Friday, November 30, 2012

Stratfor and Weronika Rosati

In this Stratfor article Ben West discusses the recent arrest of Dr. Brunon Kwiecien in Poland. Kwiecien is a chemist and a supporter of Anders Breivik who had planned to bomb the Polish parliament.

The article gives a good introduction to the case covering Kwiecien's bomb making abilities, the nature of his cell and how he was captured.

Like Breivik, Kwiecien's plotting reminded me of Wretchard's (Richard Fernandez) Fourth Conjecture which posited that any sort of a mass attack that could be planned by an Islamic terrorist could likewise be planned by a Western cell, and perhaps executed with greater competency.

As Fernandez put it in his post All for One and One for All:
With the proliferation of knowledge and the increasing sophistication of commercially available devices a time will eventually come when small groups can build nuclear or biological devices without state assistance. When private and personal WMD attacks become possible deterrence will lose effectiveness entirely.

But the situation will be even more dangerous than Coll suggests. Long before a faculty lounge in Islamabad or Riyadh realizes it can build a bomb alone and secretly, the same thought will have occurred to individuals in Tel Aviv, New Delhi or Palo Alto. Any Islamic group that believes it can attack New York deniably should convince itself that no similar group can nuke Mecca at the height of the pilgrim season. In fact, the whole problem that Coll describes should be generalized. The only thing worse than discovering that New York has been destroyed by persons unknown is to find that Islamabad has been vaporized by a group we've never heard of.
For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I turned to Polish actresses and after reviewing all available research material I selected Weronika Rosati to receive the prestigious award.

Ms Rosati, who is the daughter of a member of the EU Parliament (I wonder if Nigel Farage has bounced jokes and insults off his skull?), started out on Polish television and quickly moved on to film. She has since moved to the U.S. where she is trying to get into American film with modest success so far.

Mimicking Breivik in Poland
By Ben West, November 29, 2012

Poland's Internal Security Agency announced Nov. 20 that it had arrested "Brunon K," a chemistry professor at the Agricultural University in Krakow who allegedly planned to attack the lower house of the Polish parliament. The arrest came Nov. 9, just two days before Warsaw's annual Independence Day parade, which authorities believe could have been another target. During the arrest, authorities seized ammonium nitrate fertilizer, high-powered, military-grade explosive RDX and other bomb-making equipment. They also seized several hundred rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a pistol.

Presumably, the suspect in question is Dr. Brunon Kwiecien, who has published multiple chemistry papers at the Agricultural University in Krakow, according to a Polish academic directory. Kwiecien openly espoused anti-government views and accused the Polish government and the European Commission of tyranny. Specifically, he condemned the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which has angered Internet freedom activists in Europe.

Kwiecien is also a self-proclaimed supporter of Norwegian ultranationalist terrorist Anders Breivik, who conducted a successful lone wolf attack in Oslo in 2011. Indeed, tactically Kwiecien's plot against the Polish government resembled Breivik's in many ways. But his was only the latest, certainly not the last, thwarted terrorist attack in Europe, where similar plots can be expected as the economic and political situation continues to worsen.

The Plot

Kwiecien allegedly considered Breivik's vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack on Norway's parliament building a failure -- Breivik's killed only eight people and failed to inflict catastrophic structural damage on the building. Breivik used 1 metric ton of ammonium nitrate-based explosives, commonly called ANFO, or ammonium nitrate fuel oil, and parked his vehicle on the street, putting some distance between the VBIED and the building. Kwiecien intended to construct an explosive device using 4 metric tons of ANFO inside a tanker truck, crash through the gates of the parliament building and detonate the VBIED within the courtyard. Investigators believe that it would have been a suicide mission. Had he executed his attack successfully, he likely would have created a blast big enough to cause significant structural damage and loss of life, resulting in more damage and more deaths than Breivik's explosive device.

According to authorities, Kwiecien began planning for the attack between July and September. He apparently had traveled to Warsaw to surveil the area surrounding the building. The fact that there is fairly light security at the entrance to the parliament building may have encouraged Kwiecien to go forward with his plot.

What differentiates Kwiecien -- and Breivik before him -- from many other aspiring terrorists is his knowledge of how to make bombs. Most grassroots terrorists lack the requisite skillset and the wherewithal to build a viable explosive device. Reaching out for assistance in acquiring these skills exposes them to detection. For example, Adel Daoud was arrested Sept. 15 in Chicago by an undercover FBI agent, from whom Daoud had sought assistance to carry out his attack.

Kwiecien's Skillset

Kwiecien, a professional chemist, could have avoided Daoud's fate. He had the scientific background necessary to know how to make explosives. He also was an explosives enthusiast; allegedly he lost several of his fingers detonating a homemade bomb when he was a teenager. He had filmed his "experiments" over the past 10 years. Authorities also claim that Kwiecien had detonated a bomb containing as much as 250 kilograms (about 550 pounds) of explosives, though video footage shows explosive charges that were much smaller. Even if he had detonated a bomb of that size, there is no indication that he ever came close to experimenting with a bomb containing 4 metric tons of explosives. Thoroughly mixing 4 metric tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and diesel, the typical fuel oil in ANFO, is very difficult, but the challenge in constructing bombs that large is detonation. Generally, the larger the main charge is, the harder it is to achieve a simultaneous detonation and thus cause maximum damage.

Four metric tons of ANFO equates to more than 3,000 liters (800 gallons). Successfully igniting all that material requires the ignition of several smaller, high-powered detonation charges. Otherwise the device can fail or only partially detonate in what is referred to as a low-order explosion, where the ANFO is propelled away from the device rather than detonated. In 2010, Faisal Shahzad attempted to construct a device and detonate it in Times Square. But he was an amateur bombmaker. As such, he constructed a poorly made bomb, and the main charge failed to detonate accordingly.

