It is a good read and it contains a number of insights into the competing priorities which only get more tangled as the crisis deepens.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I turned to Turkish actresses. After careful scrutiny of the available candidates I decided that Naz Elmas was deserving of the honor.

Ms Elmas started by acting in Turkish television series, but she has branched into film as well. One of her films (although she doesn't look like she had a large part in it), G.O.R.A., which is a science fiction comedy film made it to the festival circuit where it was well received. 

Turkey's Challenge and the Syrian Negotiation

By Reva Bhalla, Vice President of Global Affairs, October 16, 2012

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zubi harshly criticized the Turkish government early last week over Ankara's proposal that an interim government succeed the al Assad regime, saying that "Turkey isn't the Ottoman Sultanate; the Turkish Foreign Ministry doesn't name custodians in Damascus, Mecca, Cairo and Jerusalem." Being the spokesman for a pariah regime requires a mastery of propaganda. Al-Zubi has not disappointed in this regard, mounting a strong rhetorical offensive against Syria's powerful northern neighbor.

While his latest rebuke of Turkey will not save the al Assad regime (much less his own career), he is tapping into a powerful narrative in the region, one that will have stronger and stronger resonance in the Arab world as Turkey is forced to play a more assertive role in the region.

Great Expectations in Ankara

As Ankara is discovering, the resurgence of a nation can be an awkward and rocky process. Things were simpler for Turkey in the early part of the past decade when the regional climate allowed Turkey to re-emerge cautiously, with a white flag in hand and phrases like "zero problems with neighbors" on its lips. The region has since become far more unforgiving, with violent political transformations nipping at Anatolia's borders, Iran putting up stiff competition for regional influence, Russia's resurgence proceeding apace and the United States increasingly losing interest in the role of global policeman. The region is pushing Turkey into action regardless of whether Ankara is ready to take on the responsibility.

The past week offered several glimpses into Turkey's growing pains. Turkish and Syrian border troops shelled each other after Syrian mortar fire killed five Turkish civilians. Turkish fighter jets scrambled after the Syrian air force attacked a town along the Syrian side of the border. Turkish-Russian tensions also flared when Turkey intercepted a Syria-bound plane from Moscow allegedly carrying radar equipment. And a nervous Ankara watched as a coalition of Kurdish groups from Syria, northern Iraq, Iran and Turkey gathered in Paris to brainstorm ways to exploit the shifting regional landscape and propel a campaign for Kurdish statehood.
The Basis for a Negotiation

The conflict in Syria offers both a threat and an opportunity for Ankara. Turkey took a risk when it became the most ardent and visible backer of the Syrian rebellion. Now, tens of thousands of refugees are flowing across the border into Turkey. The threat of sectarian warfare spreading past Syria's borders looms. And the exposure of Turkey's regional competition with Iran has elevated the Kurdish militant threat from a domestic sore point to a weakness that regional competitors like Iran can exploit.

Turkey is also closely monitoring a critical force that has begun to shape the region: the rise of Islamist movements and the discrediting of Arab secularist police states. The transition from secular autocracy will be tumultuous, but the more leverage Turkey has with this Pan-Arab Islamist movement, the better prepared it will be to manage its neighborhood. An opportunity is thus developing for Turkey in which it can assert its Islamist credentials alongside its ability to compete effectively with Iran and to deal with the West. Turkey is uniquely positioned to steer the Islamist movement while the Arab street still requires a regional backer in its challenge to the old regimes and to keep Iran at bay. But Arab attitudes toward Turkey will shift with time as Turkey's expectations of a growing sphere of influence in the Arab world inevitably clash with the Muslim Brotherhood's vision of a Pan-Arab Islamist movement following its own course, as opposed to one set by Ankara.

Turkey has several immediate challenges. First, it is attempting to prevent a power vacuum from expanding in Syria that would fuel Kurdish separatism. Second, it is trying to push back the Iranian sphere of influence while expanding its own into the Arab world. Third, it wants to be taken seriously as a regional leader. Heavily constrained as it is, Ankara appears to have chosen to tackle this array of issues primarily through dialogue.

