Saturday, March 31, 2012

An adventurer and his sweetheart

I wonder what the story behind this picture is? Whatever, I love the jaunty pose he's struck as he leans against the pillar.

An afternoon stroll

I remember watching this video some time ago, but I can't recall if I posted it or not. Either way, it deserves a repost. I get vertigo just watching it. Why would anybody even build a trail like that?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Stratfor and Angie Cepeda

In this Strafor article Colby Martin discusses the new Colombian military operations against the FARC rebels and criminal gangs operating in the hinterlands. He explains the history of the conflict, and the major tactical adjustments both sides have made in reaction to each other.

The beginning of the article is excerpted below, you can follow the link at the end of the excerpt to read the entire piece.

The article reminded me of the film Pantaleon y las Visitadoras. That film is set in Peru, but in it Angie Cepeda, who is Colombian, plays the pivotal role of a whore named La Columbiana and so, after my usual in-depth research and soul-searching she gets the honors for this article.

The film revolves around Captain Panteleon Pantoja, who is a competent, happily married and 'by the books' Peruvian army officer assigned the duty of managing a floating whore house on the Amazon for remote Peruvian garrisons. The sultry La Columbiana and a corrupt radio host drive the plot of this dark comedy.

Ms. Cepeda started her acting career in beer commercials, and moved on to Latin Soap Operas and eventually film. She's been successful in each of her moves and is a popular and flourishing Colombian actress. 

Colombia's New Counterinsurgency Plan
By Colby Martin, March 29, 2012

Colombian security forces attacked a camp belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on March 26 in Vistahermosa, Meta department, killing 36 members of the guerrilla group and capturing three. The operation, which Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said resulted in the deaths of more FARC members than any other single strike in the 50-year-long conflict between the Colombian government and Marxist guerrilla groups, came shortly after a similar action in Arauca state in which 33 FARC members were killed and 12 were captured.

The operations were launched as part of an aggressive new Colombian counterinsurgency strategy dubbed Operation Espada de Honor ("Sword of Honor"), created in response to the increasing violent activity by the country's guerrilla groups. The plan expands the list of targets for security forces and the locations where they will engage guerrillas, with the goal of crippling the FARC both militarily and financially.

Espada de Honor is the latest of several plans by the Colombian government to combat militancy in the country. To fully understand the plan and its implications, it is helpful to examine the nature of Colombia's guerrilla groups, previous government counterinsurgency strategies and how the FARC has reacted to them.

Limitations to Colombian Security

Colombia's central government has never been able to control all of its territory. The Magdalena River Valley represents the heart of the country, where -- along with the cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali -- most of the country's population lives. It is isolated from the rest of the country by Andes mountain ranges on either side. Outside the heartland is a combination of jungles, mountains and plains, largely uninhabited with limited infrastructure development.

Even with U.S. military aid, the logistical challenges involved in projecting power into Colombia's hinterlands make extended deployments unsustainable. Military operations outside the core have never been able to establish the security conditions needed to permit effective law enforcement on a large scale or for a significant period of time. The Colombian state is thus largely absent from the hinterlands, and the economic inequality in these regions is severe, giving rise to criminal organizations and insurgent groups.

This would not be a point of contention if not for the fact that the regions outside Colombia's core are rich in extractive resources such as oil, gold, precious stones, and rare earth elements -- as well as marijuana, coca and opium poppies. The state and insurgent and criminal groups are in competition for these resources, and the state is trying to secure the regions, regardless of limitations. Because the government lacks the resources to properly address the underlying issues of lack of development and inequality, eliminating insurgent groups is almost impossible. Instead, the government must concentrate on inhibiting their ability to operate and attempt to secure its interests as it seeks ways to improve conditions in the countryside.

Colombia has been in conflict since its creation as a republic in 1819. In the past 50 years, the conflict has centered on Marxist insurgences and the cocaine trade. Each new government plan to deal with these insurgencies has evolved from previous plans, though since the late 1990s, its strategies have been increasingly based on U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine.

Plan Colombia

In the late 1990s, President Andres Pastrana attempted to peacefully resolve the conflict with the FARC. Under Plan Colombia, Pastrana asked the United States, Europe and others for aid, both to combat the FARC and other insurgent groups and to address poverty and the lack of development in Colombia, issues he considered the underlying causes of the insurgency. This was intended to be coupled with peace negotiations in a demilitarized zone in San Vicente del Caguan, Caqueta department.

However, the plan that was actually implemented in 2000 focused much more on drug eradication and counterinsurgency than on development.

Nearly 80 percent of counterinsurgency funding, all of which came from the United States (which has spent nearly $7 billion in Colombia since 2000), went to the Colombian military and police, while developmental aid from other countries never fully materialized. Peace talks failed, the military moved into the demilitarized zone and the conflict escalated. Security operations were focused on the southern and eastern areas of Colombia, which were considered strongholds of the FARC and, not coincidentally, two of the main coca-producing regions in Colombia.

Read more: Colombia's New Counterinsurgency Plan | Stratfor

In a manner of speaking

Get ready for a puzzling weekend with Nouvelle Vague.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

An unexpected astronomical scale

A neutron star next to Manhattan (Fogonazos)
When dealing with the sizes of celestial objects we are used to mind-bendingly huge objects. For example, if the sun were the size of a basketball the nearest planet to it, Mercury, would be a little smaller than a BB and sit some 33 feet away from the basketball/Sun. The earth would be a small pebble, roughly 1/12 of an inch in diameter, and sit 86 feet away.

Conversely,  the diameter of a red giant star would reach more than 2/3rds of the way to Earth's orbit.

That's what makes the above picture so startling. It is a neutron star compared to the size of Manhattan. Neutron stars are the remnants of super novas. Although small, they are extremely dense. They can contain 1.5 to 2 times the matter of a star the size of the sun. The force of the super nova compresses them so much that protons and electrons are forced together and converted into neutrons, which are tightly packed with only quantum forces keeping them from collapsing entirely.    

