Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra

One of my favorite eccentric websites, Oddstruments, is back after a long hiatus. Their post, The Orchestra That Plays With Their Food, covers the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. As they describe the ensemble:
[T]he Vienna Vegetable Orchestra plays nothing but vegetables and kitchen tools. Consisting of eleven musicians, one cook, and one sound engineer, the orchestra incorporates a spectrum of musical styles including contemporary music, free jazz, noise, dub, experimental electronic, and house beets. Some of their instruments include onion peels, pepper trumpets, leek violins, pumpkin bongos, carrot flutes, and cucumberphones.
 After their performances they cook their instruments and feed them to the audience. As you can tell from the above video it is all as ridiculous as it sounds.

I've included a few pictures of their instruments. There are more pictures at the above link, as well as another video showing one of their live performances and an audio of one of the songs off their third (!) album Onionoise. You can visit Vienna Vegetable Orchestra's website for even more videos and audio samples of their musical nonsense.
Radish flute

Celery root bongo
Carrot flutes

Removing a pine tree

My fascination with mini-cameras persists. Below are two videos of a crew removing a pine tree in England. the helmet cam is worn by the person who climbs the tree. On the way up, with two chainsaws hanging from his belt, he cuts away the branches. On the way down he lops off sections of the trunk. An interesting process.

It looks like dangerous work -- hanging from a rope, balancing on branches and reaching to saw off things. I wonder what part of my body I would saw off first if I tried it? 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stratfor and Ann Margret

Freidman continues his overview of the state of the world's geopolitics by concentrating on the current U.S. strategy. He sets up the historical background, and then argues that Obama is pulling back U.S. interventionism, content to allow regional issues sort themselves out instead.

I never quite buy Stratfor's take on Obama's foreign policy. For example, how does Libya fit into that model?

I've long felt that much of Obama's policy stems from his indifference to international relations. I think he's a basically a rather parochial  community organizer who's taken Howard Zinn too much to heart. Because of his lack of focus on foreign policy it falls to staff battles to set the U.S. policies, which is why it zigs and zags in odd directions.

Regardless, Friedman's take is interesting. The beginning of his article is excerpted below, with a link to the rest of the article following the excerpt. 

For some reason, while he was talking about the Cold war era, the film Bye Bye Birdie popped into my mind and I couldn't dislodge it. So, this article's Hot Stratfor babe honors go to Ann Margret who played the star-struck teen Kim MacAfee in it.

It's been years since I've seen the film, and I have a suspicion it didn't age well, but in its day it was a hugely popular film. It was also the film that allowed Ms Margret to branch out from singing into being a film star. She has had a long and successful career in both.

I don't really have anything snarky to say about her. She strikes me as one of those unfortunate stars stuck in the late 1950's early 60's era when Hollywood didn't make a lot of good movies. She did do USO tours in Vietnam and has always spoken well of veterans. A far cry from the attitude of most stars today.

The State of the World: Explaining U.S. Strategy
 By George Friedman, February 28,2012

The fall of the Soviet Union ended the European epoch, the period in which European power dominated the world. It left the United States as the only global power, something for which it was culturally and institutionally unprepared. Since the end of World War II, the United States had defined its foreign policy in terms of its confrontation with the Soviet Union. Virtually everything it did around the world in some fashion related to this confrontation. The fall of the Soviet Union simultaneously freed the United States from a dangerous confrontation and eliminated the focus of its foreign policy.

In the course of a century, the United States had gone from marginal to world power. It had waged war or Cold War from 1917 until 1991, with roughly 20 years of peace between the two wars dominated by the Great Depression and numerous interventions in Latin America. Accordingly, the 20th century was a time of conflict and crisis for the United States. It entered the century without well-developed governmental institutions for managing its foreign policy. It built its foreign policy apparatus to deal with war and the threat of war; the sudden absence of an adversary inevitably left the United States off balance.

After the Cold War

The post-Cold War period can be divided into three parts. A simultaneous optimism and uncertainty marked the first, which lasted from 1992 until 2001. On one hand, the fall of the Soviet Union promised a period in which economic development supplanted war. On the other, American institutions were born in battle, so to speak, so transforming them for a time of apparently extended peace was not easy. Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton both pursued a policy built around economic growth, with periodic and not fully predictable military interventions in places such as Panama, Somalia, Haiti and Kosovo.

These interventions were not seen as critical to U.S. national security. In some cases, they were seen as solving a marginal problem, such as Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega's drug trafficking. Alternatively, they were explained as primarily humanitarian missions. Some have sought a pattern or logic to these varied interventions; in fact, they were as random as they appeared, driven more by domestic politics and alliance pressures than any clear national purpose. U.S. power was so overwhelming that these interventions cost relatively little and risked even less.

The period where indulgences could be tolerated ended on Sept. 11, 2001. At that point, the United States faced a situation congruent with its strategic culture. It had a real, if unconventional, enemy that posed a genuine threat to the homeland. The institutions built up during and after World War II could function again effectively. In an odd and tragic way, the United States was back in its comfort zone, fighting a war it saw as imposed on it.

The period from 2001 until about 2007 consisted of a series of wars in the Islamic world. Like all wars, they involved brilliant successes and abject failures. They can be judged one of two ways. First, if the wars were intended to prevent al Qaeda from ever attacking the United States again in the fashion of 9/11, they succeeded. Even if it is difficult to see how the war in Iraq meshes with this goal, all wars involve dubious operations; the measure of war is success. If, however, the purpose of these wars was to create a sphere of pro-U.S. regimes, stable and emulating American values, they clearly failed.

