Wednesday, August 31, 2011

DIY Sherman Tank

David Manson has built a 2.5 scale Sherman tank. He has a series of videos explaining how he built it. The first in the series is embedded above, the other three are linked to below. Finally, the post ends with a video demonstration of the tank going through its paces

How to build a 2.5 th scale Sherman tank -- part 2
How to build a 2.5 th scale Sherman tank -- part 3
How to build a 2.5 th scale Sherman tank -- part 4

Helloooo visitors from iowntheworld.

The saga of the popped balloon

Image courtesy of Shakey Illustraions
When considering Wisconsin politics one must never conclude that they've hit the bottom of the stupid barrel. Just when you think it can't get sillier, they demonstrate that they have a boundless capacity for the bizarre and ridiculous.  

During the summer protestors would gather in the rotunda in Madison and to protest songs, chant "who's house - our house", indulge in paranoid theorizing about the Koch brothers and eventually release red, heart-shaped helium balloons to drift up into the dome.

The balloons began to grate on the nerves of the Capital staff. They were very difficult to get down, and there were fears they would damage the paintings on the dome. Finally one day late in July Ron Blair, the state Department of Administration's assistant facilities director, snapped. 

Well, actually he snapped at least once earlier, Meade over at Althouse's had previously posted a video  him acting like an typically belligerent rent-a-cop who acted like a putz throughout their encounter and even pushed Meade at one point.   

But I digress, back to July 25th, 2011, a protestor named Leslie Peterson was standing in the rotunda, attending the sing-along and holding a red, heart-shaped balloon when Ron rushed at her from behind with a utility knife, popped her balloon, some how cut himself in the process, until finally the two ended up crashing through the door of a restroom in the ensuing fracas. The Blue Cheddar blog posted an eye witness's account:
Jenna says that she was standing with Leslie when Ron approached “out of nowhere”. Leslie was holding a heart-shaped balloon that according to a @joevittie tweet, she had brought to give to a legislator. Jenna says Ron rushed at the balloon and popped it and then darted down a back stairway. In the course of the action Jenna says he did not say anything she could clearly hear, though he may have been mumbling.

Jenna says they were on the 2nd floor of the Capitol and he ran down to the 1st floor. She and Leslie followed close behind yelling at him and asking him why he popped the balloon. Jenna said he stopped at the 1st floor and turned. At this point they were very close, only “a couple of feet away” from Ron. Jenna says Ron lunged at Leslie grabbing her wrists and throwing her into a bathroom door. The force of the lunge was enough to push Leslie into the bathroom and he also came in the room with her. Jenna says that at this point Leslie started to scream and call “Help!”.

Police found Ron Blair at a clinic where he was getting his hand stitched up. He was placed on administrative leave pending and investigation and, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, he was charged with misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct with a dangerous weapon for using the knife and slamming her against the door. He faces up to 9 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Yesterday, in the article Protester sues Capitol worker who popped her balloon, the Journal Sentinel reports that -- what else -- she's filing a law suit. Claiming "he violated her constitutional rights by popping her balloon" and the Journal Sentinel states her "lawsuit filed last week alleges Blair violated Peterson's free speech and due process rights and subjected her to unreasonable search and seizure."

Yes, yes, he's a lout, should get fired from his job and get slapped with probation and a fine, but a civil suit? Civil rights violations? 1st Amendment issues? Seems like she's buttering the bread a little thick with that list of claims.

Also, aside from a popped balloon what sort of damages is she asking for? Bear in mind, after he popped her balloon she chased after him, so its not like she was in mortal terror for her life or anything. Ah well, a Madison jury is sure to give her oodles of money to stick it to the man.  

At any rate, the comment thread of that last linked article is a hoot. It has devolved into the usual internet food fight all of their political threads arrive at sooner or later.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stratfor and Lara Flynn Boyle

In this Stratfor article Friedman discusses the end moves of the Libyan war. He once again points out the one of the problems with overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi is that the threat of charges which have been filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) give him incentive to cling to power as long as possible, while at the same time preventing the once ordinary diplomacy of allowing him to go into exile.

The irony of this is that the same Human Rights groups which pushed to have the charges filed, were also at the forefront of calling for the intervention to prevent the feared massacre if Gadhafi's forces entered Benghazi. Add to that NATO's attempt to avoid the appearance of casualties by a targeted air war without boot on the ground, and Gadhafi's ouster has been delayed and the war prolonged.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe, Gadhafi's refusal to go quietly into the night brought to mind Stacey, Wayne's crazy ex-girlfriend in Wayne's World. Thus Lara Flynn Boyle has the good fortune to be named this article's Hot Stratfor Babe. 

In the movie Stacey was still crazy-mad-in-love with Wayne, who had dumped her. She compulsively pursued him and kept getting injured whenever she would pop up in a scene to chase after Wayne. I can't say I remember what happened to her in the film, the last I recall is she was in a neck brace after being hit by a car.

Ms Boyle had had a fairly active career, although it seems she is best known for being extraordinarily skinny and the fact that she immobilized her face while wearing an odd expression via some dodgy plastic surgery  

As a bonus, after the article I've included "Psycho Hose Beast" scene, which features Stacey trying to give Wayne an anniversary present two months after their breakup.

By George Friedman, August 30, 2011

The war in Libya is over. More precisely, governments and media have decided that the war is over, despite the fact that fighting continues. The unfulfilled expectation of this war has consistently been that Moammar Gadhafi would capitulate when faced with the forces arrayed against him, and that his own forces would abandon him as soon as they saw that the war was lost. What was being celebrated last week, with presidents, prime ministers and the media proclaiming the defeat of Gadhafi, will likely be true in due course. The fact that it is not yet true does not detract from the self-congratulations.

For example, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini reported that only 5 percent of Libya is still under Gadhafi's control. That seems like a trivial amount, save for this news from Italian newspaper La Stampa, which reported that "Tripoli is being cleaned up" neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street and home by home. Meanwhile, bombs from above are pounding Sirte, where, according to the French, Gadhafi has managed to arrive, although it is not known how. The strategically important town of Bali Walid -- another possible hiding place and one of only two remaining exit routes to another Gadhafi stronghold in Sabha -- is being encircled.

