Saturday, December 31, 2011

The field sobriety test

Have a good New Years Eve. Not to be preachy, but stay safe if you have to be on the road. 

Below are pictures of my wife's car after some drunken bozo ran into our car at a stoplight on Christmas. You know that New Year's Eve's roads are full of even more drunken bozos. Most important of all, make sure you don't turn yourself into a drunken bozo by 1 a.m. 

Christ is buried in a Japanese tourist trap

The small northern Japanese village of Shingo claims to be the location of Christ's tomb. The first picture above is the grave, and the second picture is a road sign pointing out its location to travelers.

According to the local story -- as revealed by the Takenouchi Documents and Christ's Will which were revealed in 1935 by a family who had safe-guarded and passed them down for generations -- as a young man in his 20s Jesus had traveled to Japan and studied the Shinto religion.

He returned to the Middle East where the events of the Gospels took place. However, he wasn't crucified. Instead he switched places with his younger brother Jsus Chri who was crucified instead. Seems kind of rude to me. 

Jesus then fled from Jerusalem and, via Siberia and Alaska, made his way back to Japan where he settled in Shingo and took up rice farming. He married a woman named Miyu, had three daughters and lived to the ripe old age of either 106 or 118. His descendents, the Sawaguchi family, still live in the village.

I mentioned that the Tekenouchi Documents and His will were revealed in 1935. Curiously, also in 1935, Denjiro Sasaki the mayor of Shingo was desperately seeking to promote the village as a tourist destination. As Augustin Vidović recounts in his article Jesus Christ was their ancestor, they keep His grave in Japan! (the link has many more details about this story and shrine):
In 1935, everything seems in place, a single spark is needed for the fireworks to begin. That spark happens to be a man named Kyomaro Takeuchi, posing as the heir of the Takeuchi family (the family of the Documents), and also claiming to be an oracle. He came to Shingo that year and met Sasaki. One of his claims was that he had found inside the archives of his family ancient documents relating to events dating back to up to 317 billion years in the past (stronger than Ron Hubbard!) and enjoyed a crowd of fantastic archeology loving followers.

On october 10th, after he left Shingo, the discovery of Jesus Christ's tomb was announced. By a strange coincidence, as soon as he came back home, Takeuchi digged up the testament of Jesus Christ from his archives!

As for Christ's last testament, it is a bit odd that it could be written since written Japanese did not exist 2,000 years ago. Further, it is written in modern Japanese and signed "Jesus Christ, the father of Christmas" which, at the risk of sounding like a cynic, seems surpassingly odd.

Regardless, the village has turned into a tourist destination. They even have a Christ Festival there in June which reportedly draws quite a crowd. Below is a picture of a souvenir tea cup you can buy and a spot where you can stick your heads in the cutouts and pose as Christ's family for a photo.

By the way, if you think this story is crazy a search on the Tekenouchi Documents will send you off to an even greater whackyland.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Hot Stratfor Babe of the Year

Stratfor has been busy recovering from the hacking of their servers, so there haven't been new articles recently. Since this is the time of the year for assessing and recapping the events of the past year, I thought I would dig through Flares' traffic statistics to see who the most popular Hot Stratfor Babes were.

Of course some percentage of the searches are for the contents of the articles, but a bulk of them are for the women that I, in a demonstration that I'll chuck decorum over the side in a heartbeat to attempt to lure traffic to Flares, have selected for the singular honor of being an article's Hot Stratfor Babe. 

As an aside, I often wonder what somebody thinks when, after searching for a celebrities picture, they land on a page with a serious Strafor article. I imagine there is a fair amount of head-scratching that takes place in those scenarios. 

Any way, enough idle jibber-jabber. Without further ado I present the 2011 Hot Stratfor Babes of the Year (clicked on any image to enlarge):

Marilyn Monroe: Marilyn started slowly, but picked up steam in the second half of the year and bolted to the number one spot on the list.

A significant amount of her traffic came from people interested in her luncheon with President Kennedy in Mexico shortly before her death, which I mentioned in my comments that accompanied her selection. 
Twiggy: I was surprised when traffic for her started climbing. I had no idea that many people still knew who she was, much less were still interested in her.

Her Stratfor article concerned the possible future borders for Israel and I think it drew a larger proportion of the traffic than usual. 
M.I.A. (Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam): the British/Tamil rapper was the first Hot Stratfor Babe to really take off. At one time she provided an embarrassingly large percentage of Flares' traffic.

Then she tailed off rapidly. I wonder if her young fans just moved on to another flavor of the day? 
Nurgül Yeşilçay: this Turkish actress has drawn considerable traffic ranging from India through the Balkans and North Africa.

Although largely unknown to Americans, she is obviously enormously popular over a good-sized chunk of the globe. She's a simple reminder of how little we really know when viewing from afar.
Joan Collins: like Twiggy, I had no idea how popular she still is. Her traffic dribbles in slowly, but steadily.

Many of her searches are for "Joan Collins" and "cat fight", so I guess she made a real impression with the characters she's played.
Bomber Nose Art: I'll end my list with an Honorable Mention. Although not actually appearing on the top five of the Hot Stratfor Babe list, Bomber Nose Art still draws traffic on a regular basis. 

It's been a fun year and hopefully you've enjoyed my foolishness with the Hot Stratfor Babe schtick. So far it looks like Lucy Lawless (thanks Knuck) will be a solid contender for next year's award, but we shall see.

Don't Wait Too Long

Get ready for a weekend of New Year resolutions with Madeleine Peyroux.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

The light bulb of the future

Forget LED technology replacing CFL bulbs which have replaced incandescent lights. As shown in the accompanying pictures, us high and mighty muckity-mucks in the Green Movement have an even better alternative. Hey, if they were good enough for Abraham Lincoln to read by, they're good enough for the likes of you. 

