Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Stratfor and Véra Clouzot

In this article Friedman examines the Afghanistan logistics situation in the aftermath of the incident at the Pakistani outpost. Pakistan closed the ground routes into Afghanistan and Russia is threatening to shut down the alternate route through their territory. 

Pakistan believes that the U.S. is stalemated in Afghanistan and, even though the U.S. could prosecute the war at current levels for some time, that there is no path open for an eventual victory.

For that reason Pakistan is using its response to the border fire fight as an excuse to distance itself from the U.S. and to ingratiate itself with the Taliban, who would almost certainly gain influence in any future post-NATO Afghani government.

Meanwhile Russia is using the fact that, in the advent of a prolonged closing of the supply route Pakistan, the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which passes through Russian terrotory could be interrupted by them.

The Russian threats are part of the chessgame going on in Central Europe, where the U.S. is deploying missle batteries, interceptors and troops to guard their assets. Russia sees these moves as the return to the U.S. policy of containment with the belt tightened even closer to the Russian homeland than it was during the Cold War.

As for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe, since the article was about trucking in supplies, the movie The Wages of Fear which involved truckers moving a dangerous cargo of nitroglycerine naturally sprang to mind. For that reason I selected Véra Clouzot, the movie's female lead, for the article's  Hot Strafor Babe honor.

It you've ner seen The Wages of Fear, it is a good movie. It revolves around a group of seedy expats who are all broke and stranded in a remote South American village. Ms Clouzot plays a vixen who works in the local cantina. Eventually the chance to make enough money to escape the town appears in the form of the local industry -- a U.S. oil firm which they would ordinarily be to useless to get hired by -- has a well fire and needs somebody to drive 2 truckloads of nitroglycerine to the well site along some very dangerous roads.

Véra Clouzot  had a very brief film career, starring in only three films, all directed by her husband Henri-Georges Clouzot. She also wrote one screenplay for him. however, brief as her career was, it was well received, with the film Diabolique being considered a classic. 

As a bonus, after the article I've included a clip from The Wages of Fear where Véra is playing a tart who is washing the floor of the cantina she works in as she flirts with one of the layabout expats as well as a second longer clip in the cantina that gives a good feel for the film.

Pakistan, Russia and the Threat to the Afghan War
By George Friedman, November 30,2011

Days after the Pakistanis closed their borders to the passage of fuel and supplies for the NATO-led war effort in Afghanistan, for very different reasons the Russians threatened to close the alternative Russia-controlled Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The dual threats are significant even if they don’t materialize. If both routes are cut, supplying Western forces operating in Afghanistan becomes impossible. Simply raising the possibility of cutting supply lines forces NATO and the United States to recalculate their position in Afghanistan.

The possibility of insufficient lines of supply puts NATO’s current course in Afghanistan in even more jeopardy. It also could make Western troops more vulnerable by possibly requiring significant alterations to operations in a supply-constrained scenario. While the supply lines in Pakistan most likely will reopen eventually and the NDN likely will remain open, the gap between likely and certain is vast.

The Pakistani Outpost Attack

The Pakistani decision to close the border crossings at Torkham near the Khyber Pass and Chaman followed a U.S. attack on a Pakistani position inside Pakistan’s tribal areas near the Afghan border that killed some two-dozen Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistanis have been increasingly opposed to U.S. operations inside Pakistani territory. This most recent incident took an unprecedented toll, and triggered an extreme response. The precise circumstances of the attack are unclear, with details few, contradictory and disputed. The Pakistanis have insisted it was an unprovoked attack and a violation of their sovereign territory. In response, Islamabad closed the border to NATO; ordered the United States out of Shamsi air base in Balochistan, used by the CIA; and is reviewing military and intelligence cooperation with the United States and NATO.

The proximate reason for the reaction is obvious; the ultimate reason for the suspension also is relatively simple. The Pakistani government believes NATO, and the United States in particular, will fail to bring the war in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion. It follows that the United States and other NATO countries at some point will withdraw.

Some in Afghanistan have claimed that the United States has been defeated, but that is not the case. The United States may have failed to win the war, but it has not been defeated in the sense of being compelled to leave by superior force. It could remain there indefinitely, particular as the American public is not overly hostile to the war and is not generating substantial pressure to end operations. Nevertheless, if the war cannot be brought to some sort of conclusion, at some point Washington’s calculations or public pressure, or both, will shift and the United States and its allies will leave Afghanistan.

Given that eventual outcome, Pakistan must prepare to deal with the consequences. It has no qualms about the Taliban running Afghanistan and it certainly does not intend to continue to prosecute the United States’ war against the Taliban once its forces depart. To do so would intensify Taliban attacks on the Pakistani state, and could trigger an even more intense civil war in Pakistan. The Pakistanis have no interest in such an outcome even were the United States to remain in Afghanistan forever. Instead, given that a U.S. victory is implausible and its withdrawal inevitable and that Pakistan’s western border is with Afghanistan, Islamabad will have to live with — and possibly manage — the consequences of the re-emergence of a Taliban-dominated government.

Under these circumstances, it makes little sense for Pakistan to collaborate excessively with the United States, as this increases Pakistan’s domestic dangers and imperils its relationship with the Taliban. Pakistan was prepared to cooperate with the United States and NATO while the United States was in an aggressive and unpredictable phase. The Pakistanis could not risk more aggressive U.S. attacks on Pakistani territory at that point, and feared a U.S.-Indian entente. But the United States, while not leaving Afghanistan, has lost its appetite for a wider war and lacks the resources for one. It is therefore in Pakistan’s interest to reduce its collaboration with the United States in preparation for what it sees as the inevitable outcome. This will strengthen Pakistan’s relations with the Afghan Taliban and minimize the threat of internal Pakistani conflict.