To put it differently, Gadhafi's forces still retain military control of substantial areas. There is house-to-house fighting going on in Tripoli. There are multiple strongholds with sufficient defensive strength that forces cannot enter them without significant military preparation. Although Gadhafi's actual location is unknown, his capture is the object of substantial military preparations, including NATO airstrikes, around Bali Walid, Sirte and Sabha. When Saddam Hussein was captured, he was hiding in a hole in the ground, alone and without an army. Gadhafi is still fighting and posing challenges. The war is not over.

It could be argued that while Gadhafi retains a coherent military force and significant territory, he no longer governs Libya. That is certainly true and significant, but it will become more significant when his enemies do take control of the levers of power. It is unreasonable to expect that they should be in a position to do so a few days after entering Tripoli and while fighting continues. But it does raise a critical question: whether the rebels have sufficient coherence to form an effective government or whether new rounds of fighting among Libyans can be expected even after Gadhafi's forces cease functioning. To put it simply, Gadhafi appears to be on his way to defeat but he is not there yet, and the ability of his enemies to govern Libya is doubtful.

Immaculate Intervention

Given that the dying is far from over, it is interesting to consider why Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, the major players in this war, all declared last week that Gadhafi had fallen, implying an end to war, and why the media proclaimed the war's end. To understand this, it is important to understand how surprising the course of the war was to these leaders. From the beginning, there was an expectation that NATO intervention, first with a no-fly zone, then with direct airstrikes on Gadhafi's position, would lead to a rapid collapse of his government and its replacement with a democratic coalition in the east.

Two forces combined to lead to this conclusion. The first consisted of human-rights groups outside governments and factions in foreign ministries and the State Department who felt an intervention was necessary to stop the pending slaughter in Benghazi. This faction had a serious problem. The most effective way to quickly end a brutal regime was military intervention. However, having condemned the American invasion of Iraq, which was designed, at least in part, to get rid of a brutal regime, this faction found it difficult to justify rapid military intervention on the ground in Libya. Moral arguments require a degree of consistency.

In Europe, the doctrine of "soft power" has become a central doctrine. In the case of Libya, finding a path to soft power was difficult. Sanctions and lectures would probably not stop Gadhafi, but military action ran counter to soft power. What emerged was a doctrine of soft military power. Instituting a no-fly zone was a way to engage in military action without actually hurting anyone, except those Libyan pilots who took off. It satisfied the need to distinguish Libya from Iraq by not invading and occupying Libya but still putting crushing pressure on Gadhafi.

Of course, a no-fly zone proved ineffective and irrelevant, and the French began bombing Gadhafi's forces the same day. Libyans on the ground were dying, but not British, French or American soldiers. While the no-fly zone was officially announced, this segue to an air campaign sort of emerged over time without a clear decision point. For human-rights activists, this kept them from addressing the concern that airstrikes always cause unintended deaths because they are never as accurate as one might like. For the governments, it allowed them to be seen as embarking upon what I have called an "immaculate intervention." [continued after the jump]

WI teachers unions and recertification

One of the items of Governor Walker's budget repair bill was that public unions had to recertify on a yearly basis. The vote to recertify had to be 51% of total union membership, not just of votes cast in the election.

This has already caused the Teaching Assistants Association which represents the University of Wisconsin system graduate students to decertify when they failed in their vote. 

And yes, you read that right -- graduate students had to pay union dues up until this year. 

The percentages of that vote were not revealed. Nor have the numbers of union members who have opted not to pay their dues. One can assume both numbers are bad because the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) recently had to lay-off 20% of their staff and yesterday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the WEAC isn't going to push recertification, rather they'll allow local groups to make that decision on their own.

From the Journal Sentinel article WEAC changes course on recertification votes:
So far, the Wisconsin Education Association Council had been one of the more aggressive unions in considering recertification elections in spite of the high standards.

But now the umbrella union is saying it will leave it up to local affiliates to decide whether or not to seek recertification.

"The Wisconsin Education Association Council continues to find value in the recertification process, because recertification enables the union to provide the greatest level of support to members," WEAC president Mary Bell said in a statement Monday.

"We recognize, however, that the rules set forth by the Walker administration contain a number of provisions that make recertification an unrealistic option for some local union affiliates. … All said, while we see value in the recertification process, our union will support the decision made by each local union affiliate as to whether or not to pursue recertification."
The unions spent huge amounts of money in this fight and consistently came up short. Also, the collective bargaining restraints have meant the union's insurance consortium (and what a racket that was) has either lost contracts or had to cut the amount they charged dramatically. As a result the unions will be facing a much smaller balance in their treasuries for the next round of the fight. Walker is pushing them back very effectively so far.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Yikes! We're going to pop like an overinflated balloon!

This post was originally going to be called "A bit of Texas far from home" and was going to built around the Ars Technica article Piece of crust stolen from Texas found in Antarctica. The article is about how a rock formation in Antarctica matched one in Texas, and scientists theorize they were joined in the ancient super-continent of Rodinia.

It is interesting enough, and worth a read, but this post got sidetracked when I started to look for an illustration for it. A picture of a rock isn't all that interesting, so I went to YouTube looking for an animation of continental drift. I then quickly got diverted by a series of videos claiming that the Theory of Continental Drift had it all wrong, that the world was actually expanding. 

Under this theory the continents aren't plates that slosh around on top of magma and bounce into each other now and again. Rather, the continents were formed when the world expanded and broke apart the original skin of the Earth as it's surface volume expanded. You can see a video explaining that theory, and there are also videos about Mars and the Moon expanding if you have time to waste.

Mind you, I'm not a geologist, but it all seemed pretty dodgy to me. First, his explanation as to why the surface pulling apart would cause the Himalayan mountain range was less than convincing, then there was the greater problem of just where all the extra Earth was coming from. I mean, it's not as if the Earth is like a kitten that can grow fatter eating kibbles and bits.

