Monday, December 31, 2012

Hot Stratfor Babe of the Year - 2012

At the end of the year it is customary to review the past 12 months for highs or lows. We at Flares would never break that custom, and so we review the Year's worth of Hot Stratfor Babes, actually a year and 3 months to give late comers a chance,  to see who got the largest number of page views and hence the crown of Hot Stratfor Babe of the Year.

So, without further ado, let's see who won.

Runners Up...

Mary Remmy: Hot Stratfor Babes are international in flavor, but surprisingly Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, made a strong showing this year. Ms Remmy is the first of two Nigerian actresses to make the list. I'm not sure if it is the Stratfor Boka Haram articles drawing the traffic, or if African fans are eager for news about their movie stars.
Angie Cepeda: this sultry Columbian actress started her career in beer comercials and moved up to television and eventually the movies. Of course being named a Hot Stratfor Babe is probably one of her prouder achievements, and making this list as 3rd runner up is icing on the cake.
Genevieve Nnaji: our second Nollywood star on the list, this actress and model is enormously popular in Africa where she is compared to Julia Roberts in terms of appeal. As is the case with many Hot Stratfor Babes she has also decided to launch a singing career.
Maite Perroni: the first runner up, this Mexican actress has been very busy starring in Spanish language telenovas. She also speaks English well, so there is a chance that she will try to make the jump to English-language Hollywood films.

The 2012 Hot Stratfor Babe of the Year...

Lucy Lawless: Ms Lawless, famed for her role as Xena the Warrior and Possibly Lesbo Princess absolutely crushed her competition, garnering more votes than the other 4 combined. Our congratulations to Lucy for her hard earned victory in the 2012 Hot Stratfor babe competition.

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Monday morning, sort of the start of the workweek blues by Nancy Wilson.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Good riddance to 2012

Physically, 2012 has been a rough year for me. I was a passenger in 2 car accidents: in the first a drunk rear-ended us as we were parked at a red light in a turning lane, and in the second an oblivious kid left turned into out front end. Then I flopped over in Miami and broke my shoulder. My posts have been terse these last couple of months because it is still a pain to type too much.

Ah well, I should look at the bright side, 2013 is bound to be better, and if not I'm sure the Obamacare death panel will put me out of my misery in no time at all.

Regardless, I'm glad to be seeing this year come to an end. As for now, I'm busy pouring over the candidates for Hot Stratfor Babe of the Year and it should be up by tomorrow.

Indies to the Andes In His Undies

Just a bit of Sunday morning foolishness by the Hoosier Hotshots.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Snow Art

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Walking 7 to 9 hours a day the French artist Simon Beck creates his art by imprinting geometric design in the snow. As you can see he does it on a very large scale. The intricate works can take so long that he needs to rework them, or abandon them altogether, as new snow falls.

Via My Modern Met which has more photographs of his work.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Stratfor and Kamala Lopez

This is a reprint of an earlier Stratfor article that is a very good read. He points out that there are large blocks of immigrants that have arrived over the years, each posing its own challenges.

The bulk of the article deals with Mexican immigrants. He points out that the border has always been far more fluid than what is simply drawn on the map, with Mexican and American populations mixing along the interface in the South West.

Speaking of a mixed up border, for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe the movie Born in East L.A. came to mind and so Kamala Lopez, the film's female lead, gets the nod as the Hot Stratfor Babe for this article.

Born in East L.A. is an entertaining movie and well worth catching if you've never seen it. In it Cheech Martin, an American citizen since birth, gets caught up in an illegal immigrant raid at a factory and gets deported to Mexico.

Kamala Lopez has been very active in films, appearing in over 30 of them during her career. Along with that she's a fellow blogger who writes for the Puffington Host, or whatever its called. I wonder if the lingerie in the picture are the pajamas she wears when she's blogging? By the way, there's no truth to the rumor that I blog in a bustier (dammed rumor mongers!).

The Geopolitics of Immigration
December 25, 2012

Editor's Note: Originally published Jan. 15, 2004, this has been re-featured due to its timeless content.

The United States came into being through mass movements of populations. The movements came in waves from all over the world and, depending upon the historical moment, they served differing purposes, but there were two constants. First, each wave served an indispensable economic, political, military or social function. The United States -- as a nation and regime -- would not have evolved as it did without them. Second, each wave of immigrants was viewed ambiguously by those who were already in-country. Depending upon the time or place, some saw the new immigrants as an indispensable boon; others saw them as a catastrophe. The debate currently under way in the United States is probably the oldest in the United States: Are new immigrants a blessing or catastrophe? So much for the obvious.

What is interesting about the discussion of immigration is the extent to which it is dominated by confusion, particularly about the nature of immigrants. When the term "immigrant" is used, it is frequently intended to mean one of two things: Sometimes it means non-U.S. citizens who have come to reside in the United States legally. Alternatively, it can mean a socially or linguistically distinct group that lives in the United States regardless of legal status. When you put these together in their various permutations, the discourse on immigration can become chaotic. It is necessary to simplify and clarify the concept of "immigrant."

Initial U.S. immigration took two basic forms. There were the voluntary migrants, ranging from the Europeans in the 17th century to Asians today. There were the involuntary migrants -- primarily Africans -- who were forced to come to the continent against their will. This is one of the critical fault lines running through U.S. history. An immigrant who came from China in 1995 has much more in common with the Puritans who arrived in New England more than 300 years ago than either has with the Africans. The former came by choice, seeking solutions to their personal or political problems. The latter came by force, brought here to solve the personal or political problems of others. This is one fault line.