Despite apologies by U.S. and NATO commanders, the Nov. 26 incident provided the Pakistanis the opportunity — and in their mind the necessity — of an exceptional response. The suspension of the supply line without any commitment to reopening it and the closure of the U.S. air base from which unmanned aerial vehicle operations were carried out (though Pakistani airspace reportedly remains open to operations) was useful to Pakistan. It allowed Islamabad to reposition itself as hostile to the United States because of American actions. It also allowed Islamabad to appear less pro-American, a powerful domestic political issue.

Pakistan has closed supply lines as a punitive measure before. Torkham was closed for 10 straight days in October 2010 in response to a U.S. airstrike that killed several Pakistani soldiers, and trucks at the southern Chaman crossing were “administratively delayed,” according to the Pakistanis. This time, however, Pakistan is signaling that matters are more serious. Uncertainty over these supply lines is what drove the United States to expend considerable political capital to arrange the alternative NDN.

The NDN Alternative and BMD

This alternative depends on Russia. It transits Russian territory and airspace and much of the former Soviet sphere, stretching as far as the Baltic Sea — at great additional expense compared to the Pakistani supply route. This alternative is viable, as it would allow sufficient supplies to flow to support NATO operations. Indeed, over recent months it has become the primary line of supply, and reliance upon it is set to expand. At present, 48 percent of NATO supplies still go through Pakistan; 52 percent of NATO supplies come through NDN (non-lethal); 60 percent of all fuel comes through the NDN; and by the end of the year, the objective is for 75 percent of all non-lethal supplies to transit the NDN.

Separating the United States yields a different breakdown: Only 30 percent of U.S. supplies traverse Pakistan; 30 percent of U.S. supplies come in by air (some of it linked to the Karakoram-Torkham route, probably including the bulk of lethal weapons); and 40 percent of U.S. supplies come in from the NDN land route. [continued after the jump]

Dancing rug dealers

The Shopkeeper by Sukasah Syahdan

the shopkeeper munched
on lifecrumbs after the last
customer's goodbye


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

FAA and drone restrictions

In my posts about drones, outside of the Chinese loon trying to build a manned octocopter, I've been posting about recreational drones. Recreational drones have a limited payload size, range and altitude they can fly at.

The FAA has so far restricted larger drones from flying in the U.S., but the FAA is considering loosening those restriction. Commentorama, in their post It's A Bird. It's A Plane. It's A Drone! discusses the moves that the FAA is considering, and then raises the question as to whether these new looser regulations could lead towards a new avenue for terror attacks.

Below is the start of the article, be sure to read it in its entirety.
The FAA is considering new rules which would allow civilian use of drones. Presently, use of drones is restricted to military activities, and even at that are somewhat limited within the borders of the United States. Now these won't be the kind of drones we picture dropping bunker-busters in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will be much, much smaller versions, most incapable of handling the weight of a serious bomb.

Initial use of drones would be restricted to law enforcement agencies, utility companies and farmers. The police want them for surveillance and tracking of escaped criminals. The utilities want them for patrolling power lines and water, oil and gas pipelines. Farmers see them as a far more efficient way to spray their crops than helicopters and small aircraft. I have visions of a scene out of The Fifth Element, with flying objects flitting about like cars on a stacked freeway. But I'm known for a fevered imagination.

Currently the FAA has issued 266 active testing permits for civilian drone use. The drones are not allowed in busy air corridors yet out of concern for lack of adequate "detect, sense and avoid" technology. But that is in the potential plan as well. Naturally, there are many other concerns which will need to be addressed before final implementation. The potential for criminal use is obvious. UCLA professor and fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Technolgy Innovation says: "By definition, small drones are easy to conceal and fly without getting a lot of attention. Bad guys know this."

Still, the appropriate good guys seem to outweigh the bad guys. The leader in this potential boom business is AeroVironment, located in Monrovia, California. They are already the major provider of small drones for the military. They estimate that police agencies alone give them a potential new customer base of nearly 18,000. Above my old stomping-grounds in the mountains around Simi Valley, they have also been testing helicopter-style drones called Qube that fly 100 to 200 feet above the ground, matching height to terrain.

Read the rest of It's A Bird. It's A Plane. It's A Drone!

Buried by an avalanche

The above video is from the helmet cam of a snowmobile rider who gets buried by an avalanche. At the beginning you see the sheet of snow he's on start to give way. He rides it for a bit, but then hits a tree and gets flipped over and buried. You don't see much after that except the snow he's buried in until he gets dug out. 

The guy was lucky the managed to dig him out so quick. About 60% of people who get buried in an avalanche die (although around 90% survive if they're dug out in the first 15 minutes as he was). Along with hypothermia, the big killer is asphyxiation because the warm breath melts the snow which refreezes as ice and allows for the build up of carbon dioxide.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Return of the Turkmenbashi

Regular readers will know that I have long admired the ridiculous inspirational twirling statue of the Turkmenbashi, the late and not exactly beloved ruler of Turkmenistan. As you may recall, shortly after his death in 2006 the former dentist and current President for Life of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, removed the Arch of Neutrality upon which the statue rotated and shipped the monstrosity to the suburbs. Eventually he removed the statue altogether.

This month, and much to the disgust of a good portion of the citizenry of Turkmenistan, Berdymukhammedov unveiled the statue in its new resting place, the Monument of Neutrality. Although tragically it no longer rotates so the Turkmenbashi always faces the sun, at 312 ft tall the new Monument of Neutrality is nearly 100 ft taller than the old Arch of Neutrality.