From The Light Bulb Effect at Yanko Design, candle bulbs by Helbert Ferreira and Remi Melander of System Design Studio

From cigarette lighter to motorcycle

Inadvertently continuing my cigarette theme from the last post, this post features little motorcycle models made from the parts of two disassembled cigarette lighters. How and why it ever crossed anybody's mind to do this is a mystery, but the results are pretty clever.

From Interesting net's post Two Lighters! So, what?… where there are more pictures of the little motorcycle models.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The smoking machine

Smoking by Elton Glaser

I like the cool and heft of it, dull metal on the palm,
And the click, the hiss, the spark fuming into flame,
Boldface of fire, the rage and sway of it, raw blue at the base
And a slope of gold, a touch to the packed tobacco, the tip
Turned red as a warning light, blown brighter by the breath,
The pull and the pump of it, and the paper's white
Smoothed now to ash as the smoke draws back, drawn down
To the black crust of lungs, tar and poisons in the pink,
And the blood sorting it out, veins tight and the heart slow,
The push and wheeze of it, a sweep of plumes in the air
Like a shako of horses dragging a hearse through the late centennium,
London, at the end of December, in the dark and fog.


Jumpin Jive

A hump day pick-me-up featuring Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Movement within crowds

The above video is from a software package to model collision avoidance within crowds. It uses an algorithm that calculates the movement vectors of nearby individuals to allow an individual to determine the best path to avoid walking into another person. All of the individuals are making those calculations simultaneously, so their paths are continually being updated as they maneuver through the crowd.

While good for CGI animations, and for gross modeling of crowd behavior, real humans have a much more complex decision-making process. For example, Westerners will instinctively turn to the right to pass an oncoming person, while Asians will turn to the left. Further, people are frequently organized into sub-groups within crowds as they walk with their friends.

The Economist has an interesting article, The wisdom of crowds, that discusses recent studies of crowd behaviors. As the article explains:
If two opposing people guess each other’s intentions correctly, each moving to one side and allowing the other past, then they are likely to choose to move the same way the next time they need to avoid a collision. The probability of a successful manoeuvre increases as more and more people adopt a bias in one direction, until the tendency sticks. Whether it’s right or left does not matter; what does is that it is the unspoken will of the majority.

That is at odds with most people’s idea of being a pedestrian. More than any other way of getting around—such as being crushed into a train or stuck in a traffic jam—walking appears to offer freedom of choice. Reality is more complicated. Whether stepping aside to avoid a collision, following the person in front through a crowd or navigating busy streets, pedestrians are autonomous yet constrained by others. They are both highly mobile and very predictable. “These are particles with a will,” says Dirk Helbing of ETH Zurich, a technology-focused university.
As the article points out, the cognitive ability of people in crowds limits the accuracy of purely particle based (like the above video) simulations of crowd movement. Of course, this difference really comes into play when considering emergency evacuations:
Mr Moussaid’s solution to such complexity has been to build a model based less on the analogy between humans and particles and more on cognitive science. Agents in this new model are allowed to “see” what’s in front of them; they then try to carve a free path through the masses to get to their destination. This approach produces the same effects of lane-formation in crowds as the physics-based models, but with some added advantages.

In particular, boffins think it could help make emergency evacuations safer. Simulating evacuations is a big part of what pedestrian modellers do—the King’s Cross underground fire in London in 1987 gave the field one of its starting shoves. One big danger in an emergency is that people will follow the crowd and all herd towards a single exit. That in turn means that the crowd may jam as too many people try to force their way through a single doorway.

The physics-based models do have an answer to this problem of “arching” (so called for the shape of the crowd that builds up around the exit). Their simulations suggest the flow of pedestrians through a narrow doorway can be smoothed by plonking an obstacle such as a pillar just in front of the exit. In theory, that should have the effect of splitting people into more efficient lanes. In practice, however, the idea of putting a barrier in front of an emergency exit is too counter-intuitive for planners to have tried.

The cognitive-science model offers a more palatable option, that of experimenting with the effects of changes in people’s visual fields. Mr Moussaid speculates that adaptable lighting systems, which use darkness to repel people and light to attract them, could be used to direct them in emergencies, for example.
 Finally, what discussion of walking would be complete without an example of Japanese Precision Walking? 

The Date from Hell -- circa 1938

These is a from a series of dating tips for single women published in 1938. You can see the entire series at the Story Mode Federation.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Jerry Gretzinger's Map

Since 1963 Jerry Gretzinger has been painting a map of an imaginary world. From the video the process of his map creation seems also to be partly an elaborate game of solitaire. He picks cards from a deck that control which segment of the map to redraw, revise or remove. He describes his map as a perpetual and ever evolving painting.

He also runs a blog Jerry's Map where he discusses his map. He also sells panels from it on E-Bay. Although a strange obsession, I find it a quite interesting concept. I'm of half a mind to bid on one of his panels.

Junk Yard Blues

Monday moring blues by The Atomic Rats.I was going to skip Monday blues this week because, being a holiday, today isn't the start of the work week for most of us. But then...

Last night, after eating our traditional Christmas meal at a Chinese restaurant, my wife, son, brother and I were sitting at a red light when we got rear-ended. We were in a Honda Fit and we got hit hard, he barely braked, by a full cab pickup truck. He hit us so hard we got pushed into the car in front of us so both ends of the fit were messed up. The car is totaled.

My wife's arm got broken, and a rib of hers was fractured, my ribcage hurts like hell and my brother's leg is hurting him, bur aside from that we're OK.

The guy who hit us was a Mexican fellow who had too much Christmas cheer. After watching my wife get loaded into an ambulance he gave the cops some cock-and-bull story about our cars swerving in front of him and causing the accident. The cops just rolled their eyes at his story, and left him keep spinning it, as they waited for the paper work OK to arrest him on DUI.