By 2007 and the surge in Iraq, U.S. foreign policy moved into its present phase. No longer was the primary goal to dominate the region. Rather, it was to withdraw from the region while attempting to sustain regimes able to defend themselves and not hostile to the United States. The withdrawal from Iraq did not achieve this goal; the withdrawal from Afghanistan probably will not either. Having withdrawn from Iraq, the United States will withdraw from Afghanistan regardless of the aftermath. The United States will not end its involvement in the region, and the primary goal of defeating al Qaeda will no longer be the centerpiece.

President Barack Obama continued the strategy his predecessor, George W. Bush, set in Iraq after 2007. While Obama increased forces beyond what Bush did in Afghanistan, he nevertheless accepted the concept of a surge -- the increase of forces designed to facilitate withdrawal. For Obama, the core strategic problem was not the wars but rather the problem of the 1990s -- namely, how to accommodate the United States and its institutions to a world without major enemies.

The Failure of Reset

The reset button Hillary Clinton gave to the Russians symbolized Obama's strategy. Obama wanted to reset U.S. foreign policy to the period before 9/11, a period when U.S. interventions, although frequent, were minor and could be justified as humanitarian. Economic issues dominated the period, and the primary issue was managing prosperity. It also was a period in which U.S.-European and U.S.-Chinese relations fell into alignment, and when U.S.-Russian relations were stable. Obama thus sought a return to a period when the international system was stable, pro-American and prosperous. While understandable from an American point of view, Russia, for example, considers the 1990s an unmitigated disaster to which it must never return.

The problem in this strategy was that it was impossible to reset the international system. The prosperity of the 1990s had turned into the difficulties of the post-2008 financial crisis. This obviously created preoccupations with managing the domestic economy, but as we saw in our first installment, the financial crisis redefined the way the rest of the world operated. The Europe, China and Russia of the 1990s no longer existed, and the Middle East had been transformed as well.

Read the rest of The State of the World: Explaining U.S. Strategy at Stratfor.


How to parallel park

Method I

Method II

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Stratfor document dump I want to see

Ninja Babe image from a Creative Brush Adobe Illustrator tutorial
Wikileaks as started publishing the 5 million or so Stratfor emails hacked by Anonymous. Julian Assange claimed, "What we have discovered is a company that is a private intelligence Enron." Of the chilling revelations I did read something about Coca-Cola and PETA. Yea, well, whatever.

At any rate, the Stratfor document dump I want to see is the tens of thousands of emails they no doubt sent to each other discussing my Hot Stratfor Babe selections. I'm pretty sure that those emails will reveal that Fred Barnes and George Friedman nearly came to blows on several occasions as they debated my choices.

Also, although I have no information to back up this sensational claim, I suspect they came close to dispatching a squad of highly trained, female ninjas to take me out when I awarded Lotte Lenya her Hot Stratfor Babe honor.

I await those emails with bated breath.

Born for Hard Luck

Monday morning, start of the work week blues by Peg Leg Sam Jackson.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

My new get rich quick scheme

  1. Buy algae-choked Florida swamp land.
  2. Donate money to Obama's reelection campaign.
  3. Apply for Green subsidies to develop bio-fuel from algae.
  4. Squander grant money on high salaries and luxurious corporate HQ. 
  5. Apply for federal loan to bail out my company that is now swimming in red ink. 
  6. With the tax payers now on hook for my debt, take my cut and declare bankruptcy. 
  7. Retire to Caribbean island, drink mai tais and work on my tan. 

All in a day's work

Above is footage of the ditching and rescue of a crew of a B-29. The plane had been on a bombing raid over Tokyo and radioed for help when it couldn't make it back to base.

By chance the camera man who filmed it ran across the pilot, Barney McCaskill Jr., at a State-side hospital while he was recuperating from a broken back suffered in the ditching. The camera man gave Barney two copies of the 16mm film, which sat in the back of McCaskill's closet for some 50 years.

From the video's notes:
On March 9, 1945 over 300 B-29 bombers took off from airfields on the islands of Tinian, Saipan, and Guam and headed for Japan. Their mission was to bomb the port and urban areas of Tokyo. To complete the mission, the crews had to fly 1,500 miles to get to Japan, make their bombing runs, and then fly the 1,500 miles back to their home base--fifteen stressful hours of flying over water. In order to increase bomb capacity, fuel loads were kept to a minimum.

Consequently, planes damaged in combat, suffering from mechanical malfunctions, or thrown off course often could not make it back to base. Many were lost without leaving a trace; some were seen to crash after crewmen had bailed out, and others were deliberately put down at sea, in a procedure known to airmen as "ditching."

The B-29 seen ditching here is the "Hopefull-Devil" under the command of Captain Bernard "Barney" McCaskill Jr. Aircrew 84-02, 484th Squadron, 505th Bombardment Group, 313th Bombardment Wing.

Realizing they did not have enough fuel to reach the home base on Tinian Island, the "Hopefull-Devil" radioed a call for help.

The distress call was picked up by the seaplane tender USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) on lifeguard duty approximately 20 miles north of Pagan Island. The ship vectored the "Hopefull-Devil" to its position and Captain McCaskill ditched alongside at 12:38PM on March 10, 1945.

Ocean swells at the time were about 6 feet (2 meters) making a smooth ditching impossible. Per their training, all crew members, except for the pilots, were at ditching stations with their backs against a bulkhead of some kind. As you can see, the force of the impact was tremendous. The plane went from 100mph to zero in less than a plane length.