The second fault line is between those who came to the United States and those to whom the United States came. The Native American tribes, for example, were conquered and subjugated by the immigrants who came to the United States before and after its founding. It should be noted that this is a process that has taken place many times in human history. Indeed, many Native American tribes that occupied the United States prior to the foreign invasion had supplanted other tribes -- many of which were obliterated in the process. Nevertheless, in a strictly social sense, Native American tribes were militarily defeated and subjugated, their legal status in the United States was sometimes ambiguous and their social status was frequently that of outsiders. They became immigrants because the occupants of the new United States moved and dislocated them.

There was a second group of people in this class: Mexicans. A substantial portion of the United States, running from California to Texas, was conquered territory, taken from Mexico in the first half of the 19th century. Mexico existed on terrain that Spain had seized from the Aztecs, who conquered it from prior inhabitants. Again, this should not be framed in moral terms. It should be framed in geopolitical terms.

When the United States conquered the southwest, the Mexican population that continued to inhabit the region was not an immigrant population, but a conquered one. As with the Native Americans, this was less a case of them moving to the United States than the United States moving to them.

The response of the Mexicans varied, as is always the case, and they developed a complex identity. Over time, they accepted the political dominance of the United States and became, for a host of reasons, U.S. citizens. Many assimilated into the dominant culture. Others accepted the legal status of U.S. citizens while maintaining a distinct cultural identity. Still others accepted legal status while maintaining intense cultural and economic relations across the border with Mexico. Others continued to regard themselves primarily as Mexican.

The U.S.-Mexican border is in some fundamental ways arbitrary. The line of demarcation defines political and military relationships, but does not define economic or cultural relationships. The borderlands -- and they run hundreds of miles deep into the United States at some points -- have extremely close cultural and economic links with Mexico. Where there are economic links, there always are movements of population. It is inherent.

The persistence of cross-border relations is inevitable in borderlands that have been politically and militarily subjugated, but in which the prior population has been neither annihilated nor expelled. Where the group on the conquered side of the border is sufficiently large, self-contained and self-aware, this condition can exist for generations. A glance at the Balkans offers an extreme example. In the case of the United States and its Mexican population, it also has continued to exist.

This never has developed into a secessionist movement, for a number of reasons. First, the preponderance of U.S. power when compared to Mexico made this a meaningless goal. Second, the strength of the U.S. economy compared to the Mexican economy did not make rejoining Mexico attractive. Finally, the culture in the occupied territories evolved over the past 150 years, yielding a complex culture that ranged from wholly assimilated to complex hybrids to predominantly Mexican. Secessionism has not been a viable consideration since the end of the U.S. Civil War. Nor will it become an issue unless a remarkable change in the balance between the United States and Mexico takes place.

It would be a mistake, however, to think of the cross-border movements along the Mexican-U.S. border in the same way we think of the migration of people to the United States from other places such as India or China, which are an entirely different phenomenon -- part of the long process of migrations to the United States that has taken place since before its founding. In these, individuals made decisions -- even if they were part of a mass movement from their countries -- to move to the United States and, in moving to the United States, to adopt the dominant American culture to facilitate assimilation. The Mexican migrations are the result of movements in a borderland that has been created through military conquest and the resulting political process.

The movement from Mexico is, from a legal standpoint, a cross-border migration. In reality, it is simply an internal migration within a territory whose boundaries were superimposed by history. Put differently, if the United States had lost the Mexican-American war, these migrations would be no more noteworthy than the mass migration to California from the rest of the United States in the middle of the 20th century. But the United States did not lose the war -- and the migration is across international borders.

It should be noted that this also distinguishes Mexican population movements from immigration from other Hispanic countries. The closest you can come to an equivalent is in Puerto Rico, whose inhabitants are U.S. citizens due to prior conquest. They neither pose the legal problems of Mexicans nor can they simply slip across the border.

The Mexican case is one-of-a-kind, and the difficulty of sealing the border is indicative of the real issue. There are those who call for sealing the border and, technically, it could be done although the cost would be formidable. More important, turning the politico-military frontier into an effective barrier to movement would generate social havoc. It would be a barrier running down the middle of an integrated social and economic reality. The costs for the region would be enormous, piled on top of the cost of walling off the frontier from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific.

If the U.S. goal is to create an orderly migration process from Mexico, which fits into a broader immigration policy that includes the rest of the world, that probably cannot be done. Controlling immigration in general is difficult, but controlling the movement of an indigenous population in a borderland whose frontiers do not cohere to social or economic reality is impossible.

This is not intended to be a guide to social policy. Our general view is that social policies dealing with complex issues usually have such wildly unexpected consequences that it is more like rolling the dice than crafting strategy. We nevertheless understand that there will be a social policy, hotly debated by all sides that will wind up not doing what anyone expects, but actually will do something very different.

The point we are trying to make is simpler. First, the question of Mexican population movements has to be treated completely separately from other immigrations. These are apples and oranges. Second, placing controls along the U.S.-Mexican frontier is probably impossible. Unless we are prepared to hermetically seal the frontier, populations will flow endlessly around barriers, driven by economic and social factors. Mexico simply does not end at the Mexican border, and it hasn't since the United States defeated Mexico. Neither the United States nor Mexico can do anything about the situation.