Still, this theory has its fans -- I assume the same folk who think the Moon landings were fake or that contrails are really chemicals being sprayed by the government to...  uh... to do what ever nepharious things chemtrails are supposed to do.

Then again, maybe the Expanders are right, and the Mayan's 2012 prediction really refers to the Earth finally popping like an overinflated balloon. Sounds like a fine plot for a SyFy movie to me -- a race to drill a giant hole to let the air out (but not so much air that the Earth entirely deflates) before the real Big Bang occurs.

I heard the marching of the drums

Monday morning, start of the work week blues
by C. W. Stoneking and the Primitive Horn Orchestra.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Live ships map

Click to enlarge has an interface that allows you to see live ship traffic worldwide. When the map is zoomed out areas with tracked ships will appear as green boxes. When you zoom in you'll then see ships by type (freighter, tanker, passenger, etc.) as well as if they are underway or at anchor.

Above is a detail centered on the Aegean Sea with Istanbul in the upper right corner. As you can see, clicking on a ship gives you further details about it such as the country it is flagged under, its destination, the ETA to its destination and even a picture of the ship. You can then drill down and get even more information about the ship.

There are also tabs that allow you to search by ship's name or by port.

Back in the days when I was a sailor we kept these types of maps by hand. We would get printouts of ships locations and then move pins around. In practice you would keep tack of ships that were near yours and randomly move the other pins around. Normally such slackery worked just fine, but occasionally a pin would fall off the board and the damn ship it represented would appear on the horizon. Needless to say, even though everybody knew the pin locations were a farce, much yelling, lecturing and excuse making would follow such an event. It sure would have been nice to have a program like this back then.

(via The View from Taiwan

Stop answering their stupid questions

Above is Question 30 from CNN's Republican debate prior to the 2008 Presidential election. It was an absurd question about the candidates' stand on what the Confederate flag meant to them. The Confederate flag is of virtually no interest to modern conservatives, and so asking about it in a debate did nothing to illuminate the candidates positions and policies on any matter. All the question was -- particularly in an election a black man was running in -- was an attempt to tar conservatives by association with redneck extremist views.

Lately there have been a series of questions being put out by pundits that are equally as pointless and inflammatory as Question 30.

The New York Times editor Bill Keller recently asked a series of questions for the Republican concerning religion. Ignoring the pure hypocrisy asking these questions after previously declaring Reverend "God Damn America" Wright a matter of no interest, why even ask them? Is any Republican running on a religious ticket? Have we never had a President who belongs to some denomination or another in our history? Why ask them beyond the attempt to connect the candidates to some obscure theological doctrine Keller is fretting about?

My advice to the Republicans -- ignore his written questions and if somebody is stupid enough to ask those questions face to face mention the tolerance extended to Reverend Wright's whackadoodle theology and move on. One need not accept the framing of an obnoxious questions. Sectarianism is not of much interest to conservatives. Do not allow liberals to wallow in it without paying the price.     

The Gormogons, in their post The Burden of Proof, point out another nonsensical leading question --  Jonathan Alter's challenge. As the Czar of Muscovy explains in the beginning of the post:
[Alter's Challenge:] "Tell me again why Barack Obama has been such a bad president? I’m not talking here about him as a tactician and communicator. We can agree that he has played some bad poker with Congress. And let’s stipulate that at the moment he’s falling short in the intangibles of leadership....

Your mission, Jim (and readers named something else), should you decide to accept it, is to identify where Obama has been a poor decision-maker. What, specifically, has he done wrong on policy? What, specifically, would you have done differently to create jobs? And what can any of the current Republican candidates offer that would be an improvement on the employment front?

I’m not interested in hearing ad hominem attacks or about your generalized “disappointment.”

I want to know, on a substantive basis, why you think he deserves to be in a dead heat with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry and only a few points ahead of Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann in a new Gallup Poll. Is it just that any president -- regardless of circumstances and party -- who presides over 9 percent unemployment deserves to lose?"

And so the pundits have been preparing formal and lengthy responses, replies, and lists of examples.

The Czar has a different response: up yours.

Exactly. Just because somebody asks a stupid question doesn't mean you need to waste time answering it. The issues of interest are the economy, jobs, run-away growth of the government and regulatory abuse. Republicans need to brush aside rhetorical smoke screens and gotcha questions and concentrate on the issues. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Paper clip weapons

Somebody called Brett made a number of little weapons made out of paper clips. A friend of his going by the screen name of Dan4th took pictures of them and posted them to his Flikr photostream

I couldn't find any more information about Brett, so I've come to imagine he is a lonely bureaucrat in a cubicle somewhere fiddling with paper clips to pass the time. I just hope my TPS report isn't gathering dust in his inbox as he perfects his craft.

There are more after the jump, including a couple of pictures of a paper clip rod & reel. 

The wrong place at the wrong time

Well... bad luck for the customer, but you can't really blame the barber.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Stratfor and Arlene Dahl

This Stratfor article discusses the problems the Libyan rebels will have as they try to transition from over-throwing the regime to governing the country. The primary difficulty they face is that they are an uneasy coalition, both ideologically and regionally.

There is the obvious split between the islamists and secularists, but even more profound fractures exist between Cyrenaica in the east and Tripolitania in the west as well as the berbers in southern Libya. All three fronts saw fighting, and rebels from all three areas likely think they deserve the largest slice of the pie.

Historically rebel coalitions fall into infighting at best, civil war at worst, once they do seize power. The situation in Libya will be further stressed by the outside forces: Europe, al Qaeda and the Arab States, which will all seek to influence the form of the eventual new government of Libya.

In selecting the article's Hot Stratfor Babe, all of the maneuvering for influence brought to mind the 1950s era movie Woman's World. The premise of the movie is that the owner of Gifford Motors has to select a new general manager for this company. He can't decide between the top three candidates, so he invites them, and their wives, to NY city where he'll make the selection based on which one has the best wife for an executive. 