I love astronomy, but it  never ceases to humble as it surprises

Landing without the landing gears down

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The BioDigital Human

The BioDigital Human beta is an online application that allows you to explore human anatomy. You can zoom and rotate the model as well as turn anatomical systems on and off. In the above screen capture the skeletal, digestive, respiratory and cardiovascular systems have been turned on. You can also drill down into the systems to see details of them.

Along with systems you can look at common conditions. That list is rather short, and I am assuming it will grow as they add to it.

The reluctant fighter

Just some foolishness to get you over hump day. I like the guy standing off to the side and filming it all with his cell phone. Nice touch.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stratfor and Song Hye-kyo

In this article George Friedman discusses the reasons for the continuing presence of American troops in South Korea.

As he points out, the original American Asian strategy in the aftermath of WWII was to establish a string of island bases and avoid the mainland. However, when North Korea invaded the South Truman opted to intervene to show allies that we would support them.

The American garrisoning of the Peninsula became first an artifact, then a relic of the Cold War era. To a large degree we only remain there out of inertia, since it could be argued that there is no longer a pressing reason to keep such a large commitment of troops in South Korea.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I naturally turned to Korean actresses for inspiration. After my usual careful study of the matter, and 10 minutes or so of Googling, I selected the South Korean actress and model Song Hye-kyo for the singular honor.

Ms Hye-kyo started acting at a young age on Korean television, appearing in numerous dramas and situation comedies. Her role in Autumn of my Heart, a South Korean soap/novella, led her to gain Asian-wide fame. That led to a transition to film, where her track record is spotty. She has appeared in a Hollywood independent film Make Yourself at Home (formerly titled Fetish), which I gather came and went without much notice.

Still, she seems to be extremely popular in Asia. Recently, and this should come as no surprise, she appears to have gone the route of many a Hot Stratfor Babe in recording some songs and trying to add musician to her resume.

The United States in Korea: A Strategy of Inertia

By George Friedman, March 27,2012

After U.S. President Barack Obama visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone on March 25 during his trip to South Korea for a nuclear security summit, he made the obligatory presidential remarks warning North Korea against continued provocations. He also praised the strength of U.S.-South Korean relations and commended the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed there. Obama's visit itself is of little importance, but it is an opportunity to ask just what Washington's strategy is in Korea and how the countries around North Korea (China, Russia, South Korea and Japan) view the region. As always, any understanding of current strategy requires a consideration of the history of that strategy.

The Korean War and the U.S. Proto-Strategy

Korea became a key part of U.S. Cold War-era containment strategy almost by accident. Washington, having deployed forces in China during World War II and thus aware of the demographic and geographic problems of operating on the Asian mainland, envisioned a maritime strategy based on the island chains running from the Aleutians to Java. The Americans would use the islands and the 7th Fleet to contain both the Soviets and the Chinese on the mainland.

Korea conceptually lay outside this framework. The peninsula was not regarded by the United States as central to its strategy even after the victory of the communists in the Chinese civil war. After World War II, the Korean Peninsula, which had been occupied by the Japanese since the early 1900s, was divided into two zones. The North came under the control of communists, the South under the control of a pro-American regime. Soviet troops withdrew from the North in 1948 and U.S. troops pulled out of the South the following year, despite some calls to keep them in place to dissuade communist aggression. The actual U.S. policy toward an invasion of the South by the North is still being debated, but a U.S. intervention on the Korean Peninsula clearly violated Washington's core strategic principle of avoiding mainland operations and maintaining a strategic naval blockade.

U.S. strategy changed in 1950, when the North Koreans invaded the South, sparking the Korean War. Pyongyang's motives remain unclear, as do the roles of Moscow and Beijing in the decision. Obviously, Pyongyang wanted to unite the peninsula under communist control, and obviously, it did not carry out its invasion against Chinese and Russian wishes, but it appears all involved estimated the operation was within the capabilities of the North Korean army. Had the North Korean military faced only South Korean forces, they would have been right. They clearly miscalculated the American intent to intervene, though it is not clear that even the Americans understood their intent prior to the intervention. However, once the North Koreans moved south, President Harry Truman decided to intervene. His reasoning had less to do with Korea than with the impact of a communist military success on coalition partners elsewhere. The U.S. global strategy depended on Washington's ability to convince its partners that it would come to their aid if they were invaded. Strategic considerations aside, not intervening would have created a crisis of confidence, or so was the concern. Therefore, the United States intervened.

After serious difficulties, the United States managed to push the North Korean forces back into the North and pursue them almost to the Yalu River, which divides Korea and China. This forced a strategic decision on China. The Chinese were unclear on the American intent but did not underestimate American power. North Korea had represented a buffer between U.S. allies and northeastern China (and a similar buffer for the Soviets to protect their maritime territories). The Chinese intervened in the war, pushing the Americans back from the Yalu and suffering huge casualties in the process. The Americans regrouped, pushed back and a stalemate was achieved roughly along the former border and the current Demilitarized Zone. The truce was negotiated and the United States left forces in Korea, the successors of which President Obama addressed during his visit.

North Korea: The Weak, Fearsome Lunatic

The great mystery of the post-Cold War world is the survival of the North Korean regime. With a dynamic South, a non-Communist Russia and a China committed to good economic relations with the West, it would appear that the North Korean regime would have found it difficult to survive. This was compounded by severe economic problems (precipitated by the withdrawal of economic support from the Chinese and the Russians) and reported famines in the 1990s. But survive it did, and that survival is rooted in the geopolitics of the Cold War.