The issue, from our point of view, cuts to the heart of geopolitics as a theory. Geopolitics argues that geographic reality creates political, social, economic and military realities. These can be shaped by policies and perhaps even controlled to some extent, but the driving realities of geopolitics can never simply be obliterated, except by overwhelming effort and difficulty. The United States is not prepared to do any of these things and, therefore, the things the United States is prepared to do are doomed to ineffectiveness.

The Geopolitics of Immigration is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Um Abraço no João

Remember summer rhythms this weekend with Lisa Ono.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mutated hamburgers

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A french chef at Fat & Furious Burger tackles meat on a bun and creates some odd looking meals in the process.

A friendly turtle

A turtle drops by to visit a couple of divers. When it first showed up I thought it might have a human/turtle hybrid in mind, but it just wanted to get a good look before moving on.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A future that never was

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In the 1940s Bohn Aluminum and Brass ran a series of ads featuring their vision of the future. They featured a lot of big machines, presumably made out of aluminum and brass, but they missed the mark pretty wildly in their futuristic predictions.

Source Ubersuper which has more of Bohn's ads.

Legislator vs legislator

With the Holidays it's not exactly hump day, but that's no reason not to have a fight video to get you over the hump in a Monday that comes on a Wednesday. This one features the Taiwanese legislature in one of their frequent brawls.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Some Christmas music

Enjoy this Japanese ska/punk version of Jingle Bells by SKAyway.


Merry Christmas

Hopefully your Santa wasn't sloshed by the end of his run and you got what you wanted. Regardless, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Playing with perspective

We have an intuitive understanding of the rules of perspective. In this short video Richard Wiseman plays with our intuition.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stratfor and Rosario Dawson

For some time Stratfor has ran two free columns, Geopolitical Weekly and Security Weekly. They've recently added a third, Global Affairs. I'm going to start bouncing between the three in selecting which to post.

The first Global Weekly, by Robert D. Kaplan, concerns the influence of shale gas will have on world politics. The U.S., Canada, Australia and China all have significant deposits of gas in shale. As they become developed they will change the calculus of World affairs, woth the Mid East and other OPEC states as net losers.

The article is a good read.

Since the article is about rock, as might be expected Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson immediately sprang to mind. With that in mind, I searched his list of female costars for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe and had no problem identifying Rosario Dawson as being suitable for the honor.

Ms Dawson, who is an extreme;y busy actress, was the love interest in The Rock's film The Rundown. It is an entertaining enough film with The Rock dispatched to the Amazon to return the runaway son of a gangster. Many complications ensue, along with the required hijinx of action/comedy movies. It's worth watching if you have time to waste.

The Geopolitics of Shale
By Robert D. Kaplan, Chief Geopolitical Analyst, December 19, 2012

According to the elite newspapers and journals of opinion, the future of foreign affairs mainly rests on ideas: the moral impetus for humanitarian intervention, the various theories governing exchange rates and debt rebalancing necessary to fix Europe, the rise of cosmopolitanism alongside the stubborn vibrancy of nationalism in East Asia and so on. In other words, the world of the future can be engineered and defined based on doctoral theses. And to a certain extent this may be true. As the 20th century showed us, ideologies -- whether communism, fascism or humanism -- matter and matter greatly.

But there is another truth: The reality of large, impersonal forces like geography and the environment that also help to determine the future of human events. Africa has historically been poor largely because of few good natural harbors and few navigable rivers from the interior to the coast. Russia is paranoid because its land mass is exposed to invasion with few natural barriers. The Persian Gulf sheikhdoms are fabulously wealthy not because of ideas but because of large energy deposits underground. You get the point. Intellectuals concentrate on what they can change, but we are helpless to change much of what happens.

Enter shale, a sedimentary rock within which natural gas can be trapped. Shale gas constitutes a new source of extractable energy for the post-industrial world. Countries that have considerable shale deposits will be better placed in the 21st century competition between states, and those without such deposits will be worse off. Ideas will matter little in this regard.

Stratfor, as it happens, has studied the issue in depth. Herein is my own analysis, influenced in part by Stratfor's research.

So let's look at who has shale and how that may change geopolitics. For the future will be heavily influenced by what lies underground.

The United States, it turns out, has vast deposits of shale gas: in Texas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and elsewhere. America, regardless of many of the political choices it makes, is poised to be an energy giant of the 21st century. In particular, the Gulf Coast, centered on Texas and Louisiana, has embarked upon a shale gas and tight oil boom. That development will make the Caribbean an economic focal point of the Western Hemisphere, encouraged further by the 2014 widening of the Panama Canal. At the same time, cooperation between Texas and adjacent Mexico will intensify, as Mexico increasingly becomes a market for shale gas, with its own exploited shale basins near its northern border.

This is, in part, troubling news for Russia. Russia is currently the energy giant of Europe, exporting natural gas westward in great quantities, providing Moscow with political leverage all over Central and particularly Eastern Europe. However, Russia's reserves are often in parts of Siberia that are hard and expensive to exploit -- though Russia's extraction technology, once old, has been considerably modernized. And Russia for the moment may face relatively little competition in Europe. But what if in the future the United States were able to export shale gas to Europe at a competitive price?

The United States still has few capabilities to export shale gas to Europe. It would have to build new liquefaction facilities to do that; in other words, it would have to erect plants on the Gulf of Mexico that convert the gas into liquid so that it could be transported by ship across the Atlantic, where regasification facilities there would reconvert it back into gas. This is doable with capital investment, expertise and favorable legislation. Countries that build such facilities will have more energy options, to export or import, whatever the case may be. So imagine a future in which the United States exports liquefied shale gas to Europe, reducing the dependence that European countries have on Russian energy. The geopolitics of Europe could shift somewhat. Natural gas might become less of a political tool for Russia and more of a purely economic one (though even such a not-so-subtle shift would require significant exports of shale gas from North America to Europe).