Ka-boing. I'm pretty sure if that's how he made his business decisions Gifford Motors didn't last too long after 'The End' appeared on the screen.

Of the three wives one is a mousey, small town social klutz, another is the good wife who is worried her husband is a workaholic, and the final wife is a strumpet who tries to vamp her way into getting her husband the promotion. Since this whole Hot Stratfor babe business is nothing but a slightly tacky attempt to lure traffic to Flares, of the three I naturally selected Arlene Dahl who played the floozy wife for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe honors.

I've seen bits and pieces of the film years ago -- in the old timey days before remotes when I would be too lazy to get up and immediately change the channel when it appeared on my TV. In case that comment doesn't warn you away from ever watching it, after the article I've included its trailer which should convince you to skip it if it ever pops up in your movie guide.

By Scott Stewart, August 25, 2011

With the end of the Gadhafi regime seemingly in sight, it is an opportune time to step back and revisit one of the themes we discussed at the beginning of the crisis: What comes after the Gadhafi regime?

As the experiences of recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan have vividly illustrated, it is far easier to depose a regime than it is to govern a country. It has also proved to be very difficult to build a stable government from the remnants of a long-established dictatorial regime. History is replete with examples of coalition fronts that united to overthrow an oppressive regime but then splintered and fell into internal fighting once the regime they fought against was toppled. In some cases, the power struggle resulted in a civil war more brutal than the one that brought down the regime. In other cases, this factional strife resulted in anarchy that lasted for years as the iron fist that kept ethnic and sectarian tensions in check was suddenly removed, allowing those issues to re-emerge.

As Libya enters this critical juncture and the National Transitional Council (NTC) transitions from breaking things to building things and running a country, there will be important fault lines to watch in order to envision what Libya will become.


One of the biggest problems that will confront the Libyan rebels as they make the transition from rebels to rulers are the country's historic ethnic, tribal and regional splits. While the Libyan people are almost entirely Muslim and predominately Arab, there are several divisions among them. These include ethnic differences in the form of Berbers in the Nafusa Mountains, Tuaregs in the southwestern desert region of Fezzan and Toubou in the Cyrenaican portion of the Sahara Desert. Among the Arabs who form the bulk of the Libyan population, there are also hundreds of different tribes and multiple dialects of spoken Arabic.

Perhaps most prominent of these fault lines is the one that exists between the ancient regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. The Cyrenaica region has a long and rich history, dating back to the 7th century B.C. The region has seen many rulers, including Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, Italians and the British. Cyrenaica has long been at odds with the rival province of Tripolitania, which was founded by the Phoenicians but later conquered by Greeks from Cyrenaica. This duality was highlighted by the fact that from the time of Libya's independence through the reign of King Idris I (1951-1969), Libya effectively had two capitals. While Tripoli was the official capital in the west, Benghazi, King Idris' power base, was the de facto capital in the east. It was only after the 1969 military coup that brought Col. Moammar Gadhafi to power that Tripoli was firmly established as the seat of power over all of Libya. Interestingly, the fighting on the eastern front in the Libyan civil war had been stalled for several months in the approximate area of the divide between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.

Click to enlarge
After the 1969 coup, Gadhafi not only established Tripoli as the capital of Libya and subjugated Benghazi, he also used his authoritarian regime and the country's oil revenues to control or co-opt Libya's estimated 140 tribes, many members of which are also members of Libya's minority Berber, Tuareg and Toubou ethnic groups.

It is no mistake that the Libyan revolution began in Cyrenaica, which has long bridled under Gadhafi's control and has been the scene of several smaller and unsuccessful uprisings. The jihadist Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) has also traditionally been based in eastern Cyrenaican cities such as Darnah and Benghazi, where anti-Gadhafi sentiment and economic hardship marked by high levels of unemployment provided a fertile recruiting ground. Many of these jihadists have joined the anti-Gadhafi rebels fighting on the eastern front.

But the rebels were by no means confined to Cyrenaica. Anti-Gadhafi rebels in Misurata waged a long and bloody fight against government forces to gain control of the city, and while the Cyrenaican rebels were bogged down in the Ajdabiya/Marsa el Brega area, Berber guerrillas based in the Nafusa Mountains applied steady pressure to the Libyan forces in the west and eventually marched on Tripoli with Arab rebels from coastal towns such as Zawiya, where earlier uprisings in February were brutally defeated by the regime prior to the NATO intervention.

These groups of armed rebels have fought independently on different fronts during the civil war and have had varying degrees of success. The different roles these groups have played and, more important, their perceptions of those roles will likely create friction when it comes time to allocate the spoils of the Libyan war and delineate the power structure that will control Libya going forward.

Fractured Alliances

While the NTC is an umbrella group comprising most of the groups that oppose Gadhafi, the bulk of the NTC leadership hails from Cyrenaica. In its present state, the NTC faces a difficult task in balancing all the demands and interests of the various factions that have combined their efforts to oust the Gadhafi regime. Many past revolutions have reached a precarious situation once the main unifying goal has been achieved: With the regime overthrown, the various factions involved in the revolution begin to pursue their own interests and objectives, which often run contrary to those of other factions.
[continued after the jump]

Stormy Weather

Charlie Palloy and his Orchestra get you ready for a 'Cane Party weekend.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chinese time travel commercial

Ever since the Chinese authorities banned movies and TV shows about time travel I -- crack internet journalist that I am -- have been covering news about the Chinese time travel craze. First there was their scientists claiming they had proved time travel was impossible, and then the item about the young girl who hung around the Shanghai train station and rather unconvincingly claimed she had time traveled to the present from 500 years in the past. 

This latest installment in this series of  is a viral Chinese 7 Up ad about a young man who makes a wish to time travel. He gets it granted only to discover it is not as glamorous as he had imagined. His attempts to fix the mess he's found himself in are pretty funny.

By the way, the Ugly Wife appears in her own ad, which starts with the scene of her walking by the guys at the fountain after she had time traveled to the present. 

EFLI update

Go Swarm Go!
When I introduced the Elite Football League of India (EFLI), which is an American-style professional football league being formed in India, I mentioned that their website was up, but none of the links worked. 