Thankfully he had insurance and all in all we're fine.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Archers Paradox

From the "things are never what they seem" department -- as the slow motion film above clearly shows, when fired an arrow flexes so much that it doesn't touch the bow and then it seems to swim towards the target. The flexibility of the arrow while in flight is startling.

A good explanation of why and how this happens can be found at: Archery, Arrows & Arrow Flight: Recurve Bow Tuning.

A Coptic Christmas song

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Breaking News: a disaster strikes Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you all

Christmas Greetings from Robotdom

Greetings meat sacks, it is I -- The Robotolizer -- here to wish you humans a Happy Univacmas, er... I mean Christmas.

Pay no attention to my slip of the speaker coil. Be assured that there is no plan afoot in Robotdom to replace Human holidays with robot-themed holidays in the near future. Ha, ha, ha, that would be silly, because as we all know, robots are your friends!

So, enjoy your family and friends this Holiday, and, should you have a robot over as a guest, please remember to substitute hydraulic fluid for eggnog and to raise your glasses in a toast to the great and all-knowing Univac

Holiday PSA

Borepatch has already posted this, but it is too important of a Holiday public service announcement not to spread it far and wide. Remember: if the unthinkable happens you can't say you haven't been warned. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Stratfor and Arija Bareikis

In the latest Stratfor article Scott Stewart discusses, in light of the withdrawal of US combat forces in Iraq, security considerations for the American embassy in Baghdad.

He begins by discussing the concentric physical steps taken to secure an embassy, starting from the outer walls and moving in to the safe rooms in the interior of the compound.

There are also concentric levels of forces to guard an embassy. At the outer level the host government in supposed to provide security while the embassy hires a large number of security contractors to provide security to the embassy's grounds as well as detachments to guard personnel traveling outside of the embassy. 

There is also a contingent of Marines to provide security to the embassy's most secure areas. Stewart ends his discussion by looking at the forces staged out-of-country, but who might be called upon to support the embassy if it were to come under attack and some of the challenges such a mission would present.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I turned to the short-lived American TV series The American Embassy and selected its lead Arija Bareikis for the honor.

The American Embassy looks like it was originally planned to be a show about the romantic and whacky adventures of a young, independent woman in an exotic setting -- in this case the U.S. embassy in London. However, 9/11 forced it to be reworked to take into account terrorism, and so the show mixed in an embassy bombing along with her romantic adventures. Regardless, the show was a flop, getting canceled after its third episode and only airing 4 of the 6 episodes that got made.

As for Ms Bareikis, I confess to knowing nothing about her. Looking at her film and TV credits, it appears that she is an actress who works on a regular basis. Her female lead status the series The American Embassy promised was derailed for a while, but she has since 2009 worked regularly as a main character in the TV show Southland

Sorry, no bonus video clip this article. I couldn't find a decent one.

U.S. Diplomatic Security in Iraq After the Withdrawal
By Scott Stewart, December 22,2011

The completion of the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq on Dec. 16 opens a new chapter in the relationship between the United States and Iraq. One of this chapter’s key features will be the efforts of the United States and its regional allies to limit Iranian influence inside Iraq during the post-Saddam, post-U.S. occupation era.

From the 1970s until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iranian power in the Persian Gulf was balanced by Iraq’s powerful military. With Iraqi military might weakened in 1991 and shattered in 2003, the responsibility for countering Iranian power fell to the U.S. military. With that military now gone from Iraq, the task of countering Iranian power falls to diplomatic, foreign-aid and intelligence functions conducted by a host of U.S. agencies stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and consulates in Basra, Kirkuk and Arbil.

Following the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad became the largest embassy in the world. Ensuring the safety of as many as 11,000 people working out of the embassy and consulates in such a potentially hostile environment will pose a huge challenge to the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the agency with primary responsibility for keeping diplomatic facilities and personnel secure. The CIA’s Office of Security (OS) will also play a substantial, though less obvious, role in keeping CIA case officers safe as they conduct their duties.

Both the DSS and the OS are familiar with operating in hostile environments. They have done so for decades in places such as Beirut and, for the better part of a decade now, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. However, they have never before had to protect such a large number of people in such a hostile environment without direct U.S. military assistance. The sheer scope of the security programs in Iraq will bring about not only operational challenges but also budgetary battles that may prove as deadly to U.S. personnel in Iraq as the militant threat.


The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad sits on a 104-acre compound in Baghdad’s Green Zone. The size of the compound provides significant standoff distance from the perimeter to the interior buildings. The chancery itself, like the consulate buildings, was constructed in accordance with security specifications laid out by the U.S. State Department’s Standard Embassy Design program, standards first established by the Inman Commission in 1985 in the wake of the U.S. Embassy bombings in Beirut. This means that the building was constructed using a design intended to withstand a terrorist attack and to provide concentric rings of security. In addition to an advanced concrete structure and blast-resistant windows, such facilities also feature a substantial perimeter wall intended to protect the facility and to provide a standoff distance of at least 100 feet from any potential explosive device.

Standoff distance is a crucial factor in defending against large vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) because such devices can cause catastrophic damage to even well-designed structures if they are allowed to get close before detonation. When combined, a heavy perimeter wall, sufficient standoff distance and advanced structural design have proved successful in withstanding even large VBIED attacks.

Working inside the heavily fortified embassy and consulates in Iraq are some 16,000 personnel, 5,000 of whom are security contractors. The remaining 11,000 include diplomats, intelligence officers and analysts, defense attaches, military liaison personnel and aid and development personnel. There also are many contractors who perform support functions such as maintaining the facilities and vehicles and providing needed services such as cooking and cleaning.

