Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stratfor and Twiggy

In today's Stratfor article Friedman discusses strategic reason why he thinks the 1967 borders may be the best choice for Isreal. I didn't find his arguments convincing. In particular, his claim that because they won their earlier wars, but struggled in their later wars,  that meant that the 67 borders made more strategic sense seemed like a leap in logic to me. Still, it is an interesting read as always.

Shrinking Israel to that very narrow waist conjured up images of a sort of national anorexia. Of course, anorexia immediately brings to mind supermodels and so there would be the source of this article's Hot Stratfor babe.

Needless to say, I had a wealth of subjects to choose from and it was quite the task narrowing it down to just one.  After arduous research I selected Twiggy as the Hot Strafor Babe because she is  the first model I remember who marketed her skinniness as part of her appeal.

Twiggy was born Lesley Hornby in 1959 (a little over a year after the founding of Israel). Her big break came when, at the age of 16, a hair dresser cut her hair short and hung pictures of her in his salon to promote the style. A fashion photographer saw the pictures, took more, and they became her entrance into the modeling field.

Along with modeling, she's cranked out albums and done quite a bit of acting. As a bonus, after the Strafor article, I've embedded a video featuring a number of slides of her posing in various goofy mod outfits with I Feel Fine by the Beatles as the background music.

By George Friedman, May 31, 2011

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said May 30 that  Israel could not prevent the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state, in the sense of adopting a resolution on the subject. Two weeks ago, U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech, called on Israel to return to some variation of its pre-1967 borders. The practical significance of these and other diplomatic evolutions in relation to Israel is questionable. Historically, U.N. declarations have had variable meanings, depending on the willingness of great powers to enforce them. Obama's speech on Israel, and his subsequent statements, created enough ambiguity to make exactly what he was saying unclear. Nevertheless, it is clear that the diplomatic atmosphere on Israel is shifting.

There are many questions concerning this shift, ranging from the competing moral and historical claims of the Israelis and Palestinians to the internal politics of each side to whether the Palestinians would be satisfied with a return to the pre-1967 borders. All of these must be addressed, but this analysis is confined to a single issue: whether a return to the 1967 borders would increase the danger to Israel's national security. Later analyses will focus on Palestinian national security issues and those of others.

Early Borders

It is important to begin by understanding that the pre-1967 borders are actually the borders established by the armistice agreements of 1949. The 1948 U.N. resolution creating the state of Israel created a much smaller Israel. The Arab rejection of what was called "partition" resulted in a war that created the borders that placed the West Bank (named after the west bank of the Jordan River) in Jordanian hands, along with substantial parts of Jerusalem, and placed Gaza in the hands of the Egyptians.

The 1949 borders substantially improved Israel's position by widening the corridors between the areas granted to Israel under the partition, giving it control of part of Jerusalem and, perhaps most important, control over the Negev. The latter provided Israel with room for maneuver in the event of an Egyptian attack -- and Egypt was always Israel's main adversary. At the same time, the 1949 borders did not eliminate a major strategic threat. The Israel-Jordan border placed Jordanian forces on three sides of Israeli Jerusalem, and threatened the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor. Much of the Israeli heartland, the Tel Aviv-Haifa-Jerusalem triangle, was within Jordanian artillery range, and a Jordanian attack toward the Mediterranean would have to be stopped cold at the border, since there was no room to retreat, regroup and counterattack.

For Israel, the main danger did not come from Jordan attacking by itself. Jordanian forces were limited, and tensions with Egypt and Syria created a de facto alliance between Israel and Jordan. In addition, the Jordanian Hashemite regime lived in deep tension with the Palestinians, since the former were British transplants from the Arabian Peninsula, and the Palestinians saw them as well as the Israelis as interlopers. Thus the danger on the map was mitigated both by politics and by the limited force the Jordanians could bring to bear.

Nevertheless, politics shift, and the 1949 borders posed a strategic problem for Israel. If Egypt, Jordan and Syria were to launch a simultaneous attack (possibly joined by other forces along the Jordan River line) all along Israel's frontiers, the ability of Israel to defeat the attackers was questionable. The attacks would have to be coordinated -- as the 1948 attacks were not -- but simultaneous pressure along all frontiers would leave the Israelis with insufficient forces to hold and therefore no framework for a counterattack. From 1948 to 1967, this was Israel's existential challenge, mitigated by the disharmony among the Arabs and the fact that any attack would be detected in the deployment phase. [continues after jump]

Grinnin' In Your Face

For Americans, because of the holiday Tuesday morning is that start of the work week, so some blues are in order. As you stand around the water cooler swapping gossip, keep in mind Son House's song Grinnin' In Your Face 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Disaster strikes a backyard BBQ

A group of Sims demonstrate what not to do if you accidentally start your backyard on fire during a cookout. Hint: don't just hop up and down and scream for ages. Instead, get your fire extinguisher into action quick!

The song is Punches, Kicks, Trenches & Swords by Pint Shot Riot.

In remembrance

"The fallen lay three or four feet deep in some places, and, with but few exceptions, they were shot in and about the head. Arms, accouterments, ammunition, cannon, shot and shell, and broken foliage were strewn about. With much labor a detail of Union soldiers buried the dead by simply turning the captured breastworks upon them. Thus had these unfortunate victims unwittingly dug their own graves. The trenches were nearly full of muddy water. It was the most horrible sight I had ever witnessed."

Memorial Day is a day for Americans to remember their war dead. It was started in the aftermath of the American Civil War. For this post I'm going to return to a Civil War battlefield, if fact to just to a portion of a Civil War battlefield, to remember how much some have suffered and lost in defense of our Nation.

The Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania was the scene of the most ferocious fighting in that most brutal of all American wars. Early in the morning, under a thick mist, Union troops commanded by General Hancock attacked the Southern lines. They broke through and drove deep into the Confederate positions until finally the Southern troops stalled the advance.

The Bloody Angle was some earthworks the Confederates held in the middle of the Yankee advance. Union troops slid along both flanks of the position, creating a horse shoe shaped salient. As a heavy rain began to fall, both sides fed troops into the battle at the salient -- the Union troops to try completely shatter the Southern lines, the Rebels desperately holding as a fallback series of earth works were being prepared.

The two sides fought for nearly 24 hours over that rain drenched piece of land and both sent hundreds of men into its bloody maw. Many of them fired the single shot from their muskets and then stood upon the dead to fight hand-to-hand using their rifles as clubs, until they too joined the pile of dead and were replaced.

After the war, in the 1880s, Century Magazine published a series of articles about the Civil War written by veterans of the war. These articles were eventually published in the 4 volume set, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (the link takes you to an online version of the entire set).

Most of the articles were written by officers, but an enlisted man named G. Norton Galloway wrote the article regarding the fight at the Bloody Angle. I've reproduced it below. I've removed the footnotes, and a few of the typos, but no doubt many more typos remain.