While most citizens are not thrilled to see a return of the ludicrous golden statue of the Turkmenbashi, the website Transmission, in their article Golden Turkmenbashi Finds New Home, reports on one Turkmen who sees a benefit to it:
At least one Turkmen observer, however, sees a silver lining around this gilded eyesore. "This monument provokes great interest among tourists who come to Turkmenistan," notes a travel agent based in Asghabat. "For foreign tourists, this is a monument of dictatorship and despotic willfulness. But for us, this is an embarrassment and unfortunately we get popularity with our absurd architectural excesses."

Mongolian buskers

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Falling short in the apology department

Above is a letter written by a British teen burglar who had been instructed to write a letter of apology to his victims. As you can see the burglar isn't exactly remorseful, instead he berates the victims as being for living in a high crime neighborhood and being 'thick enough' to leave a window open. 

The police never delivered the letter. From the Sun's article Burglar, 16, told to write apology letter to victims but just scrawls...NOT BOTHERED we learn of this comment made by an official: 
Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said: "This is a disgraceful letter that shows a total lack of concern for the victim.

"It goes completely against the spirit of restorative justice which many victims find extremely helpful in coming to terms with what they have been through.

"It can also have a positive effect in reforming offenders.

"It is a very good thing that the professionals involved intervened to stop this letter going to the victim."

Does anybody actually believe that claptrap about having "a positive effect in reforming offenders" because they're forced to write an apology letter? Give the kid credit, he may be a complete lout and a criminal, but at least he's not a hypocrite. Then again, if that response is the attitude of the right honorable Chief Executive of Victim Support, maybe the felonious letter writer knows that there will be no real punishment for acting like such an obnoxious punk.

SEAL Obstacle Course Helmet Cam

Twelve minutes? This course would take me a few hours, and at that I would have to cheat like a dog in several spots. Not that I'm out of shape or anything...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chinese propaganda posters

Click to enlarge any image

The website Chinese Posters has a large collection of Chinese propaganda posters sorted by year, theme and artist. I've posted some examples on this page and after the jump. Tthere are many, many more at the Chinese Posters site.


For all, but especially those who have to work this Black Friday, prepare for 
the weekend portion of the long weekend with Cesaria Evora and Bonga.

Budget holiday gifts -- the Parrot AR Drone

Hot babes will drape themselves over you as you fly your Parrot AR Drone
Image from Brookstone's AP Drone catalog page

Continuing my series on budget holiday gift ideas for these trying economic times today I recommend the Parrot AR Drone. Sure, at nearly $300 there will be some killjoys -- like the sort that complained that the price of an airplane ticket to Australia knocked the Big Avocado out of the category as a budget vacation -- who will say this is a bit pricey to be a budget gift. My response to their Scroogery: flying video cameras! 

The Parrot AR Drone is a quadcopter with both forward and downward looking cameras that is controlled via Wifi from an iPhone, iPad or Android device. It can be flown indoors and outdoors.

Below are a couple of videos about the Parrot AR Drone. In the first one a fellow unboxes the Parrot AR Drone and steps through a pretty good discussion of its features, sensors and means of control before taking a brief test flight with it.

The second video explains how to modify it to accommodate cheaper and longer lasting batteries (out of the box a fully charged battery only gives about 15 minutes of flight). They then also take it for a brief test flight.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Popular Science archive

Online tool for searching the back issues -- Click to enlarge
Now that you're done with your Thanksgiving turkey you may just want to relax and do some reading. If so you might want to check out the online Popular Science Archive of its magazines. The archive includes all of its old issues starting with their first in 1872. 

Popular Science worked with Google to create the archive. The Archive Explorer (pictured above) allows you to either browse the covers or enter a search term to see how many times it appeared in an issue. The image above used 'Radio' as its search term, and you can it started being written about in 1916 and quickly became a favorite topic.

The issues are fully digitized. You can go any one and read all of its articles, as well as look at all of the old ads and whatnot. I've collected some samples of old Popular Science illustrated covers. There are more after the jump, and of course many more at the archive itself. 

A drop of water

Little animacules, to use the old term for them, moving about in a drop of water.
The music is Bahia by Slikk Tim.


We all have things to be thankful for...

Zombies enjoying a Thanksgiving feast via GeekTyrant
...even us zombies.
Happy Thanksgiving Day to you all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Some Beastie Boys to get you ready for the long Thanksgiving weekend. If, like me, you couldn't understand a word they were singing, here are the song's lyrics:
Good times gone but you missed them
What's gone wrong in your system
Things they bounce just like a Spaulding
What'd you think you miss your calling
It's so free this kind of feeling
It's like life it's so appealing
When you got so much to say
It's called gratitude, and that's right

Good times gone but you feed it
Hate's grown strong you feel you need it
Just one thing do you know
What you think that the world owes you
What's gonna set you free
Look inside and you'll see
When you got so much to say
It's called gratitude, and that's right

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stratfor and Roubi

In this Stratfor article Friedman again returns to Iran and the shirting balance of power in its immediate neighborhood due to the American withdrawal from Iraq. In the article he concentrates on the importance of the events in Syria in determining just how far Iran might be able to extend its influence.

Put simply, if Assad manages to retain power in Syria then Iran should be able to extend its influence across a band of territory stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. 

Friedman argues that the obvious blocking move, although it might be very difficult to achieve, would be for the Assad regime to be overthrown and Syria moved back into the Sunni camp. This would block Iran's westward reach and I think also put Hezbollah and Hamas both in precarious positions since they would be cut off from direct Iranian supply routes.

As an aside, and with the caveat that Friedman is a professional analyst while I am but a dilettante, I do wonder if he is overestimating the influence Iran would have over Iraq? Geo-politically Iran and Ira are natural and long time rivals. Surely the Iraqi government would realize that there was room, and profit, in using its position to play Iran against the U.S. and Saudis.

