Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lego dioramas of Dante's visions of Hell

Click any image to enlarge
The Romanian artist Mihai Micah has created Lego dioramas of Dante's nine circles of Hell from the Inferno. Mihai admits, “I have not read the Divine Comedy, only brief descriptions of the small circles of hell, which I found on the internet on various websites. I do not want my work greatly influenced the original description, I wanted to create a fresh and original approach to the interpretation of each circle of hell, so let the will of his own imagination.”

Pictures of all of his versions of the nine circles, as well descriptions of the individual dioramas can be found at the Todays Whisper post Dante’s nine circles of hell out of Lego. By the way, the circles pictured in this post are, from top to bottom, Lust, Greed and Apostasy/Heresy.

Run for the Gold

Picture from Kateoplis (click to enlarge)
These three fellows are running the marathon in the first modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896. It was a 25 mile race from Marathon to Athens. I have no idea who the three in the picture are, but Spyridon Louis of Greece won with a time of 2:58:50, followed by his fellow countryman Kharilaos Vasilakos at 3:06:03. After a successful protest, Gyula Kellner of Hungary placed third at 3:06:35.

The American Arthur Blake finished in 13th place, although he only lasted for a little over half of the course before dropping out of the race.

I rather like the fact that they're running in long pants and whatever shirt they wore that morning. It seems like the sort of clothes an amateur would wear. I wonder what their shoes were like?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Russian cigarette lighter

Some Russian guys firing up an old jet engine from a MiG 15. The engine is either a Rolls Royce Nene or Derwent, or a  Russian copy. 

You can see a flame shooting out of hole in one of the combustion chambers, which makes this whole exercise even more insane than firing up a jet engine in your backyard normally would be. The guys doing this are seriously crazy.

By the way, the title of this post comes from one of the comments in the video's comment thread.

Third fight scene from Big Man Japan

Here's another fight scene from Big Man Japan to get you over hump day. Is it my imagination, or are these things getting weirder? What ever the answer to that, it is best not to dwell on the... uh... symbolism of the first monster in this scene. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stratfor and Reese Witherspoon

In this Stratfor article George Friedman discusses the Egyptian run-off election between Mohammed Morsi, the Moslem Brotherhood candidate  and Ahmed Shafiq who was the last Prime Minister under Mubarak's regime.

He points out that they represent to bases of support in Egypt. I once read that in Moslem countries there was always a political interplay between the Arab Street and the Arab Market, and I think this is a reasonable model for the situation in the Egyptian elections.

Friedman then expands his discussion to how Westerners misread the Arab Spring, reading too much of a liberal and secular nature into the protestors' motives. He uses that to segue to the Syrian revolt and point out that Assad's regime, like the Egyptian armed forces with Safiq, still has a lot of organic support.

I've felt that Friedman, in the beginning of the Syrian revolt, underplayed its staying power and overplayed the strength of the Assad regime. Particularly in light of Syria being a logical place for the Sunni governments in the region being able to block Iran's ambitions. I still think Friedman underestimates that dimension of the Syrian revolt.

Regardless, as always it is a good and thought-provoking article. i've excerpted the beginning below, with a link to the full article at the end of the excerpt.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe, since we're discussing elections, the movie Election immediately sprang to mind and so its female lead, Reese Witherspoon, gets the profound honor of representing the article as its Hot Stratfor Babe. 

In the movie Ms Witherspoon plays the part of Tracy Flick, an ambitious, devious and conniving student who runs for Student Council President to improve her chances of being excepted at a good college. The Student Council faculty adviser, who pretty much hates Tracy, is horrified and intervenes to try to derail her campaign. 

I've only seen it once some time ago, but I remember it as being a pretty funny movie. Tracy Flick is a hilariously amoral and scheming social climber. I wouldn't mind seeing it again to see how well it aged.

The Egyptian Election and the Arab Spring

By George Friedman, May 29, 2012

The Egyptian presidential election was held last week. No candidate received 50 percent of the vote, so a runoff will be held between the two leading candidates, Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq. Morsi represented the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and received 25.3 percent of the vote, while Shafiq, a former Egyptian air force commander and the last prime minister to serve in Hosni Mubarak's administration, received 24.9 percent. There were, of course, charges of irregularities, but in general the results made sense. The Islamist faction had done extremely well in the parliamentary election, and fear of an Islamist president caused the substantial Coptic community, among others, to support the candidate of the old regime, which had provided them at least some security.

Morsi and Shafiq effectively tied in the first round, and either can win the next round. Morsi's strength is that he has the support of both the Islamist elements and those who fear a Shafiq presidency and possible return to the old regime. Shafiq's strength is that he speaks for those who fear an Islamist regime. The question is who will win the non-Islamist secularists' support. They oppose both factions, but they are now going to have to live with a president from one of them. If their secularism is stronger than their hatred of the former regime, they will go with Shafiq. If not, they will go with Morsi. And, of course, it is unclear whether the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military committee that has ruled Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, will cede any real power to either candidate, especially since the constitution hasn't even been drafted.

This is not how the West, nor many Egyptians, thought the Arab Spring would turn out in Egypt. Their mistake was overestimating the significance of the democratic secularists, how representative the anti-Mubarak demonstrators were of Egypt as a whole, and the degree to which those demonstrators were committed to Western-style democracy rather than a democracy that represented Islamist values.

