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  • Archive for March, 2011

    It would be nice if our politicians paid attention to the strategies of other nations.

    Posted by onparkstreet on 31st March 2011 (All posts by )

    More than nice, actually. Call it due diligence.

    Ali K. Chishti: ISI is widely misunderstood. It’s not rogue.

    In fact, it’s a fit unit who has learned the art of maneuvering. It’s obviously run by its separate directorates but acts on the policy guidelines of the Pakistan Military Chief. If you need to understand the working of ISI, I will give you one example — a section of the ISI is deputed to protect Mullah Omar and another is working with the US to catch him.

    That is ISI for you.

    Pakistan, since its inception, has been a security state governed by fear of India. The 1971 partition of its Eastern bloc — Bangladesh — forever tarnished the ideology of Pakistan. Because of this, the Pakistani security establishment (military) started creating various proxies from Kashmir to Afghanistan to Nepal and, of course, they made the atomic bomb to forever protect national integrity at the cost of food, education and basic facilities.

    The whole security establishment of Pakistan is India-specific. And with the increasing influence of China on Pakistan and on its military, the Pakistanis have started relying on China more than the U.S.

    U.S. and Pakistan’s strategic, economic and military interests cannot be one in this region. It’s not the “coalition of the willing.” It’s a forced marriage bound to break anytime. Pakistan would never want stability in Afghanistan.

    A former ISI chief told me, “Son, we need to keep Yank interests alive to get dollars rolling in.” And that has, unfortunately, been the psyche of Pakistanis.

    – from an interview at Carl Prine’s Line of Departure blog. I got carried away in the comments section over there. Oops.

    I’ve covered this particular example of “rent-seeking” as national strategy (or part of a national strategy) before at ChicagoBoyz:

    “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America,” was Jinnah’s reply. “Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed” — he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles — “the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.”

    He leaned toward me, dropping his voice to a confidential note. “Russia,” confided Mr. Jinnah, “is not so very far away.”

    Want another one? This one is a doozy:

    The clearest evidence of the Iran link came in January 1990, when Pakistan’s army chief of staff conveyed his threat to arm Iran to a top Pentagon official. Henry S. Rowen, at the time an assistant defense secretary, said Pakistani Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg issued the warning in a face-to-face meeting in Pakistan. “Beg said something like, ‘If we don’t get adequate support from the U.S., then we may be forced to share nuclear technology with Iran,'” said Rowen, now a professor at Stanford University. Rowen said former President Bush’s administration did little to follow up on Beg’s warning. “In hindsight, maybe before or after that they did make some transfers,” Rowen said. Rowen said he told Beg that Pakistan would be “in deep trouble” if it gave nuclear weapons to Iran. Rowen said he was surprised by the threat because at the time Americans thought Pakistan’s secular government dominated by Sunni Muslims wouldn’t aid Iran’s Shiite Muslim theocracy. “There was no particular reason to think it was a bluff, but on the other hand, we didn’t know,” Rowen said.

    Emphasis mine. But you know what? I’m sick of this topic. The foreign policy establishment in Washington – right and left, both – is a little bit in love with its supposed awesomeness. As a group, they are incapable of sense. And all that aid money we gave Pakistan after 2001? The generals went and made more nukes with it. Brilliant, Republican and Democratic foreign policy mandarins of the DC establishment. You guys are stone cold geniuses.

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Economics & Finance, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Military Affairs, National Security, Politics | 2 Comments »


    Posted by David Foster on 31st March 2011 (All posts by )

    In 2008, Tim Pawlenty participated in a radio ad (with Janet Napolitano!) calling for Congress to implement legislation to cap “greenhouse gas” emissions. He talked about how this would create New Jobs in Clean Energy Industries.

    These jobs, along with the companies “creating” them, would of course, be highly subsidized–either directly, or through higher energy prices, or, most likely, both, and the subsidies would not come from the Magical Money Machine, but rather would be extracted from elsewhere in the economy–thereby reducing jobs creation in the “elsewhere” sectors. Ask the people of Spain how that has been working out for them.

    One sector that is particularly sensitive to energy costs is manufacturing. The number of manufacturing jobs destroyed through policies raising energy costs is likely to be much higher than the number of manufacturing jobs added to make wind turbines and such.

    The reality is that “creating jobs” is not very difficult if that’s all you want to do. You can pay people to dig holes and fill them up again, or implement something like the elevator safety and economic opportunity act, thereby creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for elevator operators. The trick rather lies in creating jobs which expand the economy rather than shrink it. One would hope a Republican candidate for President would understand these points. I have to wonder if Pawlenty is familiar with the Parable of the Broken Window, as explained by the French economist Frederic Bastiat way back in 1850.