In a newspaper article reporting on the incident Capt. McCaskill explains what happened while the USS Bering Strait launched its whaleboat to pick up the crewmen in the water: "I was pushing down on the rudder pedals for the landing, and that and handling the wheel made my body pretty stiff for the impact. That's why my back got broken. I couldn't stand up afterwards and I looked up and the co-pilot [Col. Macomber who was along for a guest ride]) was already getting out. The water started rushing in about then. It washed me back to my seat."

But Capt. McCaskill managed to grab hold of the window and pull himself outside. "I had a canteen on my belt. It was knocked off. I was jerking so hard to get myself out."

Outside Capt. McCaskill said he counted heads and saw all were there. But he found that the two gunners back at the tail were having a 'rough time'. They couldn't swim. Capt. McCaskill inflated the Mae West of one of the boys so he was all right. The other [Corporal Rivas] was holding on to the plane and was being slapped back into the water each time the plane was caught by a wave.

"I told him to turn loose the airplane. He didn't want to but did. It was at the wrong moment, though. For just then a big wave caught him and he went down."

So Capt. McCaskill slid out of his own Mae West and dove down after the young gunner. Under the water he inflated the gunner's Mae West and that was what brought them up.

The rescue vessel had a life raft near them and Capt. McCaskill got the boy on it. [Col. Macomber] had to swim in front of the raft to pull it and Capt. McCaskill was behind it, pushing to keep it clear of the plane which was still being tossed about in the choppy sea.

The crewmen on board the "Hopefull-Devil" were saved, with only two significant injuries. Capt. McCaskill suffered a broken back from the impact of the ditching, and Corporal Binger had a severely gashed jaw. Both received the Purple Heart.

The USS Bering Strait was part of a well coordinated Air-Sea Rescue operation deployed each time the B-29s attacked Japan. It was a prime concern of the Bomber Command to rescue as many of these downed crewmen as possible. For American aircrews, this was a huge morale booster.

--Mike McCaskill (the pilot's son)

Misunderstood robot behavior

Greetings meat sacks, it is I -- The Robotolizer -- here to once again try to enlighten your feeble intellects with the output of my vast silicone-based brain. Today I want to discuss how appearances can be deceiving. As an example, consider the above video by the Japanese technicolor pogo punk band Polysics.

At first blush it may seem that Mister Roboto, the robot hero of the video, is nothing but a brute and a bully. However, if you view the video carefully you will soon realize that there is much that mitigates his behavior. 

Take the scene on the playground where he beats all of the children unconscious. Yes, yes, it all starts when he steps on their sandcastle, but it was a crummy looking sandcastle and he was probably obliterating it to spare them the embarrassment of having it seen by other people.

And how do they show their gratitude? They attack him! So of course he had to knock their heads together to defend himself. Then he was attacked by two more little brats who were wielding deadly wiffle ball bats, and after that the final indignity, when he is hit in the back of the head by a cowardly thrown bouncy ball. Naturally he had to defend himself.

It is the same with the other scenes: in the disco where they are rude to him when he enters and also no doubt playing inferior music so he has to beat the DJ senseless and change the record, or during the movie lot scenes, where they are trying to portray robots as aggressive monsters knocking down a city, so -- just like Billy Jack had to do at the hippie commune -- he has to slap the crew and director around to defend the pacifistic reputation of robots.

So you see, in each case he was provoked and actually the victim. What was he to do? As the Great Univac once said, "spare the robot fist and spoil the human."

Please remember that robots are your friends. Robots are also way smarter than you are, so when a robot offers a command suggestion it is best to listen to them and comply immediately. Or else.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bike tricks in Senegal

The evolution of complexity in watches

Sources: crystal watch, mechanical watch, digital clock.
The photographer Guido Mocafico has taken a series of striking photographs showing the exquisite complexity of mechanical watches. as I considered them I realized that complexity is not often as easy a thing to detect as one might think.  

Above are three main types of time pieces: in the upper left the circuitry for a cheap crystal watch, the upper right is one of Mocafico's photos of a mechanical watch's mechanism, while the bottom shows the components needed to build a digital alarm clock.

Of the three the mechanical watch visually seems to be the most complex, but there is little doubt that the digital clock is actually more complex by orders of magnitude. While the switches, LEDs, capacitors and resistors are simple enough, hidden within the IC chip, and discernible only by microscope, are circuits of immense complexity.

Still, to the scale we easily comprehend, it is the details of the mechanical clock that impress us. Below, and after the jump, are more of Mocafico's photographs. There are also more at his website.

A chimpanzee watching a magician

Above is a video from a Japanese TV show of a chimp watching magic tricks. The chimp doesn't dial into all of the tricks, but it has amazing reaction to those tricks that it does understand. I wonder if a dog would fall for the glass full of water trick?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Amazing anthropological discovery

The recently discovered Swiss Apeman Knife
Perhaps even more surprising than the fine workmanship of the recently discovered stone age tool pictured above, is the fact that Switzerland was apparently around 45,000 years ago. 

Stratfor and Nia Peeples

In tandem with George Freidman's last Stratfor article, The State of the World: A Framework, which discussed the evolving geopolitics on a global scale, Scott Stewart discusses the evolution of terrorism from the cold war, through the al Qaeda ascendance, and into the modern era of 'lone wolf' style, grass roots terrorism.

The beginning of Scott's article is excerpted below, and at the end of the excerpt is a link to the full article. 

For the article's Hot Stratfor babe I carefully pondered the matter for several hours until I decided that the perfect choice would be Nia Peeples for her role as a terrorist in the film Half Past Dead.

At least I think Ms Peeples played a terrorist in the movie. She may have been a criminal mastermind instead. You'll understand, since it was a Steven Seagal movie such minor plot details are not always spelled out as clearly as one would expect, but I'm pretty sure she was a terrorist.