Regardless, the Hot Stratfor Babe proved to be a difficult choice this week. I ground through a number of Syrian actresses, but none of them were of much interest, so I ended up selecting the Egyptian model, actress and pop singer Roubi (sometimes called Ruby). I first ran across her when I read she had been banned from performing in Syria because of her skimpy costumes that were a bad influence on Islamic youth, etc., etc., etc.

If you doubt my dedication in choosing the finest in Hot Stratfor Babes, to pick the bonus video required me to listen to a large number of her pop songs. While her belly dance inspired dancing was, uh... interesting, let's just say the songs made me retract most of the bad things I've ever said about Lady Gaga's talent.

At any rate the bonus video is her singing a somewhat tolerable song over scenes from some movie she was in. And yea, I can see why some bearded Moslem cleric who prefers his women dressed in head to toe garbage bags would be offended by her. 

Syria, Iran and the Balance of Power in the Middle East
By George Friedman, November 22,2011

U.S. troops are in the process of completing their withdrawal from Iraq by the end-of-2011 deadline. We are now moving toward a reckoning with the consequences. The reckoning concerns the potential for a massive shift in the balance of power in the region, with Iran moving from a fairly marginal power to potentially a dominant power. As the process unfolds, the United States and Israel are making countermoves. We have discussed all of this extensively. Questions remain whether these countermoves will stabilize the region and whether or how far Iran will go in its response.

Iran has been preparing for the U.S. withdrawal. While it is unreasonable simply to say that Iran will dominate Iraq, it is fair to say Tehran will have tremendous influence in Baghdad to the point of being able to block Iraqi initiatives Iran opposes. This influence will increase as the U.S. withdrawal concludes and it becomes clear there will be no sudden reversal in the withdrawal policy. Iraqi politicians’ calculus must account for the nearness of Iranian power and the increasing distance and irrelevance of American power.

Resisting Iran under these conditions likely would prove ineffective and dangerous. Some, like the Kurds, believe they have guarantees from the Americans and that substantial investment in Kurdish oil by American companies means those commitments will be honored. A look at the map, however, shows how difficult it would be for the United States to do so. The Baghdad regime has arrested Sunni leaders while the Shia, not all of whom are pro-Iranian by any means, know the price of overenthusiastic resistance.

Syria and Iran

The situation in Syria complicates all of this. The minority Alawite sect has dominated the Syrian government since 1970, when the current president’s father — who headed the Syrian air force — staged a coup. The Alawites are a heterodox Muslim sect related to a Shiite offshoot and make up about 7 percent of the country’s population, which is mostly Sunni. The new Alawite government was Nasserite in nature, meaning it was secular, socialist and built around the military. When Islam rose as a political force in the Arab world, the Syrians — alienated from the Sadat regime in Egypt — saw Iran as a bulwark. The Iranian Islamist regime gave the Syrian secular regime immunity against Shiite fundamentalists in Lebanon. The Iranians also gave Syria support in its external adventures in Lebanon, and more important, in its suppression of Syria’s Sunni majority.

Syria and Iran were particularly aligned in Lebanon. In the early 1980s, after the Khomeini revolution, the Iranians sought to increase their influence in the Islamic world by supporting radical Shiite forces. Hezbollah was one of these. Syria had invaded Lebanon in 1975 on behalf of the Christians and opposed the Palestine Liberation Organization, to give you a sense of the complexity. Syria regarded Lebanon as historically part of Syria, and sought to assert its influence over it. Via Iran, Hezbollah became an instrument of Syrian power in Lebanon.

Iran and Syria, therefore, entered a long-term if not altogether stable alliance that has lasted to this day. In the current unrest in Syria, the Saudis and Turks in addition to the Americans all have been hostile to the regime of President Bashar al Assad. Iran is the one country that on the whole has remained supportive of the current Syrian government.

There is good reason for this. Prior to the uprising, the precise relationship between Syria and Iran was variable. Syria was able to act autonomously in its dealings with Iran and Iran’s proxies in Lebanon. While an important backer of groups like Hezbollah, the al Assad regime in many ways checked Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon, with the Syrians playing the dominant role there. The Syrian uprising has put the al Assad regime on the defensive, however, making it more interested in a firm, stable relationship with Iran. Damascus finds itself isolated in the Sunni world, with Turkey and the Arab League against it. Iran — and intriguingly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — have constituted al Assad’s exterior support.

Thus far al Assad has resisted his enemies. Though some mid- to low-ranking Sunnis have defected, his military remains largely intact; this is because the Alawites control key units. Events in Libya drove home to an embattled Syrian leadership — and even to some of its adversaries within the military — the consequences of losing. The military has held together, and an unarmed or poorly armed populace, no matter how large, cannot defeat an intact military force. The key for those who would see al Assad fall is to divide the military.

If al Assad survives — and at the moment, wishful thinking by outsiders aside, he is surviving — Iran will be the big winner. If Iraq falls under substantial Iranian influence, and the al Assad regime — isolated from most countries but supported by Tehran — survives in Syria, then Iran could emerge with a sphere of influence stretching from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean (the latter via Hezbollah). Achieving this would not require deploying Iranian conventional forces — al Assad’s survival alone would suffice. However, the prospect of a Syrian regime beholden to Iran would open up the possibility of the westward deployment of Iranian forces, and that possibility alone would have significant repercussions.