    Some people think that reduction in CO2 is so critical that it justifies a permanent reduction in the American standard of living. If they really believe that, they should make the argument honestly and produce the evidence. But to argue that we can force a shift to much-more-costly forms of energy production and, by doing so, make the economy thrive, is either ignorant or disingenous.

    Pawlenty’s participation in this ad does make me wonder about his understanding of energy and economics; it also raises concerns about his susceptibility to trendy but questionable ideas.

    Plus, should a nice Republican boy really be hanging around with someone like Janet Napolitano?

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Elections, Energy & Power Generation, Politics | 31 Comments »

    Inspire #5: between front and back covers

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 30th March 2011 (All posts by )

    [ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Zenpundit ]


    Okay. When what goes into the opening paragraphs of an editor’s note at the front of a magazine corresponds pretty exactly to what’s on the back cover, you have a sort of conceptual bracket that’s “holding” the rest of the content, and it pays to pay attention.

    Here are the first paras of the “Letter from the Editor” that is featured on page 5 of the latest issue of AQAP’s English language magazine, Inspire, immediately after the front cover and index pages:

    The cover of this issue is about the Tsunami of change that is sweeping the Arab world. With the removal of the despots, the ummah will speak its voice, and when it does, it will chant: Here we start and in al-Aqsa we’ll meet.The biggest barrier between the mujahidin and freeing al-Aqsa were the tyrant rulers. Now that the friends of America and Israel are being mopped out one after the other, our aspirations are great that the path between us and al-Aqsa is clearing up.
    There could be no freeing of Palestine with the presence of the likes of King Abdullah to the East, Hosni Mubarak to the West and al-Saud to the South. Now that Hosni is gone, we heard the Imam of the Friday prayers praying: “O Allah we ask you to allow us to meet in al-Aqsa,” and the millions in Tahrir square roared with one voice: Amin.

    Note that this explicitly ties the front cover (“about the Tsunami of change that is sweeping the Arab world”) with the back (“Here we start and in al-Aqsa we’ll meet”), shown here:


    [ graphic courtesy of Ibn Siqilli ]

    As I’ve noted before, al-Aqsa isn’t just the focal point of the Palestinian / Israeli question, nor it is only the place at which the Prophet alighted from his steed, Buraq, and ascended to receive the divine instructions for prayer in the Miraj — it is also the destination of the Mahdi‘s victorious army in the Khorasan strand of ahadith.

    Indeed, it has been suggested that the Pierced Rock of the Dome of the Rock in al-Aqsa is closely related to the Black Stone of the Kaaba. Kanan Makiya, in his part-fictional part-documentary book, The Rock, quotes Charles Matthews‘ translation of Burhan al-Din ibn Firka al-Fazari‘s Kitab Ba’ith al-Nufus ila Ziyarat al-Quds al-Mahrus (The Book of Arousing Souls to Visit Jerusalem’s Holy Walls) from Matthews’ Palestine: Mohammedan Holy Land:

    Verily, the Kaaba is in an equivalent position to the Frequented House in the Seventh Heaven, to which the angels of Allah make pilgrimage. And if rocks fell from it, they would have fallen on the place of the Rock of the Temple of Mecca [i.e. the Black Stone]. And indeed, Paradise is in the Seventh Heaven in an equivalent position to the Holy Temple (in Jerusalem) and the Rock; and if a rock had fallen from it, it would have fallen upon the place of the Rock there. And for this case the city is called Urushalim, and Paradise is called Dar al-Salam, the House of Peace.

    Indeed, David Roxburgh mentions all these matters, writing in Salma Khadra Jayyusi et al., The city in the Islamic world, vol. 1. p 756:

    This movement corresponded to other efforts — before, during, and after the Crusades — to establish “geo-theological” connections between Jerusalem and Mecca, whose preeminent sanctity was inviolable up until the end of days. Examples linking Mecca to Jerusalem include the Prophet Muhammad’s nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem (isra) and his ascension from Jerusalem to the throne of God (miraj); the underground joining of the waters of Zamzam to Silwan (var. Siloam) during the “feast of the sacrifice” (id al-adha); and the transfer of the Kaba and its black stone from Mecca to Jerusalem during the last days. these various traditions linked Jerusalem to Mecca, sometimes by sets of doubled features, in a near symmetry and in a calendar that will culminate during the end of days.

    So there’s an eschatological dimension to all these parallelisms, too…


    And if for no other reason, then because I happen to love doubled features, symmetries and analogies of all sorts (and we were already speaking of graphics and Inspire #5), let me add this:

    A tweet from @webradius via @azelin that I saw today noted that “the cover of Inspire 5 is remarkably similar to a wikileaks logo”.