If you're inclined, there is also a wealth of information about the battles of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania at the blog Mysteries and Conundrums. I recommend a visit to that site for those that like Civil War history, or are just curious to learn more.

(Hellooooo visitors from Instapundit)

Hand-to-hand Fighting at Spotsylvania
by G. Norton Galloway

GENERAL HANCOCK's surprise and capture of the larger portion of Edward Johnson's division , and the capture of the salient "at Spotsylvania Court House on the 12th of May, 1864, accomplished with the Second Corps," have been regarded as one of the most brilliant feats of that brilliant soldier's career ; but without the substantial assistance of general Wright, grand old John Sedgwick's worthy successor, and the Sixth Corps, a defeat as bitter as his victory was sweet would have been recorded against the hero of that day.

The storm which had set in early in the afternoon of the 11th of May continued with great severity, and but little rest was obtained during the night. Soon after dark, however, a remarkable change in the weather took place, and it became ed in small groups about half-drowned fires, with their tents stretched about their shoulders, while some hastily pitched the canvas on the ground, and sought shelter beneath the rumpled and dripping folds. Others rolled themselves up, and lay close to the simmering logs, eager to catch a few moments' sleep ; many crouched about, without any shelter whatever, presenting a pitiable sight.

Throughout the day some skirmishing and sharpshooting? had occurred, but this had been of a spasmodic character, and had elicited no concern.

About dusk the Sixth Corps moved to a position on the right and rear of the army. The stormy night was favorable to Hancock's movement, and about 10 o'clock he put his troops in motion, marching to a point on the left of the Sixth Corps' former position in the neighborhood of the Brown house, massing his troops in that vicinity. [See map, p. 167.]

General Grant's orders to Hancock were to assault at daylight on the 12th in cooperation with Burnside on his left, while Wright and Warren were held in readiness to assault on his right. The Confederate army was composed of three corps-Longstreet (now R. H. Anderson) on their left, Ewell in the center, and A. P. Hill (now under early) on the right. The point to be assaulted was a salient of field-works on the Confederate center, afterward called the "Bloody Angle." It was held by General Edward Johnson's division. Here the Confederate line broke off at an angle of ninety degrees, the right parallel, about the length of a small brigade, being occupied by General George H. Steuart's regiments. This point was a part or continuation of the line of works charged and carried by General Upton on May 10th, and was considered to be the key to Lee's position.

Just as the day was breaking, Barlow's and Birney's divisions of Hancock's corps pressed forward upon the unsuspecting foe, and leaping the breastworks after a hand-to-hand conflict with the bewildered enemy, in which guns were used as clubs, possessed themselves of the ithree thousand prisoners were taken, including General Johnson and General Steuart. Twenty Confederate cannon became the permanent trophies of the day, twelve of them belonging to Page and eight to Cutshaw.

Upon reaching the second line of Lee's works held by Wilcox's division, who by this time had become apprised of the disaster to their comrades, Hancock met with stern resistance, as Lee in the meantime had been hurrying troops to Ewell from Hill on the right and Anderson on the left, and these were sprung upon our victorious lines with such an impetus as to drive them hastily back toward the left of the salient.

As soon as the news of Hancock's good and ill success reached army headquarters, the Sixth Corps - Upton's brigade being in advance - was ordered to move with all possible haste to his support. At a brisk pace we crossed a line of intrenchments a short distance in our front, and, passing through a strip of timber, at once began to realize our nearness to the foe. It was now about G o'clock, and the enemy, reenforced, were making desperate efforts to regain what they had lost.

Our forces were hastily retiring at this point before the concentrated attack of the enemy, and these with our wounded lined the road. We pressed forward and soon cleared the woods and reached an insidious fen, covered with dense marsh grass, where we lay down for a few moments awaiting orders. I cannot imagine how any of us survived the sharp fire that swept over us at this point - a fire so keen that it split the blades of grass all about us, the minies moaning in a furious concert as they picked out victims by the score. [continues after jump]

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Open Thread

I use these open threads to report on any site maintenance I've been doing.

Some of you may have noticed that about a week ago, for a brief period of time, there was a post rating mechanism under the posts. These interfered with the polls so I removed them. 

In thinking about it, I also realized that, since this blogging business is only a pastime to me, I didn't really want a rating system that might cause me to chase traffic rather than just posting whatever nonsense interested me.

At the same time I was fiddling with the rating system, I also replaced the icons that allow one to share a post on various social media sites. It always aggravated me when the box would pop up if you moved you mouse over one, so I switched to a version without that automatic pop-up feature. 

In the right rail I moved the 'Recommended' links under the 'Blogs of Interest' to group my links to other sites. This required me to move list of 'Contributors' to the far right rail so both they and the blog links would be visible without scrolling down the page.

The most ambitious thing I've done is add a 'By Category' list to the right rail (under the list of Contributors). This allows visitors to review posts in just their area of interest while ignoring topics that don't interest them. I don't know how much people really use things like that, but from time to time I have done that on other sites.

The problem with adding that feature is I've long used the labels to make cheesy jokes, so I'm having to sweep back through all of the posts to tag them properly. At the moment I'm working my way through 2009, and dreading the work 2006 is going to entail. 

Occasionally I am making minor edits to the older posts, but I am not changing their content, only cleaning up any malformed HTML that is causing problems with the site's template.

Grand Opening of Commentarama Films

Commentarama, one of the sites in our blog roll, has announced the Grand Opening of a new site: Commentarama Films - Conservative Film Talk. He'll be posting film reviews Wednesdays and Fridays, and eventually plans to expand to also posting a review on Sunday morning.

He's been working on the new site for some time. His film reviews used to be mixed in with his posts. A few months ago he started cross posting them on the new site as he was building it. His posts always have a lively comment thread, so be sure to visit Commentarama Films - Conservative Film Talk if you like talking about films.

Stories of the grill

"The story of barbecue is the story of America. Settlers arrive on great unspoiled continent. Discover wondrous riches. Set them on fire and eat them." -Vince Stanton
For many Americans the grilling season will kick-off with a Memorial Day cookout on Monday. For some reason a lot of people think that barbecuing is an art created in the New World and passed on to Europeans and settlers after the voyages of discovery.

A few moments of thought should reveal that to be a rather dodgy notion. While the New World contributed peppers for the sauce, cooking over an open fire obviously predates the discovery of America and the invention of suburban backyard grills.

In fact, at an archeological site in the Czech Republic called Pavlov VI, the remains of a fire pit used to cook mammoths was found. As reported in the MSNBC article Mammoths roasted in prehistoric barbecue pit:
While contemporaneous populations near this region seemed to prefer reindeer meat, the Gravettian residents of this living complex, described in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity, appeared to seek out more super-sized fare.

"It seems that, in contrast to other Upper Paleolithic societies in Moravia, these people depended heavily on mammoths," project leader Jiri Svoboda told Discovery News.