From the Chinese point of view, North Korea served the same function in the 1990s as it did in 1950: It was a buffer zone between the now economically powerful South Koreans (and the U.S. military) and Manchuria. The Russians were, as during the Korean War, interested in but not obsessed by the Korean situation, the more so as Russia shifted most of its attention west. The United States was concerned that a collapse in North Korea would trigger tensions with the Chinese and undermine the stability of its ally, South Korea. And the South Koreans were hesitant to undertake any actions that might trigger a response from North Korean artillery within range of Seoul, where a large portion of South Korea's population, government, industry and financial interests reside. In addition, they were concerned that a collapsing North would create a massive economic crisis in the South, having watched the difficulties of German integration and recognizing the even wider economic and social gap between the two Koreas.

In a real sense, no one outside of North Korea was interested in changing the borders of the Peninsula. The same calculations that had created the division in the first place and maintained it during and after the Korean War remained intact. Everyone either had a reason to want to maintain an independent North Korea (even with a communist regime) or were not eager risk a change in the status quo.

The most difficult question to answer is not how the United States viewed the potential destabilization of North Korea but rather its willingness to maintain a significant troop level in South Korea. The reason for intervening in the first place was murky. The U.S. military presence between 1953 and 1991 was intended to maintain the status quo during the Cold War. The willingness to remain beyond that is more complex.

Read more: The United States in Korea: A Strategy of Inertia | Stratfor

Stress, back in the good ol' days

Click any image to enlarge
These are illustrations from a 1957 Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance brochure on how to deal with the tension of modern life. I found them via 50 Watts

Alas, only the pictures remain and not the advice that went with them. I like to image that, along with buying more life insurance, the brochures recommended mixing yourself a good, stiff Hi-Ball, guzzling it down while you puffed on cigarettes and watched your new fangled TV. 

Whatever the advice, the graphic style, along with the scenarios of the pictures, are wonderful.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wooden air engine and combination lock

Mathias Wandel built the simple, wooden air engine pictured in the video above. It uses a square piston connected to a fly wheel, and has a wooden plate that acts as the valves. If you're interested, he has a page called Air Engine 2 where he describes, with numerous pictures, how he constructed it as well as plans for it you can buy.

He also links to a couple of other folks who also built wooden air engines. One of the fellows -- Donald Zorn -- has a wooden combination lock that he also built, which lead me back around to Mathias' wooden combination lock, which is shown in the video below.

Walking with the Devil

Monday morning, start of the workweek blues by Seasick Steve.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Goldfish sculpted from paint and resin

Click any image to enlarge
The Japanese artist Riusuke Fukahori creates scultures of goldfish, layer by layer, out of paint and resin. He pours a layer of resin, paints a slice of the goldfish on it, and repeats the process until he has a 3D sculpture/painting. A most remarkable process.

There are more pictures at Dominic Alve's flickr stream, where I found these examples. I found his work via Colossal's post Riusuke Fukahori Paints Three-Dimensional Goldfish Embedded in Layers of Resin, which also has a video of Fukahori working.

Marimba duet

Steve Reich - Nagoya marimba-Ensemble 0 (for percussion) 


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pressure & Diving suits

Click any image to enlarge
Humans operating in the deep sea, at high altitude, or in space require suits to protect them from the environment. Over the decades they've created a wide variety of suits to solve that problem. 

Due to my laziness in captioning you'll have to guess at each of the suits uses. However, these examples, and the ones that follow the jump, are from the Oobject posts Pressure Suits and Diving Suits, so you can look them up there, as well as see more examples at both links.

First Flares Poll of International Opinion results

The first two Flares Polls of International Opinion results are in. The first poll to close was The Robotolizer's entry: Which is the best killer robot army - Cylons, Ro-Men or Terminators? 

The Terminators won hands down, gathering 95 votes for 67% of the total. Comfortably in second place were the Cylons with 34 (24%) votes while bringing up the rear, after barely putting up a fight, were the ever comical Ro-Men with a measly 12 (8%) votes.

The second poll to close, and the first Flares Poll of International Opinion to ever be held, was Who is the better Agent 99 Barbara Feldon or Anne Hathaway? In that post Ms Feldon easily won the poll with 209 (79%) votes to Anne Hathaway's 55 (20%) votes.

So, congratulations to the Terminators and Barbara Feldon for their convincing victories. A hearty handshake and a "job well done" to the winners.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Stratfor and Tokyo Rose / Lotus Long

Scott Stewart concludes his series on terrorism by reminding people that terrorism needs to be kept in perspective. While terrorism is an unquestionably violent act, at its heart -- for at least the type of terroism conducted against non-moslem targets -- it is more properly considered an act of propaganda.

The intent of terrorists is to leverage news coverage of their attacks ot spread fear far beyond reasonable bounds. All though difficult to do in this day of the 24 hour news cycle, it is imperative to judge the true scale of terrorism and not create exaggerated fears over its reach.

The beginning of the article is excerpted below, with a link to the full article at the end of the excerpt.

Because of the talk about propaganda in the article, for the Hot Stratfor Babe, Tokyo Rose immediately sprang to mind. So, I turned to the 1946 film Tokyo Rose and selected Lotus Long who played the title character for the honor.

Ms Long was an American of Japanese and Hawaiian ancestry and she made a career of playing exotic Asian women in movies. In the movie Tokyo Rose she was kidnapped by an escaped American POW who plans on killing her because her treachery led to the death of his buddy. I don't know much else about the film. I'm guessing it would probably be entertaining like films of that era tend to be, but I suspect there is enough racial stereotyping and what-not to ensure it will never again appear on TV.

Interestingly, there never was an actual Tokyo Rose. That was a generic name given to any of the number of English speaking woman who broadcast for the Japanese during the war. 

None the less, because she identified herself as Tokyo Rose to get paid for a post-war interview, one of the women -- Iva Toguri D'Aquino, who actually broadcasted under the name Orphan Ann -- became the one who was most associated with the Tokyo Rose monicker. That's her behind bars to the left.

Ms D'Aquino was an American citizen in Japan when the war started. She was pressured, but refused to renounce her citizenship and also smuggled food to allied prisoners in POW camps. When approached to do broadcasts by the POWs who ran the stations, she agreed to only after being given assurances that she would not have to broadcast anti-American propaganda.