    I liked it. And I’ve translated it here into my own DoubleQuotes format:


    For those who are unfamiliar with the phrase, graphic match is another term for match cut — the gambit whereby one shot in a movie is directly juxtaposed to another with which it bears a close resemblance – essentially, a film director’s equivalent of rhyme.

    Wikipedia gives two classic examples which are of particular interest to me because there is a “rhyme” between them, too, albeit a far more indirect one – the second being an hommage to the first.

    Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey contains a famous example of a match cut. After an ape discovers the use of bones as a tool and a weapon, there is a match cut to a spacecraft or satellite in orbit. The match cut helps draw a connection between the two objects as exemplars of primitive and advanced tools respectively.
    Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger‘s A Canterbury Tale contains the influence for the 2001: A Space Odyssey match cut in which a fourteenth century falcon cuts to a World War II aeroplane. The sense of time passing but nothing changing is emphasised by having the same actor, in different costumes, looking at both the falcon and the aeroplane.



    Parallelisms really are worth watching — always bearing in mind that one thing is never quite the same as another…

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Film, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Religion, Rhetoric, Terrorism | Comments Off on Inspire #5: between front and back covers

    Of war and miracle: the poetics, spirituality and narratives of jihad

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 30th March 2011 (All posts by )

    [ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Zenpundit ]


    Issue #5 of the AQAP magazine Inspire is now available for viewing.

    I am reasonably confident that with attention focused on such things as al-Awlaki‘s response to the various uprisings across the middle east, the delightful computer graphic (a throw back to the era of green print on black screens) which shows Ben Ali and Mubarak “booted” and Gadhafi and Saleh “in progress” – and the translation of a chunk of Abu Musab as-Suri on “Individual Terrorism Jihad and the Global Islamic Resistance Units” – a lot of eyes will glaze over during the course of reading “My Life In Fallujah” (pp. 56 ff).

    The piece sounds promising – something to read about Fallujah from the enemy viewpoint for after action / lessons learned purposes… but then it gets into miracles:

    The brothers received extraordinary miracles from Allah as a sign to strengthen them and these miracles were in all different forms. It got to the point where some of the things that occurred might not have been believable to the brothers had they not seen them with their own eyes but that is the grace of Allah which He bestows on whom He wills.

    … and my bet is that snoring ensues…

    Though not among the readers to whom it is pitched.


    What if we don’t regard the piece as a mirror for our own knowledge of events in Fallujah, but as an opening into the enemy’s grand narrative and – gasp – spirituality?

    The piece continues:

    Now let me relate some of the stories of fighting with the enemy and the miracles some of the brothers received. I will start mentioning some of these great miracles
    There was a brother named Abu az-Zubair as-Sana’ani. He was killed at the beginning days of the battle. We used to go out in the daytime to engage with the enemy. Hardship and severe exhaustion were afflicting us due to the hot weather that was in the beginning of Ramadan.
    So that brother came at the time of afternoon and sought permission from the Amir to break his fast. Some brothers advised him to have patience and suggested to him that he could have a shower and then rest for a while. The brother went inside to sleep out of fatigue and we were sitting in front of that house. The brother didn’t sleep long and we saw him coming out towards us with a cheerful face saying to us that he had seen a dream while he was asleep. The brothers asked him what was it; he told them that he saw a very beautiful woman coming to him, carrying a plate full of all kinds of fruits. She was waking him up, standing by his head and telling him: O Abu az-Zubair, don’t break your fast. You are invited to break your fast with us today. The brother then said that he felt comfort and relief. There was a brother called Abu Tariq who interpreted dreams so he told him that by Allah’s will, it will be something good. After that the brother decided to continue fasting.
    We had a timetable for twelve people to cook food and that day was his turn. He went to the kitchen and we stayed outside, sitting next to the wall of that house so that we weren’t seen by the spy planes. We stayed there until it was about time to break fast. Suddenly an F-16 jet showed up in the horizon and targeted that kitchen with a missile where that brother was! A while after when the dust had settled, we went in the kitchen and saw that brother had been martyred. It was amazing how the smell of musk was all over the room, how the smile was on his face!
    Thereupon the brothers’ moral was raised and they were making takbir. These were from the unforgettable moments.

    It seems wise to compare this with the Miracle of Uthmaan recounted by Abdullah Azzam on p. 27 of his book, The signs of Ar-Rahmaan in the Jihad of Afghanistan — indeed, I’m surprised Inspire didn’t make the connection:

    One morning Uthmaan (ra) said: Last night I saw Rasulullah sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam in my dream, and he said: Oh Uthmaan, break your fast with us. He was martyred that same day, whilst in the state of fasting.

