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July 2009 Archives

July 31, 2009

How to Apologize

By Joe Katzman at 03:08

A article that would make worthwhile reading for many a corporate executive, complete with examples.

Short version? Take first-person ownership, be timely, make concrete amends. Seems simple - so why is it so difficult?

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  • Glen Wishard: That was a nice apology Bezos made, but I'm still read more

How Does California Use Less Energy Per Capita?

By Joe Katzman at 01:51

"In the late 1970s, the state of California enacted tougher energy-efficiency policies," Obama said, noting that the state and its residents use less energy today per capita than the national average. "Think about that," he said, "California producing jobs, their economy keeping pace with the rest of the country and yet they've been able to maintain their energy usage in a much lower level than the rest of the country."

Sounds like that idiot Kevin Drum. Now, the national average is also pushed up by more poor people in southern states getting things like air conditioning, and other salutary developments. But it would appear that isn't how California did it...

"Obama might want to rethink his choice of a model state because it is easy to understand how California has curbed its energy use. Between 2000 and 2007, before the current recession, the state shed nearly 21 percent of its manufacturing jobs, driving down its industrial electrical consumption by 21 percent. California's industrial users pay electric rates twice as high as their Midwestern counterparts - which helps explain why so much heavy industry has fled the state. In addition to alienating its industry, California has also curbed energy use through exorbitant residential electric rates (50 percent higher than the national average) and massive net out-migration. Between 2005 and 2007, 2.14 million Californians moved to other states, while only 1.44 million people from elsewhere moved to the Golden State, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Don't be surprised when the 2010 Census finds even more people leaving to escape California's 11.5 percent unemployment. And, as jobs and residents fled California, its tax revenues have declined, while its politicians went on a spending binge, creating a severe budget crisis."

I should add that from January 2001 to June 2009, California lost 425,800 private sector jobs, while adding 163,700 government jobs, Oh, wait. That is the Obama economic model...

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  • Joe Katzman: I'm going to agree with Andrew here, on a couple read more
  • mark buehner: This thread is mistaking spending for service. One does not read more
  • Andrew J. Lazarus: A low tax, high service approach can in fact work read more

Indian Country, and the Current Cartel War in Mexico

By Joe Katzman at 01:45

The guy's a Berkeley humanities (now there's an oxymoron for you) professor, but he does bring up an interesting parallel:

"This spring in El Paso, after a talk I gave on the Indian raids and the U.S.-Mexican War, a man in the back row raised his hand. "Do you see any similarities between the borderland violence you've just described for the 1830s and 1840s and the current drug war?" The energy in the room changed immediately.

More than any other American city, El Paso has borne witness to the tragedy of Mexico's raging drug war...."

He has his own thoughts, and they're not as barking mad as you'd expect. But I suspect the wars also has lessons to teach that he hasn't considered.

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Hitting the Savings Lottery

By Joe Katzman at 01:30

There's no such thing as a President who's an idiot 100% of the time. I'm certainly not a fan of the O, but there are a couple of things he's done that strike me as good ideas, long overdue. More focus on Community Colleges, for instance. Hiring people with a Behavioural Economics background into government is another good move, guaranteeing that he'll manage to do at least 1 non-stupid thing in the economic realm during his term. I don't have high hopes for reaching 2, but back to behavioural economics...

"Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes, And How to Correct Them" is a very accessible and entertaining read in that area, and I recommend it. There's also a cool application out there that leverages my "American Economy In One" note the other day about $57.4 billion in savings in 2007, vs. $92.3 billion on legalized gambling.

"Why not combine them?" asked finance professor Peter Tufano of Harvard Business School...

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July 30, 2009

Space and the Beanstalk

By Joe Katzman at 03:50

Rand Simberg offers an alternative vision for NASA in a New Atlantis piece: "A Space Program for the Rest of Us."

Meanwhile, researchers at York University in Toronto have come up with an alternative design for a "beanstalk" to space, and are busy patenting it in partnership with space firm Thoth Technology Inc. They also published a related paper about it in Acta Astronautica. From a York U. page:

"Constructed from Kevlar, the free-standing structure would use pneumatically-inflated sections pressurized with lightweight gas such as hydrogen or helium, to actively stabilize itself and allow for flexibility. A series of platforms or pods, supported by the elevator, would be used to launch payloads into Earth's orbit.... Stacks of pods containing control and stabilization machinery are embedded in its core structure, and then pulled out and extended vertically via a system of rollers. The structure's position would be maintained by an active control system that corrects its centre of gravity using methods such as pressure balancing and gyroscopic stabilization. The system would also counter the forces of nature...."

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  • Foobarista: I've noticed this new breed of spambots that appear to read more
  • Tim Oren: Looks like the spammers a/o spambots are with us again, read more

July 29, 2009

Uh, Really?

By Armed Liberal at 03:43

Wired's Danger Room has an interview with a Somali shipping pirate.

Who sounds oddly like a Silicon Valley startup executive. These are all quotes from the pirate:
"Once you have a ship, it's a win-win situation."
"Hostages - especially Westerners - are our only assets, so we try our best to avoid killing them."
"A single mission with 12 armed men and boats costs a little over $30,000. But a successful investor has to dispatch at least three or four missions to get lucky once."
And my favorite:
"The financiers are the most important since they organize and plan the big shot operations and are able to pay running cost[s]. Financiers always need to forge deals with traders, land cruiser owners, translators, business people to keep the supplies flowing during operations and manage the logistics. There is a long supply chain involved in every hijacking."
...and as soon as we learn to automate and optimize it, we'll attain unheard-of efficiencies in pirate management!!

I'm not saying that the interview is completely bogus - but this just sets off my BS detector. I'd love to actually hear the tape.

And as a blue-water sailor, there was one thing that rang kind of false as well:
"Beyond that, in my case deploy a boat with six men to get close to the ship and leave another in reserve near the coast just in case we need backup. We use sophisticated equipment that allows us to spot our targets from a distance. We always have to be close to the main sea lane and keep in touch with each other using talkie phones."
So the sea lanes off Somalia are about 4 - 6 degrees latitude from the coast - so figure they are 240 - 360 miles from shore.

Unless he means the backup boats lurk like 200 miles off the coast - a broad definition of 'near the coast' - the time to get backup in place to catch a 15 - 20kt ship with a 25kt power launch from 100 miles away is on the order of 15 - 18 hours. Some backup...

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  • Dave: Not sure - I think the pirate negotiator in the read more
  • Marc Danziger: Dave - interesting podcast; but it was a Western academic read more
  • Dave: Been a while since I've been here. Hope I don't read more

July 28, 2009

Smart Grids, Open Standards, and Smart Management

By Joe Katzman at 19:53

New Zealand is zooming ahead with smart meters - but the implementation may not be very smart. Different utilities are paired with different vendors. The features and approach look set to ensure that improvements are more modest than they should be. And what is implemented will mostly benefit the utilities, rather than the homeowners being charged for them.