What was most underestimated was the extent to which the military regime had support, even if Mubarak did not. Shafiq, the former prime minister in that regime, could very well win. The regime may not have generated passionate support or even been respected in many ways, but it served the interests of any number of people. Egypt is a cosmopolitan country, and one that has many people who still take seriously the idea of an Arab, rather than Islamist, state. They fear the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamism and have little confidence in the ability of other parties, such as the socialists, who came in third, to protect them. For some, such as the Copts, the Islamists are an existential threat. The military regime, whatever its defects, is a known bulwark against the Muslim Brotherhood. The old order is attractive to many because it is known; what the Muslim Brotherhood will become is not known and is frightening to those committed to secularism. They would rather live under the old regime.

What was misunderstood was that while there was in fact a democratic movement in Egypt, the liberal democrats who wanted a Western-style regime were not the ones exciting popular sentiment. What was exciting it was the vision of a popularly elected Islamist coalition moving to create a regime that institutionalized Islamic religious values.

Westerners looked at Egypt and saw what they wanted and expected to see. They looked at Egyptians and saw themselves. They saw a military regime operating solely on brute force without any public support. They saw a mass movement calling for the overthrow of the regime and assumed that the bulk of the movement was driven by the spirit of Western liberalism. The result is that we have a showdown not between the liberal democratic mass and a crumbling military regime but between a representative of the still-powerful regime (Shafiq) and the Muslim Brotherhood.

If we understand how the Egyptian revolution was misunderstood, we can begin to make sense of the misunderstanding about Syria. There seemed to be a crumbling, hated regime in Syria as well. And there seemed to be a democratic uprising that represented much of the population and that wanted to replace the al Assad regime with one that respected human rights and democratic values in the Western sense. The regime was expected to crumble any day under the assaults of its opponents. As in Egypt, the regime has not collapsed and the story is much more complex.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad operates a brutal dictatorship that he inherited from his father, a regime that has been in power since 1970. The regime is probably unpopular with most Syrians. But it also has substantial support. This support doesn't simply come from the al Assads' Alawite sect but extends to other minorities and many middle-class Sunnis as well. They have done well under the regime and, while unhappy with many things, they are not eager to face a new regime, again likely dominated by Islamists whose intentions toward them are unclear. They may not be enthusiastic supporters of the regime, but they are supporters.

The opposition also has supporters -- likely a majority of the Syrian people -- but it is divided, as is the Egyptian opposition, between competing ideologies and personalities. This is why for the past year Western expectations for Syria have failed to materialize. The regime, as unpopular as it may be, has support, and that support has helped block a seriously divided opposition.

Read more: The Egyptian Election and the Arab Spring | Stratfor

Hesitation Blues

Due to the holiday, start of the workweek blues 
by Hot Tuna comes on a Tuesday this week.


Monday, May 28, 2012

What should be our National Lizard?

While reading Left Coast Rebel I discovered that there is a move afoot in the Senate to declare the bison as our National Mammal. We already have a National Bird in the Bald Eagle. That got me wondering, what should be our National Lizard? So, time for another Flares Poll of International Opinion...

Which critter should be declared
our National Lizard?
Gila monster: these venomous lizards are an icon of the American West. Unlike the other non-smiling lizards in this poll, they're sluggish, so they pose little danger.

Harry Reid: Senate leader who never met a budget he couldn't ignore or a Republican bill he couldn't table.

John Edwards: far from 'Husband of the Year'  material, Edwards went from being an oily ambulance chaser, to a VP candidate, to a walking scandal thanks to his affair with Rielle Hunter. 

Dick Cheney: I suppose, to be fair, I should give our liberal visitors a choice too.
Weigh your choices carefully and then vote early and vote often in this latest edition of the Flares Poll of International Opinion. By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that I picked photos to try to prejudice the results of this poll. After all, as a well respected internet journalist I would obviously never stoop to such shenanigans.

UPDATE: Goodbye rattlesnake, hellooooo gila monster. Fortunately, this being a Flares poll after all, nobody has voted yet so the switch will have no effect on votes already cast.


Since Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, I thought a little musical homage to the best season of all was in order. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy Billy Stewart's rather eccentric version of the old Gershwin classic.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

Capture of Fort Riviere, Haiti, 1915 (from Military Photos)
Memorial Day is a day to remember all the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have paid the ultimate price. We tend to think of the major wars, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and WWII, but the U.S. has been involved in a long series of small wars as well.  

Below is a list, taken from Wikipedia and reformatted, of all of the named conflicts the U.S. has been involved in. Each is linked to a Wikipedia article describing the war. The number in parenthesis is the number of killed and wounded. 

Most of the conflicts have been all but forgotten, but still there are the graves. May the veterans all Rest in Peace.