Less dependence on Russia would allow the vision of a truly independent, culturally vibrant Central and Eastern Europe to fully prosper -- an ideal of the region's intellectuals for centuries, even as ideas in this case would have little to do with it.

This might especially be relevant to Poland. For Poland may have significant deposits of shale gas. Were Polish shale deposits to prove the largest in Europe (a very big "if"), Poland could become more of an energy producer in its own right, turning this flat country with no natural defenses to the east and west -- annihilated by both Germany and the Soviet Union in the 20th century -- into a pivot state or midlevel power in the 21st. The United States, in turn, somewhat liberated from Middle East oil because of its own energy sources (including natural gas finds), could focus on building up Poland as a friendly power, even as it loses substantial interest in Saudi Arabia. To be sure, the immense deposits of oil and natural gas in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran will keep the Middle East a major energy exporter for decades. But the shale gas revolution will complicate the world's hydrocarbon supply and allocation, so that the Middle East may lose some of its primacy.

It turns out that Australia also has large new natural gas deposits that, with liquefaction facilities, could turn it into a principal energy exporter to East Asia, assuming Australia significantly lowers its cost of production (which may prove very hard to do). Because Australia is already starting to emerge as the most dependable military ally of the United States in the Anglosphere, the alliance of these two great energy producers of the future could further cement Western influence in Asia. The United States and Australia would divide up the world: after a fashion, of course. Indeed, if unconventional natural gas exploitation has anything to do with it, the so-called post-American world would be anything but.

The geopolitical emergence of Canada -- again, the result of natural gas and oil -- could amplify this trend. Canada has immense natural gas deposits in Alberta, which could possibly be transported by future pipelines to British Columbia, where, with liquefaction facilities, it could then be exported to East Asia. Meanwhile, eastern Canada could be the beneficiary of new shale gas deposits that reach across the border into the northeastern United States. Thus, new energy discoveries would bind the two North American countries closer, even as North America and Australia become more powerful on the world scene.

China also has significant deposits of shale gas in its interior provinces. Because Beijing is burdened by relatively few regulations, the regime could acquire the land and build the infrastructure necessary for its exploitation. This would ease somewhat China's energy crunch and aid Beijing's strategy to compensate for the decline of its coastal-oriented economic model by spurring development inland.

The countries that might conceivably suffer on account of a shale gas revolution would be landlocked, politically unstable oil producers such as Chad, Sudan and South Sudan, whose hydrocarbons could become relatively less valuable as these other energy sources come online. China, especially, might in the future lose interest in the energy deposits in such low-end, high-risk countries if shale gas became plentiful in its own interior.

In general, the coming of shale gas will magnify the importance of geography. Which countries have shale underground and which don't will help determine power relationships. And because shale gas can be transported across oceans in liquid form, states with coastlines will have the advantage. The world will be smaller because of unconventional gas extraction technology, but that only increases the preciousness of geography, rather than decreases it.

Editor's Note: Stratfor offers a combination of geopolitical insight, source-driven intelligence and objective analysis to produce customized reliable information and forecasting for businesses, organizations and government agencies. For more information about Stratfor's client solutions offerings, click here:

The Geopolitics of Shale is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's been nice knowing you guys

Whelp, the end of the world is due tomorrow, so I guess it's time to say tootles to you all. It's been a hoot posting for you guys.

I wonder how we'll go? Will it be Yosemite's super volcano blowing, an asteroid hit or a zombie infestation? I'm not sure what the Intrade odds are for any of them, but I'll admit to being partial to a long-shot apocalypse -- the giant methane gas bubble forming in the Gulf of Mexico exploding. Just think, the last thought of all of us will be, "who farted?"

Boiling water and freezing air

A fellow in Russia throws a pot of boiling water off of his balcony in -41C weather. It doesn't quite make it to the ground. It is scenes like this that make me thank God I live in a land of sunshine and palm trees.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hitler's Christmas party

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These are photos from a 1941 Christmas party thrown by Hitler for his Generals as well as SS officers and cadets. I can't imagine how dreary it must have been. You certainly would have wanted to avoid drinking too much and making a social gaffe at that office party.

From the Mail Online article Hitler's Christmas party: Rare photographs capture leading Nazis celebrating in 1941 which discusses the party and pictures:
The pictures from December 18, which have only just come to light, show Hitler and his generals at a party for SS officer cadets in Munich.

But the Nazi Christmas was far from traditional.

Hitler believed religion had no place in his 1,000-year Reich, so he replaced the Christian figure of Saint Nicholas with the Norse god Odin and urged Germans to celebrate the season as a holiday of the ‘winter solstice’, rather than Christmas.

Out of sight at the top of the tree behind Hitler was a swastika instead of an angel, and many of the baubles carried runic symbols and iron cross motifs. The remarkable pictures were captured by Hugo Jaeger, one of the Fuhrer’s personal photographers.

Grrrl vs Lunatic

Today's fight scene to get you over the hump in hump day features a rather odd fellow with a spastic style of kung fu trying to beat up on a girl. I really can't imagine what the setup for the fight is. Anyway, enjoy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


A nice little film that combines time lapse, tilt shift and changing focus to present a view of Singapore.