It appears that Kwiecien was planning to use RDX for the detonation charges. Acquiring ANFO is relatively easy; it is made from legitimate agricultural products, and Kwiecien worked at an agricultural university. Acquiring RDX is far more difficult; it's a military-grade explosive that is much more regulated than fertilizer. But again, Kwiecien's chemistry background would have given him the skills needed to make homemade RDX instead of having to source it externally. Making it alone would shield him from law enforcement officials who monitor the acquisition of such materials.

Kwiecien's Mistakes

It is unclear whether Kwiecien could have built the bomb he intended to, but he was much more likely to have done so than other would-be terrorists. However, just because Kwiecien appears to have had the skillset to make a bomb without alerting the authorities does not mean that he kept the plot only to himself. In fact, he made several serious mistakes in plotting his attack that made him vulnerable to authorities.

Kwiecien brazenly advertised his anti-government ideology. He reportedly spoke openly with his students about bringing down the Polish government. He taught extracurricular classes on making explosives and claimed that officials had threatened to prosecute him if he didn't stop them. His wife, a biologist, alerted authorities when Kwiecien allegedly asked her how he could make a biological "dirty bomb."

In addition, Kwiecien used his own email address and identity for his online activity, where he made anti-government comments, praised Breivik and openly recruited like-minded people to join his cause. Reports indicate that Polish authorities' investigations into Breivik's connections in Poland may have also led to Kwiecien. All of these actions tipped off authorities, who likely had a fairly thick file on him by the time he was arrested.

Notably, none of his actions were necessarily grounds for prosecution. To gather more evidence, the Polish national police mounted an investigation that involved infiltrating his group. Excluding Kwiecien, the group comprised four members, two of whom were undercover agents. The other two were arrested.

Once undercover, the two operatives were able to collect details on Kwiecien's weapons and explosives acquisition efforts. Moreover, they would have been able to provide evidence that ties Kwiecien to the materials meant to be used in the attack. The operatives also could have kept tabs on Kwiecien and alerted authorities when they believed he was moving closer to an attack.

Kwiecien's motivations for expanding his group are unknown, but ultimately it was his desire for recruitment that compromised him.

Breivik's Influence

Like Breivik, Kwiecien embodied the rare combination of ideological fervor and technical capability. But unlike Breivik, he did not strictly adhere to operational security standards. Breivik went to great lengths to maintain operational security, seeking help only when he absolutely needed it -- like when he traveled to purchase firearms. Kwiecien flaunted his capabilities and his ideology, making him a bigger target for authorities.

Kwiecien was also a copycat who sought to conduct the same attack that Breivik did, only on a larger scale. European authorities -- indeed, law enforcement agencies around the world -- have studied the Breivik case for more than a year. Thus they probably became better at identifying attacks that employ the same tactics.

Perhaps most important, Kwiecien's case also shows that Breivik's call to action has been heard. In his manifesto, Breivik appealed to other like-minded individuals to form cells and fight multiculturalism in Europe. Individuals like Breivik and Kwiecien, who combine capability and ideology, are rare. But Europe has a skilled workforce that could produce similarly capable extremists.

Indeed, Breivik and Kwiecien are not alone in their ultranationalist ideals. On Nov. 23, Swedish extremist Peter Mangs was sentenced to life in prison for a series of killings targeting immigrants around Malmo, a city in southern Sweden. Mangs killed for several years before he was caught, indicating that he was well disciplined and practiced operational security.

The conditions of Europe are conducive for extremism. As national economies worsen and European institutions weaken, there will be more cause, in the eyes of extremists, to lash out against the state and against Europe. Such threats are not found only among ultranationalists. Left-wing groups and anarchist cells also pose a threat, as evidenced in Greece and Italy. Kwiecien certainly will not be the last extremist to plot an attack in Europe, and the more like-minded individuals who take up the cause, the higher the chances are for more attacks

Mimicking Breivik in Poland is republished with permission of Stratfor.

De Cara a la Pared

Get ready for a weepy weekend with Lhasa de Sela.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Romance - pulp covers for a vintage women's magazine

Click any image to enlarge
When you think of old pulp magazines you tend to think of them as being testosterone laden. However, there were pulps for women also. One of them was the magazine Romance, which was a bit odd in that it had two brief spurts of being published: 1919-1920 and 1928-1930. It featured exotic locations and time periods for its stories.

The cover images are a lot less active than the one's seen on men's pulps, while it seems to me that they're a lot more colorful. It was surprising to see Joseph Conrad's name on the November 1919 cover -- I never thought of him as a writer of romantic tales, but a paycheck is a paycheck and that's pretty much what pulp was all about.

These samples are from MagazineArt's Romance, the adventure pulp.  There are more examples after the jump, and more at the MagazineArt link.

Organic metaphors

I started this post with the video below, which just shows a 19th Century letter press being operated. Since it wasn't inked I wanted to find another video that showed the entire process.

Instead I found the above video which is so ludicrously affected and pretentious that I couldn't pass on it. I love the breathy narration laden with Shatneresque pauses as they deliver an inadvertently hilarious paraody of the NPR style of intellectual BS. It's a shame, because what the printer is doing --casting type and mixing his own ink colors is actually pretty interesting.

However, his fixation on craftsmanship, while understandable, misses much of the real power of that press he is running. It is not the fact that letters are stamped into the paper, it is the volume of printed material that could be produced by the presses that matters.

I took a shop class in printing and what struck me was the much greater reach that press gave me. It is easy to forget these days, but prior to computer printing it was difficult and expensive to mass produce documents. Guttenberg wasn't about the smell of ink, the feel of paper and the look of lead typography -- that's all just nostalgia -- instead it was about spreading books far and wide.