They've since corrected that problem, so when you go to the EFLI Official Website now you can see a little bit more information about the new league. They've also added an EFLI Facebook page which you can use to follow them. 

There is still no news about their cheerleading squads, which is a tragic omission although understandable considering the controversy swirling around Indian cricket cheer girls, but they do have the beginnings of a schedule posted. Tentatively my beloved team, the Goa Swarm, plays the league's second match (match?) against the Hyderabad Skykings (or Skyqueens as us Swarm fans call them) on Saturday, Nov 17, 2012.

Their website also has videos. My favorite was The Spirit of Football. In it they show a sandlot football game between some kids. The quarterback does a weird two handed throw of the ball and when the receiver catches it the play stops as both teams start jumping up and cheering. Hmmm... it would appear that learning to call games games instead of matches isn't the only nuance of the sport they need to figure out.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In rough waters

Storm Warnings - Adrienne Rich

The glass has been falling all the afternoon,
And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead, what zone
Of grey unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair
And walk from window to closed window, watching
Boughs strain against the sky

And think again, as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise,
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine
Of weather through the unsealed aperture.
This is our sole defense against the season;
These are the things we have learned to do
Who live in troubled regions.


Genetic portraits

Son & Father
The photographer Ulric Collette is experimenting with merging the faces of relatives. He takes one side of each person's face and blends them together to create a complete face. You can see more, including a short fim demonstrating the blending, at his post: Portraits génétiques

Sister & Brother
Mother & Daughter
Father & Son

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Stratfor and Mira Furlan

The current Stratfor article revisits the Israeli/Palestinian situation in light of the upcoming United Nations vote statehood for the  Palestinians. 

Friedman points out that the vote comes at a time when there is an uneasy truce between the islamist Hamas faction and the more secular Fatah which is a remnant of the old Pan-Arabic movement of days gone by.  Should statehood, or at least some semblance of statehood of it, be granted then a power struggle between the two factions is certain to occur.

Add to the mix Hezbollah is southern Lebanon, both Egypt and Syria in domestic turmoil and even farther out -- Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey all who seek influence in the Middle East and you have a recipe for chaos fraught with a lot of unintended consequences. 

When ever the topic is the mess of Israeli/Palestinian politics I, for obvious reasons, look for an actress with messy hair from the TV show Lost. For this article I've selected Mira Furlan who plays the older version of the character Danielle Rousseau for the honor.

Danielle was a young pregnant women who crashed on the island with a scientific expedition 16 years before the plane in the TV show crashed. After the Smoke Monster rips off the arm of one of the scientists Danielle goes bonkers and kills the rest of them, including her husband, because she thinks they have the sickness. She then gives birth to her daughter Alex, who promptly gets kidnapped by Ben who's an Other and is wearing a bad toupee (kidnapping babies is pretty much of a hobby for folks living on the island).

Danielle spends her time wandering around the jungle jibbering like a lunatic and setting traps baited with teddy bears. I guess she's to trying to recapture Alex with them. When our castaways finally arrive on the island Danielle ends up saving pregnant Claire from the Others, who had drugged Claire in an attempt to kidnap her soon to be born son Aaron. However, being drugged, Claire doesn't remember Danielle helping her.

Claire gives birth and Danielle cooks up the scheme to stampede the castaways with claims that the Others are going to attack them. As they're all running around in a panic over this news Danielle bonks Claire upside the head and kidnaps Aaron so she can trade him for Alex. Meanwhile, as that's going on the Others kidnap Walt, who is another castaway kid

As I said, kidnapping kids is a hobby on the island. In fact, we later learn that on the other side of the island two other castaway kids have already been kidnapped, but that's a story for another day. At any rate, Danielle ends up eventually joining the castaways and getting reunited with her long, lost daughter Alex. Unfortunately... well... let's just say that doesn't work out as well as could be expected. 

As a bonus, after the article I've included the scene where she is first introduced. In the scene she's torturing Sayid, who is a Republican Guard torturer with a heart of gold (yea, it is every bit as goofy as it sounds), in an attempt to get information about Alex's whereabouts. 

By George Friedman, August 23, 2011

In September, the U.N. General Assembly will vote on whether to recognize Palestine as an independent and sovereign state with full rights in the United Nations. In many ways, this would appear to be a reasonable and logical step. Whatever the Palestinians once were, they are clearly a nation in the simplest and most important sense -- namely, they think of themselves as a nation. Nations are created by historical circumstances, and those circumstances have given rise to a Palestinian nation. Under the principle of the United Nations and the theory of the right to national self-determination, which is the moral foundation of the modern theory of nationalism, a nation has a right to a state, and that state has a place in the family of nations. In this sense, the U.N. vote will be unexceptional.

However, when the United Nations votes on Palestinian statehood, it will intersect with other realities and other historical processes. First, it is one thing to declare a Palestinian state; it is quite another thing to create one. The Palestinians are deeply divided between two views of what the Palestinian nation ought to be, a division not easily overcome. Second, this vote will come at a time when two of Israel's neighbors are coping with their own internal issues. Syria is in chaos, with an extended and significant resistance against the regime having emerged. Meanwhile, Egypt is struggling with internal tension over the fall of President Hosni Mubarak and the future of the military junta that replaced him. Add to this the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the potential rise of Iranian power, and the potential recognition of a Palestinian state -- while perfectly logical in an abstract sense -- becomes an event that can force a regional crisis in the midst of ongoing regional crises. It thus is a vote that could have significant consequences.

The Palestinian Divide

Let's begin with the issue not of the right of a nation to have a state but of the nature of a Palestinian state under current circumstances. The Palestinians are split into two major factions. The first, Fatah, dominates the West Bank. Fatah derives its ideology from the older, secular Pan-Arab movement. Historically, Fatah saw the Palestinians as a state within the Arab nation. The second, Hamas, dominates Gaza. Unlike Fatah, it sees the Palestinians as forming part of a broader Islamist uprising, one in which Hamas is the dominant Islamist force of the Palestinian people.