Monday, December 17, 2012

WPA posters

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These are a set of posters put out by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the Great Depression. They're on a variety of topics: a lot of peformances, art, culture and technology. They also feature a fair amount of exhorting, which isn't a surprise because the WPA was one of the early institutions of nannyism.

I was surprised by how dull the colors were. I don't know if it is because they've faded, or if this greyed-down and muted palette was popular with the government at the time. Whatever the reason, they seem kind of dreary and depressing. 

There are more after the jump, and many more at the Library of Congress WPA Posters gallery.

Crawlin' King Snake

Monday morning, start of the workweek blues by John Lee Hooker.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bug art

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The English artist Damien Hirst, who has a fascination with mortality, has created a work called Capaneus which is a mandala made of insects, spiders and other creepy-crawlies. I doubt, considering the colorful sheen a lot of insects have, that pictures do it credit. Via Oddity Central.

DIY jet airplane kit

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A company called Sonex has a program called Hornet's Nest Research which is developing a DIY kit to build a personal jet aircraft which they call a VVLJ (Very, Very Light Jet). I would suggest it as a budget gift idea -- since they say it ewill only cost as much as a new S-LSA factory-built aircraft, whatever the heck that is -- but they're not taking orders yet.

Below is a video about it that includes some scenes of it flying.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Stratfor and Liya Kebede

In this Stratfor article Scott Stewart revisits Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group to assess its current status.

There had been fears that Boko Haran might evolve into a transnational terrorist organization, but that doesn't appear to be in the case. In fact, although their violence is up, there are signs that the Nigerian government's moves against them are starting to degrade thier leadership and organization.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I realized I had somewhat depleted my Nigerian actress choices. Then I remembered that I've used any desert as a proxy for Saudi Arabia in the past, so why not do the same and pick from the larger pool of African actresses?
It sounded like a plan to me, so after a careful search I finally decided on Liya Kebede, who is Ethiopian.

Although Ms Kebede has been in a handful of films, including Desert Flower, she's primarily known for her modeling. After first moving from Ethiopia to Paris, she currently lives in New York City.

Is Boko Haram More Dangerous Than Ever?
By Scott Stewart, Vice President of Analysis, December 13, 2012

On Nov. 25, Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group from northern Nigeria, attacked a church in Jaji, Kaduna state, using two suicide bombers during the church's weekly religious service. The first bomb detonated in a vehicle driven into the church, and the second detonated approximately 10 minutes later, when a crowd of first responders gathered at the scene. About 30 people were killed in the attacks; the second blast caused the majority of the deaths. The incident was particularly symbolic because Jaji is the home of Nigeria's Armed Forces Command and Staff College, and many of the churchgoers were senior military officers.

In the wake of the Jaji attacks, media reports quoted human rights groups saying that Boko Haram has killed more people in 2012 than ever before. The group has killed roughly 770 people this year, leading many to conclude that Boko Haram has become more dangerous.

However, it is important to look beyond the sheer number of fatalities when drawing such conclusions about a group like Boko Haram. Indeed, a less cursory look at the group reveals that while 2012 has been a particularly deadly year, the Nigerian government has curtailed the group's capabilities. In terms of operational planning, the group has been limited to simple attacks against soft targets in or near its core territory. In other words, Boko Haram remains deadly, but it is actually less capable than it used to be, relegating the group to a limited, regional threat unless this dynamic is somehow altered.

Boko Haram's Rise

Boko Haram, Hausa for "Western Education is Sinful," was established in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state. It has since spread to several other northern and central Nigerian states. Its official name is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, Arabic for "Group Committed to Propagating the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad." While Boko Haram is a relatively new phenomenon, Nigeria has struggled with militant Islamism for decades. For example, the Maitatsine sect, led by Mohammed Marwa, fomented violence in the early 1980s in the very same cities that Boko Haram is presently active.

Initially, Boko Haram incited sectarian violence and attacked Christians with clubs, machetes and small arms. But by 2010, the group had added Molotov cocktails and simple improvised explosive devices to its arsenal. In 2011, Boko Haram made a major operational leap when it unexpectedly began to use large suicide vehicle bombs. They were used first in the botched attack against the national police headquarters in Abuja in June 2011, and they were later used in the more successful attack against a U.N. compound in Abuja in August 2011.

The leap from simple attacks in Boko Haram's core areas to sophisticated attacks using large vehicle bombs in the nation's capital skipped several steps in the normal progression of militant operations. The group's progression suggested that it had received outside training or assistance. The sudden increase in operational capacity appeared to have corroborated reports circulating at that time of Boko Haram militants attending training camps run by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

This rapid progression, which came in the wake of a Nigerian operative being involved in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner, led to a concern that Boko Haram had the capability and the intent to become the next transnational jihadist franchise capable of threatening the United States and Europe. These fears were further stoked by warnings from the U.S. government in November 2011 that Boko Haram was planning to attack Western hotels in Abuja.

Dynamic Changes

To counter the perceived growing Boko Haram threat, the Nigerian government, aided by intelligence and training provided by the United States and its European allies, launched a major offensive against the group. Since January, the government has arrested or killed several leaders of Boko Haram, disrupted a number of cells and dismantled numerous bombmaking facilities. In addition to government efforts, there has been a grassroots backlash against Boko Haram, as evidenced by the formation of anti-Boko Haram militant group Jama'atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, or "Supporters of Muslims in the Lands of Sudan," commonly known as Ansaru.