Turkey wants to avoid regime change in Syria, and it is not alone. Neither the states trying to retain influence in Syria, like Iran and Russia, nor the states trying to force a political transformation in the Levant, like Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia, France and Qatar, are prepared to weather the consequences of debaathification, which would dismantle the state machinery, sideline the Alawite minority and plunge the country more deeply into civil war. A growing consensus centered on removing the al Assads while largely maintaining the regime has created an opportunity for dialogue between the United States and Turkey on one side and Russia and Iran on the other. Tehran and Moscow have used the monthslong stalemate in the Syrian conflict to edge their way into discussions over a post-al Assad government. The Russians and Iranians have positioned themselves for a possible agreement that facilitates an exit for the al Assads while requiring a prominent space for the Alawites in a new government, something that would preserve Russian and Iranian influence in Syria.

The urgency to negotiate the Syrian transition is escalating just as one of the key pillars Stratfor identified from the start of the conflict, the cohesion of the Alawites, appears to be breaking down. Recently, clashes have erupted between Alawite clans in the coastal Alawite strongholds of Latakia and Qardaha, the birthplace of former President Hafiz al Assad. Evidence also has emerged supporting claims that a handful of Alawite military officers have recently defected from the regime. Critical Alawite defections could accelerate in the coming weeks as fewer Alawites see the survival of the al Assads as necessary to their own survival.

As the al Assad clan continues to weaken, Turkey has sought to stitch together negotiations already fraught with complications. One look at the participants in the discussion over a post-al Assad Syria explains the difficulty.

The U.S.-Iranian Dynamic

The first major dialogue for Turkey to mediate is between the United States and Iran. The United States has no interest in initiating a military intervention in Syria, though it is preparing for the possibility that U.S. intelligence assets and special operations forces will have to secure Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles in the event of a regime meltdown. The United States also does not want to engage in a military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. Washington thus has elected a strategy whereby Turkey does the bulk of the work on Syria while Washington focuses on weakening Iran through sanctions pressure, covert operations and building up a credible military threat in the Persian Gulf. Washington hopes to coerce Iran into negotiations where it can extract hefty concessions from Tehran on issues ranging from Syria to the Iranian nuclear program.

Timing is everything in such a challenging negotiating environment. The U.S.-led economic siege of Iran is starting to bite, as evidenced by the rapid depreciation of the Iranian rial in the past weeks. Iranian officials claim that Iran can weather hardship far better than most think, but the specter of social unrest exploited by foreign powers clearly weighs heavily on Tehran. Iran also cannot shake the threat of a potential U.S.-Israeli strike. Though the chances of such a strike remain low, occasional Israeli saber-rattling plus a far higher level of U.S. military preparedness in the Persian Gulf make it much harder for Iran to call the U.S. bluff. At the same time, Iran is watching the situation in Syria deteriorate and is trying to prevent a scenario in which the sectarian spillover in Syria threatens Iran's hard-fought gains in Iraq. All of this does not necessarily mean Iran is ready to offer serious concessions, but Iran is giving indications that it wants dialogue with Washington.

Turkey is the facilitator for that dialogue. Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi met last week, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Iranian Supreme National Security Council chief Saeed Jalili in mid-September. While the Turkish government has been keeping Washington abreast of these talks, Iran has been softening the atmosphere to create favorable conditions for a resumption of talks on its nuclear program. U.N. monitors have reported that Iran is converting more than one-third of its 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile into uranium oxide in powder form to alleviate concerns over potential attempts to produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has revealed that Iran is attempting to arrange a visit by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano to Iran to discuss the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program (though the United Nations has not yet confirmed the visit).

While putting out feelers via the Turks for negotiations with Washington, Iran is also preparing a contingency plan for Syria. Transitioning from a conventional army to an insurgent military force is logical for Syria's Alawite minority given the crisis' trajectory. Hints have emerged that Iran is preparing an Alawite militia for use when the al Assads fall with the help of Hezbollah. By creating a strong militant proxy, Iran can try to ensure its interests won't be ignored should its latest attempts at negotiations with the United States fall through.

The U.S.-Russian Dynamic

Turkey must also navigate fitful U.S.-Russia negotiations. Russia has deep relationships with the Syrian and Iranian regimes and will likely play a role in securing the exit of the al Assad clan in return for guarantees of influence in the refashioned government. Russian President Vladimir Putin was supposed to arrive in Istanbul on Oct. 14 for talks with the Turkish leadership, but that visit was postponed to Dec. 3. The extent to which the detention of the Russian plane and Turkish accusations that Russia is arming the Syrian regime caused this change in schedule remains unclear, but Moscow was quick to reschedule the visit for a date after the U.S. presidential election. At the same time, Russia is trying to revive dialogue with the United States over ballistic missile defense in Europe and Russia's contentious relationship with NATO. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov aims to have a Russia-NATO summit (which was canceled in May amid heightened U.S.-Russia tensions) again rescheduled for the end of the year, after the U.S. election.