As for the sterility of computer printing, it is not for no reason that the old cliche of police kicking down doors to bust up clandestine printing presses is an archaic act. After all, unless you're interested in little more than wedding invitations,  it is not how the words look on paper that matters, it is what they say.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The evolution of cartography

Babylonian map - 6th Century BC
(click any image to enlarge)
Amusing Plant has a good post, Coming of Age in Cartography: Evolution of the World Map, that discusses the advances in cartogrpahy from the ancient world to the present. These maps are from that post, which has more, as well a a good discussion of the various advances made.

The maps are Eurocentric, and it is interesting to see the distortions at the margins as the cartographers struggled to map distant lands.

2nd Century BC
1st Century AD
12th Century AD
16th Century AD
16th Century AD
17th Century AD

Martial arts baseball

Our latest fight scene to get us over the hump in hump day features a baseball themed martial art duel that nearly fulfills Jackie Gleason's "to the moon" threat.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stratfor and Marina Gatell

In this Stratfor article Friedman uses Gaza as a slightly forced springboard to a conversation about Nationalistic aspirations that are fragmenting parts of Europe.

The breakup of Yugoslavia is the most drastic example,  there is also the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Velvet Revolution which saw the Czeck Republic and Slovakia go there separate ways others.

 Those centrifugal forces also at play in Belgum between the Walloons and Flemmings as well as in Scotland. However, Friedman concentrates on the Ctalonian drive to separate from Spain. It is a good discussion and well worth the read.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I turned to Catalonian actresses and naturally settled upon Marina Gatell. Ms Gatell is an actress who has been, and continues to be, very busy doing Spanish television movies and shows.

Gaza, Catalonia and Romantic Nationalism
By George Friedman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, November 27, 2012

Last week was spent obsessed with Gaza. In the end, nothing changed. A war was fought without an Israeli ground assault but with massive air and rocket attacks on both sides. Israel did not have the appetite and perhaps the power to crush Hamas. Hamas did not have the power to compel Israel to change its policies but wanted to achieve a symbolic victory against Israel. Both decided that continued fighting made little sense and allowed the Americans and Egyptians to bless a settlement. Everyone from Iran to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood played a role, and then the curtain on this act went down. It will come up again. It was not trivial for those who lived through the conflict, but in the end it changed little.

In this context, focusing on Catalonian elections would seem frivolous, but it is the nature of geopolitics that the quiet and odd may have more significance in the long run than the events that carry noisy headlines.

Catalonia is a region in northeastern Spain. Its capital, Barcelona, is the second-largest city in Spain and the country's industrial and commercial hub. Catalonia is also a region that for decades has had a substantial independence movement seeking to break away from the rest of Spain.

In a regional election held Sunday, the movement for independence remained strong but also became more complex. The regional president, Artur Mas, had called early elections as a way of measuring support for a referendum on secession. Mas' party actually lost 12 seats in the election, though another independence-oriented but more left-wing party doubled its seats. Together, the pro-independence parties increased their share by one seat and have the necessary two-thirds majority to force a non-binding referendum.

Without going too deeply into the morass of regional politics, the long-standing dispute between Catalonia and Madrid has been deepened by the financial crisis and the issue of how the burden will be shared. Originally, Mas had not supported independence but rather greater autonomy for Catalonia. However, he did want a deal with Madrid in which the austerity burden placed on Catalonia would be mitigated. Madrid rejected the deal, which drove Mas toward advocating independence and calling the early elections. With Sunday's election results, the independence movement has become more intense and more radical. The mainstream pro-independence party lost, but smaller and more left-wing parties made gains, a trend we expect to grow in Europe as the economic strains increase.

Europe's Border Imperative

Since World War II, there has been an underlying principle in Europe that borders are sacrosanct, that they will not be changed. The fear has been that once borders become an issue again in Europe, the tensions that tore Europe apart prior to World War II would re-emerge. This was not universally respected, of course. Serbia's borders were forcibly changed after the Kosovo war (and Spain is one of four EU countries that did not recognize Kosovo due to its own secessionist movement). But the idea of one state making territorial claims on another was contained.

What was not contained was the self-revision of national borders. The two most famous cases were the "velvet divorce" of Czechoslovakia, where two nations, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, emerged peacefully. Nor, obviously, did that principle preclude devolution, or the fragmentation of countries into smaller nationally based entities, in either Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union itself. A wave of countries buried in larger transnational entities emerged in Europe in the 1990s, sometimes peacefully and sometimes not.

This did not mean that tensions did not continue to exist. In Belgium, French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemings have been hostile to each other since Belgium was established in the 19th century. Slovakia and Romania have large Hungarian populations, separated from Hungary under the post-World War I redrawing of the internal borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Occasionally there are mild nationalist rumbles among the Hungarians in both countries seeking reunification. There is a Scottish secessionist movement in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is peaceful now but it retains a secessionist movement. There are a variety of such movements in Italy.

For the most part, these movements have not been something to take seriously. Even the Catalan movement is far from achieving independence. Still, we are in a period of European history in which borders are not redrawn primarily due to states seizing territory from each other; rather, the odds that increasingly prevalent secession movements could change the borders are moving from the realm of the preposterous to that of the almost conceivable. That is not a trivial evolution because in such matters the trajectory, rather than the credibility at any one moment, is most important. As pressures build in Europe, what was inconceivable could become surprisingly practical in a relatively short period of time.

The European Summit to discuss the EU budget last week was a demonstration of the degree to which national interest -- and nationalism -- defines the existing European states. The issue in Europe is who is going to bear the burden of austerity that the European political and economic system is imposing. Whatever the idea of Europe might be, the reality is that the political power rests in the nation-states, and the presidents and prime ministers are elected by nation-states. They respond to their constituents, and the constituents want to deflect costs.

The ongoing EU budget dispute is a convenient opportunity for any government that wants to demonstrate to its public that it is being vigilant in minimizing the costs of austerity. The degree of acrimony and indeed hostility among the states -- which formed and shifted coalitions over the budget while trying to shift the financial burden to other states -- was startling if you looked at it through the eyes of 2000. The structures of the European Union are rapidly devolving into its constituent nation-states.