After the war she was detained and investigated, and eventually released when no evidence of treasonous behavior on her part was found. However, when she returned to the States there was a public uproar and she was rearrested and tried for treason.

Her trial was a sham, with witnesses coerced into testifying against her. She was convicted of treason and sentenced to a 10 year prison sentence. She served a little over 6 years of the sentence before being paroled. In 1977, after an investigation into the irregularities of her trial, Jerry Ford issued her a full and unconditional pardon.

Keeping Terrorism in Perspective
By Scott Stewart, March 22, 2012

As we conclude our series on the fundamentals of terrorism, it is only fitting that we do so with a discussion of the importance of keeping terrorism in perspective.

By design, terrorist attacks are intended to have a psychological impact far outweighing the physical damage the attack causes. As their name suggests, they are meant to cause terror that amplifies the actual attack. A target population responding to a terrorist attack with panic and hysteria allows the perpetrators to obtain a maximum return on their physical effort. Certainly, al Qaeda reaped such a maximum return from the Sept. 11 attacks, which totally altered the foreign policy and domestic security policies of the world's only superpower and resulted in the invasion of Afghanistan and military operations across the globe. Al Qaeda also maximized its return from the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings, which occurred three days before the 2004 Spanish general elections that ousted the ruling party from power.

One way to mitigate the psychological impact of terrorism is to remove the mystique and hype associated with it. The first step in this demystification is recognizing that terrorism is a tactic used by a variety of actors and that it will not go away, something we discussed at length in our first analysis in this series. Terrorism and, more broadly, violence are and will remain part of the human condition. The Chinese, for example, did not build the Great Wall to attract tourists, but to keep out marauding hordes. Fortunately, today's terrorists are far less dangerous to society than the Mongols were to Ming China.

Another way to mitigate the impact of terrorism is recognizing that those who conduct terrorist attacks are not some kind of Hollywood superninja commandos who can conjure attacks out of thin air. Terrorist attacks follow a discernable, predictable planning process that can be detected if it is looked for. Indeed, by practicing relaxed, sustainable situational awareness, people can help protect themselves from terrorist attacks. When people practice situational awareness collectively, they also can help protect their communities from such attacks.

A third important component in the demystification process is recognizing and resisting the terror magnifiers terrorist planners use in their efforts to maximize the impact of their attacks. Terrorist attacks will cause tragedy and suffering, but the targeted population can separate terror from terrorism, and minimize the impact of such attacks if they maintain the proper perspective.

Propaganda of the Deed

As we begin our examination of perspective and terror magnifiers, let's first examine the objective of terrorist planners.

Nineteenth-century anarchists promoted what they called the "propaganda of the deed," or using violence as a symbolic action to make a larger point, such as inspiring the masses to undertake revolutionary action. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, modern terrorist organizations began to conduct operations designed to serve as terrorist theater, an undertaking greatly aided by the advent and spread of broadcast media. Some examples of early attacks specifically intended as made-for-television events include the September 1972 kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the December 1975 raid on OPEC headquarters in Vienna. Aircraft hijackings quickly followed suit, and were transformed from relatively brief endeavors to long, drawn-out and dramatic media events often spanning multiple continents. The image of TWA Flight 847 captain John Testrake in the window of his cockpit with a Hezbollah gunman behind him became an iconic image of the 1980s, embodying this trend.

Today, the proliferation of 24-hour television news networks and Internet news sites magnifies such media exposure. This increased exposure not only allows people to be informed minute-by-minute about unfolding events, it also permits them to become secondary, vicarious victims of the unfolding violence. The increased exposure ensures that the audience impacted by the propaganda of the deed becomes far larger than just those in the immediate vicinity of a terrorist attack. On Sept. 11, 2001, millions of people in the United States and around the world watched live as the second aircraft struck the south tower of the World Trade Center, people leapt to their deaths to escape the raging fires and the towers collapsed. Watching this sequence of events in real time profoundly impacted many people. Its effect was far greater than if people have merely read about the attacks in newspapers.

In the wake of 9/11, a wave of terror swept the globe as people worldwide became certain that more such spectacular attacks were inevitable. The November 2008 Mumbai attacks had a similar, albeit smaller, impact. People across India were fearful of being attacked by teams of Lashkar-e-Taiba gunmen, and concern spread around the world about Mumbai-style terrorism.

Terror Magnifiers

Such theatrical attacks exert a strange hold over the human imagination. The sense of terror they create can dwarf the reaction to natural disasters many times greater in magnitude. For example, more than 227,000 people died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami compared to fewer than 3,000 people on 9/11. Yet the 9/11 attacks spawned a global sense of terror and a geopolitical reaction that had a profound and unparalleled impact upon world events over the past decade.

As noted, the media magnifies this anxiety and terror. Television news, whether broadcast on the airwaves or over the Internet, allows people to experience a terrorist event remotely and vicariously, and the print media reinforces this. While part of this magnification results merely from the nature of television as a medium and the 24-hour news cycle, bad reporting and misunderstanding can build hype and terror.

Read more: Keeping Terrorism in Perspective | Stratfor

We Own the Sky

Get ready for a weekend of alien confetti invasions with M83.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ice cream trucks

Click on any image to enlarge
Summer is just over the horizon, and so our thoughts turn to the rhythms and icons of summer. The tinkling music of an ice cream truck is one of those icons. When you're a kid, ice cream trucks are wondrous things, and so the chase after them is always fondly remembered. 

I live on a dirt road so I don't get visited by ice cream trucks, but I hear them in the nearby neighborhoods. I wonder what sort of hoops you have to jump through to run an ice cream truck these days? I hope not too many, every kid should have the pleasure of chasing one on warm summer days.

There are more vintage ice cream trucks after the jump, and even more at Vintage Everyday's post Vintage Ice Cream Trucks where I found these examples.