American Revolutionary War 1775-1783 (~50,000)
Northwest Indian War 1785-179 5(1881+)
Quasi-War 1798-1800 (556)
First Barbary War 1801-1805 (138)
Other actions against pirates 1800-1900 (294+)
Chesapeake–Leopard Affair 1807 (21)
War of 1812 1812-1815 (~25,000)
Marquesas Expedition 1813-1814 (7)
Second Barbary War 1815 (148)
First Seminole War 1817-1818 (83)
First Sumatran Expedition 1832 (13)
Black Hawk War 1832 (390)
Second Seminole War 1835-1842 (1535, not including wounded)
Mexican–American War 1846-1848 (17,435)
Cayuse War 1847-1856 (115)
Rogue River Wars 1851-1856 (489)
Yakima War 1855-1856 (126)
Third Seminole War 1855-1858 (53)
Coeur d'Alene War 1858 (96)
Civil War: 1861-1865 (~625,000, not including wounded)
Dakota War of 1862 (Little Crow's War)  1862 (220–263)
Shimonoseki Straits 1863 (10)
Snake Indian War  1864-1868 (158)
Indian Wars 1865-1898 (919 combat deaths)
Red Cloud's War 1866-1868 (226)
Korea (Shinmiyangyo) 1871 (12)
Modoc War 1872-1873 (144)
Great Sioux War 1875–1877 (525)
Nez Perce War 1877 134 (291)
Bannock War 1878 (34)
Ute War 1879 (67)
Sheepeater Indian War 1879 (11)
Samoan crisis 1887-1889 (62)
Ghost Dance War 1890–1891 (99)
Sugar Point Pillager Band of Chippewa Indians 1898 (23)
Spanish–American War 1898 (4,068)
Philippine–American War 1898–1913 (7,126)
Boxer Rebellion 1900–1901 (335)
Santo Domingo Affair 1904 (3)
United States occupation of Nicaragua 1910, 1912-1925, 1927-1933 (449)
Mexican Revolution 1914–1919 (500)
Occupation of Haiti 1915–1934 (184+)
World War I 1917–1918 (320,518)
North Russia Campaign 1918–1920 (424, not including wounded)
American Expeditionary Force Siberia 1918–1920 (380+)
China 1918; 1921; 1926–1927; 1930; 1937 (83)
World War II 1941–1945 1,076,245)
Greek Civil War 1944-1949 (6)
Chinese Civil War 1945–1950 (215)
Berlin Blockade 1948–1949 (0)
Korean War 1950–1953 (128,650)
U.S.S.R. Cold War 1947–1991 (44)
China Cold War 1950–1972 (16)
Vietnam War 1955–1975 (211,454)
1958 Lebanon crisis 1958 (7+)
Bay of Pigs Invasion 1961 (4)
Dominican Republic 1965–1966 (330)
Iran 1980 (12)
El Salvador Civil War 1980–1992 (72)
Beirut deployment 1982–1984 (435)
Persian Gulf escorts 1987–1988 (70)
Invasion of Grenada 1983 (138)
1986 Bombing of Libya 1986 (2)
Invasion of Panama 1989 (364)
Gulf War 1990–1991 1,231
Operation Provide Comfort 1991-1996 23
Somalia 1992–1993 (196)
Haiti 1994–1995 (7)
Colombia 1994–present (8)
Bosnia-Herzegovina 1995–2004 (18)
NATO bombing of Yugoslavia 1999 (22+)
Afghanistan 2001– present (12,035)
Iraq War 2003 – present (36,395)

Pump jockeys

Click any image to enlarge
Younger readers may puzzle over the pictures on this page, but older readers will remember having seen pump jockeys back in the day. I don't remember them wearing ties, but maybe it is just a detail I've forgotten.

At any rate, enjoy the memories when you fill your tank up for this holiday weekend, and be thankful you can't see the price of gas in any of the pictures.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

In harm's way

As we enjoy this Memorial Day weekend it is well to remember that, sad to say, one by one other names are being added to the list to be carved into marble. In the above video a convoy in Helmand Province, Afghanistan is being shelled by mortars. It is sobering footage.   

Perplexus and Superplexus

I was in a section of YouTube with videos of watch innards -- yes, my Friday nights are that exciting -- when I saw the above video for something called a Superplexus. I had no idea what it was about, and was baffled by it all until I realized that it was a large 3-D maze. The sphere is mounted on gimbals and you spin it around guiding the ball from start of the maze to its finish. It supposedly takes a proficient player about an hour to complete the maze.

The Superplexus in the video above is a custom work that was commissioned. It turns out that it is an outgrowth of Perplexus, which is a plastic, hand held toy version of the same 3-D maze concept. I think I may have seen them before, but didn't look at them too closely at the time. They look pretty entertaining in a maddening sort of a way.

You can view them at the Superplexus website and find the nearest store to buy one from, or you can order them off of Amazon. At Amazon they run from $15.72 for the rookie version, to 29.99 for the advanced model.

I've found a Gadgeteer review of the model pictured below. The reviewer gives it high marks. Be sure to read it if your interested in this gizmo.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Stratfor and Pia Zadora

In his last Security Weekly column Scott Stewart talked about, from the perspective of terrorist groups, the influence that exceptional individuals have on a tactical level planning and execution. 

However, as in any organization, terror groups have far more average individuals the exceptional leaders, as well as outright bunglers. In this Stratfor article Stewart recounts some of larger mistakes made by the recent crop of terrorists. 

However, he does remind us that even an incompetent individual, if led by a much more talented person, can still be extremely dangerous. The beginning of the Strafor article is excerpted below, with a link to the entire article at the end of the excerpt.