That experience may help to explain why California's PG&E thinks it's smarter to hold out for true open standards.

Thing is, both jurisdictions are still thinking from a utility perspective. But successful smart grids are going to require a lot of rewiring - in utility executives' heads. Utilities are not customer-oriented companies. But there's a good argument that smart grids are going to force them to have far more dealings with their customers. If they're not proactive, and careful about how they handle that, they're going to find that browned-off can be at least as dangerous as brownout.

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Culture War Replaces Missile War

By Michael Totten at 18:08

In early 2006, shortly before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, an Israeli intelligence officer predicted the future. “Missile war will replace terrorist war,” he told me when I spoke with him at the Ministry of Defense.

He was right. Just a few months later, Hizballah launched thousands of Katyusha rockets into Northern Israel and forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee south toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. South Lebanon was punished much more thoroughly than Northern Israel, but the Palestinians in Gaza nevertheless took Hizballah’s Baghdad Bob–style boasts of “divine victory” seriously. Hamas ramped up its own rocket war until fed-up Israelis gave Gaza the South Lebanon treatment this past December and January.

Hamas is a bit slower to learn than was Hizballah, but seven long months after the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead, the rockets out of Gaza have finally stopped. Israelis will no longer put up with indiscriminate attacks on their houses and schools. Many Palestinians in Gaza have likewise had their fill of Hamas’s self-destructive campaign of “resistance.”

The New York Times reports that Hamas has decided to wage a “culture war” instead of a rocket war because, as one leader put it, “the fighters needed a break and the people needed a break.”

Movies, plays, art exhibitions, and poems are Hamas’s new weapons. Hamas supporters, though, aren’t the only Palestinians in Gaza using art as a weapon. Said al-Bettar skewers Hamas every night at Gaza City’s Shawa cultural center in his popular play The Women of Gaza and the Patience of Job. “We were the victims of a big lie,” he says about the doctrine of armed “resistance.”

The Israeli intelligence official I spoke to deserves some credit for predicting the replacement of terrorist war with missile war. Hamas and Islamic Jihad had already fired rockets at Israel, but they hadn’t fired many, and neither the recent Gaza war nor the Second Lebanon War had yet started.

Since then a pattern has emerged that should be obvious to anybody with eyes to see, whether they’re an intelligence official or not. After Israeli soldiers withdraw from occupied territory, Israeli civilians are shot at with rockets from inside that territory. Another pattern has just been made clear. After Israelis shoot back, the rockets stop flying.

It has been years since Hizballah has dared to fire rockets at Israel or start anything else on the border. Hamas no longer dares to fire rockets at Israel either.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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July 27, 2009

STRATFOR: The Iranian Election and the Revolution Test

By Joe Katzman at 05:51

Al Giordano's analysis of goings-on in Iran is worth reading. For a different view, there's George Friedman of STRATFOR:

"Successful revolutions have three phases. First, a strategically located single or limited segment of society begins vocally to express resentment, asserting itself in the streets of a major city, usually the capital. This segment is joined by other segments in the city and by segments elsewhere as the demonstration spreads to other cities and becomes more assertive, disruptive and potentially violent. As resistance to the regime spreads, the regime deploys its military and security forces. These forces, drawn from resisting social segments and isolated from the rest of society, turn on the regime, and stop following the regime's orders. This is what happened to the Shah of Iran in 1979; it is also what happened in Russia in 1917 or in Romania in 1989.

Revolutions fail when no one joins the initial segment, meaning the initial demonstrators are the ones who find themselves socially isolated. When the demonstrations do not spread to other cities, the demonstrations either peter out or the regime brings in the security and military forces - who remain loyal to the regime and frequently personally hostile to the demonstrators - and use force to suppress the rising to the extent necessary. This is what happened in Tiananmen Square in China...."

Friedman makes some good points, while others strike me as less well grounded. Read him and decide what you think.

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  • Joshua: Friedman talks about revolutions succeeding or failing. He overlooks a read more

The American Bubble Economy, In One Sentence

By Joe Katzman at 03:09

Jim Welsh, of Welsh Money Management, had this priceless take-away line in his recent article, "The Truth Behind a "Recovery" in GDP:"

"According to Christianson Capital Advisors, Americans saved $57.4 billion in 2007, and spent $92.3 billion on legalized gambling."

The rest is also a very interesting read.

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July 25, 2009

A LEO's View Of l'affaire Gates

By Armed Liberal at 01:03
Posted on behalf of a LEO who chooses to remain anonymous...

From Wikipedia:

"Discrimination toward or against a person of a certain group is the treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit. Discrimination is always a behavior that promotes a certain group at the expense of another"

Change is hard. It's as hard to accept as it is to achieve. Well folks, times have changed and it is time to embrace it and move forward.

The incident in Cambridge involving Professor Gates is a perfect example of a man's cultural heritage ruling his response to what should have been a harmless incident that began with nothing but the best of intentions. It's a shame that adversarial racial politics are still sexier than common sense and reality. It's even sadder that discrimination is considered reasonable, but only if it comes from a historically oppressed source.

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  • Foobarista: We were talking about Obama, not our "own takes". Obama read more
  • Coldtype: Ahh the good life in Post-Racial America! Where, with the read more
  • Foobarista: Obama's statement was obviously carefully put together, but Presidents aren't read more

July 23, 2009

The Future of Iraq, Part IV

By Michael Totten at 09:26

You Will See Another Face Baghdad.jpg

Getting an accurate reading of Iraqi public opinion is hard. It might be impossible. I've seen Iraqis cheer American soldiers, and I've seen some Iraqis hug American soldiers in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad. A few weeks ago, though, hundreds of thousands celebrated when Americans evacuated Iraqi cities as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement.

It's theoretically possible that what we've seen is not contradictory. Some Iraqis are pro-American. Others are not. Those who celebrated when Americans left may very well be, at least for the most part, different Iraqis than those I've seen who greeted Americans warmly.

Iraqi public opinion, though, is famously contradictory. And Iraqi public opinion as stated by Iraqis themselves is notoriously unreliable.

Most Iraqis, like most Arabs everywhere, are extremely polite and hospitable. It's a guidebook cliché, but it's a guidebook cliché for a reason. Their culture requires them to welcome foreigners, and they take that requirement seriously. Most will conceal any negative opinions they may have against a visitor personally or even the visitor's country - and this is true even for visitors from enemy countries. They don't mean to be deceptive. They're just being nice.

There's another problem with picking up the mood of the street - politics. For decades Iraqis have lived either in fear of the state or in fear of militias. They had to learn to keep their opinions to themselves if they wanted to live.

I don't think many Iraqis today are afraid of the state. But everybody was terrified of Saddam Hussein's totalitarian government. Speaking their minds could get them imprisoned or killed. It could get an entire family dragged off to prison, tortured, and painfully executed. Before the Baath Party regime was demolished, it was extremely difficult for journalists who showed up in Baghdad to read the mood of the street. Everybody appeared to be fanatical supporters of Saddam Hussein even though few Iraqis actually were.