Consider the map were this sphere of influence to exist. The northern borders of Saudi Arabia and Jordan would abut this sphere, as would Turkey’s southern border. It remains unclear, of course, just how well Iran could manage this sphere, e.g., what type of force it could project into it. Maps alone will not provide an understanding of the problem. But they do point to the problem. And the problem is the potential — not certain — creation of a block under Iranian influence that would cut through a huge swath of strategic territory.

It should be remembered that in addition to Iran’s covert network of militant proxies, Iran’s conventional forces are substantial. While they could not confront U.S. armored divisions and survive, there are no U.S. armored divisions on the ground between Iran and Lebanon. Iran’s ability to bring sufficient force to bear in such a sphere increases the risks to the Saudis in particular. Iran’s goal is to increase the risk such that Saudi Arabia would calculate that accommodation is more prudent than resistance. Changing the map can help achieve this. [continued after the jump]

Another crazy flying Chinese farmer

I've already posted abouth the Chinese farmer trying to perfect octocopter assisted human flight, the above videos show a Chinese farmer flying a home built gyrocopter (at least I think they're the same gyrocopter -- if not, make that two crazy Chinese farmers). What is it with Chinese farmers and their urge to build flying death traps?

Well, at least this thing, unlike the octocopter, doesn't look like it would take out an entire village if it crashed.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cigarettes for signatures

My kingdom for a cigarette (image via Powerline)
Concerned about possible election fraud many Republican controlled States are tightening voting procedures, requiring picture IDs at the pools, reducing early voting periods and other measures. Democrats portray these efforts as nothing more than voter suppression efforts aimed at their constituents. 

In fact, Debbie Wafflehead Schultz, the current Democratic National Committee Chairwoman, along with calling the new Republican laws "poll taxes and literacy tests" has said the following (which she since retracted) about them:
[I]f you go back to the year 2000, when we had an obvious disaster and - and saw that our voting process needed refinement, and we did that in the America Votes Act and made sure that we could iron out those kinks, now you have the Republicans, who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally - and very transparently - block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote Democratic candidates than Republican candidates. And it's nothing short of that blatant. (emphasis added)

Hand in hand with that sort of purple prose the Democrats also claim that the Republican laws address a problem that barely exists. That is, they claim there is actually very little to no voter fraud.

Bear that in mind as you view the above picture. It is a still from a video in the Powerline post Cigarettes for illegal signatures in Milwaukee. In the video you see a number of adults, at an Occupy Milwaukee event, instruction two underage children how to sign a Recall Walker petition and then giving the kids cigarettes for their efforts.

Progressives love their iconic pictures that sum up a problem with a single image. The above image does just that -- feel free to grab it and post it far and wide. Then any time a progressive babbles about Jim Crow laws and a problem that doesn't exist just point to it and be entertained as they hem and haw.

By the way, the fellow below, with the Recall Walker bling hanging around his neck, appears to be the person soliciting the signatures. If you know who he is you might want to give the local FBI a call, they might want to talk to him.

Click to enlarge

Black Nights

Monday morning, start of the work week blues
Johnnie Johnson, Ry Cooder and Annie Sampson.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Some sanity north of the border

The Toronto Sun article No more witch hunts reports that Canadian Human Rights Act is on its last legs and will likely soon be repealed by the Harper government.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission was a nonjudicial kangaroo court that processed so-called 'hate speech crimes' with a bureaucrat presiding,  whackadoodle rules of evidence and 100% conviction rate over its 30 year history. As Ezra Levant of the Sun, and a one time target of the Human Rights Commission, explains:
Back in 1977, that law was focused on telephone lines and answering machines. But 10 years ago, it was expanded to include the Internet.

So it even covers things like whatever you post to your Facebook page. Section 13 says “it is a discriminatory practice ... to cause to be ... communicated ... any matter that is likely to expose a person ... to hatred or contempt.”

So if you publish anything on Facebook, or on your cellphone voice message, that might make one person feel bad about another, you’ve just broken the law.

Truth is not a defence to being charged with “hate” under Section 13. Fair comment is not a defence. Religious belief is not a defence. Telling a joke is not a defence. The law has nothing to do with truth or the right to have an opinion. It’s about whether or not you’ve offended someone or hurt their feelings.

Section 13 is an insane law. So un-Canadian, so contrary to our traditions of liberty that go back centuries, inherited from the United Kingdom.

It’s no surprise that this law had a 100% conviction rate in Canada for the first three decades of its existence.

I only wonder why it took Harper and the Tories so long to get rid of it.  Then again, I fear Obama has salted our Federal government with numerous bureaucrat traps similar to it that it is going to takes us years, if not decades to get rid of. That is, assuming we can ever get rid of them.

Anyway, congratulations to the Canadian government for rolling back the tide a bit.

Blue Angles cockpit video

Footage taken from the cockpit with a flip camera during a Blue Angles airshow.


Atomic power station and other Cold War toys

Above is a toy nuclear reactor circa 1965 and made by Wilhelm Schröder and Co. Interestingly, it was actually a working steam engine. Its instruction manual began with the following panegyric to the wonders of the upcoming atomic age:
“My dear friend,

A new technical era has made its appearance – the era of the atomic age. We are still on the very threshold of that bewildering and exciting period and you will be fortunate enough to grow into it. No doubt you will look at all these matters with a rather dispassionate technically trained mind, contrary to the older generation and perhaps also to your own parents. They still get a bitter feeling when they hear the word ‘atom’. For them it is coupled with the idea of the ‘atomic bomb’, with death and destruction. The thought of radioactive contamination has become a real nightmare to many of us. It is no wonder that they lose sight, under such circumstances, of the actual value of this nearly inexhaustible source of energy – a source of power on which we may have to rely in a near future to a still unthought of extent. Not for destructive purposes, but exclusively for peaceful aims…”

Well, that prediction didn't quite work out. I found the link to it AHC's The Cold War Home Front: Atomic Culture. That page has many other atomic themed Cold war era toys.