Boko Haram has lashed out viciously against these countermeasures. From June to August, the group conducted nine suicide bombings, mostly directed against churches and police or military targets in its home territory. Since August, the operational tempo of its suicide bombings has slowed to about one attack a month. Boko Haram operatives have also conducted a number of armed attacks and non-suicide bombing attacks. Many of these were directed against churches and police or military targets, but several of them were also directed against mosques that denounced Boko Haram. Despite warnings that Boko Haram would target Western hotels in Abuja, the group has not attacked an international target since the U.N. building in August 2011.

Boko Haram activity has remained heavily concentrated in its core areas with occasional operations in Abuja. There have been only two Boko Haram attacks in Abuja in 2012: a large suicide vehicle bombing attack against a newspaper office in April and a small bombing attack against a nightclub in June. It appears that the group's ability to conduct large attacks in Abuja has been constrained by government operations.

Tactically, Boko Haram's attacks in 2012 have focused almost exclusively on soft targets. Even its attacks against military and police targets have been directed against police on patrol or isolated police stations with little security or have been a target like the church at the military base in Jaji.

So while Boko Haram progressed rapidly in terms of operational ability in 2011, it is still struggling to conduct sustained operations outside its core geographic territory, and it has yet to successfully strike a hardened target. Even the August 2011 attack against the United Nations, while demonstrating some geographic reach and a focus on an international target, was directed against a relatively soft target instead of a harder target like a government ministry building or a foreign embassy. It is also notable that the group has not conducted an attack in Lagos, Nigeria's most populous city, or in Niger, Chad or Cameroon, which are all closer to the Boko Haram home territories than Lagos.

However, in Nigeria, the use of militant proxies has long been part of the political process. Just as Niger Delta politicians have used groups like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta for their own purposes, politicians in Nigeria's northeast have supported and used Boko Haram. In fact, an alleged senior member of the group was arrested at the home of a Nigerian senator in Maiduguri in October 2012, and a previous governor of Borno state is allegedly a sponsor of the group.

This type of political and financial support means that despite the efforts of the central government, the group will not be easily or quickly eradicated. Any serious attempt to curtail the group will require a political solution, which will be highly unlikely during the next two years due to the usefulness of such proxies in the lead-up to Nigerian national elections in early 2015. Therefore, the central government's options will be limited. The best it can hope for is to continue to pursue the group to contain it and limit its reach and lethality.

Certainly, Boko Haram retains the capability to kill people, especially in attacks against vulnerable targets on its home turf. But as long as the Nigerian government maintains pressure on the group and as long as the group remains on the defensive, Boko Haram is unlikely to be able to further develop its operational capabilities and pose an existential threat to the Nigerian government -- let alone become a transnational terrorist threat.

Is Boko Haram More Dangerous Than Ever? is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Enjoy the Ride

Get ready for a placid weekend with Morcheeba.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A bum on the run

Christopher Doyon, a.k.a. Commander X
Ars Technica has an article,  Anon on the run: How Commander X jumped bail and fled to Canada, about Christopher Doyon who' a muckity-muck of sorts in the Anon hacker group.

He's a 50 year old 'hacktivist' who had been arrested for a 2 hour denial of sevice (DoS) attack on a county website. His pro bono lawyer put up his $35,000 bail and he promptly skipped court and headed for Canada. That's where he is now.

He imagines that he's a political refugee from the fascist United States and imagines that there are FBI agents after him hiding behind every bush. In the article he just comes across as a slightly deranged homeless person. He works out of coffee shops with free wifi, lives in a camp in the woods and panhandles for his daily needs: coffee, cigarettes and McDonalds hamburgers.

It's an interesting read, below is an excerpt of its start:
On December 16, 2010, at exactly 12:30pm, Doyon issued a typed order into an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) room used by the hacker collective Anonymous. "CEASE FIRE," it said in all caps. The command had no visible effect in the Starbucks where Doyon was working, though somewhere nearby the Web servers for Santa Cruz County, California groaned back to life after being flattened by a 30-minute distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack meant to protest an ordinance that regulated sleeping on public property.

Doyon unfocused his attention from his laptop screen and looked up at the coffee shop around him. Real life rushed back—the buzz of conversation, the smell of roasted beans. No one paid him any special attention, but Doyon felt a sudden pang of fear.

“It dawns on me… this isn’t Paypal or MasterCard,” he tells me when we meet in Canada. “This is fucking two blocks away. I just took down a government website two blocks away—and I told everybody I was going to do it. My heart starts to pound.”

He stepped out of the coffee shop and onto Pacific Avenue. Down the street, a reporter from local TV station KSBW was doing a “stand-up” with the Santa Cruz chief of police, asking the chief about the just-concluded denial of service attack. The chief was looking right at him.

So Doyon hopped a bus that took him into the mountains 20 miles outside of Santa Cruz proper, where he hiked up to the “pot camp” he called home for the moment. He stayed in the camp for a full week, scared of pursuit, until he was eating crusts of bread. The winter weather turned cold and wet, and Doyon grew miserable and hungry. He returned from the mountains to his old haunts in town and eventually to his regular coffee shops—despite knowing this “was a bad fucking idea.” He had reason to worry; over the last decade, by his own admission, he has done nothing but cause trouble in Santa Cruz. The cops knew him well.

One day in mid January, Doyon dropped by a favorite coffee shop, sat down, and opened his laptop. The barista was acting odd, giving a strange jerk of his head that made Doyon wonder if the man had a tic in his neck. Doyon logged into his password-protected computer and had just started work on the "operations" that take up most of his time when “a fucking arm comes from fucking behind me” and snatches his laptop by its screen. Doyon looked up to find a local cop holding his machine. The sudden realization of what happened hit him hard.