That's not true anymore. But habits of mind go down hard. Concealing opinions from the authorities became a survival mechanism, whether the authorities were Saddam Hussein's mukhabarat, militiamen in the neighborhood, or American soldiers.

Before the Status of Forces agreement kicked in, I asked U.S. Army Colonel John Hort if and how he and his men took all this into account. Effective counter-insurgency isn't possible when counter-insurgents have no idea what the general population is thinking.

"How do you measure public opinion?" I said to him. "How do you know what people really think? We all know about this tendency in Iraq where people tell you what they think you want to hear - or what they want you to hear, which isn't necessarily the same thing. If you ask what Iraqis think of the American military while you're standing there with guns in your hands, they might say oh, we love you guys. Then someone from the Guardian newspaper comes along and asks what they think of the imperial occupation forces, and the same people might say we hate them. So what's their real opinion? Do you take this sort of thing into account? Do you have Iraqis feeling out the opinions of people for you?"

"We do," he said.

"And they report back to you?" I said.

"Right," he said. "We have the Iraqi Advisor Task Force. They aren't spies. That's illegal. But they're hired to measure atmospherics. They monitor the mosques. They hit the restaurants, places like that. And we get these reports almost every other day. Over time we've seen the atmospherics and compared them to what you were talking about, the guy on the street talking to the U.S. soldier. Do they match up? And if they don't match up, we have to figure out what we need to change about the way we're presenting ourselves."

Colonel Hort worked at Forward Operating Base (FOB) War Eagle, a medium-sized base in Northern Baghdad. After I left the FOB and moved to a small combat outpost deep in the city, I asked Sergeant Nick Franklin if he could help me arrange an interview with one of the Iraqis the Army trusts to provide real information. I was tired of trying to learn about Iraq through the lens of the United States military, and tired of asking Iraqis what they thought while they were in the presence of American soldiers.

What were Iraqis saying when Americans weren't in the room? That's what I wanted to know. Even if I had disembedded myself from the Army and wandered around Iraq by myself, I still wouldn't be able to figure that out because I'm an American, too.

"You're right," Sergeant Franklin said. "You practically have to beat a straight answer out of people. I'll take you to meet this guy Sayid who works for us and tells it just like it is."

Read the rest at

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July 21, 2009

What the West Bank Actually Looks Like

By Michael Totten at 21:36

Last week, the New York Times published an article about “signs of hope” in the West Bank (and in the city of Nablus in particular) that refreshingly breaks with the standard narrative of Palestinian desperation and misery. The Israeli military recently closed down its checkpoint into the city, along with other checkpoints elsewhere in the territories. The economy is growing instead of contracting. Downtown is full of shoppers. Islamist scolds have backed off. Police make sure passengers have fastened their seat belts.

It sounds like Nablus has more or less become a normal Middle East city.

Earlier this year in Jerusalem, Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh told me how much the West Bank surprises visitors now. “The other day,” he said, “someone came for the first time ever to this part of the world, and he called me and asked me to take him to Ramallah. So I drove him to downtown Ramallah, and we stopped there. The man was shocked. He said, ‘Where are the refugee camps? Where are the mud houses? Where’s the poverty?’ I said, ‘Why are you asking me these questions?’ He said, ‘I’m shocked. Look how nice it is.’ ”

I laughed out loud because I had a similar experience myself three years ago before the recent improvements. I didn’t expect to see “mud houses.” As far as I know, no one has ever reported the existence of “mud houses” in Ramallah. The usual Palestinian narrative, though, seems to encourage some people’s vivid imaginations.

But I was still startled by what Ramallah actually looked like. I expected to see, and to write about, squalid living conditions. I had already seen the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, and the awfulness of those places is hard to describe.

I figured Ramallah wouldn’t be that bad, but I didn’t expect it to look so much better than lots of cities, and not just refugee camps, that I’ve seen in the region.

It was in early 2006, shortly after Hamas won the election, when I took a taxi from the Qalandia checkpoint outside Jerusalem to Ramallah with a Palestinian man named Sufian. Here, in part, is what I wrote at the time:

I stepped out into a surprisingly pleasant urban environment.

“No offense, Sufian, but this city is a lot nicer than I expected,” I said.

“Ramallah is beautiful,” he said with pride.

I didn’t think it was beautiful, exactly, but it did not look even remotely like the Third World war zone it’s reputed to be. I noticed no visible poverty once we left the squalor around the checkpoint. I was, however, warned by Israelis that Ramallah and Bethlehem are much nicer than the rest of the West Bank and need to be judged accordingly.


Ramallah is also in much better physical condition than the parts of Lebanon ruled by Hezbollah, even though Ramallah has experienced war a lot more recently. In fact, Ramallah is in better condition than any Shia region of Lebanon whether it’s ruled by Hezbollah or not. The only Sunni part of Lebanon that looks nicer than Ramallah is West Beirut.

Ramallah didn’t have the glitz of Beirut or the French-Arab Mediterranean charm of a city like Tunis. But it beat the pants off Cairo, one of the biggest tourist destinations in the whole Arab world. It looked a lot like Amman — an Arab city with a pretty good reputation. It was so much nicer than Baghdad, it’s pointless to even make the comparison.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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  • Andrew J. Lazarus: Before the intifada, young Israelis could be found in Ramallah read more

July 20, 2009

40 Years Later

By Armed Liberal at 16:24

Today is the 40th anniversary of man's first landing on another celestial body. Could we do it again today? I wonder...

I attend meetings of The Luncheon Society, a group organized by tireless banker Bob McBarton.

At a recent, meeting Steven Squyres and John Callas - Principal Investigator and Project Manager for the Mars Rovers - spoke (this was before Spirit got stuck) about the status and findings of the rovers, and what they envisioned as the next acts in planetary exploration.

He was asked what he'd do with enough money and how long it would take to put a human on Mars.

After he replied, I challenged him. The US space program in the 50's and 60's was based on the missile programs of the 50's which were in turn based on the aircraft programs of the 40's and WW II. We grew a crop of engineers and mechanics who first built airplanes, and then went on to build more-sophisticated airplanes and nuclear missiles - and who directly transferred that core body of technique and knowledge up the food chain to the space program.

That doesn't exist today. We're outsourced it to Taiwan and China, and I worry - seriously - about what it would take to grow enough engineers to do the job.

I don't recall the source of the quote, but a landowner talked to his gardener about having some trees to shade the property. The gardener said, "But sir - it will take 50 years for them to grow that big!"

The landowner replied "Then you'd better start planting them this morning."

We need to start planting engineers in this country. So we can go back to the Moon, to Mars, beyond - and so we can build a smart grid, power plants, and all the other stuff we will need rebuild over the next 50 years.

That would be a fitting memorial to the people who built the things to allow men to walk on the moon.