The question of who will bear the burden within nation-states is emerging as an equally divisive issue. This in turn intersects with deep rivers of European history. Catalonia has long argued that it was a separate nation from Spain, based on history and culture, and historically it has had a degree of autonomy. The issue remained relatively quiet until it became clear that Spain's EU membership would have significant economic implications. The tradition of Catalan nationalism then turned from nostalgia to a vehicle to deflect economic pain by shifting it from Barcelona to Madrid.

Nationalism's Difficult Legacy

There is a profoundly important tradition in Europe of romantic nationalism. In its liberal form, it is the idea that every nation has the right to self-determination. The problem is defining what constitutes a nation, and for the romantics that was defined by language, distinct history, culture and so on. It is also defined by self-perception. A nation exists when its inhabitants see themselves as a distinct people. Implicit in romantic nationalism is a conflict. When one notion of romantic nationalism denies the legitimacy of competing claims by a nation's constituent parts, romantic nationalism can become oppressive rather than liberating. In response, the constituent parts sometimes invent national identities for a variety of reasons, destabilizing the whole. The European notion of nationalism can be quite destabilizing and in its most militant form can become brutal.

The hymn of the European Union is Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" from the 9th Symphony. It is a celebration of the French Revolution and the spirit of liberation that followed. The liberation was not only of the individual but also of the nation from dynasties. It was the combination of the notion of individual rights, national self-determination and national identity. The European Union was intended to embody these things. They are not lost but under strain, and the point of the strain is the nation, which, rather than forming a community, now forms competing parts in what is a zero-sum game. Where this ends is the problem, since the history of Europe after Beethoven was not what he would have hoped for.

Just as interesting is what happens to the Catalonias, the buried nationalisms within existing nation-states, that are now prepared to challenge the legitimacy of a country like Spain and demand liberation from it and the right to its own authentic nationalism. What began in the velvet divorce, peaceful and reasonable, now can become much less friendly under the pressure of severe economic pain. What other hidden nationalisms will emerge to use the shield of national self-determination to deflect economic pain? It is easy to dismiss this as an archaic sentiment and as something that cannot destabilize Europe now. But then there is little in European history to allow Europeans that kind of self-confidence.

It is important to benchmark this by the most extreme sort of consequence that we saw in Gaza. Zionism is a movement that grew out of European romantic nationalism. It drew on Jewish history, culture and religion to legitimize the right to a Jewish nation. Palestinian nationalism also grew out of European romantic nationalism. The idea of the nation-state, which took root in the Arab world in the late 19th century and was later promoted by Arab left-wing secularists in the 1950s, very much derived from the idea of nation-states' replacing European empires. The Palestinian national movement derived from this tradition, claiming the right of a Palestinian nation distinct from other nations.

Here we see the bitter side of the "Ode to Joy," rooted in geography. To have a nation, you must have a place that is its own. Ever since the French Revolution, nations have been fighting over their place in Europe. The occupation of Europe from 1945 to 1991 suspended the argument, and from 1991 -- the end of the Cold War and drafting of the EU-forming Maastricht Treaty -- until 2008, the suspension seemed eternal. Very slowly, the inconceivable is becoming far-fetched and the far-fetched merely unlikely.

Romantic nationalism can fulfill a people's dreams or nightmares and usually does both. Gaza gives us a sense of the nightmare, Catalonia a sense of the dreams. But in most places, and in Europe in particular, the distance between dreams and nightmares is not as great as people might like to think. Economic pain coupled with romantic nationalism, now bound together through a massive structure like the European Union that is incapable of understanding the forces that are lurking beneath the surface, have always had a way to generate nightmares in Europe.

It is all inconceivable now. But European history is the history of the inconceivable. I doubt that the founders of Zionism in the 19th century envisioned Gaza as their future.

Gaza, Catalonia and Romantic Nationalism is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Practicing for a riot

This video shows South Korean military police practicing tactics and maneuvers to counter a violent demonstration. They've broken their force into discrete packages of police that can reenforce or relieve the front line, or move through the front line to push demonstrators back. I know that in the past South Korea has had some wild protests, it looks like they're well trained to try to contain such demonstrations.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Budget gift ideas -- The Mega Plumber Action Hero

In these uncertain economic times, as a public service, I've suggested budget gift items to help you find the perfect present to put under your Christmas Holiday tree.

The first gift I recommend this season is the Mega Plumber Action Hero by American Standard. As explained by them, "[he] is the virtuous leader of the American Standard Plumber Protects League. A Master Plumber, he is an expert in sewage, drainage, industrial plant piping, and all potable water systems."

As if that isn't good enough, the Mega Plumber Action Hero comes with his own tools, a Champion 4 toilet to install and an 8 page comic book detailing his adventures -- all for only $10.

Man, try and tell me that Barbie wouldn't dump that drip Ken in a second for the Mega Plumber Action Hero. This is a must have item for your holiday gift giving.

Too Wet To Plow

Monday morning, start of the workweek blues by Johnny Shines.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The cardboard sculptures of Chris Gilmour

Click any image to enlarge
Chris Gilmour is a UK artist who currently works out of Italy. He creates sculptures, most of them life sized, out of nothing more than cardboard and glue. His attention to detail is striking.

There are more examples of his work after the jump, and more at his website.

Customer service

Jia, who blogs at The Fun Side of Startup, is doing something called rejection therapy. It is an exercise for salesmen/entrepreneurs in which he says one courts rejection via outrageous requests to desensitize oneself to rejection so he can negotiate with less fear of failure.

His plan is going smoothly until he encounters Jackie at Krispy Kreme...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Two bit flophouse

Click any image to enlarge
These are pictures from the Lanier Hotel in the Bowery circa 1921. One commenter at the original article thinks that date is wrong because it appears that Pilsner is being sold, so perhaps it is a couple of years older to predate Prohibition. The hotel's dining room -- the Fuerst Bro's Restaurant -- may have been one of the places Stephen Foster frequented as he drank himself to death writing songs for vaudeville.