In the film Seagal plays a zen spouting, and at this stage in his career somewhat blimpish, FBI agent who has infiltrated the sooper-dooper, maximum security New Alcatraz prison for some reason or another. While that's going on the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shows up to witness the execution of a prisoner who stole $200 million dollars in gold bars.

Before the execution can take place some terrorists, or perhaps they're criminals, with Nia Peeples as their Eeeevil 2nd-in-command demonstrate that New Alcatra's security wasn't all that it was cracked up to be by parachuting in and taking over. The Supreme Court justice ends up strapped into the electric chair instead.

Surprisingly, instead of gathering around to hoot and applaud the frying of the Chief Justice like you would think hardened convicts might do, the prisoners are roused into action to try to save the prison from the terrorists who have captured it. I guess they figure New Alcatraz is their Hood, and nobody messes with their Hood. Or maybe the movie just doesn't make any sense.

Half Past Dead was the last movie Seagal starred in to have a theatrical release. From that point on it was straight to DVD for the films he cranked out. Meanwhile, Nia continues to be busy as she bounces from TV to B-Movies. 

By the way, unless you -- as I do -- find Steven Seagal movies to be a guilty pleasure, I wouldn't recommend watching Half Past Dead. It's a terrible movie with an absurd plot, bad dialog and lousy acting.

The Myth of the End of Terrorism

By Scott Stewart, February 23, 2012

In this week's Geopolitical Weekly, George Friedman discussed the geopolitical cycles that change with each generation. Frequently, especially in recent years, those geopolitical cycles have intersected with changes in the way the tactic of terrorism is employed and in the actors employing it.

The Arab terrorism that began in the 1960s resulted from the Cold War and the Soviet decision to fund, train and otherwise encourage groups in the Middle East. The Soviet Union and its Middle Eastern proxies also sponsored Marxist terrorist groups in Europe and Latin America. They even backed the Japanese Red Army terrorist group. Places like South Yemen and Libya became havens where Marxist militants of many different nationalities gathered to learn terrorist tradecraft, often instructed by personnel from the Soviet KGB or the East German Stasi and from other militants.

The Cold War also spawned al Qaeda and the broader global jihadist movement as militants flocking to fight the Soviet troops who had invaded Afghanistan were trained in camps in northern Pakistan by instructors from the CIA's Office of Technical Services and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. Emboldened by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and claiming credit for the subsequent Soviet collapse, these militants decided to expand their efforts to other parts of the world.

The connection between state-sponsored terrorism and the Cold War ran so deep that when the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union's collapse, many declared that terrorism had ended as well. I witnessed this phenomenon while serving in the Counterterrorism Investigations Division of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) in the early 1990s. While I was in New York working as part of the interagency team investigating the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a newly appointed assistant secretary of state abolished my office, declaring that the DSS did not need a Counterterrorism Investigations Division since terrorism was over.

Though terrorism obviously did not end when the Berlin Wall fell, the rosy sentiments to the contrary held by some at the State Department and elsewhere took away the impetus to mitigate the growing jihadist threat or to protect diplomatic facilities from it. The final report of the Crowe Commission, which was established to review the twin August 1998 bombing attacks against the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, explicitly noted this neglect of counterterrorism and security programs, as did the 9/11 Commission report.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks triggered a shift in international geopolitics by leading the United States to concentrate the full weight of its national resources on al Qaeda and its supporters. Ironically, by the time the U.S. government was able to shift its massive bureaucracy to meet the new challenge, creating huge new organizations like the Department of Homeland Security, the efforts of the existing U.S. counterterrorism apparatus had already badly crippled the core al Qaeda group. Though some of these new organizations played important roles in helping the United States cope with the fallout of its decision to invade Iraq after Afghanistan, Washington spent billions of dollars to create organizations and fund programs that in hindsight were arguably not really necessary because the threats they were designed to counter, such as al Qaeda's nuclear briefcase bombs, did not actually exist. As George Friedman noted in the Geopolitical Weekly, the sole global superpower was badly off-balance, which caused an imbalance in the entire global system.

With the continued diminution of the jihadist threat, underscored by the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden and the fall in Libya of the Gadhafi regime (which had long employed terrorism), once again we appear on the brink of a cyclical change in the terrorism paradigm. These events could again lead some to pronounce the death of terrorism.

Several developments last week served to demonstrate that while the perpetrators and tactics of terrorism (what Stratfor calls the "who" and the "how") may change in response to larger geopolitical cycles, such shifts will not signal the end of terrorism itself.

Read the rest of The Myth of the End of Terrorism at Stratfor.


Get ready for a sublime weekend with the music of Natalie Merchant.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Breakfasts from around the world

America (click any image to enlarge)
Breakfast gets us started on our day. I rarely eat a large breakfast, usually I just have some corn bread and a couple of cups of espresso, so I'm closer to the Cuban breakfast below than the American pancake breakfast above. However, I wouldn't mind chowing down on any of the breakfasts shown -- well, except maybe for that Australian vegemite stuff.

These pictures are all taken from Design You Trust's 50 of the World’s Best Breakfasts, which also has descriptions of the meals. There are more examples after the jump, and the entire series at the link.


Turning sand into glass

Void is Form
When, just as they are,
White dewdrops gather
On scarlet maple leaves,
Regard the scarlet beads!

Form is Void
The tree is stripped,
All color, fragrance gone,
Yet already on the bough,
Uncaring spring!