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  • Beard: There is a domestic engineer shortage in America [#9] This read more
  • J Aguilar: Adam Renzig (#9): 2) There is a domestic engineer shortage read more
  • Glen Wishard: I suspect the first orbiting hotel will include a large read more

July 19, 2009

Global Cooling, and the Beginning of Animal Life on Earth

By Joe Katzman at 22:40

File this one next to the earlier posts re: the "Medea Hypothesis," aka. "if the Earth really is a single organism, it's awfully mean." New Scientist's "Dawn of the animals: Solving Darwin's dilemma" discusses how life on earth as we understand it really got started by the mother of all mass extinctions:

"Put together, all the recent findings and ideas paint a picture of early evolution dramatically different from what we long imagined. The oceans did not suddenly become hospitable places for large animals 2.5 billion years ago when the atmosphere began to fill with oxygen, nor did animals suddenly appear during the early Cambrian. Instead, the first animals appeared much earlier but were limited to a thin layer of surface water in hostile oceans still dominated by bacteria. They were restricted in size by the lack of oxygen, starved of vital nutrients and regularly killed en masse by toxic upwellings.

Their deaths were not in vain, though. As their bodies sunk to the bottom of the toxic seas and were buried, carbon dioxide was sucked out of the atmosphere, triggering a series of deep ice ages [JK: so deep, some believe that even the oceans froze] that reset the chemistry of the oceans. The surviving animals seized the opportunity to wrest control of the oceans from the bacteria, producing clear waters rich in oxygen in which larger, more complex animals could evolve. Thus the stage was set for the Cambrian explosion."

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  • mark buehner: What's amazing is how all that happened in 10,000 short read more
  • chuck: The New Scientist, eh. Not as good as Calvin and read more

July 17, 2009

Today In Iran

By Armed Liberal at 19:23

Check out the news...Rafsanjani criticizes the regime's treatment of protesters, and demands that they regain the trust of the people.
We agreed that you will stop chanting. If we do not have the votes of the people behind us, we will have nothing. The guardian council, the expediency council, EVERYONE gets their legitimacy from the vote of the people.

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July 16, 2009

In Which I Am Shocked - Shocked - To Be Supporting Peter Singer

By Armed Liberal at 06:16

So Peter Singer - whose past writings have been, to put it mildly, odious to me - has an oped in the NY Times that's triggering a bit of reaction: 'Why We Must Ration Health Care'

The reactions are, overall, kinda scathing:

From Tammy Bruce (Please, Tammy - finger outside the triggerguard until the sights are on the target, OK?):
Obama moral relativist begin making fascist argument for rationing health care which is what this has been about from the beginning - eliminating "costs" from the budget. For fascists, people are the budget.

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  • Alchemist: Not that anyone is reading this anymore, but here's two read more
  • Alchemist: Again, you do what they do in 3rd world countries. read more
  • mark buehner: Is it fair to ask whether the poor, indigent, illegals read more

July 15, 2009

Violating Your Privacy ... But For A Good Cause

By Armed Liberal at 23:30

Work will settle down soon (it better) and I hope to get back to being a blogger (one post in the queue on how blogging has changed as it's become professionalized and what that means to small fry amateurs like me).

But meanwhile, here's something to occupy your time.

Lexus is going to give a car to someone who registers on a marketing site and gets the largest number of votes from other registrants (you don't have to try for the car - you can just vote. And you can opt-out of them spamming you) - so go on over to the site and register, and then go to Captain Michael Valetta's page and vote for him.

As he puts it in his 'why me' piece:
I fly Blackhawks for a living for the U.S. Army. Its a pretty sweet job, I admit, but not without its drawbacks including time in Iraq and Kuwait away from my family. My 1997 Toyota Camry with 126k miles is another unfortunate drawback. I'd sure love to leave next time knowing that my wife and our two kids are trouble-free and driving in luxury!
Go gettum...

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  • Used Cars: That was smart on Lexus's part. Now, what they do read more

Blumenthal Feels the Hate

By Michael Totten at 22:22

Max Blumenthal, son of former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, made quite a splash on the Internet recently when he posted a video portraying drunken Americans in Israel hurling racist epithets against President Barack Obama. One of his subjects even shouted “white power!” Blumenthal titled his video “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem,” as if inebriated ugly Americans abroad reflect in any way on the opinions of people who live in Jerusalem. You can’t watch the video because YouTube removed it due to a “terms of service violation.”

Blumenthal is back with a sequel, however. This one is called Feeling the Hate in Tel Aviv. The Huffington Post pulled the plug, but it’s still available on YouTube at the time of this writing.

This time around, he features Israelis, not foreigners, who might even live in Tel Aviv. But just like in the first installment of his juvenile series, he goes out of his way to showcase Israelis with offensive opinions. While attending the White Night music festival, for instance, he managed to find two individuals who don’t like Iranians. “I hate them,” said one. “I hate them all,” said another. If he asked anyone else what they thought of Iranians, their response did not make the cut.

It might have been interesting if Blumenthal had aired the opinions of a large number Israelis about their feelings for Iranians when Israel and Iran are in a state of cold war — especially now that millions have risked beatings and worse while taking to the Iranian streets and screaming “death to the dictator.” (It would also be worthwhile for a reporter to canvass Iranian public opinion among those attending anti-regime rallies and ask what they think about the people of Israel.) The “Green Revolution” broke out in Iran after Blumenthal shot his footage. But he apparently doesn’t care whether he makes Israelis look like anti-Iranian bigots at a time when most of the world has just learned that Iranians detest the deranged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as much as everyone else.

After editing out or ignoring the opinions of thousands of reasonable Israelis at the White Night festival, he proceeded toward Tel Aviv University, where he edited out or ignored the opinions of reasonable people on campus.

“Do you think they [Israeli Arabs] are traitors?” he asked a student. “Yeah,” said the student. Another said he wants to see Israelis of Arab descent at the university deported to Gaza. “If you want to keep democracy,” said yet another, “you can’t let people protest against the country.” And so on.

There’s nothing wrong with quoting extremists. And there’s nothing wrong with focusing exclusively on extremists if they’re the subject. I’ve done it. Lots of journalists do it. Responsible journalists, though, make it clear to their audience that extremists are, well, extremists.

Here’s the problem with Blumenthal’s series: I’ve met exactly one person in Israel who talked like the people he featured in his videos. And I’ve been there twice when tempers were flaring, when Israel was under mortar, rocket, and missile attack. It’s certainly possible that I’ve met more than one person like Blumenthal’s crowd without knowing it. Perhaps a few of my interview subjects had the good sense to keep their bigoted thoughts to themselves. I don’t wander around Israel, or any other country, trying to bait people like Borat. In any case, since Blumenthal can’t be bothered to acknowledge that he went quote shopping, those of us familiar with Jerusalem and Tel Aviv ought to point out to everyone else that his videos don’t remotely represent average people who live there.