Altogether, a pretty grim looking place although by no means the bottom of the barrel for its day. The pictures are from Shorpy's, and you can see much larger versions of them at: Lanier Hotel and Lanier's dining room.

Detail showing the menu

The spray can

Above is an oddly majestic little documentary about the making of cans of spray paint. These guys take their spray cans seriously.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Stratfor and Martha Higareda

In this Stratfor article Scott Stewart discusses the possible policies of Enrique Pena Nieto, the Mexican Prsident elect, with regards to the ongoing violence between drug cartels in the country.

He has plans to reorganize the Mexican domestic security apparatus under the umbrella of the new Secretariat of the Interior. This is to better coordinate their efforts as well as to reduce corruption.

There is some thought that Nieto, who is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, will return to that party's policy of negotiating and compromise with the cartels. However, Stewart points out that the landscape of Mexico's criminal violence has changed considerably, and so such an option may no longer be available to Nieto.

For the article's hot Stratfor Babe I turned to Mexican actresses for a worthy candidate and, after careful consideration, I selected Martha Higareda for the profound honor.

Ms Higareda started her acting career on the stage as well as doing advertising campaigns. She then moved on to Mexican television where she appeared in several soap operas. She then moved on to doing Mexican movies where she had success and has branched into producing shows as well as acting. Currently she has also done some work in American television and film.

Constraints Facing the Next Mexican President
By Scott Stewart,Vice President of Analysis, November 22, 2012

Enrique Pena Nieto will be sworn in as Mexico's next president Dec. 1. He will take office at a very interesting point in Mexican history. Mexico is experiencing an economic upturn that may become even more pronounced if Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party administration is able to work with its rivals in the National Action Party to enact needed reforms to Mexico's labor, financial and energy laws.

Another arrestor to further expanding Mexico's economy has been the ongoing cartel violence in Mexico and the dampening effect it has had on outside investment and tourism. Pena Nieto realizes that Mexico's economy would be doing even better were it not for the chilling effect of the violence. During his campaign, he pledged to cut Mexico's murder rate in half by the end of his six-year term, to increase the number of federal police officers and to create a new gendarmerie to use in place of military troops to combat heavily armed criminals in Mexico's most violent locations.

According to Mexico's El Universal newspaper, Pena Nieto is also proposing to eliminate the Secretariat of Public Security and consolidate its functions, including the federal police, under the Secretariat of the Interior. This move is intended to increase coordination of federal efforts against the cartels and to fight corruption. The federal police are under heavy scrutiny for the involvement of 19 officers in the Aug. 24 attack against a U.S. diplomatic vehicle in Tres Marias, Morelos state. This incident has long faded from attention in the United States, but the investigation into the attack remains front-page news in Mexico.

Of course, there are also commentators who note that Pena Nieto's election is a return to power for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which held power in Mexico for some 70 years prior to the election of Vicente Fox of the National Action Party in 2000, and Felipe Calderon in 2006. This narrative claims that Pena Nieto will quickly return to the Institutional Revolutionary Party policy of negotiating with and accommodating the cartel organizations, which will solve Mexico's violence problem.

Unfortunately for Mexico, neither law enforcement reforms nor a deal with the cartels will quickly end the violence. The nature of the Mexican drug cartels and the dynamic between them has changed considerably since Pena Nieto's party lost the presidency, and the same constraints that have faced his two most recent predecessors, Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, will also dictate his policy options as he attempts to reduce cartel violence.


As George Friedman noted about the U.S. presidential election, candidates frequently aspire to institute particular policies when elected, but once in office, presidents often find that their policy choices are heavily constrained by outside forces. This same concept holds true for the president of Mexico.

Fox and Calderon each came into office with plans to reform Mexico's law enforcement agencies, and yet each of those attempts has failed. Indeed, recent Mexican history is replete with police agencies dissolved or rolled into another agency due to charges of corruption. The Federal Investigative Agency, established in 2001 by the Fox administration, is a prime example of a "new" Mexican law enforcement agency that was established to fight -- and subsequently dissolved because of -- corruption. Pena Nieto's plans for law enforcement reform will be heavily constrained by this history -- and by Mexican culture. Institutions tend to reflect the culture that surrounds them, and it is very difficult to establish an institution that is resistant to corruption if the culture surrounding the institution is not supportive of such efforts.

Another important constraint on the Pena Nieto administration is that the flow of narcotics from South America to the United States has changed over the past two decades. Due to enforcement efforts by the U.S. government, the routes through the Caribbean have been largely curtailed, shifting the flow increasingly toward Mexico. At the same time, the Colombian and U.S. authorities have made considerable headway in their campaign to dismantle the largest of the Colombian cartels. This has resulted in the Mexican cartels becoming increasingly powerful. In fact, Mexican cartels have expanded their control over the global cocaine trade and now control a good deal of the cocaine trafficking to Europe and Australia.

While the Mexican cartels have always been involved in the smuggling of Marijuana to the United States, in recent years they have also increased their involvement in the manufacturing of methamphetamine and black-tar heroin for U.S. sale while increasing their involvement in the trafficking of prescription medications like oxycodone. While the cocaine market in the United States has declined slightly in recent years, use of these other drugs has increased, creating a lucrative profit pool for the Mexican cartels. Unlike cocaine, which the Mexicans have to buy from South American producers, the Mexican cartels can exact greater profit margins from the narcotics they produce themselves.

This change in drug routes and the type of drugs moved means that the smuggling routes through Mexico have become more lucrative then ever, and the increased value of these corridors has increased the competition to control them. This inter-cartel competition has translated into significant violence, not only in cities that directly border on the United States like Juarez or Nuevo Laredo but also in port cities like Veracruz and Acapulco and regional transportation hubs like Guadalajara and Monterrey.