“I’m fucked,” Doyon says, remembering the moment. “They got the computer running.”

On screen, his documents were open for anyone to read: the press release announcing the attack, the Anonymous chat logs used to coordinate it, the High Orbit Ion Cannon (HOIC) computer attack tool. Out from the back room came a couple of FBI cybercrime agents in their “scruffy-ass fucking hoodies” and blue jeans. Doyon, one of the 40 Anons raided that day in a major sweep across the country, was served with a search warrant. In a press release announcing the raids, the FBI reminded people that "facilitating or conducting a DDoS attack is illegal."
 Of course i had a distant brush with Anonymous when they hacked Stratfor. Near the end of the article, when he tries to explain his action he says:
“I would hope people would see me as someone who dedicated their life to bringing freedom and justice into the world, and to giving a voice to the disenfranchised masses.”
 Well, the freedom, justice and voice I got was having to change a mess of passwords and cancel a debit card because somebody in New England bought themselves a gift card with it. It didn't seem all that noble to me.

What happens when rotor meets cable?

While erecting a tower a helicopter's rotor touches a cable. Bad things happen, and they happen quickly. The pilot recovered.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kirk vs a space monster

Here's another fight scene to get you over the hump in hump day. In it Captain Kirk pf Star Trek fights some sort of lizard beast. Even by the crappy standards of most of these hump day fight scenes, this one establishes new and amazing levels of inept cheesiness.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stratfor and Ali Landry

In recent Stratfor articles they've been reviewing the strategic situation of the major Middle Eastern in light of the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war. This article by Reva Bhalla looks at Israel.

He looks at the Sinai as a buffer,the northern border, Jordan and the West Bank as well as Israel's need for a strong international ally.

It's a good article, but to be honest with the focus on the area some of it seems to be repetitious. However, it was good to see Bhalla bring Jorden into the mix.

For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe, repetition brought to mind clones, and clones brought to mind the cinematic masterpiece Repli-Kate.  OK, maybe cinematic masterpiece is buttering the bread a little thickly, but none the less Ali Landry, its female lead, wins the honor to represent the article.

In Repli-Kate some scientist guys accidentally clone a young female reporter. They get it in their heads to raise her to be what they consider to a guys ideal female: a beer drinking, football watching floozie. Meanwhile one of the guys falls crazy mad in love with the real Kate, and needless to say she finds out what they're up to and is none too pleased. I think you can probably figure it out from there. It is a movie that is both watchable and forgettable at the same time.

As for Ms Landry, she came up through the ranks of beauty pageants, transitioned to modelling, and has had a very modest career appearing in film and on television.

The Israeli Periphery
By Reva Bhalla, Vice President of Global Affairs, December 11, 2012

The state of Israel has a basic, inescapable geopolitical dilemma: Its national security requirements outstrip its military capabilities, making it dependent on an outside power. Not only must that power have significant military capabilities but it also must have enough common ground with Israel to align its foreign policy toward the Arab world with that of Israel's. These are rather heavy requirements for such a small nation.

Security, in the Israeli sense, is thus often characterized in terms of survival. And for Israel to survive, it needs just the right blend of geopolitical circumstance, complex diplomatic arrangements and military preparedness to respond to potential threats nearby. Over the past 33 years, a sense of complacency settled over Israel and gave rise to various theories that it could finally overcome its dependency on outside powers. But a familiar sense of unease crept back into the Israeli psyche before any of those arguments could take root. A survey of the Israeli periphery in Egypt, Syria and Jordan explains why.

Maintaining the Sinai Buffer

To Israel's southwest lies the Sinai Desert. This land is economically useless; only hardened Bedouins who sparsely populate the desert expanse consider the terrain suitable for living. This makes the Sinai an ideal buffer. Its economic lifelessness gives it extraordinary strategic importance in keeping the largest Arab army -- Egypt's -- at a safe distance from Israeli population centers. It is the maintenance of this buffer that forms the foundation of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

The question percolating in Israeli policy circles is whether an Islamist Egypt will give the same level of importance to this strategic buffer. The answer to that question rests with the military, an institution that has formed the backbone of the Egyptian state since the rise of Gamel Abdul Nasser in 1952.

Over the past month, the military's role in this new Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt quietly revealed itself. The first test came in the form of the Gaza crisis, when the military quietly negotiated security guarantees with Israel while the Muslim Brotherhood basked in the diplomatic spotlight. The second test came when Egypt's Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, attempted a unilateral push on a constitutional draft to institutionalize the Muslim Brotherhood's hold on power.

The military bided its time, waiting for the protests to escalate to the point that rioters began targeting the presidential palace. By then, it was apparent that the police were not to be fully relied on to secure the streets. Morsi had no choice but to turn to the military for help, and that request revealed how indispensable the military is for Egyptian stability.

There will be plenty of noise and confusion in the lead-up to the Dec. 15 referendum as the secular, anti-Muslim Brotherhood civilian opposition continues its protests against Morsi. But filter through that noise, and one can see that the military and the Muslim Brotherhood appear to be adjusting slowly to a new order of Nasserite-Islamist rule. Unlike the 1979 peace treaty, this working arrangement between the military and the Islamists is alive and temperamental. Israel can find some comfort in seeing that the military remains central to the stability of the Egyptian state and will thus likely play a major role in protecting the Sinai buffer. However, merely observing this dance between the military and the Islamists from across the desert is enough to unnerve Israel and justify a more pre-emptive military posture on the border.