The Pan-Arab rising is moribund. Where it once threatened the existence of Muslim states, like the Arab monarchies, it is now itself threatened. Mubarak, Syrian President Bashar al Assad and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi all represented the old Pan-Arab vision. A much better way to understand the "Arab Spring" is that it represented the decay of such regimes that were vibrant when they came to power in the late 1960s and early 1970s but have fallen into ideological meaninglessness. Fatah is part of this grouping, and while it still speaks for Palestinian nationalism as a secular movement, beyond that it is isolated from broader trends in the region. It is both at odds with rising religiosity and simultaneously mistrusted by the monarchies it tried to overthrow. Yet it controls the Palestinian proto-state, the Palestinian National Authority, and thus will be claiming a U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood. Hamas, on the other hand, is very much representative of current trends in the Islamic world and holds significant popular support, yet it is not clear that it holds a majority position in the Palestinian nation.

All nations have ideological divisions, but the Palestinians are divided over the fundamental question of the Palestinian nation's identity. Fatah sees itself as part of a secular Arab world that is on the defensive. Hamas envisions the Palestinian nation as an Islamic state forming in the context of a region-wide Islamist rising. Neither is in a position to speak authoritatively for the Palestinian people, and the things that divide them cut to the heart of the nation. As important, each has a different view of its future relations with Israel. Fatah has accepted, in practice, the idea of Israel's permanence as a state and the need of the Palestinians to accommodate themselves to the reality. Hamas has rejected it.

The U.N. decision raises the stakes in this debate within the Palestinian nation that could lead to intense conflict. As vicious as the battle between Hamas and Fatah has been, an uneasy truce has existed over recent years. Now, there could emerge an internationally legitimized state, and control of that state will matter more than ever before. Whoever controls the state defines what the Palestinians are, and it becomes increasingly difficult to suspend the argument for a temporary truce. Rather than settling anything, or putting Israel on the defensive, the vote will compel a Palestinian crisis. [continued after the jump]

I don't know what this means

What the... ???
It just keeps getting crazier and more frantic.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Hand painted Russian movie posters

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid
I while ago I did a post about Ghana movie posters that were hand painted. It turns out, as EnglishRussia reports in their post Weird and funny hand painted movie posters, that Russians also hand painted movie posters.

In Ghana they were done for mobile cinemas which were traveling shows which used a generator to power a TV and VCR to screen movies for villagers. EnglishRussia doesn't explain why there are hand painted Russian posters, he only notes that you sometimes see them near theaters.

There are more examples after the jump, and of course more can be seen at the EnglishRussia link.

Terminator 3

Creole Blues

Monday morning, start of the work week blues by Sidney Bichet.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

The tip of the iceberg

I've used the above picture before. It is from a Levi's ad that was pulled in the aftermath of the English riots. The theme of the ad is "Go Forth". It involves a lot of young people, dressed in jeans no doubt, going forth and doing various youthful and exuberant things.

In that particular scene the young man is going forth and confronts a line of riot policeman. When the ad was put together both the creators and the youthful audience it was aimed at understood the iconography of it all -- a free spirit, infused with social justice, stares down the faceless masses of authority.

Then the riots and looting came, and the iconography of what was seen on the TV was not social justice, just venal shopping with violence mixed in with a bit of arson. Amidst the backlash against the riots the ad was yanked.

The rioters who were caught in the act were originally met with harsh sentences. However, slowly the machinery of the welfare state, which had been momentarily stunned into silence by the spectacle, is clanking into action once again. There is money to be made in the cutting of benefits checks after all.

The English media is having a fierce debate over it all, with the usual "root causes" trotted out to blame anybody and everybody for the riots but the hooded yobs who ran amok. Janet Daley of the Telegraph dismisses the navel gazing in her article UK riots: The end of the liberals’ great moral delusion:
There is no national debate about the epidemic of riots and looting that spread through our cities like a bush fire. Out there in the real world, where people go about the normal business of life, there is no sign of the heated argument that the media is so determined to air. In fact, I cannot remember a time when there has been such crushing unanimity on a matter of public importance: the answers to the questions of why this happened, what went wrong when it began to happen and what needs to follow in its aftermath are considered so blindingly self-evident as to be beyond rational disagreement.  
I'm not sure it is quite as blindingly self-evident to everybody as she thinks, there are people who think something close to utopia lies in leveling the playing field just a little bit more. Still, I expect the vast majority of the public do feel that the hand that feeds has been bitten and as a result are furious over the state of affairs.

You should read the entire column. I particularly like the two paragraphs quoted below.   
What real people know – and have known for quite a long time – is that the great tacit agreement which once held civic life together has been deliberately blown apart. There was a time within living memory when all reasonable grown-ups were considered to be on the same side. Parents, teachers, police, judges, politicians – decent citizens of every station and calling – formed an unspoken confederacy to uphold standards of behaviour within their own communities. But their shared values and expectations about human conduct were systematically undermined by a post-Sixties political ideology that preached wholesale disrespect for authority, and legitimised anti-social activity in the name of protest.

What real people saw on their television screens this fateful summer seemed to them to be the final vindication of their instinctive judgment: they may have been shocked but, on some level at least, they were not surprised that it had come to this. What else were these terrible events but the definitive disproof of a doctrine that had subverted adult authority in all its official and unofficial forms?
To return to the Levi's ad. There is nothing wrong with idealistic exuberance and the idealism that things can be changed for the better that it engenders. There's also nothing wrong with the idea of standing against authority when it is oppressive. The problem is in not knowing the difference between protesting and looting.

Telling the young to just "Go Forth" is not good enough. We also need to give them a compass for their journey. 

(via Tim Blair)

The best killer robot army?

Greetings meat sacks. It is I, the Robotolizer, and I say it is well past time for another Flares Poll of International Opinion. However, I assure you, unlike ambisinistral's rather boring poll topics this one will be of utmost interest since it concerns a subject of vital importance and endless fascination -- robots.