Last week, when exceptional individuals was Stewart's topic, I picked Mary Pickford for the honor because she was the first female movie star. This week, considering the topic, I decided I needed to look to bad actresses. Talk about an embarrassment of riches. Naturally, Demi Moore, Bo Derek and Madonna all put up valiant fights in the Worst Actress category, but in the end Pia Zadora edged them all out for the honor of being the article's Hot Stratfor Babe.

Do I really need to explain why? From Ms Zadora's first film, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians to whatever her latest film is, her career has been pretty much a slew of crappy movies she struggled mightily, but failed at, acting in.  

One bit of irony -- Pia lived for a long time in Pickfair, which was the estate of Mary Pickford. Ah, the mysterious chains that bind Hot Stratfor Babes together. 

Terrorism and the Not-So-Exceptional Individual
By Scott Stewart, May 24, 2012

In last week's Security Weekly, we used a thwarted underwear bomb plot, as well as the U.S. government's easing the rules of engagement for unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in Yemen, as an opportunity to examine the role of exceptional individuals in militant groups that conduct terrorist attacks. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP's) innovative bombmaker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, is one such individual.

Reported by AP on May 7, the news of the thwarted underwear plot overshadowed another event in Yemen that occurred May 6: a U.S. airstrike in Shabwa province that killed Fahd al-Quso, a Yemeni militant wanted for his involvement in the attack against the USS Cole in October 2000. Al-Quso appeared in a video released by AQAP's al-Malahim Media in May 2010, during which he threatened attacks against the continental United States, its embassy in Yemen and warships in the waters surrounding Yemen.

The media and the U.S. government frequently mention al-Quso's involvement in the USS Cole bombing, but they rarely discuss his precise duty the day of the attack. Al-Quso had been tasked to record the attack from ashore so that the video could be used later in al Qaeda propaganda. Unfortunately for the group, al-Quso was derelict in his duty; he slept through his alarm, and the attack went unrecorded.

Oversleeping a terrorist attack was not al-Quso's only operational gaffe. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, al-Quso had been dispatched in January 2001 to transport money to al Qaeda facilitator Walid bin Attash in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The money reportedly funded the travel and initial living expenses of 9/11 operatives Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khaled al-Midhar. However, al-Quso failed to get a Malaysian visa. He was stuck in Bangkok, and bin Attash, al-Hazmi and al-Midhar had to meet him in Bangkok to retrieve the funds.

If al-Asiri gives cause to discuss the role of the exceptional individual in terrorism operations, al-Quso provides us the opportunity to discuss the not-so exceptional individual -- and how these maladroit actors nonetheless pose a threat.

Tradecraft Errors

The history of al Qaeda's war against the United States is replete with examples of jihadist operations that were foiled due to tradecraft failures. In September 1992, Ahmed Ajaj attempted to enter the United States with a poorly altered Swedish passport while carrying a suitcase full of bombmaking instructions and other training manuals and videos. Both lapses in judgment are characteristic of a novice. An alert customs inspector stopped Ajaj, who later was detained and charged with passport fraud.

Ajaj was traveling from Osama bin Laden's Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan with Abdel Basit, also known as Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack. An immigration inspector likewise stopped Basit, but he requested political asylum. Because he was not carrying a suitcase full of bombmaking manuals or using an altered passport, Basit later was released pending a hearing on his asylum claim. (Had he remained in custody, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing would not have been conducted.)

In another instance of tradecraft error, the would-be millennium bomber, Ahmed Ressam, fell victim to "burn syndrome" while attempting to enter the United States from Canada in December 1999. Ressam panicked when approached by a U.S. customs inspector, who was performing a routine check of the ferry on which he was traveling. The inspector was unaware that Ressam was an Islamist militant or that he was in operational mode. In fact, when Ressam lost his composure, she assumed he was smuggling drugs rather than explosives.

The 9/11 Commission Report also detailed a number of errors committed by the supposed al Qaeda elite prior to hijacking the four aircraft on 9/11. Mohammed Atta was cited for driving with an invalid license and failed to appear at the subsequent court hearing, causing a bench warrant to be issued for his arrest. Moreover, known al Qaeda associates al-Hamzi and al-Midhar entered the United States under their own names. (A flight instructor even characterized al-Hamzi and al-Midhar as "Dumb and Dumber," saying they were "clueless" as would-be pilots.) Any of these errors could have brought down the entire 9/11 operation.

More recently, we have seen cases where individuals such as Faisal Shahzad and Najibullah Zazi have shown the intent, but not the ability, to conduct attacks. While Shahzad was able to assemble a large vehicle-borne improvised explosive device without detection, the design of the device's firing chain was seriously flawed -- clearly the work of a novice. U.S. government surveillance of Zazi's activities determined that he was an inexperienced bombmaker and that he could not create the proper chemical mixture to manufacture effective triacetone triperoxide (TATP). This is common problem for novice bombmakers. We have seen several planned attacks, such as the London bomb attempt on July 21, 2005, fizzle out due to bad batches of TATP.