    If one considers such stories not as “superstitious” or examples of “magical thinking” – one easy way to discount them – nor as “diabolic” and emblematic of a “false religion” – another – if, in fact, one reads them with some empathy for their content as faith-narratives, they are profoundly moving, and will no doubt be so to many of their intended readers.

    This particular narrative – an earthly fast broken in heaven – could well be a motif in the Aarne-Thompson classification system for folkloric motifs.

    Note also the reliance on dreams and dream interpretation – a reliance which also figures prominently in the transcript of bin Laden‘s discussion of 9/11.


    Another miracle was the incident of Abu Abd ar-Rahman at-Turki who was a student of knowledge that memorized the Qur’an and the six books of hadith. He was amongst a group that went out to confront a breakthrough of the enemy. While the brothers were gathered to organize a defensive plan, this brother made takbir and rushed towards the enemy. Some brothers called him back but he didn’t pay attention to their words. He shouted back to them saying “I am seeing the hoor! I am seeing the hoor!” When this brother reached the enemy’s area, he was shot by a tank shell leaving his lower body completely severed. Some brothers managed to drag him out of there to a safe house which I was in. Even though the brother was between consciousness and unconsciousness, he was still advising brothers to fear Allah and to keep firm upon the truth. His lower half was ripped out, yet he was still reassuring the brothers and would always raise his vision upwards telling them that he is seeing the hoor coming, and that they should keep firm because this is the path of jannah. At hearing that, the brothers’ spirits were high and they felt relieved. Abu Abd ar-Rahman declared the shahada and then kept fainting until his soul departed his body. At that point we smelled the musk coming out of him and saw peace on his face. This smell of musk from the mujahidin would be something that was smelt regularly.

    This “smell of musk” too (also found in the story of Abu az-Zubair above) is a regular feature of martyrdom tales, and features in the same work by Azzam, for instance in this report:

    Moulana Arsalaan narrated to me:A student named Abdul Baseer attained shahaadat while with us. It was very dark. Fathullah, another mujaahid, and I went in search of his body. He said to me: “Is the Shaheed close. I perceive a fragrant scent”. I picked up the scent, and we reached the body by following the scent. In the darkness, I could see a noor (light) in the blood, which was gushing forth from his wound.

    Indeed, as I have pointed out before, this motif has a parallel in the Catholic tradition of the “odor of sanctity” – “the perfume-like scent given forth by the bodies of saints during their lifetime or after death … symbols of the fragrance of extraordinary virtue” [as defined in Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary].

    It appears in the Arthurian legends, too, as Malory describes the death of Sir Lancelot – notice here, too, the motif of the joyous dream:

    And so after midnight, against day, the Bishop [that] then was hermit, as he lay in his bed asleep, he fell upon a great laughter. And therewith all the fellowship awoke, and came to the Bishop, and asked him what he ailed. Ah Jesu mercy, said the Bishop, why did ye awake me? I was never in all my life so merry and so well at ease. Wherefore? said Sir Bors. Truly said the Bishop, here was Sir Launcelot with me with mo angels than ever I saw men in one day. And I saw the angels heave up Sir Launcelot unto heaven, and the gates of heaven opened against him. It is but dretching of swevens, said Sir Bors, for I doubt not Sir Launcelot aileth nothing but good. It may well be, said the Bishop; go ye to his bed, and then shall ye prove the sooth. So when Sir Bors and his fellows came to his bed they found him stark dead, and he lay as he had smiled, and the sweetest savour about him that ever they felt.


    There was a brother named Abu Dujanah at-Taifi. As soon as he entered Fallujah at the beginning of the battle, he asked the brothers to let him go to the front lines but the brothers told him that he had to learn shooting first. He replied, “By Allah! I won’t be anywhere except the front lines.” His brother was present there so they agreed to his request and allowed him to go there.Thereupon he said: ”By Allah! If the Americans come forward, then Allah will see from us that which He loves.” He then went to stay inside a trench to keep an eye on the front lines.On the second day when he saw the enemy breaking through, he jumped out and got ready to strike them with an RPG but before he could fire it, he was struck by a tank, and as a result, his body was torn apart. His body stayed there for six days before we were able to retrieve it.
    To our surprise, blood was still coming out of his body even though the weather was so hot that if you were to place a piece of meat outside for half a day, it would eventually get rotten.

    His blood was seeping as if he was just killed and his index finger was in the position of tashahud [that section of Muslim prayer where the index finger is raised while reciting the shahada or confession of faith]. His brother was a little bit sad at hearing the news but once he saw his body, he felt so much comfort.