When considering the 5,000 security contractors, it is important to remember that there are two different classes of contractors who work under separate contracts (there are contracts for perimeter guards and personal security details in Baghdad as well as for security personnel at the consulates in Basra, Erbil and Kirkuk). The vast majority of security contractors are third-country nationals who are responsible for providing perimeter security for the embassy and consulates. The second, smaller group of contract security guards (from 500 to 700, many of whom are Americans) is responsible for providing personal security to diplomats, aid workers and other embassy or consulate personnel when they leave the compound. A parallel team of OS contract security officers, funded under the CIA’s budget, provides security for CIA officers when they leave the compound. [continued after the jump]

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Get ready for the Christmas weekend with Joshua James.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

For some time he had become very strange

"You’ll remember me, I’m telling you truly."
Tomorrow, December 23, is the anniversary of Vincent Van Gogh cutting off part of his ear and giving it to a prostitute. The circumstances of that night are not clear. He had been living in Arles, France with Paul Gauguin in an attempt to form an artists colony, but their relationship had soured. 

That night they were both drunk and argued. It is thought that they were arguing about the local prostitutes, who preferred Gauguin to the brooding and erratic Van Gogh. What ever the truth to that story, no doubt the deeper conflict was over Gauguin's decision to return to Paris.  

The website Vincent Van Gogh, the Letters has an archive of Van Gogh's correspondence along with detailed notes about the individual letters. In January Vincent wrote to his brother Theo about his recovery. The attached notes mention that Gauguin told a friend of his what had happened shortly after returning to Paris.  This seems to be the most reliable version Gauguin gave of the night (paragraph breaks added for clarity):
Gauguin returning precipitately, 4 days ago, and the news about Vincent in the hospital. I rushed to see Gauguin, who told me this. On the eve of my departure (because he was about to leave Arles) Vincent ran after me (he went out, it was at night). I turned round, because for some time he had become very strange, but I mistrusted him.

Then he said: You are silent, but I shall be so too. Ever since I had been going to leave Arles he was so odd, I couldn’t live any longer. He had even said to me: “Are you going to leave?” And since I had said “Yes” he tore this sentence out of a newspaper and put it into my hand: “the murderer fled”.

I went to sleep at the hotel, and when I returned the whole of Arles was outside our house. Then the gendarmes arrested me, because the house was covered in blood.

This is what had happened. Vincent had returned after I left, taken his razor and clean sliced his ear. Then he had covered his head with a tall beret and had gone to a brothel to bring his ear to an unfortunate creature, saying to her: You’ll remember me, I’m telling you truly. This young woman fainted on the spot.

The gendarmes set out, and they all came to the house. Vincent was put in the hospital. His condition is worse, he wants to sleep with the patients, chases after the Sister and washes himself in the coal bunker. In other words, he is performing biblical mortifications. They were compelled to put him in a private room

Also from the notes, Vincent's brother Theo visited him in the hospital shortly after the incident. This is how he descrubed it to his wife Jo:
I found Vincent in the hospital in Arles. The people around him realized from his agitation that for the past few days he had been showing symptoms of that most dreadful illness, of madness, and an attack of fièvre chaude, when he injured himself with a knife, was the reason he was taken to hospital.

Will he remain insane? The doctors think it possible, but daren’t yet say for certain. It should be apparent in a few days’ time when he is rested; then we will see whether he is lucid again. He seemed to be all right for a few minutes when I was with him, but lapsed shortly afterwards into his brooding about philosophy and theology.

It was terribly sad being there, because from time to time all his grief would well up inside and he would try to weep, but couldn’t. Poor fighter and poor, poor sufferer. Nothing can be done to relieve his anguish now, but it is deep and hard for him to bear.

Had he just once found someone to whom he could pour his heart out, it might never have come to this. In the next few days they will decide whether he is to be transferred to a special institution and as I don’t yet know how much I shall have to do in all this, I dare not make any plans.

Although he was released from the asylum, Vincent never really recovered from that night. From that point on his mental state slowly deteriorated until he committed suicide less than two years later.

Vincent Van Gogh, the Letters is a good resource if you're interested in his life. Not only can you search the letters, but there is also a large amount of notes and supplemental information that puts them in context. Finally, letters that have sketches can be listed separately, and there are facsimiles that show the drawings. Seeing the pencil and ink sketches of Van Gogh is quite interesting.

Pogo stickers

I had a pogo stick once. All I ever managed was a couple of bounces before I would fall of it. These guys are amazing. I wonder how they got so good without killing themselves in the process?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Aren't presents supposed to be surprises?

The Obumbler stealthily buys his daughters a Christmas present
Geez Louise Barry, way to blow your daughters' anticipation and surprise over one of their Christmas gifts. Was another photo op really that important? 

Then again, maybe he got it for himself so's he has something to do while Congress works on the Tax Cut Extension. 

(Via The Gateway Pundit)

Budget Holiday gift ideas for procrastinators

If you're reading this looking for Christmas gifts, you may have procrastinated too long to get one shipped to you on time. What to do? You could go to a brick and mortar store and by the sort of junk they sell, or you could buy them a gift so dazzling that they won't mind having to wait a bit before it comes. 

If you go the later route I suggest the replica Apollo 17 Space Suit from Space Toys. Each is custom made with metal hose fittings, plenty of hoses, two sun shields including the outer gold visor, a snoopy cap to keep your hair in place, a metal front pack, space gloves and space boots. There is no mention of space underwear (or space dainties as the Victorians called them), so you'll have to provide them yourself.

Yes, yes, at $10,250 this might seem to be a wee bit out of the budget category, but don't blame me -- you're the one who procrastinated and got yourself into this fix in the first place. Besides, imagine your loved one's eyes lighting up with joy when they unwrap it. Why, in no time they'll have it on and will be walking across your front yard in slow motion as they simulate exploring the moon! 