Svoboda, a professor at the University of Brno and director of its Institute of Archaeology, and colleagues recently excavated Pavlov VI, where they found the remains of a female mammoth and one mammoth calf near a 4-foot-wide roasting pit. Arctic fox, wolverine, bear and hare remains were also found, along with a few horse and reindeer bones.

The meats were cooked luau-style underground. Svoboda said, "We found the heating stones still within the pit and around."

Boiling pits existed near the middle roaster. He thinks "the whole situation — central roasting pit and the circle of boiling pits — was sheltered by a teepee or yurt-like structure."

It's unclear if seafood was added to create a surf-and-turf meal, but multiple decorated shells were unearthed. Many showed signs of cut marks, along with red and black coloration. The scientists additionally found numerous stone tools, such as spatulas, blades and saws, which they suggest were good for carving mammoths.

Let's face it, in terms of manliness, clobbering a mammoth over the head and dragging it to your fire pit beats the hell out of standing in front of your Coleman wearing a "Kiss the Chef" apron. Regardless, in spite of now wallowing in shame because you're cooking burgers instead of mammoth ribs, I hope you all enjoy your barbecues tomorrow.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Man as an Industrial Palace

A German film visualizing our innards as a machine.

Embroidered fashion magazines

Inge Jacobsen is a student at Kingston University, London who is just about to graduate after having studied studying Fine Art Photography. Interestingly, she has received attention, not for her photography, but for a series of embroideries of covers of fashion magazines and pornography. On her blog Inge Jacobsen she has this to say about her work:
Another theme and concept I’m exploring in my work is the ‘objectness’ of a photograph. By bringing the surface of the image to the attention of the viewer I want them to acknowledge the pieces as objects rather than just images. It seems appropriate to do so using fashion magazines as women are often objectified within them. I believe the same is also true of porn, and I try to explore this using sewing and embroidery which is largely seen as a feminine craft. The work has political connotations whilst allowing the viewer to decide whether the work is a critique of the fashion industry or pornography or something more celebratory. I would also hope that the viewer might see an element of humour in the work.
It is quite evocative how she transforms something as photographically based as a fashion magazine cover into something that is manifestly not a photograph. Of course we've all seen paintings and drawings done from photos, but their origin is often not obviously apparent. However, Ingre's Vogue covers done in thread are unmistakable transformations from one media to another that are clearly done intentionally to contrast the two.

Along with her blog, she also has what I suspect is the the beginnings of  her professional and commercial web presence at the site ingejacobsen.com.  I think she bears watching.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Something wonderful this way comes

I've been waiting for some time for it to arrive, and there it was today, propped against my door when I arrived home. I nearly wept for joy. I can't tell you what it is yet, only that it is something wonderful.

Oh, you might try to guess -- a page from a long lost Leonardo Da Vinci notebook? An original copy of the Declaration of Independence? Nude pictures of Bea Arthur? 

Trust me, try as you might, you'll never guess what sort of magnificent thing is inside the package. You'll just have to be patient and watch this space for further details.

Stratfor and Mata Hari

Today's Strafor article is a long piece that discusses, in light of the U.S. locating and eliminating Bin Laden in Pakistan, the importance of human intelligence assets. It covers the history of the rebuilding of the CIAs  human intelligence network in the wake of 9/11, the difficulties with the liason between the CIA and Pakistan's ISI, and possible scenarios as to how Bin Laden was located.

Normally I select a model or actress as an article's Hot Stratfor Babe, but all the talk of spies immediately brought Mata Hari to mind. Hence, and no doubt greatly mitigating her reputation as a seductress and German Spy, she has been selected as this article's Hot Stratfor Babe.

She was born Margaretha Zelle and at the age of 18, after a family bankrupcy, she answered a newspaper ad and married a much older Dutch army officer. They moved to Java where she studied the local culture. The husband was an alcoholic and abusive, so when they returned to Europe she left him.

She took up performing to support herself, and eventually drifted into exotic dancing where she claimed she was a Java princess of priestly Hindu birth and other such malarkey. She was extremely successful and also extremely promiscuous, which led her into a number of affairs with wealthy men.

It is not clear that she actually was a spy in WWI. Being a neutral she could freely travel, and she ended up being questioned in Britain where she claimed she was a French spy. Meanwhile the French had intercepted a poorly coded radio message which led them to believe she was a German spy.

In spite of the sketchy evidence against her, and perhaps hurt by her own tendency to spin yarns, she was convicted of espionage by the allies and executed by firing squad in 1917.

As a bonus, at the end of the article, I've included a video clip of from a 1931 movie of Greta Garbo vamping it up as Mata Hari as she seduces some poor sap. You'll have to watch it to see if he falls for her charms, and what dastardly deed he will have to do if he does.

By Fred Burton, May 26, 2011

Since May 2, when U.S. special operations forces crossed the Afghan-Pakistani border and killed Osama bin Laden, international media have covered the raid from virtually every angle. The United States and Pakistan have also squared off over the U.S. violation of Pakistan's sovereign territory and  Pakistan's possible complicity in hiding the al Qaeda leader. All this surface-level discussion, however, largely ignores almost 10 years of intelligence development in the hunt for bin Laden.

While the cross-border nighttime raid deep into Pakistan was a daring and daunting operation, the work to find the target -- one person out of 180 million in a country full of insurgent groups and a population hostile to American activities on its soil -- was a far greater challenge. For the other side, the challenge of hiding the world's most wanted man from the world's most funded intelligence apparatus created a clandestine shell game that probably involved current or former Pakistani intelligence officers as well as competing intelligence services. The details of this struggle will likely remain classified for decades.

Examining the hunt for bin Laden is also difficult, mainly because of the sensitivity of the mission and the possibility that some of the public information now available could be disinformation intended to disguise intelligence sources and methods. Successful operations can often compromise human sources and new intelligence technologies that have taken years to develop. Because of this, it is not uncommon for intelligence services to try to create a wilderness of mirrors to protect sources and methods. But using open-source reporting and human intelligence from STRATFOR's own sources, we can assemble enough information to draw some conclusions about this complex intelligence effort and raise some key questions.

The Challenge

Following the 9/11 attacks, finding and killing bin Laden became the primary mission of the U.S. intelligence community, particularly the CIA. This mission was clearly laid out in a presidential "finding," or directive, signed on Sept. 17, 2001, by then-U.S. President George W. Bush. By 2005 it became clear to STRATFOR that bin Laden was deep inside Pakistan. Although the Pakistani government was ostensibly a U.S. ally, it was known that there were elements within it sympathetic to al Qaeda and bin Laden. In order to find bin Laden, U.S. intelligence would have to work with -- and against -- Pakistani intelligence services.