    E Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic looks to be a terrific source for the kind of research I’m doing here – that’s the “Brewer” of Brewer’s Dictionary of phrase and fable – and p 372 of the 1894 edition has a section on “Bodies of Saints Incorruptible” prefaced by a quotation from Psalm 16.10: “Thou wilt not suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption”.

    His body preserved, his finger raised in the gesture of salat … powerful.


    Another incident that has to be mentioned is when the Americans were breaking-through from the direction of the Shuhada district. The brothers in that area were few in numbers so they were attacked fiercely and their lines were nearly broken but all praise be to Allah, it started drizzling all of a sudden, and then the brothers were strengthened and encouraged. The enemy was fleeing so we did not know whether they fled because of the brothers fighting or because they saw something else. The enemy acted as though they had been frightened by something. The brothers only numbered six. The enemy was massive as they were accompanied by tank corps and armoured vehicles but their withdrawal was bizarre. At that time we remembered the verse of the Qur’an where Allah says:
    …And sent down upon you from the sky, rain by which to purify you and remove from you the evil [suggestions] of Shaytan and to make steadfast your hearts and plant firmly thereby your feet [8: 11].

    Once again, the motif of merciful rain should not be unfamiliar to us – if not from the New Testament‘s “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” then at least from Shakespeare‘s “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath…”


    How many references to literary analysis, or archetypal analysis for that matter, can you find in Heuer‘s classic Psychology of Intelligence Analysis?

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Arts & Letters, Christianity, International Affairs, Islam, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Religion, Rhetoric, Terrorism | 6 Comments »

    BIG Day Today

    Posted by David Foster on 30th March 2011 (All posts by )

    Today, March 30, is Buy Israeli Goods day. BIG Day was established as a counter to the “Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions” movement, which aims to do Israel economic harm. Information about BIG Day, along with ideas about what to buy and where to buy it, at Robert Avrech’s blog.

    Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions advocates have an annual event called “Israeli Apartheid Week” (actually 2 weeks long) which is “celebrated” on university campuses throughout the U.S. and Europe. See 14 days of vileness.

    Buy Israeli products today if you can; if you can’t get to it, keep in mind the ideas at Robert’s blog and his links for future reference.

    Posted in Academia, Israel, Leftism, USA | 1 Comment »

    Book Review: The Road Back, by Erich Maria Remarque

    Posted by David Foster on 29th March 2011 (All posts by )

    The narrator is a young German who served in the First World War. The war is finally over, and Ernst, together with his surviving comrades, has returned to the high school from which they departed in 1914. The Principal is delivering a “welcome home” speech, and it is a speech in the old oratorical style:

    “But especially we would remember those fallen sons of our foundation, who hastened joyfully to the defence of their homeland and who have remained upon the field of honour. Twenty-one comrades are with us no more; twenty-one warriors have met the glorious death of arms; twenty-one heroes have found rest from the clamour of battle under foreign soil and sleep the long sleep beneath the green grasses..”

    There is suddden, booming laughter. The Principal stops short in pained perplexity. The laughter comes from Willy standing there, big and gaunt, like an immense wardrobe. His face is red as a turkey’s, he is so furious.

    “Green grasses!–green grasses!” he stutters, “long sleep?” In the mud of shell-holes they are lying, knocked rotten. ripped in pieces, gone down into the bog–Green grasses! This is not a singing lesson!” His arms are whirling like a windmill in a gale. “Hero’s death! And what sort of thing do you suppose that was, I wonder?–Would you like to know how young Hoyer died? All day long he lay in the wire screaming. and his guts hanging out of his belly like macaroni. Then a bit of shell took off his fingers and a couple of hours later another chunk off his leg; and still he lived; and with his other hand he kept trying to pack back his intestines, and when night fell at last he was done. And when it was dark we went out to get him and he was as full of holes as a nutmeg grater.—Now, you go and tell his mother how he died–if you have so much courage.”

    Not only Willy, but several other student/soldiers rise to challenge the tone of the Principal’s speech:

    “But gentlemen,” cries the Old Man almost imploringly, “there is a misunderstanding–a most painful misunderstanding—”

    But he does not finish. He is interrupted by Helmuth Reinersmann, who carried his brother back through a bombardment on the Yser, only to put him down dead at the dressing-station.

    “Killed,” he says savagely, “They were not killed for you to make speeches about them. They were our comrades. Enough! Let’s have no more wind-bagging about it.”

    The assembly dissolves into angry confusion.

    Then suddenly comes a lull in the tumult. Ludwig Breyer has stepped out to the front. “Mr Principal,” says Ludwig in a clear voice. “You have seen the war after your fashion—with flying banners, martial music, and with glamour. But you saw it only to the railway station from which we set off. We do not mean to blame you. We, too, thought as you did. But we have seen the other side since then, and against that the heroics of 1914 soon wilted to nothing. Yet we went through with it–we went through with it because here was something deeper that held us together, something that only showed up out there, a responsibility perhaps, but at any rate something of which you know nothing and of which there can be no speeches.”