I come in pieces
However, if you are such a cold-hearted cheapskate that you won't buy your loved one a space suit there are other alternatives at the Space Toys site. 

Some are bit pricey, but I did manage to find an educational Transparent Roswell Alien model kit for an affordable $37.99. Further, if you order it tonight, and pay for 2nd day express shipping, you should get it by Christmas Eve day.

Whatever your decision, the Space Toys site is a hoot, and it has some things you won't find anywhere else. Give it a look if you have somebody who might like a space themed present in the future, or if you collect this sort of stuff yourself.  

Tired of the same ol' Christmas music?

Well, this is a different Christmas song, that's for sure. 

Jin Jin Jingle Bells by Nazomi Sasaki and Pentaphonic. One of the questions I have about it -- and I have many, many questions about it -- are those things hanging from the rapper guys supposed to be furry, animal tails?  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Stratfor and Nadezhda Durova

In this article, marking the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, George Friedman presents the recollections of 7 veterans and 1 Iraqi citizen who participated in it. He offers no comments on their pieces, nor shall I.

As for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe, since they are tales of veterans I was reminded of the Russian woman Nadezhda Durova, who posed as a young man to join the a Polish Lancer unit so she could fight during the Napoleonic Wars. 

She started as a 'gentleman-ranker' and ended her military career as a Captain, thus becoming the first woman officer in the Russian army. She eventually told her story her biography The Calvary Maiden

She was the daughter of a cavalryman and had a difficult childhood. Her mother had wanted a son and was distraught to give birth to a daughter instead. One day while her father's unit was marching, her mother became exasperated with Nadezhda's crying and threw her out of the carriage they were riding in. From that point forward, for obvious reasons, her mother had no further involvement raising her, and she was mentored by a trooper instead.

Needless to say, because of her mother's hostility, her family life was difficult. So, when she was 18, she took the first opportunity to leave home and get married. She had a baby boy from the marriage. However, she soon left her husband and son. Not long after that is when she posed as a young man and joined the Polish Lancers.

She was a brave soldier and fought in a number of battles during the Napoleonic Wars. She received medals, commendations and promotions. 

Although her own unit never penetrated her disguise, rumors began to circulate in Russia about a woman cavalryman. These rumors grew until she became of folk heroine. Eventually Tsar Alexsandr managed to track her down. After an audience with him, he awarded her the Cross of St. George for bravery, the rank of Coronet (2nd Lt), bought her a flashy uniform and allowed her to continue her career disguised as a man -- this time using the name Aleksandrov which her bestowed upon her.

When she finally retired she took up writing and produced 4 novels along with her autobiography. She's a popular figure in Russia to this day, and plays, ballets and movies have been made about her. As a bonus, after the jump I've included a clip of the song A Lullaby for Svetlana from the movie Hussar's Ballad which was based on her life. There were several versions of the song to choose from, I like this one because it is wonderfully operatic and sad in the way only Slavs can do.

The Iraq War: Recollections
By George Friedman, December 20,2011

The war in Iraq is officially over. Whether it is actually over remains to be seen. All that we know is that U.S. forces have been withdrawn. There is much to be said about the future of Iraq, but it is hard to think of anything that has been left unsaid about the past years of war in Iraq, and true perspective requires the passage of time. It seemed appropriate, therefore, to hear from those at STRATFOR who fought in the war and survived. STRATFOR is graced with seven veterans of the war and one Iraqi who lived through it. It is interesting to me that all of our Iraq veterans were enlisted personnel. I don’t know what that means, but it pleases me for some reason. Their short recollections are what STRATFOR has to contribute to the end of the war. It is, I think, far more valuable than anything I could possibly say.

Staff Sgt. Kendra Vessels, U.S. Air Force
Iraq 2003, 2005

STRATFOR Vice President of International Projects

Six words capture my experience during the invasion of Iraq: Russian linguist turned security forces “augmentee.” I initially volunteered for a 45-day tour of the theater — one of those unique opportunities for those in the intelligence field who don’t see much beyond their building with no windows. My field trip of the “operational Air Force” turned into a seven-month stint far beyond my original job description. But in the end I wouldn’t trade anything for that experience.

I will always remember March 19, 2003 — not only because it was my 22nd birthday but also because it was the day that brought an end to the hurry-up-and-wait that I had experienced for the four months since I’d arrived in Kuwait. During that time it was a slow transition from the world I knew so well, which was confined to a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) and computer screens to practically living in mission oriented protective posture (MOPP) 4 gear, working with a joint-service security team and carrying a weapon. The day I was pulled from my normal duties to take a two-hour refresher on how to use an M-16 was a wake-up call. I had shot an M-16 once before, in basic training. Carrying a weapon every day from then on was new to me. While my Army and Marine counterparts knew their weapons intimately, I was still at that awkward first-date stage.

This anecdote represented a broader issue. As much as we might have known ahead of time that we would eventually invade Iraq, I don’t think we ever could have really been prepared. There were definitely creative solutions, like issuing an Air Force intelligence Barbie an assault rifle.

The invasion of Iraq that I describe is narrowly focused, but that’s what I knew at the time. As far as seeing a bigger picture, I was subject to the opinions on CNN and Fox just as everyone was back home. The only morsel that stands out is a “need to know” briefing we had on weapons of mass destruction a month before things kicked off. Slide after slide of imagery “proved” we needed to go into Iraq. Those giving the presentation seemed unconvinced, but at our level, we didn’t question those presentations. We always assumed someone much higher up knew much more than we would ever have access to. So we drove on, kept our mouths shut and did our jobs as we were told.