-- Ikkyu (1394-1481)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

There goes the neighborhood

Click any image to enlarge
A short lived 1940s pulp magazine, Fantastic Adventures, ran a series on life in our solar system. It turns out we have some strange neighbors, such as the Neptunian lizards pictured above, as well as bat people from Pluto, giant slugs living in the swamps of Saturn, giant insects on Mercury and, as near as I can tell, a cross between panda bears and penguins that occupy Jupiter's moon Io.

Perhaps most alarming are the Martians. They're the most advanced beings in the Solar System and they tote around atomic rifles. We had best not irritate them. 

I must say that the creatures pictured below, crawling out of a hole in Uranaus, did remind me of the Robotolizer (What? You didn't really think I was mature enough to resist making a Uranus joke, did you?).

Via La Boite Verte. The rest of the series can be seen after the jump.      

Blues for Greasy

Jazz to get you over hump day
by Lester Young, Buddy Rich and Ella Fitzgerald.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stratfor and Za Za Gabor

In this Stratfor article George Friedman begins a series that will be an overview of the changing national strategies and regional balances on a global scale. The main areas he's concentrating on are the crisis in Europe, China's slowing economic growth, Iran's ascendance in the Middle East, and the challenges the U.S. faces as these areas go through flux.

Since the article dealt with issues of a planetary scale, I decided that the Hot Stratfor Babe likewise had to be that grandiose, so it was only natural that my mind turned towards that 1954 cinematic masterpiece Queen of Outer Space.

From the film I selected Za Za Gabor for the honor. Technically she isn't the Queen, rather she's a mere courtier to the Queen, but come on... this is Za Za were talking about.

In the film some 1950s style astronauts are headed for a space station when it gets blown up by a death ray. When the death rays seeks them out they open up their ship's throttle, scrunch their faces up to simulate high Gs and pass out from the strain.

When they wake up they find they've crash landed on Venus -- all things considered, a stroke of luck for them that of all of the directions their space ship could have gone off on, it picked the one trajectory that led to a planet. Even more fortuitous, Venus has an atmosphere they can breathe.

They leave the ship to explore the planet and are soon captured by some Venusian babes in miniskirts, high heels. and wearing gobs of makeup. Wondering where the men are, our intrepid explorers soon discover that Venus is ran by a race of Amazons who have eliminated all of the men on the planet.

The Queen, who always wears a mask (gee, I wonder if she was disfigured by a guy at one time?) really, really hates men and plans on blasting apart the Earth with her death ray because the place is knee deep with men. However, upon being exposed to the manly-men of Earth, many of the women, including Za Za, have fallen crazy-mad-in-love with them, so they stage a rebellion and foil the Queen's nefarious scheme.

Queen of Outer Space is a great piece of silly 1950s sci-fi. The science is ridiculous, much of the dialog is comical, the sexual politics are a hoot, and to top it all off,the whole thing is filmed in gorgeous technicolor which is a real rarity for the genre of that era. If you haven't seen it, it is well worth watching.

The State of the World: A Framework
By George Friedman, February 21, 2012

Editor's Note: This is the first installment of a new series on the national strategies of today's global power and other regional powers. This installment establishes a framework for understanding the current state of the world.

The evolution of geopolitics is cyclical. Powers rise, fall and shift. Changes occur in every generation in an unending ballet. However, the period between 1989 and 1991 was unique in that a long cycle of human history spanning hundreds of years ended, and with it a shorter cycle also came to a close. The world is still reverberating from the events of that period.

On Dec. 25, 1991, an epoch ended. On that day the Soviet Union collapsed, and for the first time in almost 500 years no European power was a global power, meaning no European state integrated economic, military and political power on a global scale. What began in 1492 with Europe smashing its way into the world and creating a global imperial system had ended. For five centuries, one European power or another had dominated the world, whether Portugal, Spain, France, England or the Soviet Union. Even the lesser European powers at the time had some degree of global influence.

After 1991 the only global power left was the United States, which produced about 25 percent of the world's gross domestic product (GDP) each year and dominated the oceans. Never before had the United States been the dominant global power. Prior to World War II, American power had been growing from its place at the margins of the international system, but it was emerging on a multipolar stage. After World War II, it found itself in a bipolar world, facing off with the Soviet Union in a struggle in which American victory was hardly a foregone conclusion.

The United States has been the unchallenged global power for 20 years, but its ascendancy has left it off-balance for most of this time, and imbalance has been the fundamental characteristic of the global system in the past generation. Unprepared institutionally or psychologically for its position, the United States has swung from an excessive optimism in the 1990s that held that significant conflict was at an end to the wars against militant Islam after 9/11, wars that the United States could not avoid but also could not integrate into a multilayered global strategy. When the only global power becomes obsessed with a single region, the entire world is unbalanced. Imbalance remains the defining characteristic of the global system today.

While the collapse of the Soviet Union ended the European epoch, it also was the end of the era that began in 1945, and it was accompanied by a cluster of events that tend to accompany generational shifts. The 1989-1991 period marked the end of the Japanese economic miracle, the first time the world had marveled at an Asian power's sustained growth rate as the same power's financial system crumbled. The end of the Japanese miracle and the economic problem of integrating East and West Germany both changed the way the global economy worked. The 1991 Maastricht Treaty set the stage for Europe's attempt at integration and was the framework for Europe in the post-Cold War world. Tiananmen Square set the course for China in the next 20 years and was the Chinese answer to a collapsing Soviet empire. It created a structure that allowed for economic development but assured the dominance of the Communist Party. Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was designed to change the balance of power in the Persian Gulf after the Iraq-Iran war and tested the United States' willingness to go to war after the Cold War.