    Ludwig pauses a moment, gazing vacantly ahead. He passes a hand over his forehead and continues. “We have not come to ask a reckoning–that would be foolish; nobody knew then what was coming.–But we do require that you shall not again try to prescribe what we shall think of these things. We went out full of enthusiasm, the name of the ‘Fatherland’ on our lips–and we have returned in silence,. but with the thing, the Fatherland, in our hearts. And now we ask you to be silent too. Have done with fine phrases. They are not fitting. Nor are they fitting to our dead comrades. We saw them die. And the memory of it is still too near that we can abide to hear them talked of as you are doing. They died for more than that.”

    Now everywhere it is quiet. The Principal has his hands clasped together. “But Breyer,” he says gently. “I–I did not mean it so.”

    Ludwig Breyer’s words: “We do require that you shall not again try to prescribe what we shall think of these things…Have done with fine phrases” capture well the break which the Great War caused in the relationship between generations, and even in the use of language. It is a disconnect with which we are still living.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Europe, Germany, History | 11 Comments »

    Soon soon coming of the Mahdi?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 28th March 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]


    Okay, I’d say things are heating up. Here’s a screen grab from what we are led to believe is a recent video from Iran, made with government backing as described below the fold.


    This does not bode well…


    The Christian thriller novelist Joel Rosenberg (author of The Twelfth Imam) has a new blog post up, in which he cites a Christian Broadcasting Network story — which in turn refers to a video posted with some introductory materials on his blog by Reza Kahlili (author of A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran).

    According to Kahlili, who has also posted the full video to YouTube, it is a half-hour long program sponsored by the Basij militia and the Office of the President of Iran, affirming the soon-return of the Mahdi.

    And containing “inflammatory language” about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (see subtitle above)? Can I say that?

    For what it’s worth, the supposed “hadith” about the death of King Abdullah is discussed in some detail at The Wake-Up Project, so it’s definitely “in the air” — but I don’t recall seeing any references to it in Abbas Amanat, Abdulazziz Sachedina, or any of the lists of Signs of the Coming I’ve read, so my suspicion is that this is an opportunistic addition to the corpus rather than a reliable hadith.

    Which brings me to my last point:

    I am not posting these materials to encourage panic — that’s what terrorism strives for, and it is the very opposite of what I would wish to see. If anything, these stirrings of Mahdist sentiment should make us more careful and attentive to the serious scholarly work that has been done in this area. Jean-Pierre Filiu‘s book Apocalypse in Islam, which I reviewed for Jihadology, would be an excellent place to start.


    There are plenty of other things going on that I would love to track, blog about or comment on these days, but for the next while I shall try to restrain myself and focus in on this particular issue and its ramifications:

    • Contemporary Shi’ite Mahdist expectation
    • The Iranian nuclear program in the light of Mahdist expectation
    • Iranian attempts to use Mahdism to unite Sunni and Shi’a
    • Mahdism and jihad
    • The role of Khorasan in Mahdist rhetoric
    • Christian apocalyptic responses to Mahdist stirrings
    • Joel Rosenberg‘s book, The Twelfth Imam
    • Joel Richardson‘s book, The Islamic Antichrist
    • Glenn Beck‘s increasing focus on Iranian Mahdism
    • The increasing influence of Islamic and Christian apocalyptic on geopolitics

    This is a pretty complex and potent mix of topics, and while I’ll post some individual pieces of the puzzle as I see it, I shall also try to put together a “bigger picture” piece with the whole mosaic laid out.


    Apart from that, I remain deeply committed to questions of chivalry and peace-making, and will continue to monitor developments and write what I can on those topics as time allows…

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Anti-Americanism, Blogging, Christianity, International Affairs, Iran, Islam, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Predictions, Religion, Rhetoric | 5 Comments »

    New York Power Authority and Nuclear Generation

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 27th March 2011 (All posts by )

    The United States today runs the world’s largest fleet of nuclear reactors. However, we have not started construction on significant additions to our nuclear fleet since the 1970’s.

    I often get questions on why we are having such difficulty in executing on new nuclear facilities, especially when compared with China or even France. One important answer to that question, however, starts in an odd place – public power entities (by public I do not mean publicly traded, but owned by a governmental entity of some sort).

    Many of the nuclear plants that exist today were started with the help of public entities. While many public entities have sold off their ownership to mainly shareholder-owned entities that run groups of utilities, if you go back to the 60’s through the 80’s when the financing was originally started for these units, you need to look to the public entities. Let’s pick one to start with – NYPA.