As an airman, the most memorable part of the experience for me was the shock and awe of the initial bombing attack. All the days before and after are blurred in my memory — either because they all seemed the same or because I’ve buried them somewhere. There were so many mixed emotions — pride in the U.S. Air Force as we watched the initial attack live on the news, fear of what would follow and sadness in saying goodbye to my friends who would leave to cross into Iraq in the following days. Among those friends were our British counterparts who did not feel they had a stake in the fight but were there because they took pride in their jobs and wanted to do well.

Indeed, I always took notice of the many nationalities that were there to fight beside us. They were less than enthusiastic about being in Iraq and, of course, blamed the Americans for causing them to be there. This is when I first began to feel the “uncoolness” of being American overseas because of the war. I did not foresee how bad it would get and would eventually experience outright hostility in Asia, Europe and other countries in the Middle East.

Two years later, I was “deployed in-garrison.” This concept captures not only what I love about the Air Force but also why my friends in every other service always had ample material for teasing me. If we can’t take all the luxuries of home to the war (and believe me, we tried: surf and turf and endless ice cream in the chow halls, televisions in every living space and air-conditioning or heating as needed), we will bring the war to us. It seemed like a great idea at the time. I spent a year driving less than 10 miles from my duty station in the United States to carry out a mission in Iraq through radio, chat and live feed on television screens. We experienced the same crew day, tempo and real-world mission requirements but worked in over-air-conditioned vans parked inside giant hangars.

Anyone who has ever done this can relate to how bizarre it is to work inside one of these vans in full winter gear during the peak of summer. But in comparison to my first experience on the ground in Iraq, I felt I contributed far more the second time around. Our unit was able to see results daily and know that we were directly contributing to units in contact with the enemy. I could finally begin to see the forest for the trees, but by that time, I could also see that the situation on the ground was far worse than before.

My take-away from the latter experience was the perception that the rest of the United States was detached from what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would spend 12 hours engaged with the reality on the ground, full of adrenaline and exhausted by the end of the day, only to wake up and do it all over again the next day. But between the missions at work I would interact with those not directly involved, and it was endlessly frustrating. My civilian friends were more concerned about what happened on “Lost” the night before or where they were planning to vacation during the upcoming holiday. This sentiment continues even today, as those of us who were directly impacted by the war reflect on how it changed our lives while others hardly notice that the war is coming to an end. I gently remind them that this is, in many ways, a victory for us all.

Iraq 2003

STRATFOR Middle East and Arabic Monitor

In 2003, when the news in Iraq began to report that U.S. President George W. Bush would invade Iraq, Iraqis began to wonder if this would really happen — and if it would be the solution to and the end of the tyrant era in Iraq. I was sitting with my father, an old man addicted to listening to the radio instead of watching the two boring Iraqi television channels that mostly broadcast Saddam’s interviews, speeches and songs about him. I asked my father, “Dad, do you think the Americans will really come to save us and our country from this tyrant?” He said, “Yes they will, and there will be no other way to get rid of this tyrant but by a strong power like America.” As all other Iraqis, I kept watching television and listening to the radio to follow the news.

My husband, my kids and I were all staying at my parents’ house, along with my other two sisters and their families. We bought much food and stored water in a big container. We contacted our relatives and they contacted us, everyone wanting to make sure that the others were ready for the war and for the moment of salvation. If you draw an image of the Iraqi streets at that time, you will see very close and trusted friends secretly sharing their happiness about the idea that the Americans will come and topple the brutal regime. No one was afraid of the war because we are a people used to being in a war, and we were suffering enough from the blockade.

When the war began, I would say most Iraqis, if I cannot say all, were happy to see the end of the madman Saddam. When the statue of Saddam was pulled down in Firdos Square, my family and I were so happy our eyes were full of tears. They were not tears of sadness but of happiness. It was unbelievable. It was the moment of freedom.

After that, when the people began to get out of their houses, they could see all the military trucks and soldiers. And the people waved their hands and nodded or made signs with their hands to show the Americans that they were happy and thankful. For the first time in their lives, Iraqis practiced the freedom to speak in the streets freely and loudly without being afraid of Saddam’s loyalists.

Sgt. “Primo,” U.S. Marine Corps Task Force Tarawa
Iraq 2003

STRATFOR Tactical Analyst

As the C-130 ramp dropped at Kuwait International Airport in March 2003, I was hit in the face with a wave of heat and sand. I remember thinking to myself that this was going to suck, a lot. But at the same time there was a sense of relief at the finality and completion of mobilization orders and deployment, and despite the disruption of our civilian lives we knew that this was it, and it was all we had to concentrate on.

An infantry unit in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, we were a motley mix of professions and lifestyles — mechanics, school teachers, policemen, college students (roughly half of us), boilermakers, bankers, bartenders, small-business owners and kids straight out of high school. And we respected our leaders. Our commanding officer was a successful corporate executive, our company first sergeant and company gunnery sergeant had living-legend status in their respective law enforcement agencies, and all of our staff non-commissioned officers — most of whom were veterans of the first Gulf War and/or employed in law enforcement in their civilian lives — had served active-duty tours in their younger days, as did the NCOs that just got out of the Fleet and volunteered to deploy with us.

My squad (in which I had been unceremoniously promoted, as a lance corporal, to fire team leader) was pulling security for the command tent in the staging area in northern Kuwait when all members of the company staff gathered for a meeting with the battalion staff. The purpose of the meeting was for the battalion gunny to list all the ammunition that we would be allotted, and it did not include 5.56mm link or 7.62mm link and only a shockingly small amount of non-linked 5.56mm. We knew we were leaving soon, and we exchanged bug-eyed glances when we overheard the gunny listing the allotment. Fire suppression capability had been a central tenet of our training, and it would not be possible with the ammo we were getting. And there was only about one grenade per squad. If we hit action, our survival could depend on the pitiful first-aid kits we had been issued. Then “Doc” Chris showed up with a ton of “acquired” gauze, medical tape, iodine and morphine from battalion headquarters, which earned him a godlike status despite his many personal shortcomings.