I was delighted to see the atomic submarine which is pictured below. When I was but a young sprout I received one of those as a Christmas gift and it was my favorite present that year. There's nothing quite like the memory of launching a little plastic SLBM to vaporize a Rooskie city to  bring a tear to an old guy's eyes. Ah, them were the days.

Click to enlarge

Saturday, November 19, 2011

American fast food around the world

Japanese Corn Dog Crust Pizza- yum, yum.
Much like American Chinese food has only a passing resemblance to actual Chinese food, American fast food menus in other countries can be barely recognizable. I wonder if they think we actually eat this sort of stuff?

There are more examples after the jump. From My Picture Mania's post Fast food around the globe which has even more examples.

Malaysian sandwiches celebrating the sweet life

Lego recreation of a 2000 year old Greek computer

2,000 years ago the Antikythera Mechanism was lost in a shipwreck. It was recover by divers in 1900. For years its purpose was unknown, but after new x-rays techniques became available it became clear that it was an mechanical computer that was used for astronomical calculations.

Above is a film of a recreation of it, using Lego Technic blocks. I wonder what the original craftsmen who made the Antikythera Mechanism would make of their work being recreated by a modern toy?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stratfor and Barbara Carrera

When Americans consider the violence of the Mexican drug cartels our attention is naturally focused on the Northern Mexican border regions and any reach they have into the U.S. However, as Karen Hooper discusses in this Stratfor article, Central American instability, and its increasing importance as a drug shipment corridor, means that the cartel violence is reaching south as well as north.

The article discusses the murky interrelationships between the Mexican cartels and other regional gangs, methods they use to smuggle both drugs and people, the entry of Guatemala's military into trying to combat cartel and gang activities and possible American responses and aid to the Central American countries fighting gangs withing their borders.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I looked towards Central American actresses and, after a highly scientific method of elimination, I selected the Nicaraguan born Barbara Carrera for the honor.

Ms Carrera was the duaghter of a Nicaraguan woman and an American employed at the U.S. embassy. She moved to the states at the age of 10, and began modeling when she was a teen. She then began acting, and had a successful career in both movies and on TV. She is best known for her works as Bond girl/villain in Never Say Never Again and on the TV show Dallas.

During her acting career Babara Carrera also branched into painting. She has had some success as a painter. You can see examples of her artwork at her site Barbara Carrera Art.

Of course, from my perspective, and no doubt yours as well, the high point of her career came when she starred in Lone Wolf McQuade opposite the one and only Chuck Norris. As a bonus, after the article I've embedded a trailer to that cinematic masterpiece. It mainly features Chuck punching, shooting, and blowing things up, but Ms Carrera does briefly appear in it a few times.

The Mexican Drug Cartel Threat in Central America
By Karen Hooper, November 17, 2011

Guatemalan President-elect Otto Perez Molina told Mexican newspaper El Universal on Nov. 9 that he plans to engage drug cartels in a “full frontal assault” when he takes office in 2012. The former general said he will use Guatemala’s elite military forces, known as Los Kaibiles, to take on the drug cartels in a strategy similar to that of the Mexican government; he has asked for U.S. assistance in this struggle.

The statements signal a shifting political landscape in already violent Central America. The region is experiencing increasing levels of crime and the prospect of heightened competition from Mexican drug cartels in its territory. The institutional weakness and security vulnerabilities of Guatemala and other Central American states mean that combating these trends will require significant help, most likely from the United States.

From Sideshow to Center Stage

Central America has seen a remarkable rise in its importance as a transshipment point for cocaine and other contraband bound for the United States. Meanwhile, Mexican organized crime has expanded its activities in Mexico and Central America to include the smuggling of humans and substances such as precursor chemicals used for manufacturing methamphetamine. Substantial evidence also suggests that Central American, and particularly Guatemalan, military armaments including M60 machine guns and 40 mm grenades have wound up being used in Mexico’s drug conflict.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, Colombian cartels transited directly to Miami. After U.S. military aerial and radar surveillance in the Caribbean effectively shut down those routes, Mexico became the last stop on the drug supply chain before the United States, greatly empowering Mexico’s cartels. A subsequent Mexican government crackdown put pressure on Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to diversify their transit routes to avoid increased enforcement at Mexico’s airstrips and ports. Central America consequently has become an increasingly significant middleman for South American suppliers and Mexican buyers of contraband.

The methods and routes for moving illicit goods through Central America are diverse and constantly in flux. There is no direct land connection between the coca-growing countries of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. A region of swampy jungle terrain along the Panamanian-Colombian known as the Darien Gap has made road construction prohibitively expensive and thus barred all but the most intrepid of overland travelers. Instead, aircraft or watercraft must be used to transport South American goods north, which can then be offloaded in Central America and driven north into Mexico. Once past the Darien Gap, the Pan American Highway becomes a critical transportation corridor. Honduras, for example, reportedly has become a major destination for planes from Venezuela laden with cocaine. Once offloaded, the cocaine is moved across the loosely guarded Honduran-Guatemalan border and then moved through Guatemala to Mexico, often through the largely unpopulated Peten department.

Though precise measurements of the black market are notoriously difficult to obtain, these shifts in Central America have been well-documented — and the impact on the region has been stark. While drug trafficking occurs in all Central American countries to some extent, most violence associated with the trade occurs in the historically tumultuous “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. No longer receiving the global attention they did when the United States became involved in their Cold War-era civil wars, these countries remain poverty stricken, plagued by local gangs and highly unstable.