    New York Power Authority (NYPA):

    NYPA today runs 1) hydro electric plants in upstate New York that provide some of the cheapest power in the USA, since hydro is run with an almost zero incremental cost 2) a huge transmission network, built decades ago but at least partially renovated, that brings down power from Canada and the hydro facilities into the densely populated NY metropolitan area 3) some gas fired plants near NYC.

    Looking at their web site here, you see a “typical” web site of a utility or a public power entity; lots of talk of green power, sustainability, and pretty pictures with lots of green in them. From the web site:

    We’re the country’s largest state public power organization, producing some of the cheapest electricity in North America. Our 17 generating facilities and over 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines produce the power to help sustain more than 380,000 jobs statewide. We are a national leader in promoting energy efficiency and the use of renewable-fuel and clean-energy technologies.

    And everything said up above may be true. But that is NYPA today, as a neutered, green and publicity friendly entity.

    Back in the day, however, NYPA had grand plans. Where did that “cheap” electricity come from? It came from hydro electric power, mainly 2 facilities – one near Niagara Falls and one up north on the St. Lawrence Seaway. It is simply unimaginable for an entity like NYPA to do anything like that today, actually damming up a river and impacting the scenery. These dams may well have been built by ancient Egyptians or Romans for all the chance that today’s NYPA would ever attempt anything that impactful. And without these dams? NYPA doesn’t have “cheap” power, and they mainly are just a transmission lane of power from Canada to the US (where the Canadians actually do “tap” their hydroelectric resources). Not to denigrate the effort to create a new large transmission line; this is also likely far beyond their grasp.

    According to their capital plans, during the period 2010-14 NYPA plans to spend $1.6B on capital projects, but only about 1/4 of this is for “generation” activities, and it mostly is related to extending the life of existing generating facilities. For strategic initiatives not included in the capital plans, they mention the following on p15 of the NYPA 2011-2014 Four-Year Financial Plan:

    The Authority is considering several projects… an offshore wind generating facility in the New York waters of the Great Lakes and a second off-shore wind generating facility in the Atlantic Ocean off of Long Island; and the potential development of 100 MW of solar photovoltaic systems throughout the state.

    But what is mentioned nowhere in NYPA’s documents, except through an oblique reference to decommissioning funds? Nuclear power!

    NYPA was a leader once as far as nuclear power, owning the James FitzPatrick nuclear power plant and the Indian Point 3 Nuclear Power Plant. Over the years these plants have changed hands and now are operating by Entergy.

    Entities like NYPA were crucial partners in providing low-cost funding (they could issue bonds cheaply and had implicit or explicit backing of governmental units) and support for disruptive and riskier enterprises like hydro and nuclear generation projects.

    But now, as you can see, NYPA has sold off their nuclear units and now is content to run existing hydro assets and transmission lines and consider “trendy” investments like solar and offshore wind farms.

    It is the absence of entities like this as far as financial and moral support for nuclear power that makes the challenge of the nuclear power “renaissance” even more difficult to pull off. In the current Texas project, the cities of Austin and San Antonio Texas, who provided crucial financial support for the original facilities built at South Texas Project, balked at support for new generation.

    As I get time I will go through other public entities that have had a history of support for nuclear generation (decades ago) and helped build the units that make America the largest user of nuclear power but who now, today, shy away from these sorts of investments and instead make a trendy “sop” towards solar and wind power.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation | 28 Comments »

    Gaddafi’s Only Mistake – Two Words

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 26th March 2011 (All posts by )

    While Gaddafi was taken aback by the scale of the initial uprising and it seemed that he was on the ropes, his forces managed to rally and with armor, artillery and air power was just about to enter Benghazi, the headquarters of the opposition in the East of Libya, when NATO air power smashed his tanks and turned the tide of the (civil) war.

    While no one knows the final outcome it appears that with NATO air power ruling the skies and the fact that his tanks are easy targets from the air on the mostly flat and sparsely populated Libyan coastline, the tides of war can only appear to go against Gaddafi. He can’t sortie out from his strongholds of Sirte and Tripoli but the rebels are free to move up the coast, take the oil rich areas, and start to plan some sort of siege against the remaining areas in Gaddafi’s hands.

    The reason for the huge groundswell against Gaddafi that allowed the West to pass a security council resolution allowing for armed intervention are two words that Gaddafi said in a speech as his forces appeared ascendant and heading towards Benghazi:

    No mercy

    By effectively telegraphing IN ADVANCE that he INTENDED to commit atrocities against civilians in Benghazi, Gaddafi gave the coalition the perfect “smoking gun” that enabled them to rally the Arab and the Western world against him.