Finding bin Laden in a hostile intelligence environment while friends and sympathizers were protecting him represented a monumental intelligence challenge for the United States. With bin Laden and his confederates extremely conscious of U.S technical intelligence abilities, the search quickly became a human-intelligence challenge. While STRATFOR believes bin Laden had become tactically irrelevant since 9/11, he remained symbolically important and a focal point for the U.S. intelligence effort. And while it appears that the United States has improved its intelligence capabilities and passed an important test, much remains undone. Today, the public information surrounding the case illuminates the capabilities that will be used to find other high-value targets as the U.S. effort continues.

The official story on the intelligence that led to bin Laden's Abbottabad compound has been widely reported, leaked from current and former U.S. officials. It focuses on a man with the cover name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a Pakistani Pashtun born in Kuwait who became bin Laden's most trusted courier. With fluency in Pashto and Arabic, according to media reports, al-Kuwaiti would be invaluable to al Qaeda, and in order to purchase bin Laden's property and run errands he would also need to be fluent in Urdu. His position as bin Laden's most trusted courier made him a key link in disrupting the organization. While this man supposedly led the United States to bin Laden, it took a decade of revamping U.S. intelligence capabilities and a great deal of hard work (and maybe even a lucky break) to actually find him. [continued after jump]

Dead Disco

After possibly traumatizing you last weekend with the emo screamo punk of Z
this week I'll go easy and offer some Metric to get you ready for the weekend.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Knock me over with a feather

For her next act, Judge Sumi plans on
picking out the china pattern for the
Governor's mansion
If you've been following the Wisconsin fiasco at all you'll know that the unfortunately named liberal County Judge Sumi had, prior to a collective bargaining law being published, exercised her hitherto unknown veto powers by issuing a temporary restraining order forbidding the law being put into effect. 

Today she issued her final ruling and to nobody's surprise she ruled that the law, or what would have been a law had the governor been able to get it published, was dead, kaput and invalid. You can read more about her rather unusual decision at Legal Insurrection and The Volokh Conspiracy

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will take up the issue in a couple of weeks.

When asked a simple question,
Kloppy demonstrates the classic
"Deer in the Headlights" look
Speaking of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Sumi's meddling in the procedures of the legislative branch is not all the zaniness taking place in the Dairy State, they recently held an election for a Supreme Court seat. On the night of the election, based on AP reports of the votes total, JoAnne "Kloppy" Kloppenburg declared that she had an water-tight, insurmountable victory based on a 204 vote lead. 

Unfortunately for her, the Clerk of Elections in Waukesha County couldn't save an excel spread sheet properly, and it turned out that Kloppy's opponent actually had a 7500 vote lead. Oooops. 

Obviously, unlike 204 votes, 7500+ votes is a slender lead so she requested a recount. The recount is over and she picked up a little over 300 votes. However, not one to shy away from looking stupid, she has made all sorts of dodgy claims that there are a lot of anomalies in the election and it just may be tainted. She has until Friday, May 27th to file a court challenge. My guess is she'll tilt at the windmills and file her challenges. 

Fleebagging Democrat Senators, mobs occupying the capitol building, death threats, union intimidation, county judges vetoing laws, recall elections, lawsuit after lawsuit to subvert governance -- Wisconsin has it all. Let's hope this doesn't become the national blueprint.   

Just a throwaway post

Chateau Le Dumpe's majestic front porch
 Sorry, but there's nothing of much of real interest about this post. I'm just experimenting. I bought a new camera, a Cannon ELPH 300 HS Powershot, which is just a simple point and click. I wanted to step through the process of uploading a photo, and to see if it its picture quality was good, bad or indifferent when viewed via the web.

If you're curious, it is a picture of my front porch. You can see the iPod on the foot stool, During daylight I frequently sit out there and visit my regular haunts on the internet.

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard, brought to you by Screamin' Jay Hawkins and the Democratic Senate.  On Wednesday Ryan's budget bill was defeated as expected, Obama's budget was also shot down 97-0. Think about that, Obama couldn't scrounge up a single Democrat to give him a token aye vote. 

Meanwhile, the Democrats in the Senate, after two years, still haven't proposed a budget. As John Hinderaker at Powerline said:  
The Democrats have no budget; no plan; no path out of the fiscal disaster into which they have led the United States. They are bystanders and political opportunists, utterly unfit to govern.
That about sums up my feelings, although I would probably toss in a couple of cuss words for good measure. I shudder at the thought of the demagoguery we're going to have to endure this election cycle.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Budget Vacations - Questionable Medical Devices Collection

Phrenology machine
As a public service, during these cash strapped times, I've been suggesting budget vacation destinations. Of course, I always strive to provide attractions that are of great historical or educational value. 

For that reason, today's recommendation is the  "Questionable Medical Device" collection of the Science Museum of Minnesota. It is a comprehensive overview of medical quackery and mechanisms of dubious therapeutic value. 

It includes phrenology machines, curative devices that squirted out cancer-causing doses of radiation, various contraptions that futilely harnessed the wondrous powers of magnetism, foot powered breast enlarging pumps and more. 

The exhibit originally assembled by Bob McCoy who started the collection when he bought a few phrenology machines and for a small fee demonstrated them in a shop in Minnesota. Soon he began to acquire other devices 

For a while he moved his collection to its own museum, but it was eventually donated to the Science Museum of Minnesota where it now resides. So, if you're in the area drop by and check it out and, as always, pack yourself a picnic lunch. 

Dramatic reading of A Hard Day's Night

Peter Sellars doing a reading of the Beatles 'A Hard Day's Night'
in the Shakespearean style.
(via Open Culture

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stratfor and Evangeline Lilly

In this Stratfor article Friedman discusses Obama's speech in context of how he may have been using it to try to reassemble, or at least hold together, the Muslim component of the Coalition of the Willing in light of the Arab Spring demonstrations and uprisings.

Like Friedman I don't think Obama's speech was quite as inimical as a lot of people do. That said, Obama is clearly not a friend of Israel and as a result its tone was, as usual with Obama, off-kilter. He simply can't avoid shining the spot light where he thinks Israel has to compromise, while being vague about the obvious steps the Palestinians have to take. That made it sound worse than it actually was in my opinion.

Also,  giving it immediately before Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington was a political mistake. I imagine he expected Netanyahu to be in the same sort of box he put the Supreme Court Judges and Boehner in earlier, where Netanyahu would have to be polite during the lecture for appearances sake. Instead he ended up ceding the ground to Netanyahu, who turned tables on Obama by lecturing him during the press conference and strongly laying out Israel's position in the process.  

Finally, I'll bang one of my favorite drums again -- the speech should have slid the Israel/Palestine issue into the background and swung around to pressuring Syria. I believe events will show that the Palestinians made a grave error in aligning themselves with the Iranian proxy Hamas. I doubt the arabs, who already have a low opinion of the Palestinians, will long tolerate that. I believe that Iranian tentacle could be leveraged by American diplomats to influence events in the region. Prying Syria away from Iran should be the aim of American diplomacy at this time. 