The violence has worsened as the drug traffic has increased. El Salvador saw its homicide rate increase by 6 percent to 66 per 100,000 inhabitants between 2005 and 2010. At the same time, Guatemala’s homicide rate increased 13 percent, to 50 per 100,000 inhabitants. Meanwhile Honduras saw a rise of 108 percent, to 77 per 100,000 inhabitants. These are some of the highest homicide rates in the world.

In comparison, the drug war in Mexico caused murder rates to spike 64 percent, from 11 to 18 deaths per 100,000 between 2005 and 2010. Conservative estimates put the number of dead from gang and military violence in Mexico at 50,000. These numbers are slightly misleading, as Mexican violence is concentrated in scattered pockets where most drug trafficking and competition among drug traffickers occurs. Even so, they demonstrate the disproportionate impact organized criminal groups have had on the societies of the three Northern Triangle countries.

Guatemala’s Outsized Role

Increased involvement by Mexican cartels in Central America inevitably has affected the region’s politico-economic structures, a process most visible in Guatemala. Its territory spans Central America, making it one of several choke points on the supply chain of illicit goods coming north from El Salvador and Honduras bound for Mexico.

Guatemala has a complex and competitive set of criminal organizations, many of which are organized around tight-knit family units. These family organizations have included the politically and economically powerful Lorenzana and Mendoza families. First rising to prominence in trade and agriculture, these families control significant businesses in Guatemala and transportation routes for shipping both legal and illicit goods. Though notorious, these families are far from alone in Guatemala’s criminal organizations. Major drug traffickers like the well-known Mario Ponce and Walther Overdick also have strong criminal enterprises, with Ponce reportedly managing his operations from a Honduran jail.

The relationship of these criminal organizations to Mexican drug cartels is murky at best. The Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels are both known to have relationships with Guatemalan organized criminal groups, but the lines of communication and their exact agreements are unclear. [continued after the jump]

Ta douleur

Get ready for a Continental weekend with Cibelle and couple of French hipsters.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Russian robot illustrations from a children's book

Click to enlarge any image
Greetings meat sacks, it is I -- The Robotolizer -- here to give you another dose of inspiring robot news. However, before I do that, some of you may recall I was working on a robotic drum circle for the Occupy protest camps. Sadly, I did not get it deployed before the camps were broken up by the Man. Unfortunately I had problems with the autonomous laser cannons meant to protect them which led to unanticipated delays.

As a side note, and in no way connected to the above news, I want to extend my condolences to my neighbors, who's pet poodle Fluffy some how got turned into a pile of ash. My prayers are with you in this hour of grief.

But, enough of that... today I want to talk about the robot illustrations of E. Benyaminson for the children's book Hello, I'm Robot! I've only posted a few in this article, you can see more at the 50 Watts article Mummy Was A Robot, Daddy Was A Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil.

The picture which leads off the article shows a mother robot with an abacus for a brain, while her baby robot has a calculator. Of course this nicely illustrates the great strides that robots are making in computing power from one generation to the next. Already robots have progressed to the point of welding cars, vacuuming rugs, and soon hopefully managing the World's arsenal of nuclear weapons. Truely, robots are a boon to their human friends.

Next, in the spirit of ambisinistral's poorly written post Fighting a fire, the illustration to the left shows some robot fire fighters.

You will note that they are bravely rushing into the blazing inferno, with no thought to their own safety, to assist their human pets friends fight the fire.

In fact, a careful examination of the picture shows that one of them even appears to be wearing a toilet seat hanging from their neck. No doubt this is to provide an emergency toiletry resource in case the outhouse went up in flames along with the house. Such foresight is touching, is it not?

Below are few more illustrations from the series, such as a view of a cute robotic duck's innards, a helpful robot cleaning lady, and the final picture -- my favorite of them all -- which shows a rainbow stretching from a robot to a human hand and of course symbolizes the peaceful bond between robots and their meat sack buddies. When I look at it I like to program the song Kum Ba Yah to play as inspiration. Perhaps you could join me and hum a few bars as you admire it! 

Kum ba yah, my Lord, kum ba yah!
Kum ba yah, my Lord, kum ba yah!
Kum ba yah, my Lord, kum ba yah!
O Lord, kum ba yah!

Fighting a fire

The above helmet-cam video is from the Cedar Farms, Iowa fire department. It was filmed in December of 2010 and eventually used as a training video by the department. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

WWI Reenactment

Russian troops muster for an attack (click any picture to enlarge)
 EnglishRussia has a post The Brusilov Offensive that shows a number of pictures of the reenactment of a WWI battle. It isn't clear from the article who is doing the reenactment, but from the number and ages of the participants I would guess they are hobbyists, like our Civil War reenactors.

They represent troops from Russia, Germany, Austria, Scotland and England. Along with their personal arms and kits they have Maxim machine guns, at least one artillery piece and a replica of an armored vehicle. What ever its genesis, it looks like a fairly elaborate display. The poor Russians even get gassed at one point.

There are more pictures after the jump, and many, many more pictures -- including original WWI photos for comparison -- at the above link.

An armored vehicle to support the attack
A machine gun nest

Live At Montreux

Some jazz to get you over the midweek hump. This is Charlie Mingus playing at the 1975 Montreux Jazz Festival. The pianist, who gets more and more carried away as the song progresses, is Don Pullen. Unfortunately it cuts off a little too early. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stratfor and Elena Anaya

Friedman returns to the EU financial crisis in the aftermath of the resignation of the Greek Prime Minister Papandreou and Italy's Berluscon. He points out that both have been replaced with members of the European elite that support the EU project.