Author, historian, and Jerusalem resident Yaacov Lozowick didn’t take kindly to the first episode Blumenthal shot in his home town. “Say you’re interviewing the locals at Time Square about some matter,” he wrote, “so as to figure out what Americans think. Inevitably, you’ll come across a lot of tourists, it being Time Square, but what are the chances you’ll find not a single card-carrying American? And if that happens, and you then post your video to Youtube to castigate America, what does that tell us about you?”

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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July 14, 2009

We Are Not at War with Nouri al-Maliki

By Michael Totten at 06:52

Robert Spencer, founder and lead writer for Jihad Watch, has a bit of trouble telling the difference between friend and foe in Iraq and still thinks, despite everything, that the United States is losing the war.

Instead of referring to me by name, he sarcastically dismisses me as a “learned analyst,” as he does with President Barack Obama and his advisors, while scoffing at a long dispatch I published last week. “No insurgent or terrorist group can declare victory or claim Americans are evacuating Iraq’s cities because they were beaten,” I wrote. Spencer acknowledges that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki isn’t the leader of an insurgent or terrorist group. But he maintains that my statement is “breathtaking in its disconnect from reality” because Maliki declared the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq’s cities “a great victory.”

We are not, and never have been, at war with Prime Minister Maliki. Everyone with even a pedestrian familiarity with events in Iraq during the last couple of years knows that American soldiers and Marines have fought alongside Maliki’s Iraqi soldiers and police against common enemies – Al Qaeda in Iraq and the various offshoots and branches of Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.

Not even in an alternate universe have Maliki’s men fought Americans and forced them to withdraw. They fought, bled, and died alongside Americans. The United States military recently withdrew from most of Iraq’s urban areas as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration, but they’re still training and working closely with Iraqi security forces.

Maliki’s “great victory” statement was an attempt to suck up to the anti-Americans in his electoral constituency who are unhappy with his close relationship with the United States. Iraq’s most sectarian Sunni Arabs regularly accuse Maliki of being an Iranian puppet prime minister when they aren’t contradicting themselves by joining radical Shias and saying he’s an American puppet prime minister. Maliki is closer to Iran than Americans and Iraq’s Sunnis would like, but he’s much closer to the United States where it counts most. He has never sent his men into battle against Americans. But he did order his soldiers into battle alongside Americans last year against Iranian-backed Shia militias in Sadr City and Basra. He also put the Sons of Iraq – whom he used to decry as an anti-Shia Sunni militia – on his government’s payroll.

I don’t know if throwing a rhetorical bone to Iraq’s most strident anti-Americans to shore up his nationalist bona fides is a good idea or if it isn’t. Either way, it’s not hard to see that’s what he’s doing. And it’s frankly ridiculous for Spencer to write as though I have no idea what’s going on in Iraq when he thinks a political speech for domestic consumption overrides the fact that for years Maliki has been at war not against us but with us against our mutual enemies.

Does Spencer believe that, all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, Maliki sympathizes with the terrorists and insurgents he recently crushed?

“In any case,” Spencer writes, “any ‘victory’ the Americans won in Iraq was sure to be undone as soon as the troops were gone, and we are already seeing that. Sunni will go after Shi’ite and vice versa, the Iranians will press forward to create a Shi’ite client state, the non-Muslims will be victimized more than ever…”

Iraq has made a fool of just about everyone, including me, who has claimed to know in advance what the future would look like. The entire Middle East makes fools of its prophets. Most of us who work there eventually learn this the hard way. Nobody can know what’s going to happen in Iraq now that the U.S. is pulling back.

Spencer’s view might by chance be correct. Around half the Iraqis and half the Americans I’ve spoken to in Iraq think the country is more likely than not to disintegrate. The other half don’t. And the optimists who live and work over there, just like the pessimists, know more about Iraq than Robert Spencer and I do combined.

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A Wake Up Call About Community Colleges

By Joe Katzman at 04:49

TIME Magazine asks: "Can Community Colleges Save the U.S. Economy?"

The answer, of course, is no. But if you believe, as Peter Morici and others do, that the huge structural trade deficit in manufactured goods and other forms of real wealth is part of the problem, and that rising borrowing to paper over that imbalance has hit the wall... If you fundamentally buy that argument, then a rebalancing toward community colleges, and away from low real-value university B.A.s, is certainly part of the solution. Changing that balance would have the incidental effect of raising community college graduation rates, which currently lag behind universities. So, too, would real education reform that improved K-12 education's deficiencies across the board.

Obama does seem to get community colleges' importance, for whatever reason - and good on him for taking some positive steps. Time will tell if it generates meaningful action, however, in the face of likely opposition from key Obama constituencies.

One certainly wonders why the GOP hasn't grasped community colleges' useful importance yet and been banging on about it for years now. It's especially puzzling given the fact that forces for the current status quo include many of the party's enemies. I suspect some of the less useful Reagan era lenses need to fall from a few eyes in order for that to happen, and the realizations associated with it will be helpful in steering the party toward some genuinely productive new thinking.

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Der Spiegel on Greenspan's (Correct) Rival

By Joe Katzman at 04:39

Interesting piece in Der Spiegel, of all places. Interesting comment on both economics, and human nature, which can make even correct intelligence utterly useless absent any will to act. From "Global Banking Economist Warned of Coming Crisis"

"White, a Canadian, worked for various central banks for 39 years, most recently serving as chief economist for the central bank for all central bankers, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), headquartered in Basel, Switzerland.... Since the economy went up in flames, the wiry retiree has been jetting around the globe... someone, finally, is listening to him.... Greenspan, who was reverentially known as "The Maestro," was celebrated as the greatest central banker of all time -- until the US real estate bubble burst and the crash began. Before then, no one in the world of central banks would have dared to openly criticize Greenspan's successful policy of cheap money. No one except White, that is.

....The analysis department at the BIS has a collection of data from every bank around the globe, considered the most impressive in the world. It enabled the economists working in this nerve center of high finance to look on, practically in real time, as a poisonous concoction began to brew in the international financial system.

White and his team of experts observed the real estate bubble developing in the United States. They criticized the increasingly impenetrable securitization business, vehemently pointed out the perils of risky loans and provided evidence of the lack of credibility of the rating agencies. In their view, the reason for the lack of restraint in the financial markets was that there was simply too much cheap money available on the market.... In the restrained world of central bankers, it would have been difficult for White to express himself more clearly.... He, the chief economist at the central bank for central banks, predicted the disaster, and yet not even his own clientele was willing to believe him."

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Anil Dash on Google's "Microsoft Moment"

By Joe Katzman at 04:33

Anil Dash:

"I'm not sure Google's new Chrome OS announcement is that big a deal, or that the eventual product that gets released will actually have that much impact, but it's a useful milestone in marking Google's evolution towards becoming an older company with a distinctly different culture than they used to have....

Is Google evil? It doesn't matter. They've reached the point of corporate ambition and changing corporate culture that means they're going to be perceived as if they are. Whether they're able to truly internalize that lesson, accept it, and act accordingly will determine if they're able to extend their dominance in the years to come."