Then again, I really don't know what I'm talking about, so you can take my diplomatic master-minding with a huge grain of salt. All I've got to say is... thank God for blogs, everybody can be an expert.

At any rate, the Middle East is a mess, the Arab Spring is a mess, and the Israel/Palestine situation is a mess; so the notion of messes was on my mind as I pondered the article's Hot Stratfor Babe possibilities. Naturally this turned my mind towards mud wrestling, and for that reason I selected Evangeline Lilly for the honor.

Evangeline Lilly played Kate on TV's Lost which, come to think of it, had a plot about as complex, nonsensical and pointless as Middle Eastern diplomacy. In Season III there was an episode where Kate was handcuffed to her mortal enemy Juliet. Juliet lipped off one too many times, Kate got hopping mad, and they ended up in a fight which led to the two of them flopping into a mud puddle to do some wrestling. 

The picture of her above is from later in the episode, when the now mud-covered Kate was hopping mad over something else. She was hopping mad a lot in that episode. As a bonus, after the Strafor article I've embedded a video of another fight between the two, this one in the rain, from earlier in the episode (as I said, Kate got hopping mad a lot in that episode).

By George Friedman, May 24, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech last week on the Middle East. Presidents make many speeches. Some are meant to be taken casually, others are made to address an immediate crisis, and still others are intended to be a statement of broad American policy. As in any country, U.S. presidents follow rituals indicating which category their speeches fall into. Obama clearly intended his recent Middle East speech to fall into the last category, as reflecting a shift in strategy if not the declaration of a new doctrine.

While events in the region drove Obama's speech, politics also played a strong part, as with any presidential speech. Devising and implementing policy are the president's job. To do so, presidents must be able to lead -- and leading requires having public support. After the 2010 election, I said that presidents who lose control of one house of Congress in midterm elections turn to foreign policy because it is a place in which they retain the power to act. The U.S. presidential campaign season has begun, and the United States is engaged in wars that are not going well. Within this framework, Obama thus sought to make both a strategic and a political speech.

Obama's War Dilemma

The United States is engaged in a  broad struggle against jihadists. Specifically, it is engaged in a war in Afghanistan and is in the terminal phase of the Iraq war.

The Afghan war is stalemated. Following the death of Osama bin Laden, Obama said that the Taliban's forward momentum has been stopped. He did not, however, say that the Taliban is being defeated. Given the state of affairs between the United States and Pakistan following bin Laden's death, whether the United States can defeat the Taliban remains unclear. It might be able to, but the president must remain open to the possibility that the war will become an extended stalemate.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops are being withdrawn from Iraq, but that does not mean the conflict is over. Instead, the withdrawal has opened the door to Iranian power in Iraq. The Iraqis lack a capable military and security force. Their government is divided and feeble. Meanwhile, the Iranians have had years to infiltrate Iraq. Iranian domination of Iraq would open the door to  Iranian power projection throughout the region. Therefore, the United States has proposed keeping U.S. forces in Iraq but has yet to receive Iraq's approval. If that approval is given (which looks unlikely), Iraqi factions with clout in parliament have threatened to renew the anti-U.S. insurgency.

The United States must therefore consider its actions should the situation in Afghanistan remain indecisive or deteriorate and should Iraq evolve into an Iranian strategic victory. The simple answer -- extending the mission in Iraq and increasing forces in Afghanistan -- is not viable. The United States could not pacify Iraq with 170,000 troops facing determined opposition, while the 300,000 troops that Chief of Staff of the Army Eric Shinseki argued for in 2003 are not available. Meanwhile, it is difficult to imagine how many troops would be needed to guarantee a military victory in Afghanistan. Such surges are not politically viable, either. After nearly 10 years of indecisive war, the American public has little appetite for increasing troop commitments to either war and has no appetite for conscription.

Obama thus has limited military options on the ground in a situation where conditions in both war zones could deteriorate badly. And his political option -- blaming former U.S. President George W. Bush -- in due course would wear thin, as Nixon found in blaming Johnson.

The Coalition of the Willing Meets the Arab Spring

For his part, Bush followed a strategy of a coalition of the willing. He understood that the United States could not conduct a war in the region without regional allies, and he therefore recruited a coalition of countries that calculated that radical Islamism represented a profound threat to regime survival. This included Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jordan, and Pakistan. These countries shared a desire to see al Qaeda defeated and a willingness to pool resources and intelligence with the United States to enable Washington to carry the main burden of the war.

This coalition appears to be fraying. Apart from the tensions between the United States and Pakistan, the unrest in the Middle East of the last few months apparently has undermined the legitimacy and survivability of many Arab regimes, including key partners in the so-called coalition of the willing. If these pro-American regimes collapse and are replaced by anti-American regimes, the American position in the region might also collapse. [continued after jump]

Inside the chocolate factory

Looks like it would be a complete mess to cleanup.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Nutshell studies of unexplained death

Red Bedroom - the crime scene of a murdered prostitute (click to enlarge)
From Erin Hooper Bush's website Death in Diorama: "In the 1940s, Frances Glessner Lee, a Chicago heiress to the International Harvester fortune, built the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, composite crime scene models recreated on a one-inch-to-one-foot scale. These macabre dioramas were purpose-built to be used as police training tools to help crime scene investigators learn the art and science of detailed forensics-based detection."

The site has information about "Mother" Lee, the woman who conceived of the idea of building crime scene dioramas to teach proper crime scene investigation. She, and her carpenter Ralph Mosher, are believed to have constructed 20 of the dioramas. although only 18 survived. They are currently housed by the Maryland Medical Examiners Office and are still used for training tools. They are not available for public viewing.

Each diorama was meticulously designed and based on composites of real crimes. The decor emulated the flop houses and seedy rooms these crimes occurred in, and featured working lights, doors and other details. Mother Lee fashioned the dolls that served as corpses, realistically painting them to show the degree of mortification they were found in. Students would examine them with flashlights and magnifying glasses to learn how to comprehensively search for clues.  

The site has pictures of four of her dioramas: the Kitchen, Dark Bathroom, Red Bedroom (shown above) and the Parsonage, each  with hotspots to details in them showing clues.  

Drop by the site, see if you can spot the clues, and read up on an amazing woman who did a lot to revolutionize and promote crime scene investigation.

Smokestack Lightning

Monday morning is upon us and so the blues are in order. Enjoy a video of Howlin' Wolf  in a live performance of Smokestack Lightning.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Illustrations of a different sort

Not all drawings are done by starving artists with tortured souls. Before the advent of cameras naturalists had to draw their subjects to record them. Even with cameras some views: sectional cut-aways, internal structure, and extinct species to name a few, are often best illustrated by drawing them.

The site Scientific Illustration has a wonderful collection of these types of drawings. Each has some notes about the drawing, as well as a link to the source of the drawing. 

This page has three examples of their collection. There are more examples after the jump. 