Cartels Evolve

The nature of the Mexican cartels themselves has also changed. Gone are the days when a powerful individual such as Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo could preside over a single powerful organization like the Guadalajara cartel that could control most of the drug trafficking through Mexico and resolve disputes between subordinate trafficking organizations. The post-Guadalajara cartel climate in Mexico has been one of vicious competition between competing cartels -- competition that has become increasingly militarized as cartel groups recruited first former police officers and then former special operations soldiers into their enforcer units. Today's Mexican cartels commonly engage in armed confrontations with rival cartels and the government using military ordnance, such as automatic weapons, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades.

It is also important to realize that government operations are not the main cause of violence in Mexico today. Rather, the primary cause of the death and mayhem in Mexico is cartel-on-cartel violence. The Calderon administration has been criticized for its policy of decapitating the cartel groups, which has in recent years resulted in the fragmenting of some cartels such as the Beltran Leyva Organization, La Familia Michoacana and the Gulf cartel -- and thus an increase in intra-cartel violence. But such violence began in the 1990s, long before the decapitation strategy was implemented.

Because the struggle for control of lucrative smuggling routes is the primary driver for the violence, even if the Pena Nieto administration were to abandon the decapitation strategy and order the Mexican military and federal police to stand down in their operations against the cartels, the war between the cartels would continue to rage on in cities such as Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Guadalajara and Acapulco. Because of this, Pena Nieto will have little choice but to continue the use of the military against the cartels for the foreseeable future. The proposed gendarmerie will be able to shoulder some of that burden once it is created, but it will take years before enough paramilitary police officers are recruited and trained to replace the approximately 30,000 Mexican soldiers and marines currently dedicated to keeping the peace in Mexico's most violent areas.

One other way that the cartels have changed is that many of them are now allied with local street gangs and pay their gang allies with product -- meaning that street-level sales and drug abuse are increasing in Mexico. Narcotics are no longer commodities that merely pass through Mexico on their way to plague the Americans. This increase in local distribution has brought with it a second tier of violence as street gangs fight over retail distribution turf in Mexican cities.

Finally, most of the cartels have branched out into other criminal endeavors, such as kidnapping, extortion, alien smuggling and cargo theft, in addition to narcotics smuggling. Los Zetas, for example, make a considerable amount of money stealing oil from Mexico's state-run oil company and pirating CDs and DVDs. This change has been reflected in law enforcement acronyms. They are no longer referred to as DTOs -- drug trafficking organizations -- but rather TCOs -- transnational criminal organizations.

With the changes in Mexico since the 1990s in terms of smuggling patterns, the types of drugs smuggled and the organizations smuggling them, it will be extremely difficult for the incoming administration to ignore their activities and adopt a hands-off approach. This means that Pena Nieto will not have the latitude to deviate very far from the policies of the Calderon administration.

Constraints Facing the Next Mexican President is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Money (that's what I want)

Get ready for a Black Friday launched weekend with the Flying Lizards.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Marylin Monroe hunting a gobbler
Happy Thanksgiving all. Enjoy your day eating, visiting with family and watching football on the tube. Have a good one.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving maskers

Click any image to enlarge
During the 19th Century, and into the early part of the 20th Century, one of the traditions of Thanksgiving in NE American cities was masking. Like Halloween trick or treat, the children would dress up in costumes and masks and beg for candy treats and pennies.

Thanksgiving masking was frowned upon by polite society and eventually the commercialization of Halloween as well as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade caused masking to fade away.

You can read more about the old tradition at the Bowery Boys article Happy Thanksgiving Masking: The pleasures of mischief, featureless masks and cross-dressing children! The pictures are from the Library of Congress Flickr photo stream.

Important Thanksgiving turkey safety tip

As the above film demonstrates, don't mix drugs with mutated turkey flesh created by a mad scientist or terrible, terrible things are liable to happen. You have been warned!

Bandits vs a guy eating chicken

Another fight scene to get you over the hump in hump day. In this one a group of bandits try to raid a caravan, but they are foiled by some ferocious chicken-bone-fu.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Men Who Plan Beyond Tomorrow

We're only missing the usher's uniform
(click any image to enlarge)
In the 1940s, long before Dos Equis' The Most Interesting Man in the World, Seagrams ran an advertising series around Men Who Plan Beyond Tomorrow. Instead of looking backwards the ads looked towards the future. While many of their futures, the wonders of atomic farming for example, were wrong in an amusingly goofy sort of a way, many of their guesses were pretty good.

From the Flickr stream MWPBT! where there are more examples from the ad campaign.

Are those pajamas he's wearing?
The inverse of what a convenience store became
They only missed the number of different channels
Not exactly how pizzas came to be delivered

Another fine mess

They pulled the car over and got out to switch drivers. While they were out of the car it slipped into reverse and started circling in the street. All in all, they got off with little damage, it could have ended worse.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The dusty time capsule

Click any image to enlarge
During WWII a young women named Mrs de Florian locked her Parisian apartment and moved to the South of France. She never returned to it, but she payed her rent faithfully until she died 70 years later. As the Telegraph reports in the article about the opening of the apartment:
Behind the door, under a thick layer of dusk lay a treasure trove of turn-of-the-century objects including a painting by the 19th century Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.
The woman who owned the flat had left for the south of France before the Second World War and never returned.

But when she died recently aged 91, experts were tasked with drawing up an inventory of her possessions and homed in on the flat near the Trinité church in Paris between the Pigalle red light district and Opera.

Entering the untouched, cobweb-filled flat in Paris' 9th arrondissement, one expert said it was like stumbling into the castle of Sleeping Beauty, where time had stood still since 1900.

"There was a smell of old dust," said Olivier Choppin-Janvry, who made the discovery. Walking under high wooden ceilings, past an old wood stove and stone sink in the kitchen, he spotted a stuffed ostrich and a Mickey Mouse toy dating from before the war, as well as an exquisite dressing table.