Worth pondering, as is his 2007 post about Google's difficulty with Theory of Mind. A fancy term for the kind of understanding which tells you that closing your eyes doesn't turn you invisible (except against the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, of course...).

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July 13, 2009

Things That Make You Go "Hmmmm..."

By Armed Liberal at 19:06

Someone in the PR department at the NRDC or a sister organization is earning their keep...

From the NY Times, July 3:
Ten years have gone by since a modest but important moment in American environmental history: the dismantling of the 917-foot-wide Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River.

The Edwards Dam was the first privately owned hydroelectric dam torn down for environmental reasons (and against the owner's wishes) by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Bruce Babbitt, the interior secretary at the time, showed up at the demolition ceremony to promote what had become a personal crusade against obsolete dams. The publicity generated a national discussion about dams and the potential environmental benefits - to water quality and fish species - of removing them.

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July 10, 2009

MI6, Social Networking and the National Security Sector

By Joe Katzman at 00:25
James never had
this little problem...

In March 2008, DID's "Sharpen Yourself: LinkedIn & Social Networking Sites" discussed both the career benefits and the security risks associated with social networking sites. Sir John Sawers, the prospective head of Britain's MI6 intelligence agency is probably wishing he had read it. His wife recently leaked dangerously specific information about him on Facebook, and created a controversy about his fitness for the job. Sir John now faces a possible parliamentary probe.

Despite these setbacks, social networking is becoming a larger part of the military, and the industry. In July 2009, Lockheed Martin released its internal company social networking application's underlying code as open source software. Social networking efforts are being explicitly built into PR contracts, and it's becoming one of the information shifts that are changing the battlespace. The Pentagon recently launched an official blogging platform at, and US Forces Afghanistan launched a social networking strategy that extends to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Followed by orders to bases to stop blocking key social networking sites.

These efforts can make a big contribution toward ensuring that the Pentagon is no longer, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates puts it, "being out-communicated by a guy in a cave." On the other hand, they are not risk-free.

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Krugman & The Housing Bubble

By Joe Katzman at 00:22

Fun Stuff from the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, who did a bit of digging and found Paul Krugman's 2002 urgings to create a housing bubble.

Yeah, you read that right. Why anyone continues to take this guy seriously is beyond me.

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July 9, 2009

The Future of Iraq, Part III

By Michael Totten at 19:27

Future of Iraq Part III.jpg

On my last trip to Iraq, I asked a number of Americans and Iraqis what they think about the future in that country. Around half were optimistic and half were pessimistic. This is the third installment in a four-part series. Optimists were quoted at length in parts one
and two. I'm giving equal time here to the pessimists.

The United States has basically won the war in Iraq. No insurgent or terrorist group can declare victory or claim Americans are evacuating Iraq’s cities because they were beaten. America's most modest foreign policy objectives there have been largely secured. Saddam Hussein's toxic regime has been replaced with a more or less consensual government. I doubt very much that Iraq will seriously threaten the United States or its neighbors any time soon. It isn't likely to be ruled by terrorists as it probably would have been if the United States left between 2004 and 2007. It’s a relief. A few years ago, I was all but certain the U.S. would withdraw under fire and leave Iraq in the hands of militias. Even so, many have a hard time feeling optimistic about the future. Iraq remains, in some ways, a threat to itself.

The reduction in violence and the winding down of the conflict allowed me to see the country a little more clearly than I could when I first visited Baghdad. I’m sorry to report that the city is still as run-down and dysfunctional as it was when what passed for daily life was punctuated by gunfire and car bombs. Iraq is backward and messy not only by Western standards, but by Arabic standards.

“A lot of people want us to stay or they will leave,” U.S. Army Sergeant Nick Franklin told me. “They don't care where they go. They want to go to America, to Europe, or even to Jordan or some other Arab country. They don't care. They just want out.”

You might want out, too, if you lived there. Violence has been drastically reduced, but sectarian tension remains just as bad, if not worse, as it is in Lebanon – and the possibility of renewed civil strife hangs over Lebanon like the Sword of Damocles. Iraq is still violent compared with most countries, and the entire government and security forces are shot through with corruption. Electricity still doesn’t work half the time. Sewage still runs in the streets. Neighborhoods are still clotted with an appalling amount of garbage. Police officers steal from citizens and often beat suspects up not during but before interrogations.

I asked several American soldiers if it was safe enough for me to walk the streets on my own without armed protection. Few thought that would be wise.

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Bacevich, JimHenley, Autarky^3

By Armed Liberal at 02:32

Because I am more attentive to things I'm paying attention to, this op-ed by Andrew Bacevich (of the "no peace dividend' camp) caught my eye.

Titled 'Obama's strategic blind spot,' he starts by suggesting that in focusing too much on the 'how we win' we've lost track of the 'why we fight'...
A comparable failure of imagination besets present-day Washington. The Long War launched by George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11 has not gone well. Everyone understands that. Yet in the face of disappointment, what passes for advanced thinking recalls the Churchill who devised Gallipoli and godfathered the tank: In Washington and in the field, a preoccupation with tactics and operations have induced strategic blindness.

As President Obama shifts the main U.S. military effort from Iraq to Afghanistan, and as his commanders embrace counterinsurgency as the new American way of war, the big questions go not only unanswered but unasked. Does perpetuating the Long War make political or strategic sense? As we prepare to enter that war's ninth year, are there no alternatives?

Pragmatists shy away from first-order questions -- recall President George H. W. Bush's aversion to what he called "the vision thing." Obama is a pragmatist. Unlike his immediate predecessor, he inhabits a world where facts matter.

Yet pragmatism devoid of principle will perpetuate the strategic void that Obama inherited. The urgent need is for the administration to articulate a concrete set of organizing precepts -- not simply cliches -- to frame basic U.S. policy going forward.

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July 7, 2009

The Real Quagmire in the Middle East

By Michael Totten at 23:20

The Middle East is a hard place for idealists, especially for the Western liberal variety. My feelings of optimism for the region have been ground down over time like rocks under slow-moving glacial ice.

Last time I visited Israel, at the end of the Gaza war this past January, I met Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. He sounded no less despondent than the Israelis I spoke to. "Listen," he said. "We must stop dreaming about the New Middle East and coexistence and harmony and turning this area into Hong Kong and Singapore...I don't see a real peace emerging over here. We should stop talking about it."

That's what I hear from almost everyone I speak to over there now, whether they're Muslims, Christians, Jews, or whatever. Arabs, Israelis, Kurds - most seem to have a dim view of the future. Optimists, for the most part, parachute in for a brief time and leave. I hate it. It depresses me. But that's how it is.