Cracker Jack

The Food Police are an endlessly annoying lot. In Texas they're taking before and after shots of kid's lunch trays. The purpose? As explained in the article Food police target Texas schools with cameras, "The cameras will allow officials to track who eats what, how good it is for them and what it means for their overall diet. Reports will be printed out that reveal serving sizes, calories, fiber counts, and sugar and protein counts."

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants potatoes, aside from sweet potatoes, banned from school breakfasts and greatly cut back in school lunches. There is also the move afoot to make restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, convenience stores and coffee chains all clearly post the calorie count for each item on their menus.

Ronald McDonald, that pied piper of childhood obesity, has also recently been in their cross-hairs. Through newspaper ads and other pressure, activist groups are demanding that the Clown stop marketing Happy Meals to children. Of course, Happy Meals have long been a target of the Food Police. I doubt that there is anything that drives them crazier than those toys that accompany burgers and fries in a colorful box.

When I was a kid the closest equivalent to a Happy Meal was a box of Cracker Jack. I liked the carmel corn and peanuts, but most of all I liked those little paper wrapped "prizes" that came in each box. They were simple things: little plastic figures, airplanes and cars, toy rings, miniature comic books, maze puzzles with tiny ball bearings, spinning tops and the like.

I collected them in a shoe box. When you opened a Cracker Jack box you didn't get right to the prize, you always had to impatiently eat your way down until the little paper bag with the prize was reachable. Then you had to hope for the best. If unlucky you would get a girl's ring. I most liked the ones with several pieces you had to click together to make a little mechanism -- a bicycle or something like that.

The Grandmother who gave me the Cracker Jacks was a Slovakian lady with a thick accent. She had immigrated to the States when she was 13 years old. She spent her adult life during first the Great Depression and then the rationing of WWII. Still, to her she was living in the Land of Milk and Honey. Far beyond the "Streets Paved with Gold" mythology of the U.S., she loved the freedom of America and the dignity it conferred.

She used to write to the relatives back in the Old Country and send them packages. At the end of WWII, when the Soviet tanks rolled into Bratslavia, my distant cousins decided discretion was the better part of valor and joined the Communist Party. They would irritate her by singing the praises of Communism in their letters, while asking her to include this or that in her next package to them. Finally, in one letter to her, after the usual Soviet panegyrics, they asked for a refrigerator. Disgusted, she wrote back that,  "if they wanted a damn refrigerator they could ask Uncle Joe Stalin for one." That was the last letter she ever wrote to them.   

I always think of her when I read the latest antics of the Food Police. She would have been spitting mad at another's presumption that she did not know how to feed a child. She had her fill of the grim life and she did not begrudge a child the taste of candy and cheap plastic toys. And besides, what she put on a table or in a lunch bag was nobody else's business.

That's the problem with the food Police and other Nanny-Staters, they're so fixated on their imagined wrongs of the world that they will not leave a person breath. They don't understand that there is more to life than a perfectly balanced diet. There are things you cannot measure, like a shoebox full of prizes or a shared meal of hamburgers and salty fries. Life is too short to never taste these things.

Because he says it better than me, I'll end with an except from Richard Fernandez's old post All the streets were dark and bare:

My grandmother always gave me a present for Christmas until the year she died.  She was living with my parents by then, and without a source of income. I remember her saving coins for some purpose no one could guess until on Christmas day we found out what it was for. She gave me a chocolate bar.

It was days before I could bring myself to eat it. When I finally did, I stared for a long time afterward at the foil and paper, wondering as many of us probably have at such gifts, on how so little a thing could carry so great a weight of human love.  


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lest we laugh too hard

Fragments of the Epic of Gilgamesh
We know it now, the world did not end today as Harold Camping warned us it would. He read the signs and portents wrong, and did so in a spectacular and public manner, but at least he provided us with a lot of merriment in the process. Regardless, I imagine a good bit of his flock will continue to follow him. Funny how those things work.

As for the rest of us -- perhaps we're just more discrete and humble in our predictions. He's hardly the first person to get things of this nature wrong. Below is a fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh translated into English.
Gilgamesh said to him, '...I have wearied myself with travelling; my joints are aching, and I have lost acquaintance with sleep which is sweet. My clothes were worn out before I came to the house of Siduri. I have killed the bear and hyena, the lion and panther, the tiger, the stag and the ibex, all sorts of wild game and the small creatures of the pastures. I ate their flesh and I wore their skins; and that was how I came to the gate of the young woman, the maker of wine, who barred her gate of pitch and bitumen against me. But from her I had news of the journey; so then I came to Urshanabi the ferryman, and with him I crossed over the waters of death. Oh, father Utnapishtim, you who have entered the assembly of the gods, I wish to question you concerning the living and the dead, how shall I find the life for which I am searching?

Utuapishtim said, 'There is no permanence. Do we build a house to stand for ever, do we seal a contract to hold for all time? Do brothers divide an inheritance to keep for ever, does the flood-time of rivers endure? It is only the nymph of the dragon-fly who sheds her larva and sees the sun in his glory. From the days of old there is no permanence. The sleeping and the dead, how alike they are, they are like a painted death. What is there between the master and the servant when both have fulfilled their doom? When the Anunnaki, the judges, come together, and Mammetun the mother of destinies, together they decree the fates of men. Life and death they allot but the day of death they do not disclose.'

Then Gilgamesh said to Utnapishtim the Faraway, 'I look at you now, Utnapishtim, and your appearance is no different from mine; there is nothing strange in your features. I thought I should find, you like a hero prepared for battle, but you he here taking your ease on your back. Tell me truly, how was it that you came to enter the company of the gods and to possess everlasting life?' Utnapishtim said to Gilgamesh, 'I will reveal to you a mystery, I will tell you a secret of the gods...'

Goodbye cruel world

It's been all over the news. Today, May 21, 2011 at 6 p.m. (Eastern time) the world is coming to an end according to Harold Camping of Family Radio Worldwide. It is going to start with an earthquake in Fiji and lead to the Rapture.

Well, who knows, maybe God is talking to him, maybe not -- either way I figure a little End of the World soundtrack music couldn't hurt, so enjoy the above exquisite cover, by Antony & the Johnsons, of Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door".

Friday, May 20, 2011

Stratfor and Whitney Able

This Stratfor article discusses the drug trade, cartel violence, corruption and their effects on both Texas and the northern Mexican border states. 

Scott Stewart makes the interesting observation that along the border, in terms of geography, culture and economics the boarder lands are in many ways very similar, with relatives even living on both sides. Yet, the security situation shows a very clear demarcation between Texas and the Mexican border states.

He then discusses how the drug trade impacts both, and why there is such a clear difference between the two areas.

For some odd reason, all of this talk about the Mexican border brought to mind the independent Sci-fi movie Monsters. As a result, the film's female lead Whitney Able lands the honor of being this article's Hot Stratfor Babe.