But he said his heart missed a beat when he caught sight of a stunning tableau of a woman in a pink muslin evening dress.

The painting was by Boldini and the subject a beautiful Frenchwoman who turned out to be the artist's former muse and whose granddaughter it was who had left the flat uninhabited for more than half a century.
As interesting as the story about the painting is, the greater mystery is why de Florian preserved those rooms for so long without ever returning. Were they a bittersweet memory she couldn't release or just a return trip she always intended but never made? 

Juice Head Baby

Monday morning, start of the workweek blues
by Eddie Cleanhead Vinson and Otis Spann.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Approaching Heathrow

A nicely done time lapse viseo of planes lining up for the approach to Heathrow airport.The drifting clouds, planes jittering in the wind and the music chosen make for a strangely evocative film.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

ISS Astro Viewer

Click any image to enlarge
 I stumbled across the website Astro Viewer that tracks the position of the International Space Station. It shows you its ground track, as well as a Google map of the area it is flying over. There is also a tab to assist in finding times when you can observe it from the ground.

Sonic booms explained

I know what sonic booms are, but never gave much thought as to how they are formed (via the Borderline Sociopathic Blog for Boys).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Stratfor and Lena Olin

In this Stratfor article Scott Stewart discusses two assassinations that occured in Lebanon: Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan and the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Stewart reviews the different methods by which the two assassinations were planned and carrier out, and ends with an examination of the intelligence counter measures employed successfully or not, prior to such assassination attempts.

With assassins in mind, I turned towards female assassins in the movies for this article's Hot Stratfor Babe. After my usual thorough search, which may or may not have involved a terabyte sized spread sheet,  I selected Lena Olin for her work as an assassinette in Romeo is Bleeding for the honor.

Ms Olin, who is Swedish, started her acting career as a member of the  Royal Dramatic Theatre-ensemble of Sweden. After a long stint on the stage she transitioned to movie roles, first in Sweden and later in the U.S. She's also recently been doing a lot of television work.

Lebanon: Lessons from Two Assassinations
By Scott Stewart, Vice President of Analysis, November 15, 2012

On Oct. 19, Lebanese Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan was assassinated on a narrow side street near Sassine Square in downtown Beirut. The attack involved the detonation of a moderately sized vehicle-borne improvised explosive device as al-Hassan's car passed by the vehicle in which the device was hidden. The explosion killed not only al-Hassan and his driver but also six other people and wounded about 90 more.

Al-Hassan, the intelligence chief for Lebanon's Internal Security Forces, had been a marked man for some time prior to his death. He was the security chief for former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in February 2005 in an attack that most believe was conducted by the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon.

But more recently, as Stratfor noted in February 2012, al-Hassan played a critical role channeling support from the Gulf states and the West to the Syrian rebels through Lebanon. This involved smuggling arms from Lebanon to Syria destined for opposition forces, providing a haven for Syrian defectors in Lebanon and allowing Syrian rebels to use Lebanese territory as a staging ground for attacks in Syria. His part in the Syrian opposition movement clearly made him a prime target for Syrian intelligence and indeed the Syrian regime had previously attempted to assassinate al-Hassan -- one such plot was thwarted in early 2012 by Jordanian intelligence, which caught wind of the plot and passed a warning to Lebanese authorities.

Al-Hassan was doing dangerous work in a dangerous place, and he knew he was a marked man. His former boss had been assassinated and there were plots afoot to kill him, too. Due to the manner in which al-Hariri was assassinated, al-Hassan decided to employ a very different style of security -- low-profile security instead of the high-profile measures employed by al-Hariri -- and yet he was killed despite his different approach.

This failure does not mean that protective security measures are useless in an environment such as Lebanon or fatalistically suggest that it is impossible to keep a high-value target alive in the country. Rather, an examination of the al-Hariri and al-Hassan assassinations provides an important lesson to security practitioners everywhere -- that protective security measures alone are not enough to keep a marked target alive in such a hostile environment. Whatever security strategy is employed, whether high-profile or low-profile, it must be accompanied by a robust protective intelligence program. If potential attackers are given free rein to conduct surveillance and plan attacks, they will eventually succeed.

Details on Protective Details

As noted above, Rafik al-Hariri's protective detail utilized a heavy motorcade to travel in Lebanon. On the day he was assassinated, he was traveling in a six-car motorcade. In addition to a fully armored Mercedes-Benz limousine, this security detail also employed two lead cars and two follow cars along with an ambulance staffed by trained medics bringing up the rear of the motorcade. The motorcade used three sophisticated electronics countermeasure sets in an attempt to jam any remotely detonated improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that might lay along the motorcade's route. Reports at the time indicated that these countermeasure sets interfered with cell phone, radio and television reception as the motorcade passed through an area.

The solution for assassinating al-Hariri despite this heavy security detail was not elegant, but it was effective. The attackers used a very large suicide vehicle-borne IED that international investigators estimated contained approximately 1 metric ton of military-grade explosives believed to be TNT. As the motorcade passed a Mitsubishi van containing the explosive device, a suicide operative initiated it, causing considerable damage to the vehicles in the motorcade and the surrounding neighborhood. The massive explosion left a 30-foot crater in the road at the seat of the blast and killed al-Hariri and 21 others while wounding another 231 people.

The van carrying the device was seen driving slowly toward the attack site just before the device was detonated. By using a mobile device, the attackers mitigated the possibility of the device being noticed at the attack site by security vehicles sweeping the route ahead of the motorcade. By using a suicide operative to activate the command-detonated device, the attackers bypassed the motorcade's electronic IED countermeasures and ensured that the device detonated when the limousine was close to the van carring the bomb.