In another example, U.S. Army Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo was arrested and charged with planning an attack on Ft. Hood in July 2011. Abdo was brought to the attention of the authorities after purchasing smokeless powder to be used in an improvised explosive device. His furtive demeanor caused a store clerk to report him to the police.

Read more: Terrorism and the Not-So-Exceptional Individual | Stratfor

Ain't No Sunshine

Prepare for a weekend with a worried classic by Gomez.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Emile Leray's Citroenocycle

Click any image to enlarge
Emile Leray was driving in the Sahara Desert when his Citroen 2CV broke down. He had, through a rather sketchy sounding series of circumstances, left the road to circle a military post when he hit a rock and broke his car.

Stranded in the middle of nowhere, with only 10 days worth of water, he decided to take his Citroen apart and build a motorcycle from the parts. To complicate things he only had simple tools to accomplish his task. But build it he did, kind of like a real life Flight of the Phoenix.

As Oddity Central reports in their article Real-Life MacGyver Builds Working Motorcycle Out of Car That Broke Down in the Desert:
After carefully considering all the mechanical barriers he would have to surmount, Emile starts work on his DIY motorcycle, the next morning. He starts dismantling his Citroen, by removing the body, which he then uses as shelter against the sandstorms. Working under the scorching sun in a shirt with short sleeves, he makes his own sleeves out of a pair of socks, and keeps tinkering on his Mad Max-style creation. He fits the wheel arm upside down on a smaller chassis, adding the engine and gearbox in the middle. The French adventurer does all this knowing he needs to reserve some space for the battery, gas tank and his luggage, and without neglecting the arrangement of the steering system. But it’s the 2CV transmission that’s truly surprising – a drum drives the rear wheel by friction, and the laws of physics force Emile to drive it only in reverse.

It seems almost impossible for someone to build a motorcycle in the middle of the desert, with just a few basic tools, and no drills, blowtorches or welding equipment. But Emile Leray created his two-wheeler only by screwing the parts together. To make the needed holes, he bent the pieces of metal to a 90 degree angle and weakened the thinner areas using a hacksaw or a round file, puncturing them with the hammer and punch.

The adventurer began work on his unique project thinking he would complete it in three days time, but he only succeeded after twelve days of hard work. With only 1/2 liter of water left, he managed to ride his motorcycle (called Desert Camel) out of the desert. On his way to civilization, Leray was actually pulled over by the Gendermerie, for driving an illegal vehicle. Now that’s what I call a real-life story fit for a movie.

RIP Eugene Polley

Eugene Polley, the Zenith engineer who invented the first TV remote controller, died Sunday from natural causes at the age of 96. Polley had 18 patents to his name, and was involved in the development of push-button car radios and video disks, but -- as any of us couch potatoes will attest -- the remote controller was his crowning achievement.

His controller was called Flash-matic tuning, and it worked by shining a beam of light on four sensors mounted the corners of the screen and could turn the TV on and off, change channels and adjust the volume.

Anybody old enough to remember the days of having to physically get up and change the channels can tell our younger readers just how revolutionary Flash-matic tuning and the remote controllers that grew from it is. Just being able to turn the volume down on commercials made it worthwhile and, with the advent of bazillion channel cable services, the remote has led to the joys of channel surfing.

So, rest in peace Mr. Polley, and thanks for your humble little invention that so many of us use and appreciate to this day.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

EFLI 2012 teams & schedules finalized, as well as a new EFLI fan site

On these pages there has been a considerable amount of confusion over the teams in the new Elite Football League of India (EFLI), which is an American style professional football league being formed in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The first post at a new fan site, EFLIfans, deepened the mystery when he pointed out a newly posted EFLI schedule at the EFLI website that moved the start of the season from November to July, and indicated that there were now two Sri Lankan teams as well as one from Pakistan in the 8 team league.

I'm happy to report that I can now clear up the confusion. Crack internet sports journalist that I am, after much procrastination, I finally emailed EFLI and asked if they could clear up the matter. I got a prompt reply from Janice Foreman, the COS/Executive VP Business Development for the EFLI, to which she attached the 2012 EFLI brochure (which, to my embarrassment, I discovered can be can be downloaded from the EFLI website).

The season has been moved up to kick-off on July 15th with 4 games. Also, the 8 teams for the inaugural season have been finalized and split into 2 divisions:

East - Dehli Defenders (India), Colombo Lions (Sri Lanka), Kandy Skykings (Sri Lanka), Kolkata Vipers (India)

West - Mumbai Gladiators (India), Bangalore (India), Pune (India), Pershawar Wolf Pak (Pakistan) 

You'll notice that my beloved Goa/Chennai Swarm are not on the list of teams. Needless to say I was distraught, but then I remembered, "wait a second, I'm a sports fan. If there is any group as full of mindless optimism as sports fans I don't know it. I spent the 70s and 80s convincing myself on a yearly basis that the Packers were a playoff caliber team, why should I let the nonexistence of my favorite EFLI franchise discourage me from continuing to root for them?"

So, I've handled the problem by telling myself the Swarm are just in hiatus until the 2013 season, which all things considered is but a bump in the road, and by falling back on those two sports mantras: "we waz robbed" and "wait until next year!" So...

Go 2013 Swarm Go!!!