It appears that Russia may be delaying negotiations over Syria until it gets a better sense of whom it will be negotiating with in Washington. Similarly, Iran is unlikely to make any bold concessions until it, too, can be sure that the next U.S. administration will follow through on its end of any potential bargain. With these broader interests in play, there is not much Turkey can do to influence the time and place of negotiations.

The Other Stakeholders

Israel and Saudi Arabia are two key players on the sidelines of this negotiation to watch closely. Israel is not a direct participant in the transition talks, but it has a vested interest in preventing the further destabilization of its northern frontier and in sapping Iran's regional strength. Israel will continue to rely on covert means to try to reinforce the pain caused by the U.S.-led economic siege against Iran but will also search for a deal with Russia that would increase Iranian isolation.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has been heavily involved in efforts to fortify the Syrian rebellion with the aim of undercutting its regional adversary, Iran. Though Saudi Arabia can see the risk to the region of having Syria remain in a prolonged state of civil war, it also does not want to see a broader understanding between Washington and Tehran develop out of the Syrian crisis, an understanding that could strain the U.S.-Saudi relationship. If negotiations gain traction in the coming months, Saudi Arabia may end up being more of a spoiler than a facilitator.

Turkey's Challenge

These negotiations evidently are about much more than Syria. Syria is merely the conversation-starter for much broader strategic disputes. Turkey's challenge in managing the number of players and competing interests in this negotiation may be immense, but there is arguably no country more suited by geography and its own strategic needs to seize the task. Turkey lies at the crossroads of the many conflicts these negotiations will touch on. And unlike the United States, Turkey's physical proximity to the issues deprives it of the option of selective engagement.

All of this will generate great consternation within Turkey. The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, sought to relieve his country from the burdens of the Ottoman legacy in the Islamic world. His vision entailed creating a state based on a national -- as opposed to an Islamic -- identity and reorienting Turkey toward Europe, where the idea of a nation-state had already taken root. Today, Europe is turning inward, grappling with the revival of the nation-state while clinging to the idea of a supranational union. To Turkey's south, Pan-Islamism promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood is pricking Turkish historical sensibilities as violent political evolutions compel a reluctant Ankara into action.

The Syrian information minister strategically exposed this uncomfortable reality in his recent rebuke of Ankara. Turkey is not trying to advertise the re-creation of the Ottoman sphere of influence, but it simply cannot avoid having its actions rekindle memories of Ottoman troops on Arab soil. This memory is seared into the Syrian and Egyptian consciousness, something Turkey's regional adversaries will exploit in a bid to delay Turkey's inevitable rise.

Visit our Syria page for related analysis, videos, situation reports and maps. 

Turkey's Challenge and the Syrian Negotiation is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Weaponized Silly Putty



A couple of guys load shotgun shells with Silly Putty and then blast various targets to smithereens. It doesn't look like a gut full of Silly Putty would be a pleasant experience.
   

The beastiary of Aloys Zötl

Monday, October 15, 2012
Click any image to enlarge
These paintings are from a beastiary compiled by the Austrian painter Aloys Zötl in the 19th Century. He was a dye maker rather than a naturalist and so the paintings are more from his imagination rather than observation which explains the unrealistic look of many of the animals.

What's I find interesting about them is how brightly colored they are compared to animal plates, with their muted colors, we are used to seeing from the 1800s. It gives them a strangely modern look in spite of the familiar composition and poses of scientific etchings from the era.

There are more after the break, and more at the Wikimedia Commons page which I found these at (via The Public Domain Review). 


Trouble in Mind



Monday morning, start of the workweek blues by Big Bill Broonzy.
  
   

Fashionable beetle

Sunday, October 14, 2012
Click to enlarge
I wonder what the chain of thought was that led somebody to dress up a beetle carcass as Laura Dern's character Dr. Ellie Sattler from Jurassic Park?
 
Via Odd Stuff Magazine.
  

A meal cooked by Xiao Liu



Excerpt from The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin

Then there was her interview with Jia Zheng, which had to take place with her father standing outside of the door-curtain of the room in which she was sitting. Now that she was the Emporer's woman, this was the nearest to her he could ever hope to get. The sense of deprivation struck home to Yuan-chun as she addressed him through the curtain.