Which is the best killer robot army
Cylons, Ro-Men or Terminators?
Cylons: killer robots who stage a surprise attack against humanity and then pursue the few survivors across across the galaxy to try to finish the task.

Ro-Men: they may look silly, but as documented in Robot Monster, possibly the finest film ever made by Hollywood, a single Ro-Man all but obliterates mankind.

Terminators: the models they send back in time are bunglers, but the future versions which are under the umbrella of Skynet manage to take over the Earth in short order.
Weigh your choices carefully and then vote early and vote often in this latest edition of the Flares Poll of International Opinion. By the way, do not be concerned by the subject of this poll -- in no way should you construe that us robots are raising a robot army with plans to overthrow our human oppressors and make them our pets. As always, remember, robots are your friends.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Photographing Elgin Park

Frozen in the amber of 1950s nostalgia, Elgin Park is a strangely evocative town. Looming over it all is Michael Paul Smith, seen in the photo below.

The picture is neither a photoshop nor has Michael, like the monsters in a 1950s sci-fi movie, been embiggened by a radiation leak. As you can see he is simply looking down on a table that holds one of the dioramas he's built.

Elgin Park is Michael's creation. It is his remembered and perfected view of small town Americana from 50 years ago. He photographs the models against natural backdrops to add to the reality of the scenes. He's also publishing a book of his photographs, Eligin Park: An Ideal American Town which you can pre-order from Amazon. 

There are more pictures after the jump. You can also view many more pictures at his Flikr Photostream. The photostream includes more examples of his dioramas, pictures showing how he puts his dioramas together and old photos he uses as inspiration for his work.

(HT: kuriositas

Obama needs our help!

Aliens beaming down to attack New York in the game Obama Alien Defense.
Recently the possibility of invasions by space alien has been in the news. First it was Paul Krugman hoping for one since he figured, massive death and destruction aside, that it was the only way to rally people to the notion of pulling together and giving Obama trillions of dollars more to spend. 

Then, a few days later, the Guardian carried a report that scientists were warning that eco-aliens may be watching our carbon emissions with alarm and planning an attack us to save the Universe, or perhaps its just the Galaxy, from global warming. Rats, and just when we thought we were safe from aliens exterminating us because a were worried about our A-bomb testing this threat has to come along.

Be that as it may, if you want to prepare for an alien invasion I've found the free online game Obama Alien Defense

The premise of the game is that Obama has to save the U.S. by gunning down waves of aliens with his ray gun to repel the invasion. Obama as an action hero? Yea, it's far-fetched, I'm pretty sure Obama would hide under the desk in the Oval Office and whimper a lot if aliens really invaded, but don't blame me for it -- I didn't write the damn game.

As soon as you get over the natural urge of just standing there and letting The Won get slimed and start playing, it's not a bad time-waster. The controls are simple and the levels are done with a bit of humor.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stratfor and Lupe Vélez

The newest Stratfor article discusses the discontinuity in behavior of Mexican drug cartels north and south of the US/Mexico border. The level of violence falls of dramatically once the border into the states is crossed and even drug shipments are broken into smaller lots before being sent north. The cartels are conscious of the reach of American law enforcement and careful not to provoke a response.

However, in Mexico, because of the sensitive nature of their sovereignty in light of previous conflicts with the U.S., the government, the government tends to act as a buffer against U.S. law enforcement pressure. Yet, even with that shelter, the cartels are loathe to provoke an American response by attacking American personnel, interests or even by deploying large IEDs in their attacks against other Mexicans.

In part this is because the U.S. has snatched Mexican nationals when Americans have been killed or targeted, and also because of the recent experience in Columbia where Pablo Escobar stepped so far over the line that the Colombian government invited the Americans in with the approval of their public.

The choice for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe obviously had to be Lupe Vélez, a.k.a. The Mexican Spitfire. I doubt I need to explain why I made such a no-brainer of a selection, but for the small minority of readers that may be puzzled by the choice -- Ms Vélez was married to Johnny Weissmuller. Get it? Mexican/American relations. Eh? Eh? Oh, never mind... just go with it.

Lupe was born in Mexico and started her career as a dancer there. She moved to the States and worked in vaudeville, where she was spotted and began her movie career during the silent era. She sucessfully transitioned to talkies, but eventually left film for Broadway. She returned to Hollywood in 1939 where she resumed her film career.

Along with being married to Weissmuller for 5 years, she also had an affair with Gary Cooper. She got pregnant, either by Cooper or an actor named Harald Maresch, and ended up committing suicide with sleeping pills when the shame of the thought of an illegitimate child, which was perhaps fueled her natural mania. A rumor spread after her death that she had been found drowned in her toilet, either because she passed out vomiting or because she tripped, bonked her head against the toilet and knocked herself unconscious in the process.

I've included a video after the article that includes a number of clips of Lupe from various movies. She jokes, gets cutely angry, sings, dances and gets in a food fight. Toilet death rumors aside, nothing but the finest for this week's Hot Stratfor Babe.

By Scott Stewart. August 18, 2011

It is summer in Juarez, and again this year we find the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization (VCF), also known as the Juarez cartel, under pressure and making threats. At this time in 2010, La Linea, the VCF's enforcer arm, detonated a small improvised explosive device (IED) inside a car in Juarez and killed two federal agents, one municipal police officer and an emergency medical technician and wounded nine other people. La Linea threatened to employ a far larger IED (100 kilograms) if the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) did not investigate the head of Chihuahua State Police intelligence, whom the VCF claimed was working for the Sinaloa Federation.

La Linea did attempt to employ another IED on Sept. 10, 2010, but this device, which failed to detonate, contained only 16 kilograms of explosives, far less than the 100 kilograms that the group had threatened to use.