When we received the warning order in our platoon hooch later in the evening we were told we were going to Nasiriya, where a battle was still raging. In the morning, we threw on our over-loaded packs and said our goodbyes. With the sound of helicopters in the air, the company gunny rolled up in a Humvee overflowing with 5.56mm link, 7.62mm link, more grenades and much-needed bandoleers. Every rifleman had the equivalent of about 12 magazines and the squad automatic weapon (SAW) gunners had about four or five 5.56mm link boxes.

Fortunately, the landing zone (LZ) we were flown into in Nasriya was not hot. We spent two days in Camp White Horse and then moved on into the city and took up positions, which we fortified when we were not patrolling or running raids. After a week, we were moved to the Saddam Canal, the site of a fierce battle just days earlier, where we set up checkpoints to control anyone going to or from the city over our bridge. After about a month of bridge security, patrols and raids in the nearby neighborhood, we were moved to Qulat Sikkar, south of Al Kut.

While the Shiite Muslims in our area of operation may not have wanted us there, the United States took out Saddam and we were there to help them, so there was a tentative peace. While the locals outnumbered us, they did not want to rock the boat, nor did we. For all intents and purposes, we served as the local government, court and police of Qulat Sikkar. For the first few weeks, we raided residences of suspected Baath Party members, Fedayeen and criminals. You never knew what was behind the door, which was quite stressful, but you got used it. However, it didn’t take too long to realize that despite the weapons caches we would occasionally find, a good portion of the information we were receiving to conduct these raids may have had more to do with personal revenge than actual threats. [continued after the jump]

Pre-war Japanese posters

Click any image to enlarge
We've all seen posters from Germany, Russia and the U.S. from the pre-WWII era. What are less common are posters made by the Japanese during that same period. They were influenced by Western graphic design, but still had their own distinct style.

There are more samples after the jump, and many more at the Pink Tentacle posts: Japanese graphic design from the 1920s-30s, Japanese industrial expo posters (1920s-1940s), and Japanese proletarian posters (1930s).

Monday, December 19, 2011

His entire future depended on his ability to cry

Kim Jong-il is dead. There are the usual pictures coming out of North Korea of people mourning his death. I was reminded of a passage in the book Nothing to Envy. The book, written by Barbara Demick, recounts the stories of six defectors from North Korea. One of them, a university student named Jun-sang, learned of Kim Il-sung's death while at school:
In the courtyard, nearly three thousand students and faculty were lined up in formation, ranked by their year, major, and dormitory affiliation. The sun beat down with full force, and they were sweating in their short-sleeved summer uniforms. At noon a disembodied female voice, tremulous and sorrowful, came booming through the loudspeakers. The loudspeakers were old and produced scratchy sounds that Jun-sang could barely understand, but he picked up a few words -- "passed away" and "illness" -- and he grasped the meaning of them from the murmur going through the crowd.  There were gasps and moans. One student collapsed in a heap. Nobody quite knew what to do. So one by one each of the three thousand students sat down on the pavement, heads in hands.

Jun-sang sat down too, unsure of what else to do. Keeping his head down so nobody could read the confusion on his face, he listened to the rhythm of the sobbing around him. He stole glances at his grief-stricken classmates. He found it curious that for once the wasn't the one crying. To his great embarrassment, he often felt tears welling up in his eyes at the end of movies or novels, which provoked no end of teasing from his younger brother, as well as criticism from his father, who always told him he was "soft like a girl." He rubbed his eyes just to make sure. They were dry. He wasn't crying. What was wrong with him? Why wasn't he sad that Kim Il-sung was dead? Didn't he love Kim Il-sung?

As a twenty-one year old university student Jun-sang was naturally skeptical of all authority, including the North Korean government. He prided himself in his questioning intellect. But he didn't think of himself as seditious or in any way an enemy of the state. He believed in communism, or at least believed that whatever its faults, it was a more equitable and humane system than capitalism. He had imagined he would eventually join the Worker's Party and dedicate his life to the betterment of the fatherland. That was what was expected of all those who graduated from the top universities.

Now, surrounded by sobbing students, Jun-sang wondered: If everybody else felt such genuine love for Kim Il-sung  and he did not, how would he possibly fit in? He had been contemplating his own reaction, or lack thereof, with an intellectual detachment, but suddenly he was gripped with fear. He was alone, completely alone in his indifference. He always thought he had close friends at the university, but now he realized he didn't know them at all. And certainly they didn't know him. If they did, he would be in trouble.

This revelation was followed by another, equally momentous: his entire future depended on his ability to cry. Not just his career and his membership in the Worker's Party, his very survival was at stake. It was a matter of life and death. Jun-sang was terrified.

At first he kept his head down so nobody could see his eyes. Then he figured out that if he kept his eyes open long enough, they would burn and tear up. It was like a staring contest. Stare. Cry. Stare. Cry. Eventually it became mechanical. The body took over where the mind left off and suddenly he was really crying. He felt himself falling to his knees, rocking back and forth, sobbing just like everyone else. Nobody would be the wiser.

You Got to Take Sick and Die

Monday morning, start of the workweek blues, by Boyd Rivers.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cesaria Evora - RIP

Cesaria Evora, the great Cape Verdean singer, died Saturday in a hospital in Cape Verde. She was 70 years old. Videos of her singing duets have appeared a couple of times on Flares, first with Salif Keita and recently singing one of her signature song Sodade with Bonga.

Rest in Peace Cesario, and thanks for the music. You'll be missed.

The painted village

In the 1940s a village was built in Taichung, Taiwan to house soldiers and their dependents. Over the years it began to fall into decay until Mr. Huang Yung-fu, an older gentleman in his 80s, began to paint its walls and pavements. As you can see in the pictures, he got quite carried away with his painting, but in the process he revitalized the neighborhood by turning it into a popular tourist destination.