Defending Galilee

Israel lacks a good buffer to its north. The most natural, albeit imperfect, line of defense is the Litani River in modern-day Lebanon, with a second line of defense between Mount Hermon and the Sea of Galilee. Modern-day Israel encompasses this second barrier, a hilly area that has been the target of sporadic mortar shelling from Syrian government forces in pursuit of Sunni rebels.

Israel does not face a conventional military threat to its north, nor will it for some time. But the descent of the northern Levant into sectarian-driven, clan-based warfare presents a different kind of threat on Israel's northern frontier.

It is only a matter of time before Alawite forces will have to retreat from Damascus and defend themselves against a Sunni majority from their coastal enclave. The conflict will necessarily subsume Lebanon, and the framework that Israel has relied on for decades to manage more sizable, unconventional threats like Hezbollah will come undone.

Somewhere along the way, there will be an internationally endorsed attempt to prop up a provisional government and maintain as much of the state machinery as possible to avoid the scenario of a post-U.S. invasion Iraq. But when decades-old, sectarian-driven vendettas are concerned, there is cause for pessimism in judging the viability of those plans. Israel cannot avoid thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios, so it will continue to reinforce its northern defenses ahead of more instability.

Neutralizing the Jordan River Valley

The status of the Jordan River Valley is essential to Israel's sense of security to the east. So long as Israel can dominate the west bank of the river (the biblical area of Judea and Samaria, or the modern-day West Bank) then it can overwhelm indigenous forces from the desert farther east. To keep this arrangement intact, Israel will somehow attempt to politically neutralize whichever power controls the east bank of the Jordan River. In the post-Ottoman Middle East, this power takes the form of the Hashemite monarchs, who were transplanted from Arabia by the British.

The vulnerability that the Hashemites felt as a foreign entity in charge of economically lackluster terrain created ideal conditions for Israel to protect its eastern approach. The Hashemites had to devise complex political arrangements at home to sustain the monarchy in the face of left-wing Nasserist, Palestinian separatist and Islamist militant threats. The key to Hashemite survival was in aligning with the rural East Bank tribes, co-opting the Palestinians and cooperating with Israel in security issues to keep its western frontier calm. In short, the Hashemites were vulnerable enough for Israel to be considered a useful security partner but not so vulnerable that Israel couldn't rely on the regime to protect its eastern approach. There was a level of tension that was necessary to maintain the strategic partnership, but that level of tension had to remain within a certain band.

That arrangement is now under considerable stress. The Hashemites are facing outright calls for deposition from the same tribal East Bankers, Palestinians and Islamists that for decades formed the foundation of the state. That is because the state itself is weakening under the pressure of high oil prices, now sapping at the subsidies that have been relied on to tame the population.

One could assume that Jordan's oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbors would step in to defend one of the region's remaining monarchies of the post-Ottoman order against a rising tide of Muslim Brotherhood-led Islamism with heavily subsidized energy sales. However, a still-bitter, age-old geopolitical rivalry between the Hejaz-hailing Hashemite dynasty and the Nejd-hailing Saudi dynasty over supremacy in Arabia is getting in the way. From across the Gulf, an emboldened Iran is already trying to exploit this Arab tension by cozying up to the Hashemites with subsidized energy sales to extend Tehran's reach into the West Bank and eventually threaten Israel. Jordan has publicly warded off Iran's offer, and significant logistical challenges may inhibit such cooperation. But ongoing negotiations between Iran's allies in Baghdad and the Jordanian regime bear close watching as Jordan's vulnerabilities continue to rise at home.

Powerful Partners Abroad

In this fluctuating strategic environment, Israel cannot afford to be isolated politically. Its need for a power patron will grow alongside its insecurities in its periphery. Israel's current patron, the United States, is also grappling with the emerging Islamist order in the region. But in this new regional dynamic, the United States will eventually look past ideology in search of partners to help manage the region. As U.S.-Turkish relations in recent years and the United States' recent interactions with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood reveal, it will be an awkward and bumpy experience while Washington tries to figure out who holds the reins of power and which brand of Islamists it can negotiate with amid messy power transitions. This is much harder for Israel to do independently by virtue of ideology, size and location.

Israel's range of maneuver in foreign policy will narrow considerably as it becomes more dependent on external powers and as its interests clash with those of its patrons. Israel is in store for more discomfort in its decision-making and more creativity in its diplomacy. The irony is that while Israel is a western-style democracy, it was most secure in an age of Arab dictatorships. As those dictatorships give way to weak and in some cases crumbling states, Israeli survival instincts will again be put to the test.

The Israeli Periphery is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Parrot on wheels

One of my regular viewers pointed these videos out to me. They're of a parrot named Pepper controlling a little cart and driving around. The cart was designed by Andrew Gray of the University of Florida's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

It's hard to say how much the parrot understands what it is doing. The top video is Pepper driving around, followed by an explanation of how the cart self docks. The second video shows an unsuccessful attempt to teach the bird how to turn right.

(HT: Dave)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Peeking at presents

Click any image to enlarge
For those who are driven to distraction by wrapped gifts British Institute of Radiology artist in residence Hugh Turvey has a solution: ex-ray them.

As an aside, I hope it never crosses Obamacare bureaucrats' minds that such a thing as a radiological x-ray artist in residence exists or hospital will be knee deep in them we'll grow broke funding them.

Via Odd Stuff Magazine's article What’s that present under the Christmas tree? where there are more examples.