A visualization of ocean currents

The NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio has put together a video that is a visualization of surface ocean currents. The data is from June 2005 through December of 2007. Resolution is fine enough to show ocean eddies and detail in the broader currents.

Aside from how clearly the gulf stream stood out, the number of ocean eddies were a surprise to me. They seemed to pile up on the east coast of continents, which I guess makes sense since that is the side where the rotation of the Earth piles up water in general. The string of eddies off the tip of Africa and into the South Atlantic was also striking.

It is an interesting video. The complexities of the ocean currents give an entirely different feel to Earth from the cloud-centric views we are used to seeing. In some ways the oceans currents reminded me of cloud patterns on the gas giants.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The maiden voyage

Regular readers of this blog will know that recently I've bought a sailboat. The boat was tied up 20+ miles north of where I needed it, so the first voyage was going to be a long one as I moved it to its new home port. 

The move was complicated by the fact that I don't know how to sail and I wasn't sure what surprises the boat had in store for me. Two friends of mine, who were power boaters and had also never sailed, agreed to help me move the boat. They were well familiar with the local waters and decided that figuring out how to run a sailboat was an adventure they couldn't pass up.

Click any image to enlarge
Our first concern was the outboard. My brother (who was the 4th member of the crew for the move) and I had gone up the week before and tested it out. As you might notice in the picture above, the cover is off of it. That's because the choke's linkage was broken and so we had to operate it by hand. Aside from that the outboard seemed to work fine. 

Still, in the worse case scenario we wouldn't be able to figure out the sails and would have to motor it the whole way south. That was a prospect we didn't look forward to, nor were we that confident in the motor. We lined up another friend with a boat who was standing by to tow us if worse came to worse.

Readers who are familiar with the fact that I am a self-declared, high and mighty functionary in the Green movement, may be tisk-tisking over the smoke billowing out of my trusty motor. All I have to say is -- yea, yea, yea, how 'bout you put a cork in your hypocrisy charges. I'm a muckity-muck among the Greens, and so naturally I operate under a different set of rules than you peons do. 

Besides, I may need to harass a Japanese whaler if one is cheeky enough to enter the Gulf to harvest whale blubber. What's gagging on exhaust fumes compared to the slaughter of our brethren from the deep?

With the motor started, we cast off, that's me on the bow by the way, backed away from the slip and headed up the channel to the Gulf. 

I'm reasonably certain that the other boat owners were glad to see us finally gone. Surely they were embarrassed by the constant comparisons of their scows to my luxury yacht. Well, either that or, having watched us in operation, they breathed a sigh of relief that we didn't immediately sink our craft in the middle of the channel and block it.

To get out of the intercoastal waterway we has to request the bridge tender raise the bridge at Saint John's Pass. For our purposes it was a perfect day for the move, with light winds, a calm sea and moderate temperatures. Being on the boat sure beat the traffic jam we had stuck those poor motorists in.

Once clear of the channel and in the open waters of the Gulf we, after much fumbling around, raised the sails. Experienced sailors are probably laughing at the trim of our jib in the picture above, but after some experimenting we were delighted that we managed to get our boat headed in the direction we wanted.

The short video above gives a taste of us under sail. Very relaxing, with the outboard off all you hear is the sound of water on the hull, the wind in the rigging and the rustling of the canvas. Although, you can't be in a hurry getting anywhere on a sailboat. The best speed we made was little over 6 knots, and for most of the trip we were moving at an even more leisurely pace. 

The entire trip took us 10 hours. We reached our new home port just before sunset and tied the boat up in its new slip. Altogether it was a most enjoyable journey. 

The glass eye maker

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stratfor and Mamie Van Doren

I'm just getting back into the swing of things so my comments on this Stratfor article are going to be rather brief. In the article George Friedman discusses the current American doctrine of the long war, problems it presents, and areas where it may not have been as thought through as desired nor implemented properly.

The beginning of the article is excerpted below. You can follow the link at the end of the excerpt to read the entire article.

For the Hot Stratfor Babe I looked for inspiration from even a longer war -- the War Between the Sexes. With that in mind I searched for portrayals of Eve in the cinema and settled upon The Private Lives of Adam and Eve which starred Mamie Van Doren. So, in spite of the fact that the choice seems faintly sacrilegious, Mamie wins the honors. Hey, don't blame me, blame the pain medicine I'm on.

The film was a comedy which was directed by Micky Rooney, who also played the devil in it. Apparently the movie revolved around a modern day Adam and Eve who flashed back to the time of Genesis, with their friends and acquaintances played parts in the flashbacks. If you don't consider it too closely I suppose it is kind of like The Wizard of Oz. Only -- having not seen the film -- unlike Oz I'm guessing The Private Lives of Adam and Eve was pretty bad. 

Afghanistan and the Long War
By George Friedman, March 19, 2012

The war in Afghanistan has been under way for more than 10 years. It has not been the only war fought during this time; for seven of those years another, larger war was waged in Iraq, and smaller conflicts were under way in a number of other countries as well. But the Afghanistan War is still the longest large-scale, multi-divisional war fought in American history. An American soldier's killing of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, on March 11 represents only a moment in this long war, but it is an important moment.

In the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, military strategists in the United States developed the concept of the long war. The theory was presented in many ways, but its core argument was this: The defeat of Taliban forces and the Iraqi resistance would take a long time, but success would not end the war because Islamist terrorism and its supporters would be a constantly shifting threat, both in the places and in the ways they would operate. Therefore, since it was essential to defeat terrorism, the United States was now engaging in a long war whose end was distant and course unknown.