By using a huge charge, the attackers ensured that their device would be potent enough to defeat the fully armored limousine, and they ensured that the attack would be successful even if the device were not triggered at precisely the ideal moment. Even the most sophisticated fully armored vehicle cannot survive the detonation of a 1 metric ton VBIED at close range. On Oct. 1, 2004, an attempt to kill Lebanese opposition lawmaker Marwan Hamadeh using a smaller VBIED failed; al-Hariri's attackers did not want to replicate that failure.

Al-Hariri's assassination occurred after he left the parliament building to return to a lunch he was hosting at his home with a number of people. This meant his location and destination were both likely known by his attackers. There were three different routes the motorcade could have taken to travel from the parliament to his residence. The U.N. investigation into the assassination noted that al-Hariri had appeared in public on less than 10 occasions in the three months prior to the attack but that his motorcade had taken the Maritime Road route, the one on which the attack occurred, on six of those occasions. By establishing such a clearly observable routine, al-Hariri's killers could have a fairly high degree of confidence that the motorcade would take that route on the day of the attack.

Wissam al-Hassan was intimately familiar with the security measures employed by the al-Hariri protective detail. Indeed, according to the U.N. investigation of the al-Hariri murder, a few months prior to the attack, al-Hassan and others had met with al-Hariri and urged him to increase his security due to the perceived threat from Syria and its Lebanese allies.

When al-Hassan found himself in a similar threat situation in recent months, he recognized that a high-profile detail alone could not protect him from those who would do him harm. He also lacked the resources of the wealthy al-Hariri family. He therefore decided to adopt a different form of security: keeping a low profile. The idea was to use nondescript rental cars that would be changed frequently in an attempt to blend in with other travelers on Beirut's busy streets. Al-Hassan also reportedly used a series of clandestine residences, unlike al-Hariri's well-known home, the Kuraytem Palace.

However, it appears that there were some obstacles that kept al-Hassan from maintaining a truly low profile. The night before his death, he returned to Beirut from a trip to Europe. But rather than deplaning like a normal passenger and passing through immigration and customs like an ordinary traveler, he was met planeside by the rental car that would take him to his residence for the night. Such an arrival draws attention.

Hezbollah has long controlled security at the Beirut airport. When the Western-backed government of former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora attempted to remove Maj. Gen. Wafik Shuqayr, one of Hezbollah's fellow Shia, from his post as the director of security at the airport, Hezbollah resorted to violent protests to ensure he remained in his post.

This meant that Hezbollah was in a prime position to initiate surveillance on al-Hassan upon his arrival at the airport, or to help others pick up surveillance on him. Once it was established that al-Hassan was back in Lebanon, all that remained was to follow al-Hassan's vehicle to the residence he was using that night and then set up a VBIED along the route he would have to take to get to his office at the Lebanese Internal Security Forces headquarters building. Since the attackers knew that al-Hassan was in an unarmored rental car rather than a fully armored limousine, they were able to use a smaller explosive device than the one used in the attack on al-Hariri.

They also knew al-Hassan did not have IED countermeasure sets in his vehicle, so they could use a remotely detonated device rather than a suicide operative. However, like al-Hariri's assassination, the attack was quite inelegant. The attackers still used a larger device than required to ensure that the attack succeeded. The larger device also provided a margin of error in case it was not detonated precisely on time. Like in the al-Hariri attack, this larger-than-needed device produced quite a bit of unnecessary collateral damage, which the attackers didn't take any steps to avoid.

The Importance of Protective Intelligence

Despite using a different security concept than al-Hariri, the end result was the same -- al-Hassan was murdered, most likely by the Syrian regime and their allies in Lebanon. The Syrian military occupied Lebanon in 1976 and maintained control of the country until it withdrew in 2005. During this time, the Syrians developed a robust intelligence network in Lebanon, a network that remained largely in place after the withdrawal of Syrian forces. They also maintain close allies in various Lebanese political parties and militias, most notably Hezbollah. As noted in the U.N. investigation of the al-Hariri assassination, this intelligence network can be used to conduct surveillance that is used to plan and execute attacks against enemies of the Syrian regime.

However, that does not mean that the Syrian hand in Lebanon can move without detection. Even a sophisticated, professional intelligence network is bound by the requirements of the attack planning cycle. Their efforts are also vulnerable to detection during certain phases of that planning cycle, especially the surveillance phase.

While the Syrians and their allies have the ability to tap phones in Lebanon at will and Hezbollah controls security at the Beirut airport, these advantages do not remove the necessity for the Syrians to conduct physical surveillance in order to plan and execute attacks like those directed against al-Hariri and al-Hassan. It is therefore possible to detect such attack planning as it occurs. Indeed, it is not only possible, but essential, to detect the attack planning if protective security elements are to have any hope of keeping their principal alive in an environment like Beirut.

If attackers can freely surveil the operations of a protection detail, over time they will be able to identify the personnel, equipment and tactics employed by the security team and design ways to defeat them. A robust protective intelligence program that employs surveillance detection and countersurveillance capabilities, and that actively investigates suspicious activity, can help restrict the ability of potential attackers to gauge protective measures. Protective intelligence elements can also warn the protective detail that it needs to change tactical operations when those operations have been compromised by hostile surveillance efforts.

Unlike traditional security measures that react to threats, protective intelligence teams proactively search for evidence of hostile activity before an attack can be planned and launched. This allows the protective security team to keep on the positive side of the action/reaction equation and avoid potential problems. Certainly, protective intelligence efforts are complicated in a very busy urban environment such as Beirut, but a high level of activity on the street also complicates the operations of surveillance teams. Protective intelligence efforts such as countersurveillance teams can effectively detect and frustrate hostile activity in such places if they are properly deployed.

As evidenced by the assassinations in Beirut, any type of protective security program can be defeated if it allows potential attackers to operate freely against it. The solution lies in denying potential attackers that advantage.

Lebanon: Lessons from Two Assassinations is republished with permission of Stratfor.