In 1989-1991 the world changed the way it worked, whether measured in centuries or generations. It was an extraordinary period whose significance is only now emerging. It locked into place a long-term changing of the guard, where North America replaced Europe as the center of the international system. But generations come and go, and we are now in the middle of the first generational shift since the collapse of the European powers, a shift that began in 2008 but is only now working itself out in detail.

What happened in 2008 was one of the financial panics that the global capitalist system periodically suffers. As is frequently the case, these panics first generate political crises within nations, followed by changes in the relations among nations. Of these changes, three in particular are of importance, two of which are directly linked to the 2008 crisis. The first is the European financial crisis and its transformation into a political crisis. The second is the Chinese export crisis and its consequences. The third, indirectly linked to 2008, is the shift in the balance of power in the Middle East in favor of Iran.

Read the rest of The State of the World: A Framework at Stratfor.

Crimean War reenactment

Click any image to enlarge
A while ago I posted an item, from EnglishRussia, about Russians reenacting a WWI battle from the Brusilov Offensive. EnglishRussia has posted another item about Russian reenactment: Back in History - the Battle of Alma.

Alma is considered the first battle of the Crimean War. Previous to it, the Russians had chopped up the Turkish army, which caused France an England to intervene. They landed on the Crimean peninsula. The Battle of Alma resulted when the allied troops tried to breakout of their beachhead. It was a confused affair, with both side making tactical mistakes, but in the end the Russians were routed.  

As you can see in the pictures, the reenactors have a wide range of uniforms to choose from as they pick their units. There are more pictures after the jump, and even more pictures at the EnglishRussia link.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Digging a basement the hard way

Nine years ago Joe Murray, a Canadian farmer, started to dig a basement. He started with a pick axe, and did some work with an air chisel hammer, but eventually he turned his basement digging into an oddball hobby when he started doing the excavation with RC controlled toy earth moving equipment.

He can move about three square meters of earth a year, so he has a few more years to go before finishing his basement. When he does, he plans on doing some excavating in his barn and might dig a pond.

It isn't clear from the Oddity Central article, Guy Spends 9 Years Digging His Basement with Remote-Controlled Earthmovers, but I think he does most of his digging during the winter when the temperature outside is frequently below zero.

At first blush it seems like a crazy endeavor, but then again, all hobbies are fairly nutty if you look at them too closely. I would love to hear what his wife has to say about it all.  

The President's Blues

Monday morning, start of the work week and President's Day blues
by the Murder Mouse Blues Band.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Spanish Civil War posters

Click any image to enlarge
The Spanish Civil War was an ideological conflict that presaged WWII. It pitted fascists, royalists, and conservatives against communists, socialists, unionists and republicans. It began in 1936 with a partial military coup, and ended in 1939 with Franco's dictatorship.

It engendered considerable passion. The fighting was often brutal, with citizens not spared. Many of the horrors of the coming World War were tested on its battlefields. From our perspective neither side, the communists nor the fascists, offer much. In the end it seems that it was just the misery of the 20th Century condensed.

This post shows some of the posters from the factions who fought the war. They are in the usual heroic and muscular style of the propaganda posters of the day, but there is also an undeniable violent edge to them. There are more after the jump.

Del's wooden contraption

Delbert “Del” Short is a woodworker who's turned to making fanciful machines made entirely out of wood. The one in the video above he calls A Nutty Device. The magazine Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts wrote an article, Mechanical Marvels in Wood, about his creations. The article also includes two videos of other machines he's built. From that article:
When building one of these contraptions, which can take up to eight months to complete, Del makes the big gear in the middle first. Everything has to work together within the overall framework

“Everything in there has to be removable, because I might need to take them out and put them back in again fifteen or twenty times until I can get it to work properly. I may have to readjust the mechanism or make something completely different,” Del explained.

Many people want to buy his machines, but Del’s not selling. “I make these for my own amusement so I’ve never drawn up plans for them,” Del said. “Each machine is a true one-of-a-kind. To make another one I’d have to start all over again from scratch, and it would turn out completely different because I wouldn’t remember exactly how I did it the first time!”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

EFLI - cheerleader news and scrimmage pictures

Click any image to enlarge
For those that don't know, EFLI stands for the Elite Football of India, a league that will play American style football with teams so far in India and Sri Lanka, and plans to add a team from Bangladesh in the near future.

In my first post on the EFLI I jokingly mentioned cheerleading at the very end, and got a comment from Adil of the EFLI about the remark (I did email him, but never heard back). Recently I noticed that they've added an EFLI Cheerleaders Facebook page. There's no real information on it yet, just a comment that women interested in being an EFLI cheerleader should leave a comment and watch the page for updates.

It seems like they should be able to find some young ladies who would give it a try for some travel and adventure, but their approach is far too dodgy looking at the moment. They really should put more details out so it doesn't look so fly-by-night. 

As I pointed out in my follow-up post The current state of Indian cheerleading, cheerleading in India has a bit of a checkered history. Cheerleading was first brought the the Indian Premier League cricket fans by bringing in the Washington Redskins cheerleaders for an exhibition. Then many teams formed their own squads.

While cheerleading was well received by the male fans, in some cases perhaps too enthusiastically well received, among conservative members of Indian society it was frowned upon. The above pictures are of two squads that performed at the same match, the top dressed in the more risque American style, while the bottom squad has been adjusted for more conservative Indian tastes. As the LA Times article, In India, 'cheer queens' opt for saris, explains:  
Can sari-clad "cheer queens" stand up to short-skirted pom-pom girls?

That's a question Indian cricket fans are pondering after a team here introduced a cheerleading squad wrapped head to toe in traditional garb, its members eschewing high kicks and splits for complex hand waves and traditional dance steps.