The film's premise is that six years earlier a NASA probe bearing aliens life samples crashed in Mexico, and now all of northern Mexico is the "Forbidden Zone". A free lance photographer (i.e., a bum) is tasked to bring his rich boss's daughter back to the States. One thing leads to another, and they lose their ferry tickets and have to hire a guide to take them through the Forbidden Zone to the U.S. border.

Although frequently over-rated by critics, it's not a bad movie. The director is successful in disguising just how slender his budget was, and his low key approach means he avoids many pitfalls -- for example he never beats you over the head with the obvious irony of Americans hiring a coyote to smuggle them back into the States.

However, like many independent film makers, he has trouble finishing what he's set-up, which brings us to the completely ridiculous scene that brought this movie to mind as I pondered border movies for a Hot Strafor Babe. The two have been hacking their way through a jungle when they come upon an Aztec pyramid. They climb to the top and, just a mile or two to the north is the U.S. border. 

Yes, in this film the south bank of the Rio Grande is a rain forest, and you can see downtown El Paso from the top of Aztec pyramids dotting the landscape. One wonders what sort of grades the film makers got in grade school geography. I won't spoil the goofy ending for you (and yup, it gets goofier), but will recommend you watch it if it ever pops up on TV. There are many parts of it that are well done enough to warrant a viewing.

By Scott Stewart, May 19, 2011

As one studies Mexico's cartel war, it is not uncommon to hear Mexican politicians -- and some people in the United States -- claim that Mexico's problems of violence and corruption stem largely from the country's proximity to the United States. According to this narrative, the United States is the world's largest illicit narcotics market, and the inexorable force of economic demand means that the countries supplying the demand, and those that are positioned between the source countries and the huge U.S. market, are trapped in a very bad position. Because of this market and the illicit trade it creates, billions of dollars worth of drugs flow northward through Mexico (or are produced there) and billions of dollars in cash flow back southward into Mexico. The guns that flow southward along with the cash, according to the narrative, are largely responsible for Mexico's violence. As one looks at other countries lying to the south of Mexico along the smuggling routes from South America to the United States, they too seem to suffer from the same maladies.

However, when we look at the dynamics of the narcotics trade, there are other political entities, ones located to Mexico's north, that find themselves caught in the same geographic and economic position as Mexico and points south. As borderlands, these entities -- referred to as states in the U.S. political system -- find themselves caught between the supply of drugs flowing from the south and the large narcotics markets to their north. The geographic location of these states results in large quantities of narcotics flowing northward through their territory and large amounts of cash likewise flowing southward. Indeed, this illicit flow has brought with it corruption and violence, but when we look at these U.S. states, their security environments are starkly different from those of Mexican states on the other side of the border.

One implicit reality that flows from the geopolitical concept of borderlands is that while political borders are clearly delineated, the cultural and economic borders surrounding them are frequently less clear and more dynamic. The borderlands on each side of the thin, artificially imposed line we call a border are remarkably similar in geographic and demographic terms (indeed, inhabitants of such areas are often related). In the larger picture, both sides of the border often face the same set of geopolitical realities and challenges. Certainly the border between the United States and Mexico was artificially imposed by the annexation of Texas following its anti-Mexico revolution as well as the U.S. annexation of what is now much of the U.S. West, including the border states of Arizona, California and New Mexico, following the Mexican-American War. While the desert regions along the border do provide a bit of a buffer between the two countries -- and between the Mexican core and its northern territories -- there is no geological obstacle separating the two countries. Even the Rio Grande is not so grand, as the constant flow of illicit goods over it testifies. In many places, like Juarez and El Paso, the U.S.-Mexico border serves to cut cities in half, much like the Berlin Wall used to do.

Yet as one crosses over that artificial line one senses huge differences between the cultural, economic and security environments north and south. In spite of the geopolitical and economic realities confronting both sides of this borderland, Texas is not Mexico. The differences run deep, and we thought it worthwhile this week to examine how and why.

Same Problems, Different Scope

First, it must be understood that this examination does mean to assert that the illicit narcotics market in the United States has no effect on Mexico (or Central America, for that matter). The flow of narcotics, money and guns, and the organizations that participate in this illicit trade, does have a clear and demonstrable impact on Mexico. But -- and this very significant -- that impact does not stop at the border. This illicit commerce also impacts the U.S. states north of the border.

Certainly the U.S. side of the border has seen corruption of public officials, cartel-related violence and, of course, drug trafficking. But these phenomena have manifested themselves differently on the U.S. side of the border.[continued after jump]


From Z, for those Fridays where only some Japanese Emo Scream Punk will get you ready for the weekend.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obabbler's speech

Obama gave his big Middle East speech today. My reaction to it is colored by my suspicion, which I cannot shake, that Obama has largely dialed out of the foreign policy component of the Presidency. 

The initiatives he tried to implement in the beginning of his Presidency have all been reduced to a shambles; and rather than rethink his policies, the biggest Brainiac in the Universe has simply shoved the mess aside. Out of sight, out of mind.

My belief is that when he clocked out of directing foreign affairs other elements in his administration began to, in the resulting power vacuum, struggle with each other over the direction of America's policy.  I think you see this in the confused response to the Egyptian crisis, then in the dithering and eventual incomprehensible intervention as Europe's lapdog in Libya, and in the US's obvious uncertainty as to what to do in Syria. Even the multiple and conflicting stories that came out of the raid that killed Bin Laden point to multiple sources pushing multiple narratives.

As a result I thought he speech was a bit of a hodgepodge: his Howard Zinn-like understanding of history as a pastiche of exploited fuzzy-wuzzies, mixed with the Clintonista's pro-Arab slant, mixed with the State Department's usual inertia.

With regards to the North African protests a more deft politician, and one who hadn't painted themselves into a corner regarding Iraq, would have moved from the Iraqi experience of blending Shite, Sunni and Kurd, to Egypt's need to protect its minorities (the Copts) to be truly democratic, to Syria which is being ruled by a brutal minority group who are currently mowing down their protesting majority.

Which is to say, a more astute politician would have realized Syria, and not the Palestinians, are the real prize. A Syria detached from Iran is the goal worth aiming towards.

However, Obama is Obama, so he could not resist ending his speech in that graveyard of peace-makers -- the Israel/Palestinian fiasco. And so he laid out the end points for negotiation: a Palestine that recognizes a Jewish Israel and an Israel the commits suicide behind the 1967 borders. Neither position is tenable, and so Obama's speech, like all of his speeches, will be forgotten in a day or two.

Meanwhile Israel will have try to dodge the bullet and to hope for the best in the 2012 elections; the Palestinians will try to rush the borders Gandhi-like, but being Palestinians will never grasp the whole "non-violent" component; the European elite, unaware that their increasingly right-leaning population may rather enjoy the fact that cuffs were slapped on the likes of DSK, will babble about the ICC; and the Arab bloc known as the U.N. General Assembly will recognize Glorious Palestine this autumn just to make the mess complete.