Sometimes explicit but usually implicit in this argument was that other strategic issues faced by the United States should be set aside and that the long war ought to be the centerpiece of U.S. strategic policy until the threat of Islamist terrorism disappears or at least subsides. As a result, under this theory -- which very much influences U.S. strategy -- even if the war in Afghanistan ended, the war in the Islamic world would go on indefinitely. We need to consider the consequences of this strategy.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who allegedly perpetrated the appalling slaughter in Afghanistan, was on his fourth tour of combat duty. He had served three tours in Iraq of nine, 15 and 12 months -- he had been at war for three years. His tour in Afghanistan was going to be his fourth year. The wars he fought in differed from prior wars. Fallujah and Tora Bora were not Stalingrad. Still, the hardship, fear and threat of death are ever-present. The probability of dying may be lower, but it is there, it is real, and there are comrades you can name whom you saw die.

In Vietnam, only volunteers served more than a single one-year tour. For Americans in World War II, the war lasted a little more than three years, and only a handful of U.S. troops were in combat for that long. U.S. involvement in World War I lasted less than two years, and most U.S. soldiers were deployed for a year or less. In U.S. history, only the Civil and Revolutionary wars lasted as long as Bales had served.

Atrocities occur in all wars. This is an observation, not an excuse. And they become more likely the longer a soldier is in combat. War is brutal and it brutalizes the souls of warriors. Some resist the brutalization better than others, but no one can see death that often and not be changed. Just as important, the enemy is dehumanized. You cannot fight and fear him for years and not come to see him as someone alien to you. Even worse, when the enemy and the population are difficult to distinguish, as is the case in a counterinsurgency, the fear and rage extends to everyone. In Bales' case, it extended even to children.

It is no different for the Taliban save two things. First, they are fighting for their homeland and in their homeland. Americans fight for the homeland in the sense that they are fighting terrorism, but that fight becomes abstract after a while. For the Taliban it is a reality. Americans can go home and may become bitter at those who never shared the burden. The Taliban are at home, and their bitterness at those who did not share the burden outstrips the bitterness of the Americans. Second, it is a fact of war that Taliban atrocities are usually invisible to the Western media, but they are there, even if reporters are not. It could be said that the Taliban were brutalized by years of fighting before the Americans came, but in the end, the fact of brutalization is more important than the genesis.

Read more: Afghanistan and the Long War | Stratfor

Monday, March 19, 2012

The sailing went OK, but...

...the drive back didn't. We sailed the boat for 10 hours and got it to its new home port.

On the way home we got hit head-on. I'm in the hospital and a bit banged up. Gonne be slow blogging for a while.

Published with Blogger-droid v2.0.4

Saturday, March 17, 2012

For those in peril on the sea

As you read this I'll be setting off on the maiden voyage with my fine new used sailing vessel. It's about a 23 mile trip south to its new home port. 

From my nautical readings I know I have to look out for nor'easters, icebergs and sirens of the sea luring me towards the rocks. Although, now that I think about it, I don't recall any reports of any of those occurring in the Gulf. 

In fact, my biggest fear is becoming becalmed and having to boil the leather of my shoes for sustenance. At any rate, if you don't hear from me again you'll know I went down with my sloop. If so, please light a candle and put it in your window for my safe return.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stratfor and Alicia Silverstone

In his last article about terrorist planning methodology Scott Stewart discussed the surveillance stage of their planning cycle.

This week he discusses practical steps you can take to maintain situational awareness. This is a topic he has written about before, and as he points out, it is also a necessary mindset to develop to try to avoid criminal behavior as well.

The beginning of the article is excerpted below. A link to the full article follows the excerpt.

Because the article was about situational awareness, the movie Clueless naturally came to mind as I pondered who deserved to be the article's Hot Stratfor Babe. That settled, Alicia Silverstone was the obvious choice for the honor.

In the film Alicia plays Cher, a vapid and fashion obsessed butinsky who gives everybody else in the film relationship and style tips. Her own personal life is a bit of a fiasco, as she spends the majority of the movie chasing after a guy who turns out to be gay. I saw it when it first came out and have no idea how well it aged, but I remember it being an entertaining bit of fluff.

 Ms Silverstone started her career at a young age in the movie The Crush. This led to a series of music videos for Aerosmith where she started to gain a following of young fans. Clueless was her breakout film. She's continued to do films, has had less luck getting a TV show to last, and has gradually started doing more and more stage work. 

A Practical Guide to Situational Awareness
By Scott Stewart, March 12, 2012

For the past three weeks we have been running a series in the Security Weekly that focuses on some of the fundamentals of terrorism. First, we noted that terrorism is a tactic not exclusive to any one group and that the tactic would not end even if the jihadist threat were to disappear. We then discussed how actors planning terrorist attacks have to follow a planning process and noted that there are times during that process when such plots are vulnerable to detection.

Last week we discussed how one of the most important vulnerabilities during the terrorism planning process is surveillance, and we outlined what bad surveillance looks like and described some basic tools to help identify those conducting it. At the end of last week's Security Weekly we also discussed how living in a state of paranoia and looking for a terrorist behind every bush not only is dangerous to one's physical and mental health but also results in poor security. This brings us to this week, where we want to discuss the fundamentals of situational awareness and explain how people can practice the technique in a relaxed and sustainable way.

Situational awareness is very important, not just for personal security but as a fundamental building block in collective security. Because of this importance, Stratfor has written about situational awareness many times in the past. However, we believe it merits repeating again in order to share these concepts with our new readers as well as serve as a reminder for our longtime readers.

More Mindset than Skill

It is important to note that situational awareness -- being aware of one's surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations -- is more of a mindset than a hard skill. Because of this, situational awareness is not something that can be practiced only by highly trained government agents or specialized corporate security teams. Indeed, it can be exercised by anyone with the will and the discipline to do so. Situational awareness is not only important for recognizing terrorist threats, but it also serves to identify criminal behavior and other dangerous situations.

The primary element in establishing this mindset is first to recognize that threats exist. Ignorance or denial of a threat make a person's chances of quickly recognizing an emerging threat and avoiding it highly unlikely. Bad things do happen. Apathy, denial and complacency can be deadly.