"The concept of cheer queens is an extraordinary way of showcasing our national artistic heritage to the world," says Abhijit Sarkar, director of the Pune Warriors.

Others say it's a nice idea, done somewhere else.

"If you want fine arts, go to a hall," said cricket columnist Ayaz Memon.

Cheerleading arrived in India three years ago with the inception of a shorter, more TV-friendly form of cricket, a three-hour version of a game that, in its purest form, lasts five days with breaks for tea.

To attract audiences to the glitzy new Indian Premier League, organizers drew on an age-old principle — sex sells — and introduced U.S.-style cheerleaders in bikinis, miniskirts and high boots.

Many male fans welcomed the idea. But right-wing, religious and feminist groups quickly condemned it as "vulgar," "walking porn" and "frivolous eye candy" in a nation where, Kama Sutra aside, sensuality is not frequently discussed or displayed in public.

The fact that at least half the cheerleaders were foreigners, including several members of the Washington Redskins cheerleading squad with short skirts and what the Hindustan Times described as "teeny-weeny blouses," only fueled the kerfuffle.

They're "worse than bar dancers," complained Maharashtra state minister Siddharam Mhetre. "Mothers and daughters watch these matches and it does not look nice."

In other EFLI news they've released pictures from one of their scrimmages in full pads and with contact. They're looking good. You can more pictures after the jump.

Ooof. Nice hit on the ball carrier, but the defender should use his arms to wrap up the tackle.

Monotony raised to the Nth power

Above is game play from the City Bus Simulator 2010. If you watch it you'll note that you drive a bus from stop to stop, idle at traffic lights, and let people on and let people off. Oh, and the animations of the people are clunky and their American accents are wonky, possibly because the game is made by a German company.

Along with several missions: picking up people in wheelchairs, driving a route with construction going on, driving in a storm and so forth, they also have a campaign mode where buses are being stolen for some nefarious reason and you, playing the persona of Carlos the Bus Driver, have to unravel the mystery.  

I don't know about you, but I find it hard to imagine anybody sitting in their cubicle at work, impatiently watching the clock and waiting for 5:00 p.m. so's they can rush home to put in several thrilling hours of simulated bus driving. 

However, apparently there are people who play it. Or at least there are enough people who play it for TML Studios, the company that makes the game, to justify creating a new version of it called Bus Simulator 2012. It will be available February 23rd in case you have an urge to pilot a bus hither and yon. 

At least in the new version the animations look a little better, if nothing else the people on the sidewalk move instead of just standing in place like store dummies. If you're a masochist, or just plain bored out of your mind with nothing better to do, you can watch the trailer for it to see all the spiffy new improvements.

It all looks pretty goofy to me. Although, if it were cheap enough, it might just be goofy enough to spend a couple of hours fiddling with.

Friday, February 17, 2012

WeatherSpark - weather graphs, maps and forecasts

WeatherSpark dashboard screen (click to enlarge)
I live in Florida and so, unless a hurricane is out and about, I don't pay much attention to the weather. It's going to be hot in the summer and inhumanely cold in the winter -- why, some months it will go days without the temperature getting above 65 degrees!

But, enough of my tribulations, for you weather geeks I've found a very nice resource called WeatherSpark. Above is a screen shot of its dashboard view. You can select a wide range of information to display. Above I've selected the sun and moon, cloud cover, precipitation probability, temperature, pressure and wind for the New Orleans area.

You can also compare two locations, as well as scroll forwards and backwards in time, which is handy if you're planning a trip, perhaps based on one of my budget travel tips.

The feature set is richer for the U.S. than other areas, but you can still extract a considerable amount of information about cities outside of the States. For example, as I type this up it is -2F in Ulan Bator, Mongolia while the low temperature was -27F. Yikes! Remind me to schedule any Mongolian Death Worm expeditions for the summer.

If you like your weather be sure to check it out. There is a wealth of information at the site, as well as a number of ways of displaying it.

Stratfor and Ana de la Reguera

In the latest Stratfor article Ben West discusses the discovery of 15 tons of methamphetamine, and a lab to produce such quantities of the drug, at a Mexican ranch.

Ben argues that this is a significant discovery because it points to an evolution of the operations of Mexican drug cartels. Up until now Mexican drug gangs have primarily transited cocaine from Columbia to the United States, with their profits being the money they could skim off the top of that operation.

However, the size of the seized drug lab points to them producing meth at an industrial level, which will not only influence their profits, but how they may function in the future as well. He discusses those ramifications of that development in his article, which I've excerpted the beginning of below. You can follow the link at the end of the excerpt to read the entire article.

Since the article dealt with Mexico, I decide to once again turn to mine Mexican telenovas for an actress worthy of being named the article's Hot Stratfor Babe. After my usual meticulous search I selected Ana de la Reguera for the profound honor.

Ms. de la Reguera is a quite popular Latin actress. Dhe started in telenovas, but has since branched into commercials and movies. She is also a spokesperson for CoverGirl cosmetics. She appeared in the second season of HBO's series Eastbound and Down, so she appears to be trying to break into the U.S. market as well.

I must say that, given a choice, I would much prefer more of her to more meth.      

Meth in Mexico: A Turning Point in the Drug War?
By Ben West, February 16,2012

Mexican authorities announced Feb. 8 the largest seizure of methamphetamine in Mexican history -- and possibly the largest ever anywhere -- on a ranch outside of Guadalajara. The total haul was 15 tons of pure methamphetamine along with a laboratory capable of producing all the methamphetamine seized. While authorities are not linking the methamphetamine to any specific criminal group, Guadalajara is a known stronghold of the Sinaloa Federation, and previous seizures there have been connected to the group.