Another fight scene from Big Man Japan

Yet another fight scene from Big Man Japan to get you over hump day. In this fight a giant, electrified purple panty is used to empower the super hero, who then goes on to fight a giant, torsoless head that jumps around on one clawed foot. 

If nothing else, the video effortlessly disproves the old adage that "fact is stranger than fiction." 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Stratfor and Isabel Lucas

In this installment of his "The State of the World" series George Friedman discusses Australia. He points out that although Australia is wealthy and isolated, it still involves itself in many wars, many of which were peripheral to its strategic imperatives. 

He points out that a major portion of Australia's economy is exports, and it relies on secure sea lanes to be able to do business. For this reason Australia has historically multiplied its value as an ally by providing first England, and then the U.S., with troops because they are the major powers that can, or could in the case of England, guarantee open sea lanes.

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

For the Hot Stratfor Babe I diligently scoured the ranks of Australian actresses and decided that Isabel Lucas, for reasons I will explain shortly, was the perfect, or perhaps an infamous, choice for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe.

Since the article deals with open sea lanes, it is slightly ironic that Ms Lucas has an active Japanese arrest warrant for doing exactly the opposite. In 2007 she joined a group called Surfers for Cetaceans that tried to block a Dolphin hunt. They paddled out to try to prevent the hunt, but a Japanese fishing boat drove them off and they ended up high-tailing it out of Japan before cuffs could be slapped on them. 

As one expects of a young actress, she's a vegetarian and frequently yammers on about one trendy liberal cause or another.

As for her career, she started on some Australian soap called Home and Away. Starting with a tooth paste commercial, she's worked her way into Hollywood where she's had roles in Spielberg's Pacific as well as one of the Transformer movies. She also has a part in the much delayed remake of Red Dawn. 

Australia's Strategy
By George Friedman, May 22, 2012

Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, ranked in the top 10 in gross domestic product per capita. It is one of the most isolated major countries in the world; it occupies an entire united continent, is difficult to invade and rarely is threatened. Normally, we would not expect a relatively well-off and isolated country to have been involved in many wars. This has not been the case for Australia and, more interesting, it has persistently not been the case, even under a variety of governments. Ideology does not explain the phenomenon in this instance.

Since 1900, Australia has engaged in several wars and other military or security interventions (including the Boer War, World War I, World War II and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq) lasting about 40 years total. Put another way, Australia has been at war for more than one-third of the time since the Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901. In only one of these wars, World War II, was its national security directly threatened, and even then a great deal of its fighting was done in places such as Greece and North Africa rather than in direct defense of Australia. This leaves us to wonder why a country as wealthy and seemingly secure as Australia would have participated in so many conflicts.

Importance of Sea-Lanes

To understand Australia, we must begin by noting that its isolation does not necessarily make it secure. Exports, particularly of primary commodities, have been essential to Australia. From wool exported to Britain in 1901 to iron ore exported to China today, Australia has had to export commodities to finance the import of industrial products and services in excess of what its population could produce for itself. Without this trade, Australia could not have sustained its economic development and reached the extraordinarily high standard of living that it has.

This leads to Australia's strategic problem. In order to sustain its economy it must trade, and given its location, its trade must go by sea. Australia is not in a position, by itself, to guarantee the security of its sea-lanes, due to its population size and geographic location. Australia therefore encounters two obstacles. First, it must remain competitive in world markets for its exports. Second, it must guarantee that its goods will reach those markets. If its sea-lanes are cut or disrupted, the foundations of Australia's economy are at risk.

Think of Australia as a creature whose primary circulatory system is outside of its body. Such a creature would be extraordinarily vulnerable and would have to develop unique defense mechanisms. This challenge has guided Australian strategy.

First, Australia must be aligned with -- or at least not hostile to -- the leading global maritime power. In the first part of Australia's history, this was Britain. More recently, it has been the United States. Australia's dependence on maritime trade means that it can never simply oppose countries that control or guarantee the sea-lanes upon which it depends; Australia cannot afford to give the global maritime power any reason to interfere with its access to sea-lanes.

Second, and more difficult, Australia needs to induce the major maritime powers to protect Australia's interests more actively. For example, assume that the particular route Australia depends on to deliver goods to a customer has choke points far outside Australia's ability to influence. Assume further that the major power has no direct interest in that choke point. Australia must be able to convince the major power of the need to keep that route open. Merely having amiable relations will not achieve that. Australia must make the major power dependent upon it so that Australia has something to offer or withdraw in order to shape the major power's behavior.

Creating Dependency

Global maritime powers are continually involved in conflict -- frequently regional and at times global. Global interests increase the probability of friction, and global power spawns fear. There is always a country somewhere that has an interest in reshaping the regional balance of power, whether to protect itself or to exact concessions from the global power.

Another characteristic of global powers is that they always seek allies. This is partly for political reasons, in order to create frameworks for managing their interests peacefully. This is also for military reasons. Given the propensity for major powers to engage in war, they are always in need of additional forces, bases and resources. A nation that is in a position to contribute to the global power's wars is in a position to secure concessions and guarantees. For a country such as Australia that is dependent on sea-lanes for its survival, the ability to have commitments from a major power to protect its interests is vital.