Some writers and analysts are slightly less gloomy, and I frequently ask them to cheer me up and hope their relative optimism isn't fantasy. Jeffrey Goldberg's work at The Atlantic occasionally qualifies as less pessimistic than mine. His outstanding book Prisoners strikes just the right balance between world-weary pessimism and hope. He's an American Jew weaned on Socialist Zionism who became an idealistic Israeli as a young adult. He sought out friendships with individual Palestinians with whom he could forge his own separate peace, if for no other reason than to prove to himself that peace was possible. It was much harder than he expected. But he managed, with some difficultly, when he worked as an IDF prison guard at Ketziot during the first intifada to kindle a rocky but enduring friendship with his prisoner Rafiq Hijazi.

I spoke with him a few weeks ago in Washington D.C.

MJT: You don't seem particularly optimistic that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved any time soon, but I notice from reading your work that you seem slightly less pessimistic than me.

Goldberg: (Laughs.)

MJT: My view is pretty bleak and yours is slightly less so. And I'm wondering if you can map a way out that's realistic.

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July 6, 2009

US Economy: A Long Slog, Straight Into the Icebergs?

By Joe Katzman at 01:18

The late Hyman Minsky was one economist who studied how debt overload leads to economic catastrophe, and offered a view that tied it to business cycles. The term "Minsky moment" refers to the tipping point in an economy, where its debt load becomes more than its cash flow can bear. We passed that some time ago, thanks to a sustained set of inflationary policies that begat 2 major bubbles (dot-com, housing/mortgage), and are about to lead to a 3rd (government debt, with accompanying hyper-stagflation).

It was interesting to hear Nassim "Black Swan" Taleb make the point on CNBC the other day that the key problem facing the USA is "de-leveraging," reducing debt. Have a look at the CNBC video - he even has an interesting suggestion for doing this.

Note that "debt" includes more than public debt. Private debt has also been running up at ruinous rates, for a long time. Morgan Housel, in "Why It Could Take Years to Recover," looks at the numbers. Household Debt to Disposable income averages were about 63.5% in 1974. The much-heralded recent jump in savings rates has pushed that figure from about 133% in Q1 2008, to about 128% in Q1 2009. To put that into better perspective:

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July 5, 2009

"Hello," He Lied

By Armed Liberal at 05:41 I'm reading all the books that TG bought me from my Amazon Wish List, and this morning I picked up Andrew Bacevich's 'The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.' I just finished Niebuhr's 'The Irony of American History' which Bacevich wrote the preface to, and had finished that book mulling over the notion that Bacevich had flatly misread Niebuhr, and that Niebuhr's book was more in the spirit of Ellul than of Chomsky.

So, anyway, I pick up Bacevich's own book, and the opening words are:
Introduction: War Without Exits

For the United States, the passing of the Cold War yielded neither a "peace dividend," nor anything remotely resembling peace.

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July 4, 2009

You Just Cannot Make This Stuff Up...

By Armed Liberal at 23:34

From Editor & Publisher:
John Arthur has been forced out as Los Angeles Times executive editor.

Editor Russ Stanton explained in a posting at the paper's Web site, "John and I did not agree on the need for the just-announced masthead changes, and we differ on the best approach to reaching our goals."

Sports editor Randy Harvey becomes associate editor, and obituaries editor Jon Thurber will become managing editor, print. [emphasis added]

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Happy 4th of July... and now, the national anthem

By Joe Katzman at 17:43

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Happy 4th Of July!!

By Armed Liberal at 16:32
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.

It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.

It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore.
- John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

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Palin's Resignation, the GOP & 2012

By Joe Katzman at 05:54

Overall, I don't get it. I lean toward Ed Morrissey's negative take. But if there's a political angle, it's one of those political gambles, and hey, that's like calling Hollywood movie ideas in advance. People say they know, and they can, but nobody really knows. So, who knows?

I will say this. The 2 most common analytical mistakes people make when thinking about the GOP are (1) thinking in terms of the last election; or (2) thinking in terms of the 1980s. Both are common inside the party - and neither is really relevant. This next Presidential election is going to be strongly driven by events, and by the America we'll be looking over the next 2-3 years. Which could well be a rather different, and less happy, place. One in which Reagan's solutions are only partly applicable.

I see few signs that the GOP is really coming to grips with this, but eventually it will. The party that begins to come together within the malestrom of upcoming events may not be like the party of today, in important ways. And it may not happen by 2012. If Palin accelerates or catalyzes that process somehow, it would be a huge contribution - whether or not she runs.

Time will tell.

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5 Cracked Corporate Promotions

By Joe Katzman at 05:08

Happy 4th!

The folks at have more hilarity for you... 5 corporate promotions that ended really, really badly. We're talking WKRP, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!" badly...

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July 3, 2009

Nigaz in Africa

By Joe Katzman at 23:58

In the "you've just GOT to be kidding me" department. From the BBC:
"Russia's energy giant Gazprom has signed a $2.5bn (£1.53bn) deal with Nigeria's state operated NNPC, to invest in a new joint venture. The new firm, to be called Nigaz, is set to build refineries, pipelines and gas power stations in Nigeria."
Uh huh. "No, no, it's Frahnk-en-shteen..."

On a serious level, this all part of Russia's squeeze play on Europe, for whom Russia is the #1 source of natural gas, and Algeria is #2. Hence Russia's $7.5 billion weapons sale to Algeria in 2005, paid for via gas concessions to Gazprom. Nigeria is just one more piece of that puzzle, though the pipeline route to Europe is going to be a real problem.

But you'd think the Nigerians might have been a bit more awake at the switch when the joint venture was named. Must be an undocumented side effect of all those super-effective enlargement meds...

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A Conversation with Robert D. Kaplan

By Michael Totten at 05:17

Robert Kaplan.jpg

There are few places in the world Robert D. Kaplan has not visited and written about in his books and magazine articles. He travels to countries hardly anyone else even considers – to Turkmenistan, for instance, during the time of the lunatic "Turkmenbashi" who transformed his post-Soviet republic into the North Korea of Central Asia. He has an uncanny ability to see conflicts looming on the horizon well in advance and – reversing the standard relationship between journalists and officials – U.S. defense policy professionals often ask him for briefings about what he has seen.

His regular dispatches in the Atlantic ought to be required reading for anyone interested in foreign affairs, as should his numerous books.

I met him a few weeks ago in Washington D.C. while he was briefly in town after returning from a month-long trip to post-war Sri Lanka. We discussed Colombo’s brutal counterinsurgency campaign there against the Tamil Tigers, what China has been up to while no one was looking, Russia’s revived imperial project in its "near abroad," the geopolitcal ramifications of a more liberal Iran, Israel’s difficulty in fighting effective counterinsurgency warfare, and our new man-hunting General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan.

MJT: So you just got back from Sri Lanka. What did you see there? What did you learn?

Kaplan: The biggest takeaway fact about the Sri Lankan war that’s over now is that the Chinese won. And the Chinese won because over the last few years, because of the human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government, the U.S. and other Western countries have cut all military aid. We cut them off just as they were starting to win. The Chinese filled the gaps and kept them flush with weapons and, more importantly, with ammunition, with fire-fighting radar, all kinds of equipment. The assault rifles that Sri Lankan soldiers carry at road blocks throughout Colombo are T-56 Chinese knockoffs of AK-47s. They look like AK-47s, but they’re not.