"What is the use of all this luxury and splendor," she said bitterly, "if I am always to be separated from those I love - denied the tenderness which even the poorest peasant who seasons his bread with salt and pickles and dresses in hempen homespun is free to enjoy?"

With tears in his eyes the good man delivered the following little speech to the daughter he could not see:

"Madam.

"That a poor and undistinguished household such as ours should have produced, as it were, a phoenix from amidst a flock of crows and pies to bask in the sunshine of Imperial favor and shed its reflected beams on the departed representatives of our ancestral line must be attributable to the concentration in your single person of the quintessences of all that is most admirable in celestial and terrestrial nature and the accumulated merit of many generations of our forebears, and is an honor and a blessing in which my wife and I are proud to be participants."
     

Paul Anka covers Nirvana



What's not to love about this video? Paul Anka and his orchestra cover Nirvana's grunge classic Smells Like Teen Spirit and the result is delightful in a completely loony sort of a way.
   

Vintage Asia magazine covers

Saturday, October 13, 2012
Click any image to enlarge
Asia was a travel magazine published from the 1920s to the early 1940s. It covered the Middle east as well as the Orient, and featured travel stories as well as items about the history and cultures of the regions.

Of course, back in those days world travel was a lot more difficult, so the idea of the East was a lot more exotic and mysterious. The illustrator Frank McIntosh (link to a site that sells posters of his work) captured the romance of the subject with a series of wonderful Art Deco style covers.

There are more samples of his work after the jump, and a few more examples of his covers at Magazine Art, where I found these examples, as well as much more of his work at the above link.


Japanese TSA skit



You probably won't understand a word of it, but the jokes are easy to follow none the less. Although, from what we hear and see of the TSA, I think the old lady would have been frisked as well.
  

Stratfor and Daryl Hannah

Friday, October 12, 2012
In this Stratfor article Scott Stewart discusses the evolution of terrorist methodology from the 1800s through the current day and suggests some possible emerging trends.

He breaks his discussion into documents, explosives and databases. In each area he gives brief discussion of their evolution, ending with a discussion of current trends.

Since the word evolution was mentioned, my mind naturally turned to movies featuring cave babes in fur bikinis as I sought the article's Hot Stratfor Babe. With that in mind, I selected Daryl Hannah who played Ayla, the female lead in Clan of the Cave Bear.

I saw Clan of the Cave Bear, but must confess I don't remember much about it other then it was ridiculous. It's made more ridiculous than the usual 'Cave Babes in Fur Bikinis' movie because it tries to be serious. For example, the characters grunt in a made up cave man language with subtitles and such like.

Anyway, if I recall correctly, as a child blonde Ayla is separated from her tribe and ends up being adopted by a tribe of doltish brunettes. She grows up to be Daryl Hannah, who gets a ton of grief because she's blonde. Lucky for her, she is a sort of feminist super genius who invents nearly everything: fire, the wheel, whatever. In fact, I think Ayla even wrote the original lyrics to I am Woman, only they were a series of grunts before they got translated to English for Helen Reddy to sing.

Clan of the Cave Bear was a flop, but Ms Hannah has had a very successful Hollywood career, although she's increasingly having to do television these days.

On the personal side she's been an activist for several years, getting herself arrested at on protest or another. Her latest has been getting arrested protesting the Keystone Pipeline. Gee, thanks Daryl -- I appreciate your efforts to get me to pay the Saudi's more for their oil. 


Evolution and Trends in Terrorism Tradecraft
By Scott Stewart, October 11, 2012

The terrorist tradecraft discussed in last week's Security Weekly does not happen in isolation. The practitioners of terrorist tradecraft conduct their activities in the midst of other people -- the authorities attempting to identify them and thwart their plans as well as civilians. Terrorist tradecraft also does not remain static. It is constantly evolving. These changes are prompted not only by countermeasures put in place to prevent terrorist attacks but also by advances in technology -- a powerful force that can serve to either nullify old tradecraft practices or to provide new tools to the purveyors of terror.

Terrorism is an enduring reality. While geopolitical changes may cause a shift in the actors who employ terrorism as a tactic, terrorism will continue to be used no matter what the next geopolitical cycle brings. It is, and will continue to be, a tactic used by militant actors who want to confront a militarily superior enemy. Focusing on the tradecraft used in attacks and charting its changes and trends not only permits observers to understand what is happening and why but also provides an opportunity to forecast what is coming next.