A second important element of the proper mindset is understanding the need to take responsibility for one's own security. The resources of any government are finite and the authorities simply cannot be everywhere and cannot stop every potential terrorist attack or other criminal action. The same principle applies to private security at businesses or other institutions, like places of worship. Therefore, people need to look out for themselves and their neighbors.

Another important facet of this mindset is learning to trust your "gut" or intuition. Many times a person's subconscious can notice subtle signs of danger that the conscious mind has difficulty quantifying or articulating. I have interviewed many victims who experienced such feelings of danger prior to an incident but who chose to ignore them. Trusting your gut and avoiding a potentially dangerous situation may cause you a bit of inconvenience, but ignoring such feelings can lead to serious trouble.

The discipline part of practicing situational awareness refers to the conscious effort required to pay attention to gut feelings and to surrounding events even while you are busy and distracted. At such times even obvious hostile activity can go unnoticed, so individuals need to learn to be observant even while doing other things.

Levels of Awareness
People typically operate on five distinct levels of awareness. There are many ways to describe these levels ("Cooper's colors," for example, which is a system frequently used in law enforcement and military training), but perhaps the most effective way to illustrate the differences between the levels is to compare them to the different degrees of attention we practice while driving. For our purposes here we will refer to the five levels as "tuned out," "relaxed awareness," "focused awareness," "high alert" and "comatose."

Read the rest of A Practical Guide to Situational Awareness at Stratfor.


Get ready for a relaxing weekend with Rosa Passos and Ron Carter.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

In the Hall of the Mountain King played on Tesla coils

I hate to set up back to back music posts, but this is just too good to pass up. Steve Ward, Jeff Larson and Terry Blake, who bill themselves as the Masters of Lightning, perform songs with solid state musical Tesla coils. They use 25Kw and a MIDI to modulate the break rate (the rate and duration of the high power RF bursts) of the coils to make the music.

Above is their version of In the Hall of the Mountain King. If you go to YouTube they have  other samples such as House of the Rising Sun, Sweet Home Alabama and Dueling Banjos. I wonder what their neighbors think of their concerts?

Found via Open Culture.

Turtle's eye view

Continuing my series of mini-cam videos, today we have a camera mounted on a turtle. The notes that accompany the video assure us that there is no chlorine in the pool, and that the camera is neutral buoyant, so it doesn't cause the turtle to sink. The turtle swims to the bottom as a normal defense mechanism.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A deserted and burning city

Borepatch has an exceptionally good post up today called  Napoleon's Sponge. In it, he compares Obama's overreach to Napoleon's disastrous decision to invade Russia.   

Napoleon had gone from victory to victory, until he was finally stalled in the deserted and burning city of Moscow and saw his invincibility, along with his army, dissolve as it withdrew from Russia.

So too has Progressivism had a 100 year string of forward movement from victory to victory until it stalled on the horns of empty treasuries and an ever expanding deficit. In both the U.S. and Europe there is now significant push back. What looked like the final victory for the Progressives is perhaps instead turning into a rout.

I think Borepatch is a bit over optimistic -- the retreating French army left no guerrillas, while bureaucracies and institutions are infested with them today. They will fight a long and brutal rear guard. None the less, it does appear that the high watermark of the Progressive movement may have been met.

Below is an excerpt from his piece. Be sure to follow the link above and read his entire post. 
Obamacare was the high water mark of the Progressive dream, equivalent to Napoleon's inconclusive "victory" at Borodino, where a quarter million men faced each other with grapeshot and bayonet, and 70,000 ended their campaign for good. Today Obama seems like Napoleon, looking upon the devastation that was Moscow and wondering how he can keep his army alive over the winter. 

He can't, and they're all deserting.  2010 saw the Democratic Party refuse to run on the "success" that was their biggest entitlement victory in a generation, because America increasingly hates it - to the point that
90% oppose the mandate to buy insurance.  That's not "50% plus one" where you can either convince people later or sweep it under the rug.  That's the time you start wondering if your party is the 1%.

The problem for Progressives is that Obama has let the mask slip.  He ran as a moderate who would reach across the aisle to get things done for America.  He's governed as a radical who is intentionally inflaming class warfare.  And so the Democratic Party finds itself in a crisis of legitimacy so profound that
even the Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg can't avoid it:
But in smaller, more probing focus groups, voters show they are fairly cynical about Democratic politicians’ stands. They tune out the politicians’ fine speeches and plans and express sentiments like these: “It’s just words.” “There’s just such a control of government by the wealthy that whatever happens, it’s not working for all the people; it’s working for a few of the people.” “We don’t have a representative government anymore.”
But none of this has slowed the Administration, pushing stealth gun control via the ATF "Fast and Furious" operation, preventing oil drilling on public land or in the Gulf, or using the IRS to harass Tea Party organizations.  As Maréchal Ney said to Napoleon after Borodino, "Never let a crisis go to waste, even if you have to make the crisis."  (Err, I think I read that in a history book somewhere.)

And as we view the unfolding collapse of the Progressive vision in general and the Eurozone in particular, the Administration tells Congressional Democrats that they're on their own as far as fund raising is concerned.  Three years after receiving his Nobel Prize, the Emperor is leaving the advanced guard behind.   He's taking a sleigh away from the front lines to save his own chances, while they're expected to fall under Tea Party sabres in the snowy retreat.

The water jet pack

JetLev -- a mere $99,500 to own your own.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stratfor and Alexandra Maria Lara

The latest article in George Friedman's series on the current state of geopolitics concerns Germany.

NATO, and to a larger degree the EU, were post war organizations that were intended to neutralize Germany's power by binding it to France. 

With German unification, and now the economic difficulties of the EU, there is a shift in power taking place on the continent.

In light of that Friedman considers several possibilities: a rump EU or Germany allied with either France or Russia and discusses the ramifications of each situation.

The beginning of the article is excerpted below. A link to the entire article at Stratfor is at the end of the excerpt.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I looked for a German actress. I ended up with Alexandra Maria Lara, who's actually Romanian, but she moved to Germany at the age of 4. That's close enough for me, and so she gets the honors for this article.