Read more: Australia's Strategy | Stratfor


The lighting and architecture of Tokyo lends itself to being filmed at night, which the above video does to good effect. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Database of murals

Click any image to enlarge
Mural Locator is a website that's building a map that shows the location of murals. When you click on a pin on the map it shows you a thumbnail of the mural as well as its location. They also have a gallery of murals, which is where I got these samples.

They also have articles and news about murals, as well as form that allows you to submit a mural to their database.  

Texas Blues

Monday morning, start of the workweek blues by Mance Lipscombe.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Edwards Ignitor Fired engine

Above is a video of a rather unusual old engine designed for use on farms. Its called an ignitor fired engine because it has rods mounted on its piston which, powered by a magneto, cause the spark to start the combustion cycle. 

It was a two cylinder engine, although it could be ran using only one of the cylinders. After the two cylinders fired there would be a one and a half rotation of the flywheel before another combustion cycle. 

I couldn't find a lot of information about it. I did find a nice webpage, The Edwards Two-Banger Project, which details the restoration of a spark plug version of the Edwards engine. It has a lot of photos and they give a pretty good view of how the mechanisms of the two cylinders are mechanically isolated from each other, which allows the engine to run on one cylinder.

An odd little engine. Nobody is too sure how many were made, but there seem to be a number of restored versions of them being shown on YouTube, so they weren't a complete rarity. 

Ad from The Edwards Two-Banger Project (click to enlarge)

Shocker - a functional & practical perpetual motion machine

So simple. Why didn't I think of that?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Ptolemaic model

Click any image to enlarge
Anybody who watches the night sky soon picks up repeating patterns. Orion dominates the winter sky, the moon goes through its phases, and the planets meander through the ecliptic. For centuries scientists explained the night sky's movement and structure via the Ptolemaic model, which placed the Earth at the center and surrounded it with spheres that held the celestial objects. 

It was a flawed model, and observations quickly began to accumulate that pointed to its problems. However, much of its appeal was that it tied to the Greek's geometry, and their belief that the sphere was the perfect object. Math sometimes does that -- overwhelms observational science with its elegance. 

There are more examples after the jump, and at La boite verte where I found these drawings.   

What a windbag

Above is a recording of Einstein explaining E-mc2. The strange thing is he sounds exactly like I imagined he would sound.  

Via Open Culture.

A mundane icon

I wonder how many thousand times -- in class rooms, waiting rooms, meeting rooms and elsewhere -- I've looked at the face of one of those clocks and wished its red second hand would sweep faster. Now I wish the second hand would slow down a little.

At any rate, that clock, with its simple face and minimal body, is a ubiquitous icon that I've seen hanging on hundreds of walls during my life. I never knew IBM made them, although I imagine that there were a lot of knock-offs on its styling so they probably weren't all IBMs. 

I'll have to look closer at the next one I see.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Stratfor and Mary Pickford

While Stratfor generally views things through the lens of strategy, where geopolitics and historical forces shape trends, in this article Scott Stewart narrows his focus to the tactical realm, where exceptional individuals have a greater apparent impact on events.

He reviews the history of Islamic terrorism and discusses individuals who had a great impact on its development, and then goes on to discuss current terrorists who are very influential.

Naturally, killing or capturing these 'exceptional' individuals can degrade terrorist organizations. The beginning of the article is excerpted below, with a link to the entire article at the end of the excerpt.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I searched for an exceptional actress among such luminaries as Megan Fox, Lindsey Lohan and Madonna. Naturally, those immense talents were hard to reject, but in the end I selected Mary Pickford for the honor over them all.

Mary Pickford, although her characters have aged badly, truly was an exceptional actress. She was Hollywood's first leading lady and, because of her popularity, was instrumental in driving the price of an actor's contract up. She also produced films and was one of the actors who gathered to form United Artists.

Sadly for her the Talkies were not kind to her. she was turning 30 at the time and, regardless of her age, her silent characters didn't fit the new style of elegant female leads. After retiring from acting she sunk into seclusion and alcoholism, dying in 1979.    

Terrorism and the Exceptional Individual
By Scott Stewart, May 17, 2012

There has been a lot of chatter in intelligence and academic circles about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri and his value to AQAP. The disclosure last week of a thwarted AQAP plot to attack U.S. airliners using an improved version of an "underwear bomb" used in the December 2009 attempted attack aboard a commercial airplane and the disclosure of the U.S. government's easing of the rules of engagement for unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in Yemen played into these discussions. People are debating how al-Asiri's death would affect the organization. A similar debate undoubtedly will erupt if AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi is captured or killed.

AQAP has claimed that al-Asiri trained others in bombmaking, and the claim makes sense. Furthermore, other AQAP members have received training in constructing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) while training and fighting in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. This means that al-Asiri is not the only person within the group who can construct an IED. However, he has demonstrated creativity and imagination. His devices consistently have been able to circumvent existing security measures, even if they have not always functioned as intended. We believe this ingenuity and imagination make al-Asiri not merely a bombmaker, but an exceptional bombmaker.