Documents

In the early terrorist plots of the late 1800s, many of the foundational tradecraft requirements were aided by the general simplicity of the times. Among the foundational tradecraft requirements discussed last week was procuring identification documents. Public records were very sparse, did not usually contain people's photographs and tended to be decentralized and not easily searched. (This is still true in some parts of the world today, such as in Afghanistan and Somalia.) There were no universal identification cards such as driver licenses, because automobiles had not yet become common. Passports and visas were not widely required for travel until after World War I, and even then the records of passport and visa issuance as well as traveler entries and exits were localized, hand-written entries into ledgers and were hard to search.

During this time, it was not difficult for Irish Fenian, nihilist or anarchist terrorist actors to travel, rent safe-houses or raise and transfer funds. Communication was certainly more difficult for everyone at that time -- authorities as well as terrorists. The mail system was slow, and while telegrams could be sent quickly, they were seen by many people. Law enforcement agencies did not communicate or coordinate very well across jurisdictional lines within one country, much less on an international scale.

During World War I, concerns over spies and saboteurs caused important changes to international travel, including stricter passport and visa requirements. This also had an impact on terrorist actors, such as Irish Republican Army members traveling to and from the United States or England, but early passports, visas and other identification documents were often hand-written and easily forged or altered. During this era, it was also still quite easy to assume the identity of an infant or young child who had died, because birth and death records were not often cross-referenced -- especially if they happened in different locations. This practice is referred to as an infant death identity in document-fraud investigations. Nazi and Soviet espionage agents used infant death identity quite frequently, which resulted in changes to the way records were kept, but domestic and international terrorist operatives continued to use infant death identities into the 1960s and 1970s.

Advances in technology in the 20th century allowed countries to make their identification documents more resistant, but not immune, to counterfeiting and alteration. The real difficulty in using counterfeit or altered documents started when the documents were linked to a central computerized database. This meant that counterfeit passports and visas did not show up in the databases and allowed a quick photo comparison to ensure that passports with altered photos could not be as easily used. In 1988, Japanese Red Army bombmaker Yu Kikumura was able to enter the United States using an altered Japanese passport.

In 1992, al Qaeda bombmaker Ahmed Ajaj was arrested trying to come through immigration at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport using a Swedish passport in another name altered to bear his photo. His partner, Abdul Basit, ditched the altered passport he used to board the flight in Karachi, Pakistan, and used an authentic Iraqi passport in the name Ramzi Yousef to claim political asylum. In the 9/11 plot, and in all the follow-on al Qaeda plots directed against the United Sates, al Qaeda operatives have used authentic travel documents to enter, or attempt to enter, the United States. Some of the 9/11 operatives did commit document fraud in relation to driver licenses and state identification cards, but as outlined in the 9/11 Commission Report, that fraud almost resulted in the unraveling of the plot.

Changes in technology and enforcement in the United States and Europe have caused changes in identity and travel tradecraft for transnational jihadists, who are now searching for "clean skin" operatives who are unknown to law enforcement and who have the ability to travel internationally using legitimate travel documents.

Explosives

Bombing has been a staple of terrorism since Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators' failed attempt to destroy the British Parliament in 1605 in the so-called Gunpowder Plot. The invention of dynamite in 1867 was a very big boon for early terrorists, who no longer had to use black powder, a low explosive, as the main charge in their devices. Dynamite was not only more stable and less sensitive to moisture than black powder but was also more powerful. Dynamite was widely used by Irish Fenians in their attacks, but perhaps the image of the anarchist bombthrower is the most iconic of that period.

In the age of modern terrorism, bombmakers have had the luxury of access to high-powered military explosives such as TNT, C-4 and Semtex. Technologies such as shaped charges, platter charges and explosively formed penetrators have also increased the impact of these powerful explosive compounds. Another development that has greatly altered the art of bombmaking has been the advent of microelectronics. Bombmakers can use sophisticated timers to activate a device days or even weeks after it is placed. They can also use sensors that detect motion, light, the presence of metal objects or changes in altitude in order to detonate the explosive device. Command-detonated devices using radio signals or cell phones have also been widely employed.