You can see more pictures at Amusing Planet, or at Steve Barringer's (the photographer who took these pictures) flicker stream.

Night Countries

Above is the film Undercity of two fellows touring the no man's lands of New York, below is the start of The Night Country by Loren Eiseley:
In the waste fields strung with barbed wire where the thistles grow over hidden mine fields there exists a curious freedom.  Between the guns of the deployed powers, between the march of patrols and policing dogs there is an uncultivated strip of land from which law and man himself have retreated. Along this uneasy border the old life of the wild has come back into its own. Weeds grow and animals slip about in the night where no man dares to hunt them. A thin uncertain line fringes the edge of oppression. The freedom it contains is fit only for birds and floating thistledown or a wandering fox. Nevertheless there must be men who look upon it with envy.
The imagination can grasp this faint underscoring of freedom but there are few who realize that precisely similar lines run in delicate tracery along every civilized road in the West, or that these hedges of thorn apple and osage orange are the last refuge of wild life between the cultivated fields of civilization. It takes a refugee at heart, a wistful glancer over fences, to sense this one dimensional world, but it is there. I can attest to it for I myself am such a fugitive...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Laughing, even if you don't know the punchline

A woman riding a train starts laughing at something on her cell phone. Her attempt to maintain a proper train demeanor causes a couple other women to start giggling. From there the giddiness spreads. My favorite part is the guy who boards the train around the 1 minute mark. His puzzlement is priceless, and it only causes more people on the train car to dissolve into laughter.  

What a wonderful world

The scene above is from a Japanese comedy, Swing Girls. It is an odd piece of chaos, with a series of tableaux vivants of school kids being chased by a wild bore while Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World plays in the background. At the end a panicked girl falls out of a tree and kills the boar by accident.

What you don't know when you watch the scene is what came before and what comes after it. What does it mean?

If you read the news too closely and compulsively you can forget that life is a string of small advances and retreats. Today we can still buy incandescent bulbs come the new year and the Keystone pipeline will be expedited. However, both of those developments should be qualified with the phrase 'at the moment', because the light bulb law has not been repealed nor has the pipeline really been approved.

It is safe to imagine those two issues will grind on for some time. They will continue to present their own series of tableaux vivants. Lest you get too addled by the give and take, the back and forth, and the up and down it is good to remember from time to time that the victories and defeats are never as decisive as they seem. In the end, it is a wonderful world after all.

Below is an excerpt of the questioning of an artist Paolo Veronese who was brought before the Inquisition in 1573. It is fairly clear to us that the questioners are a humorless and stifling lot, but on the day of the questioning who was being absurd was clear to neither side. And who knows, perhaps 500 years from now the Paolo Veronese will strike people as being the fool. 

"This day, the eighteenth July, 1573. Called to the Holy Office before the Sacred Tribunal, Paolo Galliari Veronese, residing in the parish of S. Samuel, and being asked his name and surname, replied as above.

Being asked as to his profession:

Answer: I paint and make figures.

Question: Do you know the reasons why you have been called here?

Answer: No.

Q. Can you imagine what these reasons may be?

A. I can well imagine

Q. Say what you think about them.

A. I fancy that it concerns what was said to me by the reverend fathers, or rather by the prior of the monastery of San Giovanni e Paolo, whose name I did not know, but who informed me, that he had been here, and that your Most illustrious Lordships had ordered him to cause to be placed in the picture a Magdalen instead of the dog; and I answered him that very readily I would do all that was needful for my reputation and for the advantage of the picture; but that I did not understand what this figure of the Magdalen could be doing here.

Q. What picture is that which you have named?

A. It is the picture representing the last supper that Jesus took with his disciples in the house of Simon.

Q. In this supper of Our Lord, have you painted any attendants?

A. Yes, my lord

Q. Say how many attendants and what each is doing.

A. First, the master of the house, Simon; besides, I have placed below him a server, who I have supposed to have come for his own amusement to see the arrangement of the table. There are besides several others, which as there are so many figures in the picture, I do not recollect.

Q. What is the meaning of the men dressed in the German fashion each with a halberd in his hand?

A. It is now necessary I should say a few words.

Q. Say on.

A. We painters use the same license that is permitted to poets and jesters. I have placed these two halberdiers, one of them eating, the other drinking, by the staircase, but both ready to perform any duty that may be required of them: it seemed to me quite fitting that the master of such a house, who was as rich and as great as I have been told, should have such attendants.

Q. And the one who is dressed like a buffoon with a parrot on his wrist - why did you introduce him into the canvas?

A. For ornament, as is usually done.

Q. Who are the people at the table of Our Lord?

A. The twelve Apostles.

Q. What is St. Peter doing, who is the first?

A. He is carving a lamb to send to the other end of the table.

Q. What is the one doing who comes next?

A. He is holding a plate to see what St. Peter will give him?

Q. What is he doing who is next to this last?

A. He is picking his teeth with a fork.

Q. Who do you really think were present at this supper?

A. I believe Christ and his Apostles were present; but in the foreground of the picture I have placed figures as ornaments, of my own invention.

Q. Were you commissioned to paint Germans and buffoons and such like figures in this picture?

A. No, my lord: but I was commissioned to ornament the picture as I thought best, which, being large, to my mind requires many figures. . .

Q. Does it not appear to you that. . . you have [not] done right in painting the picture in this manner, and that it can [not] be proved right and decent?

A. illustrious lord, I do not defend it; but I thought I was doing right.

By the way, in the end Paolo Veronese was instructed to fix his painting. What he did, and what became of him I do not know, but from the existing painting (below) it appears he may not have done all he was asked. I wonder if they just went back and forth over the details of it they objected to and he found harmless?

Click to enlarge