Likewise, al-Wahayshi is one of hundreds -- if not thousands -- of men currently associated with AQAP. He has several deputies and numerous tactical field commanders in various parts of Yemen. Jihadists have had a presence in Yemen for decades, and after the collapse of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, numerous Saudi migrants fleeing the Saudi government augmented this presence. However, al-Wahayshi played a singular role in pulling these disparate jihadist elements together to form a unified and cohesive militant organization that has been involved not only in several transnational terrorist attacks but also in fighting an insurgency that has succeeded in capturing and controlling large areas of territory. He is an exceptional leader.

Individuals like al-Asiri and al-Wahayshi play critical roles in militant groups. History has shown that the loss of exceptional individuals such as these makes a big difference in efforts to defeat such organizations.

Exceptional Individuals

One of Stratfor's core geopolitical tenets is that at the strategic level, geography is critical to shaping the limits of what is possible -- and impossible -- for states and nations to achieve in the long run. Quite simply, historically, the strategic political and economic dynamics created by geography are far more significant than the individual leader or personality, no matter how brilliant. For example, in the U.S. Civil War, Robert E. Lee was a shrewd general with a staff of exceptional military officers. However, geographic and economic reality meant that the North was bound to win the civil war despite the astuteness and abilities of Lee and his staff.

But as the size of an organization and the period of time under consideration shrink, geopolitics is little more than a rough guide. At the tactical level, intelligence takes over from geopolitics, and individuals' abilities become far more important in influencing smaller events and trends within the greater geopolitical flow. This is the level where exceptional military commanders can win battles through courage and brilliance, where exceptional businessmen can revolutionize the way business is done through innovative new products or ways of selling those products and where the exceptional individuals can execute terrorist tradecraft in a way that allows them to kill scores or even hundreds of victims.

Leadership is important in any type of organization, but it is especially important in entrepreneurial organizations, which are fraught with risk and require unique vision, innovation and initiative. For example, hundreds of men founded automobile companies in the early 1900s, but Henry Ford was an exceptional individual because of his vision to make automobiles a widely available mass-produced commodity rather than just a toy for the rich. In computer technology, Steve Jobs was exceptional for his ability to design devices with an aesthetic form that appealed to consumers, and Michael Dell was exceptional for his vision of bypassing traditional sales channels and selling computers directly to customers.

These same leadership characteristics of vision, daring, innovation and initiative are evident in the exceptional individuals who have excelled in the development and application of terrorist tradecraft. Some examples of exceptional individuals in the terrorism realm are Ali Hassan Salameh, the operations chief of Black September, who not only revolutionized the form that terrorist organizations take by instituting the use of independent, clandestine cells, but also was a visionary in designing theatrical attacks intended for international media consumption. Some have called Palestinian militant leader Abu Ibrahim the "grandfather of all bombmakers" for his innovative IED designs during his time with Black September, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and his own group, the 15 May Organization. Ibrahim was known for creating sophisticated devices that used plastic explosives and a type of electronic timer called an "e-cell" that could be set for an extended delay. Another terrorism innovator was Hezbollah's Imad Mughniyeh, who helped pioneer the use of large suicide truck bombs to attack hardened targets, such as military barracks and embassies.

In the jihadist realm, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is being tried by a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was such an individual. Not only did Mohammed mastermind the 9/11 attacks for al Qaeda in which large hijacked aircraft were transformed into guided missiles, but he also was the operational planner behind the coordinated attacks against two U.S. embassies in August 1998 and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Mohammed's other innovations included the idea to use modular IEDs concealed in baby dolls to attack 10 aircraft in a coordinated attack (Operation Bojinka) and the shoe bomb plot. Mohammed's video beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl in February 2002 started a grisly trend that was followed not only by jihadists in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia but also by combatants in Mexico's drug war.

Read more: Terrorism and the Exceptional Individual | Stratfor

People are Strange

Prepare for a weekend of cheerful paranoia with Pauline Croze & Bertrand Belin.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Barack Gump

People having been having a lot of fun with Obama injecting himself into Presidential biographies at the White House website. Obama in History has been photoshopping him into numerous historical pictures.

I decided to get in on the fun, but another eyewitness to history inspired me instead...




This video clip is several years old, but I only first saw it today. I wonder if the idiot on the motorcycle still has his health, or if he is even still alive for that matter.  

Odd old hat

I'm a bit pressed for time to write a post, so I'll just post this old picture of an odd hat. What its about I have no idea. If you have an ideas post them in the comments. I swiped it from Black and WTF.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Antique typewriters

Click any image to enlarge
With the introduction of computers, typewriters have gone the way of the slide rules. Younger readers who never had to use one are missing nothing in terms of typesetting -- word processors are far superior, but they are missing what mechanical wonders typewriters were in their day. They were very complex and reliable pieces of machinery.

Later typewriters have keyboard layout close enough to computer key boards to be recognizable, but over the decades that they were being developed there were some ingenious, as well as some cumbersome designs.

Martin Howard collects and refurbishes antique typewriters and he maintains a wonderful website called Antique Typewriters about them. The pictures on this page, and after the jump, are taken from his gallery. Once you look at these samples you should really go to Antique Typewriters and browse his gallery further. Each typewriter has shown has historical information and multiple pictures showing details of its construction as well advertising materials and manuals. 

He also has other antique office equipment, such as ribbon tin lids, paper seals, pencils and so forth. He also offers services such as assessments, acquisitions, restoration, displays and well as prints of the antique typewriters for sale.