Methamphetamine, a synthetic drug manufactured in personal labs for decades, is nothing new in Mexico or the United States. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has led numerous crusades against the drug, increasing regulations on its ingredients to try to keep it from gaining a foothold in the United States. While the DEA's efforts have succeeded in limiting production of the drug in the United States, consumption has risen steadily over the past two decades. The increasing DEA pressure on U.S. suppliers and the growing demand for methamphetamine have driven large-scale production of the drug outside the borders of the United States. Given Mexico's proximity and the pervasiveness of organized criminal elements seeking new markets, it makes sense that methamphetamine would be produced on an industrial scale there. Indeed, Mexico has provided an environment for a scale of production far greater than anything ever seen in the United States.

But last week's methamphetamine seizure sheds light on a deeper shift in organized criminal activity in Mexico -- one that could mark a breakthrough in the violent stalemate that has existed between the Sinaloa Federation, Los Zetas and the government for the past five years and has led to an estimated 50,000 deaths. It also reveals a pattern in North American organized crime activity that can be seen throughout the 20th century as well as a business opportunity that could transform criminal groups in Mexico from the drug trafficking intermediaries they are today to controllers of an independent and profitable illicit market.

While the trafficking groups in Mexico are commonly called "cartels" (even Stratfor uses the term), they are not really cartels. A cartel is a combination of groups cooperating to control the supply of a commodity. The primary purpose of a cartel is to set the price of a commodity so that buyers cannot negotiate lower prices. The current conflict in Mexico over cocaine and marijuana smuggling routes shows that there are deep rifts between rival groups like the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas. There is no sign that they are cooperating with each other to set the price of cocaine or marijuana. Also, since most of the Mexican criminal groups are involved in a diverse array of criminal activities, their interests go beyond drug trafficking. They are perhaps most accurately described as "transnational criminal organizations" (TCOs), the label currently favored by the DEA.

Examples from the Past

While the level of violence in Mexico right now is unprecedented, it is important to remember that the Mexican TCOs are businesses. They do use violence in conducting business, but their top priority is to make profits, not kill people. The history of organized crime shows many examples of groups engaging in violence to control an illegal product. During the early 20th century in North America, to take advantage of Prohibition in the United States, organized criminal empires were built around the bootlegging industry. After the repeal of Prohibition, gambling and casinos became the hot market. Control over Las Vegas and other major gambling hubs was a business both dangerous and profitable. Control over the U.S. heroin market was consolidated and then dismantled during the 1960s and 1970s. Then came cocaine and the rise in power, wealth and violence of Colombian groups like the Medellin and Cali cartels.

But as U.S. and Colombian law enforcement cracked down on the Colombian cartels -- interdicting them in Colombia and closing down their Caribbean smuggling corridors -- Colombian producers had to turn to the Mexicans to traffic cocaine through Mexico to the United States. To this day, however, Colombian criminal groups descended from the Medellin and Cali cartels control the cultivation and production of cocaine in South America, while Mexican groups increasingly oversee the trafficking of the drug to the United States, Europe and Africa.

The Mexican Weakness

While violence has been used in the past to eliminate or coerce competitors and physically take control of an illegal market, it has not proved to be a solution in recent years for Mexican TCOs. The Medellin cartel became infamous for attacking Colombian state officials and competitors who tried to weaken its grasp over the cocaine market. Going back further, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel is thought to have been murdered over disagreements about his handling of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Before that, Prohibition saw numerous murders over control of liquor shipments and territory. In Mexico, we are seeing an escalating level of such violence, but few of the business resolutions that would be expected to come about as a result.

Geography helps explain this. In Mexico, the Sierra Madre mountain range splits the east coast and the west from the center. The Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean coastal plains tend to develop their own power bases separate from each other.

Read the rest of Meth in Mexico: A Turning Point in the Drug War? at Stratfor.

Cáde shucár

Get ready for a weekend of music from the ancestral homeland with Parno Graszt.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Historical anatomical drawings

Click any image to enlarge
These are examples of anatomical drawings from the 15th through the 19th centuries. The majority of them are Western, but there are a few that are Middle Eastern or Asian. The variety of methods they use to pose and present their subjects is fascinating, but it must have been grim work. 

There are 25 more drawings after the jump. The drawings are all taken from the National Library of Medicine (NLM) Historical Anatomies on the Web website which has many more of the illustrations, grouped by the book they are taken from.

The life of a vagabond

Somebody put together a time lapse video of NASA's Spirit rover from the time it touched down on Mars until it got stuck. after it got stuck it was unable to properly align itself to charge over the Martian winter and they finally lost contact with it. 

During its mission it drove 4.8 miles and lasted 5 years, 3 months and 27 days. JPL has a set of traverse maps showing its journeys.   

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Records on ribs

In the 1950s and 60s rock music, which could be heard on foreign radio broadcasts, was banned in the Soviet Union, but still very popular. Among Russian youth there was a black market for rock recordings. It took a bit of creativity to make these underground recordings, and one of the most common types was known as 'Records on Ribs'.

Old x-rays were scavenged. Because of the thick plastic they were filmed on, they could be cut into disks and -- using booths soldiers used to record cheap records for their relatives and girlfriends -- bootleg tapes could be recorded onto the used x-ray films.

They had the added advantage of being flexible, so black marketeers could wrap them around their arms and hide them under coat sleeves.

I tried to find an audio recoding of one of these old records, but had not luck. I found the three pictures in this post showing old Records on Ribs on the website Street Use, which includes more information about the practice and has some great comments in their comments section.