Ms Lara started out on German TV as a teen, but quickly transitioned to film where she has had international success. However, for the sake of this post, her most famous part was as Traudl Junge, Adolf Hitler's secretary, in the film Der Untergang.

Der Untergang's English name is The Downfall, and from it is the clip of Adolph Hitler ranting and raving that has appeared in about a bajillion parodies. Granted, internet fame like that is hard to top, but I'm sure we all agree that a Hot Stratfor Babe award beats it hands down.

The State of the World: Germany's Strategy By George Friedman, March 12, 2012

The idea of Germany having an independent national strategy runs counter to everything that Germany has wanted to be since World War II and everything the world has wanted from Germany. In a way, the entire structure of modern Europe was created to take advantage of Germany's economic dynamism while avoiding the threat of German domination. In writing about German strategy, I am raising the possibility that the basic structure of Western Europe since World War II and of Europe as a whole since 1991 is coming to a close.

If so, then the question is whether historical patterns of German strategy will emerge or something new is coming. It is, of course, always possible that the old post-war model can be preserved. Whichever it is, the future of German strategy is certainly the most important question in Europe and quite possibly in the world.

Origins of Germany's Strategy

Before 1871, when Germany was fragmented into a large number of small states, it did not pose a challenge to Europe. Rather, it served as a buffer between France on one side and Russia and Austria on the other. Napoleon and his campaign to dominate Europe first changed the status of Germany, both overcoming the barrier and provoking the rise of Prussia, a powerful German entity. Prussia became instrumental in creating a united Germany in 1871, and with that, the geopolitics of Europe changed.

What had been a morass of states became not only a unified country but also the most economically dynamic country in Europe -- and the one with the most substantial ground forces. Germany was also inherently insecure. Lacking any real strategic depth, Germany could not survive a simultaneous attack by France and Russia. Therefore, Germany's core strategy was to prevent the emergence of an alliance between France and Russia. However, in the event that there was no alliance between France and Russia, Germany was always tempted to solve the problem in a more controlled and secure way, by defeating France and ending the threat of an alliance. This is the strategy Germany has chosen for most of its existence.

The dynamism of Germany did not create the effect that Germany wanted. Rather than split France and Russia, the threat of a united Germany drew them together. It was clear to France and Russia that without an alliance, Germany would pick them off individually. In many ways, France and Russia benefited from an economically dynamic Germany. It not only stimulated their own economies but also provided an alternative to British goods and capital. Nevertheless, the economic benefits of relations with Germany did not eliminate the fear of Germany. The idea that economics rule the decisions of nations is insufficient for explaining their behavior.

Germany was confronted with a strategic problem. By the early 20th century the Triple Entente, signed in 1907, had allied Russia, France and the United Kingdom. If they attacked simultaneously at a time of their choosing, these countries could destroy Germany. Therefore, Germany's only defense was to launch a war at a time of its choosing, defeat one of these countries and deal with the others at its leisure. During both World War I and World War II, Germany first struck at France and then turned to deal with Russia while keeping the United Kingdom at bay. In both wars, the strategy failed. In World War I, Germany failed to defeat France and found itself in an extended war on two fronts. In World War II, it defeated France but failed to defeat Russia, allowing time for an Anglo-American counterattack in the west.

Binding Germany to Europe

Germany was divided after World War II. Whatever the first inclinations of the victors, it became clear that a rearmed West Germany was essential if the Soviet Union was going to be contained. If Germany was to be rearmed, its economy had to be encouraged to grow, and what followed was the German economic miracle. Germany again became the most dynamic part of Europe.

The issue was to prevent Germany from returning to the pursuit of an autonomous national strategy, both because it could not resist the Soviet forces to the east by itself and, more important, because the West could not tolerate the re-emergence of divisive and dangerous power politics in Europe. The key was binding Germany to the rest of Europe militarily and economically. Put another way, the key was to make certain that German and French interests coincided, since tension between France and Germany had been one of the triggers of prior wars since 1871. Obviously, this also included other Western European countries, but it was Germany's relationship with France that was most important.

Militarily, German and French interests were tied together under the NATO alliance even after France withdrew from the NATO Military Committee under Charles de Gaulle. Economically, Germany was bound with Europe through the emergence of more sophisticated multilateral economic organizations that ultimately evolved into the European Union.

After World War II, West Germany's strategy was threefold. First, it had to defend itself against the Soviet Union in concert with an alliance that would effectively command its military through NATO. This would limit German sovereignty but eliminate the perception of Germany as a threat. Second, it would align its economy with that of the rest of Europe, pursuing prosperity without undermining the prosperity of other countries. Third, it would exercise internal political sovereignty, reclaiming its rights as a nation without posing a geopolitical threat to Western Europe. After the fall of the Soviet Union, this was extended to include Eastern European states.

The strategy worked well. There was no war with the Soviets. There was no fundamental conflict in Western Europe and certainly none that was military in nature. The European economy in general, and the German economy in particular, surged once East Germany had been reintegrated with West Germany. With reintegration, German internal sovereignty was insured. Most important, France remained linked to Germany via the European Union and NATO. Russia, or what was left after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was relatively secure so long as Germany remained part of European structures. The historical strategic problem Germany had faced appeared solved.

Europe's Economic Crisis

The situation became more complex after 2008. Germany's formal relationship with NATO remained intact, but without the common threat of the Soviet Union, the alliance was fracturing over the divergent national interests of its members. The European Union had become Germany's focus, and the bloc had come under intense pressure that made the prior alignment of all European countries more dubious. Germany needed the European Union. It needed it for the reasons that have existed since World War II: as a foundation of its relationship with France and as a means to ensure that national interest would not generate the kinds of conflicts that had existed in the past.

Read the rest of The State of the World: Germany's Strategy at Stratfor.