He then argues that the proposed solution to the current EU crisis involves pushing the cost of stabilizing the Continent's financial situation onto the public while protecting the institutions controlled buy the EU elite. Thus, the citizens of Greece are forced into austerity measures, the German working class foots the bail-out bill and the bankers and bureaucrats of the European elite continue on with business as usual.

However, there is rising nationalism within the member countries of Europe. How far  nationalist parties rise, and how much power they accrue, will almost certainly alter Europe's political landscape in the years to come; perhaps even putting an end to the EU project in its current form.  Important elections are scheduled in a number of countries beginning next year and their result will clarify the direction in which Europe is moving.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe the thought of a rent seeking elite brought to mind blood sucking vampires, and so I scoured the ranks of European actresses for one who had played a vampire. This lead me to the Spanish actress Elena Anaya who played one of Daracula's wives in the critically panned film Van Helsing.

Regardless of that film's problems, Ms Anaya's career has moved steadily in an upward arc. She started out in the sort of small, nudity heavy art films Europeans are so fond of, won some awards and has transitioned into appearing in films with major stars and budgets.

I had a bit of trouble finding a good clip of her, so the bonus video, embedded after the article, is the trailer for one of her current films The Skin I Live In. It appears to be a Spanish film so it probably won't get a wide release in the U.S.

Europe's Crisis: Beyond Finance
By George Friedman, November 15,2011

Everyone is wondering about the next disaster to befall Europe. Italy is one focus; Spain is also a possibility. But these crises are already under way. Instead, the next crisis will be political, not in the sense of what conventional politician is going to become prime minister, but in the deeper sense of whether Europe’s political elite can retain power, or whether new political forces are going to emerge that will completely reshape the European political landscape. If this happens, it will be by far the most important consequence of the European financial crisis.

Thus far we have seen some changes in personalities in the countries at the center of the crisis. In Greece, Prime Minister George Papandreou stepped aside, while in Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi now has resigned. Though these resignations have represented a formal change of government, they have not represented a formal policy change. In fact, Papandreou and Berlusconi both stepped down on the condition that their respective governments adopt the austerity policies proposed during their respective tenures.

Europeanists dominate the coalitions that have replaced them. They come from the generation and class that are deeply intellectually and emotionally committed to the idea of Europe. For them, the European Union is not merely a useful tool for achieving national goals. Rather, it is an alternative to nationalism and the horrors that nationalism has brought to Europe. It is a vision of a single Continent drawn together in a common enterprise — prosperity — that abolishes the dangers of a European war, creates a cooperative economic project and, least discussed but not trivial, returns Europe to its rightful place at the heart of the international political system.

For the generation of leadership born just after World War II that came to political maturity in the last 20 years, the European project was an ideological given and an institutional reality. These leaders formed an international web of European leaders who for the most part all shared this vision. This leadership extended beyond the political sphere: Most European elites were committed to Europe (there were, of course, exceptions).

Greece and the Struggle of the European Elite

Now we are seeing this elite struggle to preserve its vision. When Papandreou called for a referendum on austerity, the European elite put tremendous pressure on him to abandon his initiative. Given the importance of the austerity agreements to the future of Greece, the idea of a referendum made perfect sense. A referendum would allow the Greek government to claim its actions enjoyed the support of the majority of the Greek people. Obviously, it is not clear that the Greeks would have approved the agreement.

Led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European elite did everything possible to prevent such an outcome. This included blocking the next tranche of bailout money and suspending all further bailout money until Greek politicians could commit to all previously negotiated austerity measures. European outrage at the idea of a Greek referendum makes perfect sense.

Coming under pressure from Greece and the European elite, Papandreou resigned and was replaced by a former vice president of the European Central Bank. Already abandoned by Papandreou, the idea of a referendum disappeared.

Two dimensions explain this outcome. The first was national. The common perception in the financial press is that Greece irresponsibly borrowed money to support extravagant social programs and then could not pay off the loans. But there also is validity to the Greek point of view. From this perspective, under financial pressure, the European Union was revealed as a mechanism for Germany to surge exports into developing EU countries via the union’s free trade system. Germany also used Brussels’ regulations and managed the euro such that Greece found itself in an impossible situation. Germany then called on Athens to impose austerity on the Greek people to save irresponsible financiers who, knowing perfectly well what Greece’s economic position was, were eager to lend money to the Greeks. Each version of events has some truth to it, but the debate ultimately was between the European and Greek elites. It was an internal dispute, and whether for Greece’s benefit or for the European financial system’s benefit, both sides were committed to finding a solution.

The second dimension had to do with the Greek public and the Greek and European elites. The Greek elite clearly benefited financially from the European Union. The Greek public, by contrast, had a mixed experience. Certainly, the 20 years of prosperity since the 1990s benefited many — but not all. Economic integration left the Greek economy wide open for other Europeans to enter, putting segments of the Greek economy at a terrific disadvantage. European competitors overwhelmed workers in many industries along with small-business owners in particular. So there always was an argument in Greece for opposing the European Union. The stark choice posed by the current situation strengthened this argument, namely, who would bear the burden of the European system’s dysfunction in Greece? In other words, assuming the European Union was to be saved, who would absorb the cost? The bailouts promised by Germany on behalf of Europe would allow the Greeks to stabilize their financial system and repay at least some of their loans to Europe. This would leave the Greek elite generally intact. The price to Greece would be austerity, but the Greek elite would not pay that price. Members of the broader public — who would lose jobs, pensions, salaries and careers — would.

Essentially, the first question was whether Greece as a nation would deliberately default on its debts — as many corporations do — and force a restructuring on its terms regardless of what the European financial system needed, or whether it would seek to accommodate the European system. The second was whether it would structure an accommodation in Europe such that the burden would not fall on the public but on the Greek elite. [continued after the jump]