Perhaps one of the most influential bombmakers in the modern terrorist era is Abu Ibrahim, a former member of Black September, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the 15 May Organization. Ibrahim is often referred to as the "grandfather of all bombmakers" for his innovative improvised explosive device design and his willingness to train other bombmakers in his dark arts. Ibrahim was an early adopter of electronics in his designs.

During the 1970s and 1980s, state sponsorship did a lot to help advance bombmaking tradecraft, as sabotage experts from the Soviet KGB and the East German Stasi passed on training and technology. (The Eastern bloc was also a very important source of funding and identification documents during this period.) In addition, state sponsorship meant that sponsors, such as Libya, could use the diplomatic pouch to transport weapons and explosive components to terrorist operatives in places like London and Paris.

Controls on the purchase of explosives, and even on items like ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which can be readily used to make homemade explosive mixtures, have made it more difficult in recent years to make improvised explosive mixtures. This has caused bombmakers to change to mixtures made from more readily available precursors, such as acetone and peroxide. But these mixtures tend to be not only more dangerous to brew -- the Palestinians refer to triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, as "the mother of Satan" -- they also have a limited shelf life, are less stable and more difficult to transport and correctly synthesize. In 2009, would-be New York City subway bomber Najibullah Zazi was frustrated in his attempts to manufacture viable TATP.

In the realm of targets and tactics, we've talked elsewhere of the arms race in aviation security and how it has caused the threat to aircraft to evolve, with the next likely step being non-metallic explosive devices hidden inside the bodies of suicide attackers. There has also been an evolution in the targeting of Western interests abroad. Embassies have become harder targets and Western hotels have been increasingly more desirable targets, although the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi may shift terrorists' focus back to vulnerable diplomatic missions in volatile locations.

Databases

Perhaps one of the most powerful inhibitors of terrorist tradecraft has been the use of computerized databases, allowing authorities to crunch a lot of data. One of the first well-documented uses of computers to locate terrorist suspects was the massive effort undertaken by the German Federal Criminal Police in the 1970s to combat the Red Army Faction. The German police created a database and then cross-referenced its information on a wide variety of indices. They then created a profile of the Red Army Faction safe-house with features such as young people living together, paying their rent and utility bills in cash and not registering with the local government or registering their motor vehicles. When a computer search identified addresses that matched the profile, they then dispatched detectives to investigate these possible safe-houses in person. This campaign was very successful in helping round up the first generation of Red Army Faction operatives.

Lists of terrorist suspects and their aliases have also proved quite useful in inhibiting terrorist travel, but it has not been without its failures or criticism. The U.S. State Department first adopted a database called TIPOFF in the 1980s designed to prevent terrorists from getting visas. The system was later turned it into the Visas Viper system after the 9/11 attacks. The United States has created the Terrorist Screening Center, which is charged with consolidating all the various U.S. government watch lists as well as administering the controversial terrorist watch list and the no-fly list.

Computers are also being used to monitor terrorist communication, whether by telephone, satellite phone or the Internet. But like the watch lists, these efforts have proved to be quite controversial.

Seizing or freezing bank accounts associated with known terrorists and efforts to crack down on charities that were funding terrorist groups have been somewhat successful in limiting the money moving to terrorist entities. But the presence of significant informal money transfer networks has made it impossible to totally stop the flow. The ability of terrorist groups to use narcotics sales and other criminal activity to fund themselves has also been hard to stop.

Trends

Since the 9/11 attacks, the United States and its allies have spent billions of dollars on security improvements and have made great efforts to increase security and to counter the tradecraft used by terrorist groups. It is now more difficult for terrorist operatives to travel to the United States and Europe -- as evidenced by the lack of serious attacks and by the calls of groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the al Qaeda core group for grassroots terrorist operatives to conduct simple attacks where they are rather than travel overseas for training or to wage jihad. It has also led them to recruit individuals who have travel documents like Richard Reid, Najibullah Zazi and Faisal Shahzad for attacks rather than send well-trained operatives to conduct them.

This inability to conduct attacks in the West and the frustration it causes, along with the downfall of the transnational al Qaeda core organization, may be causing the remaining jihadist groups to focus more on operations in their local areas -- places where they have the skilled operatives and materiel to conduct successful attacks.

This means that Western diplomatic missions, hotels and businesses located in these areas will remain vulnerable to attack. With these militant groups in possession of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles like the SA-7, there is also a lingering concern over the possibility of an attack against a Western aircraft in such areas.

Evolution and Trends in Terrorism Tradecraft is republished with permission of Stratfor.