What are the Chinese getting out of this? They’re building a deep water port and bunkering facility for their warships and merchant fleet in Hambantota, in southern Sri Lanka. And they’re doing all sorts of other building on the island.

Now, why did the Chinese want Sri Lanka? Because Sri Lanka is strategically located. The main sea lines of communication between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, and between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. It’s part of China’s plan to construct a string of pearls – ports that they don’t own, but which they can use for their warships all across the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka defeated, more or less completely, a 26 year-long insurgency. They killed the leader and the leader’s son. But there are no takeaway lessons for the West here. The Sri Lankan government did it by silencing the media, which meant capturing the most prominent media critic of the government and killing him painfully. And they made sure all the other journalists knew about it.

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One Medium Black Hole, To Go?

By Joe Katzman at 04:27

So, here's the thing about black holes. They tend to be either super-massive vortexes in the center of galaxies that are, as Carl would put it, millyuns or billyuns of times the mass of our Sunn - or a remnant stellar black hole of between 3-20 solar masses.

We think we know how the smaller ones form. Supergiant star goes up the periodic table, fusing heavier and heavier elements for fuel, until its temperature and hence its outward pressure drop below key gravitic thresholds. Result: implosion, accompanied by rebound and a cataclysmic supernova explosion that blows off most of its mass. If last-stage atomic forces can hold the tiny remnant up after everything is collapsed into neutrons or quark "degenerate matter," you get a neutron star/quark star, where one teaspoonful would weigh about as much as an earth mountain. If it's a more massive remnant, however, it will continue collapsing in size, without losing mass. What's left makes such a big dent (hole? hard to say) in space-time, that even light ends up circling the drain and unable to escape if it passes within the thing's "event horizon".

What we don't know, is how the super-massive black holes form. The most popular current theory is merger: black holes combined. OK. But if that's so, there should be more of a size continuum. We should see mid-size black holes that are larger than we could expect from a single star's collapse: somewhere between 100 and several thousand solar masses.

The first strongly-confirmed example may have come in 2004, when the Hubble Space Telescope found one at the center of the giant G1 globular cluster near Andromeda galaxy. These medium-size black holes have been theoretically linked to some of the massive x-ray bursts we pick up now and then, but they aren't the only thing that could cause them. That's why the recent HLX-1 discovery using the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray space telescope may have just added a 2nd medium black hole to the catalog - and an important piece to the puzzle.

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Manly Movie Deaths

By Armed Liberal at 00:58

Instapundit leads me to a post on "The Top 10 Manly Movie Deaths of All Time," a great idea which pretty much sucks in execution because the person who wrote the post must be about 22 (#9 is the cartoon Optimus in the 1986 'Transformers' movie!!)
10 - Leon in The Professional (1994)
9 - Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie (1986)
8 - Tony Montana in Scarface (1983)
7 - The Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
6 - Bill in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
5 - Goose in Top Gun (1986)
4 - Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977)
3 - Nick in The Deer Hunter (1978)
2 - William Wallace in Braveheart (1995)
1 - Apollo Creed in Rocky IV (1985)

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July 2, 2009

Res Ipsa Loquitur (The Thing Speaks For Itself)

By Armed Liberal at 22:32

Me, June 21:
So I'm glad that the NY Times and journalists could sit on an exciting story to help save one of their own. In the future, will they do this to save some random civilian, or some US soldier?
NYT, today, July 2:
KABUL (AP) -- An American soldier, who disappeared after walking off his base in eastern Afghanistan with three Afghan counterparts, is believed captured, officials said Thursday.

Spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias said the soldier disappeared Tuesday.
Now it's not clear that the military even asked the press for silence. But the contrast is worth noting, dontcha think?

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  • Joe Katzman: The contrast shouts. Loudly. Organizations like the NY Times cannot read more

July 2, 2009

Honduras' Constitutional Crisis

By Joe Katzman at 19:52

Grant Martin of the Kansas City Star sums up the situation in a quick paragraph:

"Just in case you've turned your TV News off because you were tired of MJ stories- Honduras' president supposedly wanted to change the Constitution and serve for more years than allowed, the Supreme Court and Congress ruled that as illegal, he tried to hold a referendum, the Army refused, he fired the Army chief, the Supreme Court told him to reinstate the chief, he refused and had some group raid the warehouse that stored the referendum ballots, and so the Supreme Court ordered the military to arrest him and send him packing."

Zelaya did more than have "some group" raid the warehouse. On June 26, he issued a decree ordering all government employees to take part in the referendum. Except the referendum can't change the constitution. Octavio Sanchez explains why this stripped him of his office:

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Explaining Quantum Weirdness

By Joe Katzman at 14:17

Quantum Physics offers some weird results, to say the least. Paul Quincey, a physicist at Britain's National Physical Laboratory, points out just how weird the concept of gravity is, when you think about it. And offers an explanation that offers a much clearer philosophical view of some key quantum physics results. From the Nov/Dec 2008 Skeptical Inquirer, "Quantum Weirdness: An Analogy from the Time of Newton"

"...the borderlands of scientific knowledge have always contained some ideas considered virtually supernatural at the time, and it is instructive to see with hindsight how such ideas are ultimately accepted or rejected by mainstream science. Second, there are illuminating parallels between gravity and quantum theory that may help us come to terms with the current philosophical difficulties surrounding quantum theory."

I like this quote best:

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  • David Billington: The article is very lucid as far as it goes read more

July 1, 2009

Sometimes, There is a Magic Bullet

By Joe Katzman at 00:02

Every once in a while, a product lives up to its billing. As an example, the Smart Spin Storage system (vid. patent) for leftover containers and lids may be the best $20 I ever spent on kitchen related equipment. Haven't seen the quality issues some others have experienced (though I could wish for a more robust high-end version), and have used it every day for a couple years now.

As many of you might have guessed from a previous post, I'm on a liquid diet/ very soft foods diet at the moment. We knew in advance that soups and smoothies would be it for a bit, so we went to a local store (cheaper) and bought one of those small Magic Bullet mini-blender things. So far, it has been as advertised. Throw the fresh/frozen smoothie ingredients in mug, screw blade onto mug top, drop in and blend, rinse blade and set to dry, drink from same cup, put cup in dishwasher. Since the blade is always either fully enclosed or without power, it's inherently very safe, and the whole process is definitely a big improvement over cuisinart/blender alternatives.

Recently tried the thing with eggs, turkey, cheese, and salsa to make fully blended scrambled eggs. That worked really well, too: flavorful and fluffy. I could wish for the mugs to be microwaveable, like the bullet cups, so they could be used as is for drinking heated soups. And I can't speak to the thing's long-term durability. Overall, however, I've been pleasantly surprised with this one.

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  • Foobarista: My wife once listed and sold an "As Seen on read more
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