My hope... if your going to give North African's money attach a lot of strings and, with luck, the Palestinian embrace of Iranian-backed Hamas will turn out to be a rug that gets yanked out from underneath them in that Sunni dominated region. WWII is long gone, so too should be the last refugee camps from that era.   

In the meanwhile, our foreign policy is still adrift.


Food Propoganda today!

Modern food posters to compliment the previous post. 

GMO fears, vegan diet, locally grown food, and food justice
replace the issues of earlier eras. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Food Propoganda

WWI poster
I'm a little late, but in 2010 Cory Bernart, in collaboration with the National Agricultural Library, created an exhibit entitled "When Beans Were Bullets: War-Era Food Posters" of posters from the WWI, the inter-war period, and WWII.

I've included a small sampling on this page and after the jump. You can see many more examples, including some videos, from the exhibit at the website: War-era Food Posters.

Inter-war poster
WWII poster

If I knew... I would have got dressed up

Looking for your own face - Attar

Your face is neither infinite nor ephemeral.
You can never see your own face,
only a reflection, not the face itself.

So you sigh in front of mirrors
and cloud the surface.

It's better to keep your breath cold.
Hold it, like a diver does in the ocean.
One slight movement, the mirror-image goes.

Don't be dead or asleep or awake.
Don't be anything.

What you most want,
what you travel around wishing to find,
lose yourself as lovers lose themselves,
and you'll be that.

Odd-looking red poodle

A skinny, short-haired, mutated poodle quenches its thirst.
A few years ago Mrs. Sinistral claimed to have spotted a Florida Panther in our backyard. Upon further viewings it turned out that it was nothing more than the neighbor's rather fat cat. So, when a few months ago she claimed to have seen a fox, I derided her as probably mistaking a poodle for a fox.

Shortly afterwards she produced a picture of the creature. It was about 50 yards away from the camera and a bit blurry looking. Still, it was odd looking, and rather reddish for a poodle. None the less, after studying the photo carefully I solemnly declared that it was obviously a poodle.

Today she produced the above photo. It was right outside our door drinking from a bowl of water we put out for the neighborhood cats. 

Ermmm... uhh..... looks like a poodle to me. At any rate, that's my story and I'm sticking to it, although I doubt I'll try to pet it if I ever get close enough to it. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stratfor and Karolina Kurkova

The Visegrad Group (V4) consists of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, all countries that had been behind the Iron Curtain. It was formed when the Soviet Union collapsed. 

On May 12th they announced that they were going to form a Battle Group, independent of NATO and under the overall command of Poland. Today's Stratfor article discusses the rationale of the V4, all sandwiched between Germany and Russia, forming a force to act as a mutual defensive force.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I looked for a woman soldier in a movie and was delighted to find the Czech supermodel Karolina Kurkova who played Courtney “Cover Girl” Kreiger in the film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.  

I've never seen the movie, but her name appears suspiciously far down in the credits, which leads me to believe she may not be the female lead. That's a shame, 'cause nothing signals a commitment to a realistic portrayal of ass-kicking soldiers more than casting an anorexic supermodel as one of the warriors.

Ah well, what do you expect out of a movie based on dolls (a.k.a action figures in the vernacular of my younger readers), comic books (graphic novels) and cartoons (animated films)?

EDIT: I almost forgot, be sure to click on her picture and check out the camouflage pattern on her uniform. No reason for a girl not to be stylish when going to war.

By George Friedman, May 17, 2011

With the Palestinians demonstrating and the International Monetary Fund in turmoil, it would seem odd to focus this week on something called the Visegrad Group. But this is not a frivolous choice. What the Visegrad Group decided to do last week will, I think, resonate for years, long after the alleged attempted rape by Dominique Strauss-Kahn is forgotten and long before the Israeli-Palestinian issue is resolved. The obscurity of the decision to most people outside the region should not be allowed to obscure its importance.

The region is Europe -- more precisely, the states that had been dominated by the Soviet Union. The Visegrad Group, or V4, consists of four countries -- Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary -- and is named after two 14th century meetings held in Visegrad Castle in present-day Hungary of leaders of the medieval kingdoms of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia. The group was reconstituted in 1991 in post-Cold War Europe as the Visegrad Three (at that time, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were one). The goal was to create a regional framework after the fall of Communism. This week the group took an interesting new turn.

On May 12, the Visegrad Group announced the formation of a "battle group" under the command of Poland. The battle group would be in place by 2016 as an independent force and would not be part of NATO command. In addition, starting in 2013, the four countries would begin military exercises together under the auspices of the NATO Response Force.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the primary focus of all of the Visegrad nations had been membership in the European Union and NATO. Their evaluation of their strategic position was threefold. First, they felt that the Russian threat had declined if not dissipated following the fall of the Soviet Union. Second, they felt that their economic future was with the European Union. Third, they believed that membership in NATO, with strong U.S. involvement, would protect their strategic interests. Of late, their analysis has clearly been shifting.

click to enlarge
First, Russia has changed dramatically since the Yeltsin years. It has increased its power in the former Soviet sphere of influence substantially, and in 2008 it carried out an effective campaign against Georgia. Since then it has also extended its influence in other former Soviet states. The Visegrad members' underlying fear of Russia, built on powerful historical recollection, has become more intense. They are both the front line to the former Soviet Union and the countries that have the least confidence that the Cold War is simply an old memory.

Second, the infatuation with Europe, while not gone, has frayed. The ongoing economic crisis, now focused again on Greece, has raised two questions: whether Europe as an entity is viable and whether the reforms proposed to stabilize Europe represent a solution for them or primarily for the Germans. It is not, by any means, that they have given up the desire to be Europeans, nor that they have completely lost faith in the European Union as an institution and an idea. Nevertheless, it would be unreasonable to expect that these countries would not be uneasy about the direction that Europe was taking. If one wants evidence, look no further than the unease with which Warsaw and Prague are deflecting questions about the eventual date of their entry into the Eurozone. Both are the strongest economies in Central Europe, and neither is enthusiastic about the euro.

Finally, there are severe questions as to whether NATO provides a genuine umbrella of security to the region and its members. The NATO strategic concept, which was drawn up in November 2010, generated substantial concern on two scores. First, there was the question of the degree of American commitment to the region, considering that the document sought to expand the alliance's role in non-European theaters of operation. For example, the Americans pledged a total of one brigade to the defense of Poland in the event of a conflict, far below what Poland thought necessary to protect the North European Plain. Second, the general weakness of European militaries meant that, willingness aside, the ability of the Europeans to participate in defending the region was questionable. Certainly, events in Libya, where NATO had neither a singular political will nor the military participation of most of its members, had to raise doubts. It was not so much the wisdom of going to war but the inability to create a coherent strategy and deploy adequate resources that raised questions of whether NATO would be any more effective in protecting the Visegrad nations.
[continued after jump]