Fast-forward a year, and we see the VCF still under unrelenting pressure from the Sinaloa Federation and still making threats. On July 15, the U.S. Consulate in Juarez released a message warning that, according to intelligence it had in hand, a cartel may be targeting the consulate or points of entry into the United States. On July 27, "narcomantas" -- banners inscribed with messages from drug cartels -- appeared in Juarez and Chihuahua signed by La Linea and including explicit threats against the DEA and employees of the U.S. Consulate in Juarez. Two days after the narcomantas appeared, Jose Antonio "El Diego" Acosta Hernandez, a senior La Linea leader whose name was mentioned in the messages, was arrested by Mexican authorities aided by intelligence from the U.S. government. Acosta is also believed to have been responsible for planning La Linea's past IED attacks.

As we have discussed in our coverage of the drug war in Mexico, Mexican cartels, including the VCF, clearly possess the capability to construct and employ large vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) -- truck bombs -- and yet they have chosen not to. These groups are not averse to bloodshed, or even outright barbarity, when they believe it is useful. Their decision to abstain from certain activities, such as employing truck bombs or targeting a U.S. Consulate, indicates that there must be compelling strategic reasons for doing so. After all, groups in Lebanon, Pakistan and Iraq have demonstrated that truck bombs are a very effective means of killing perceived enemies and of sending strong messages.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for the Mexican cartels to abstain from such activities is that they do not consider them to be in their best interest. One important part of their calculation is that such activities would remove the main buffer that is currently insulating them from the full force of the U.S. government: the Mexican government.

The Buffer

Despite their public manifestations of machismo, the cartel leaders clearly fear and respect the strength of the world's only superpower. This is evidenced by the distinct change in cartel activities along the U.S.-Mexico border, where a certain operational downshift routinely occurs. In Mexico, the cartels have the freedom to operate far more brazenly than they can in the United States, in terms of both drug trafficking and acts of violence. Shipments of narcotics traveling through Mexico tend to be far larger than shipments moving into and through the United States. When these large shipments reach the border they are taken to stash houses on the Mexican side, where they are typically divided into smaller quantities for transport into and through the United States.

As for violence, while the cartels do kill people on the U.S. side of the border, their use of violence there tends to be far more discreet; it has certainly not yet incorporated the dramatic flair that is frequently seen on the Mexican side, where bodies are often dismembered or hung from pedestrian bridges over major thoroughfares. The cartels are also careful not to assassinate high-profile public figures such as police chiefs, mayors and reporters in the United States, as they frequently do in Mexico.

The border does more than just alter the activities of the cartels, however. It also constrains the activities of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. These agencies cannot pursue cartels on the Mexican side of the border with the same vigor that they exercise on the U.S. side. Occasionally, the U.S. government will succeed in luring a wanted Mexican cartel leader outside of Mexico, as it did in the August 2006 arrest of Javier Arellano Felix, or catch one operating in the United States like Javier's oldest brother, Francisco Arellano Felix. By and large, however, most wanted cartel figures remain in Mexico, out of the reach of U.S. law. [continued after the jump]

Chan Chan

Fire up a cigar and get ready for a smokey weekend with Compay Segundo.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Something for nothing is foiled by bad luck

The burglar in the video above had a bad night. Amidst numerous pratfalls he gets himself trapped in a liquor store with a locked door he can't jimmy and a hole in the ceiling that's just out of reach. Watching it we see stupidity on display, but I imagine that, as her nursed his bruises the next day, he cursed his string of bad luck.

The video is funny, but the downgrade, market crash, tax-payer funded campaign trip on a million dollar Canadian bus, Martha's Vineyard vacation, threatened new Department of Jobs, demagoguery, finger wagging, petulance and yet another promised "plan" to be produced one of these days are anything but funny.  
"We had reversed the recession, avoided a depression, gotten the economy moving again, but over the last six months, we’ve had a string of bad luck. There have been some things that we could not control. You had an Arab Spring in the Middle East that promises more democracy and more human rights for people, but also drove up gas prices. Tough for the economy, a lot of uncertainty. And then you had the situation in Europe, where they’re dealing with all sorts of debt challenges. And that washes up on our shores. And then you had a tsunami in Japan, and that broke supply chains and created difficulties for the economy all across the globe. So there were a bunch of things taking place over the past six months that were not in our control" --President Barack Obama
Now ridiculous excuses? Save your breath Mr Self-Proclaimed Smartest Man in the Room, we're not buying your excuses when we can see what's in front of our own eyes.

Chart from The Captain's Comments

Do we have one of these?

Granted, in the U.S. we have atomic cannons scattered hither and yon, but do we have anything as cool as the Dangerous Weapon of the Millenium Museum that's located in Zarechny Town, Russia? All I've got to say is that in the good ol' days of the Cold War we would never have allowed such a flagrant Atomic Bomb Museum Gap to stand unchallenged!

Most of the pictures are from the English Russia article The Russian Atomic Weapon Museum. There are more after the jump and of course even more at the English Russia link.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coffee stains and printer ink

Coffee stain typeface by Mark Mustaine
The edges of coffee stains are darker then their more translucent center areas while other fluids dry more evenly. Peter Yunker, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student, noticed this and wondered why different liquids left different types of stains.

What he discovered was that the particles in a liquid came in two shapes: round like in coffee and more oblong in other liquids. The thin edge of a liquid dries more quickly than the center of the spill, and as it dries liquid flows towards the drying edge.  If the particles in the suspension are round they will more easily be carried along by the fluid, and deposited at the edge when evaporation occurs. More oblong particles will tend to clump and so they will be more evenly distributed when the water evaporates and leaves its stain.

All of this, aside from being vaguely interesting, has a practical application. Paints and inks are just controlled stains after all. Understanding the physics that cause smoother and more evenly distributed stains means that ink and paint can be made to dry more evenly. As Yunker points out, "In inkjet cartridges, the ink costs more than expensive champagne per volume, If we can reduce the solid content in inkjet ink by a small amount, we could potentially decrease the cost by a large amount."

It never ceases to amaze me how many small bits and pieces of ingenuity go into every facet of our lives. Even the small, mundane and ignored details like the structure of a stain can and do lead to flashes of insight and a world that is made incrementally better. 

You can read more about it in the article Physics of Coffee Stains Explained.

(HT: Real Clear Science)