    If he wouldn’t have given this “gift” to the opposition it seems clear that he would have utilized his air power and heavy weaponry to crush the rebels and reassert control over Libyan oil. With that and the passage of time (Gaddafi had huge foreign reserves) it is likely that someone like the Chinese or Russians (who abstained from the Security Council resolution) would have become partners with him in order to leverage his oil and it would have been some sort of “business as usual” for Gaddafi, although he would have a hard time shopping at the finest stores in London and Paris.

    I never thought my knowledge of Libya, gained from playing years of WW2 military simulations related to the 8th Army and the Afrika Korps, would ever amount to anything useful or relevant in today’s terms, but in fact the situation Gaddafi faces is similar to Rommel’s last attempts at advancing on the British before the tide turned when he faced overwhelming air power.

    Anyone who has to fight, even with the most modern weapons, against an enemy in complete control of the air, fights like a savage

    Gaddafi is finding that out fast and his forces are likely to disintegrate much faster than the Germans in WW2 in the same situation since their morale and cohesion is far lower.

    But for those 2 words, it is highly likely that Gaddafi would have won.

    Posted in Middle East | 10 Comments »

    What, Precisely, is the Issue with “Elites”?

    Posted by David Foster on 24th March 2011 (All posts by )

    Conservatives/libertarians and especially Tea Party supporters often speak about “elites” in pejorative terms. Why is this? I doubt that many among us would argue in favor of mediocrity (a la the senator who famously argued that mediocre people also deserve representation on the Supreme Court) and/or of extreme egalitarianism and social leveling. Indeed, quite a few outspoken conservatives and libertarians could themselves be considered to have elite status in view of their professional, economic, and/or scholarly accomplishments. So what is the critique of elitism all about?

    Several factors seem to me to be at work…

    1)There is a perception that the multiple ladders of success which have existed in American society are increasingly being collapsed into a single ladder, with access tightly controlled via educational credentials

    2)It is increasingly observed that these credentials actually have fairly low predictive power concerning an individual’s actual ability to perform important tasks and make wise judgments about institutional or national issues. The assumption that school-based knowledge generally trumps practical experience seems increasingly questionable as the sphere of activity for which this assertion is made has expanded, and is indeed increasingly viewed with suspicion or with outright disdain.

    3)It is observed that people working in certain fields arrogate to themselves an assumed elite status despite the fact that their jobs actually require relatively little in terms of skill and judgment. Ace of Spades cites a history writer on class distinctions in Victorian England:

    She noted, for example, that a Bank of England clerk would be a member of the middle/professional class, despite the fact that what he did all day was hand-write numbers into ledgers and do simple arithmetic and some filing work and the like, whereas, say, a carpenter actually did real thinking, real planning, at his job, with elements of real creativity. And yet it was the Bank of England clerk who was considered a “mind” worker and the carpenter merely a hand-laborer.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Business, Civil Society, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society, USA | 43 Comments »

    Texas Nuclear Plant In (High) Doubt

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 24th March 2011 (All posts by )

    I always start these posts by saying that I am a big supporter of nuclear power and believe that it is good for America to have a solid foundation of base load nuclear plants. As a realist, however, I am bound to continually explain the frankly insurmountable obstacles that are in place to any sort of plan to build new nuclear units in the USA. As soon as any of the nuclear events in Japan started I put up this post saying “it’s over”.

    While it isn’t final, it looks like it is almost over with the two units that they are building in Texas. You can find this news everywhere but here is a small summary.

    Utility company NRG has put the brakes on a plan to build two new nuclear reactors at its South Texas plant, CEO David Crane said Wednesday.

    All along I have said that NRG was a lousy candidate to build a nuclear plant. Since they are more of an IPP (Independent Power Generator) than a baseload utility subject to traditional “rate of return” regulation (in a state that has that, like South Carolina or Georgia, where it is NO SURPRISE that the only plants are being built), they need to continually raise money and hit profit targets in the near term and they can’t just pour billions into construction and endless delays.

    One of their partners is the Tokyo utility struggling to contain the recent nuclear plant issues in the wake of the Japan earthquake – TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company).

    Tepco holds a 10% stake in the NRG expansion project, with the option to purchase an additional 10% share. A spokesman for NRG confirmed the company has been in touch with Tepco following Japan’s twin natural disasters — but only to offer assistance.

    On top of that, the US has announced a plan to review nuclear safety throughout the country. Given our relatively poor record of utility planning and regulation (see the Yucca Mountain Storage fiasco for a primer on how our government can’t plan or execute and wastes billions while accomplishing nothing), there is little hope for a near term answer from our regulators.

    “The timing of this from where our project stands could not be more unfortunate,” Crane said. “And time can be the biggest enemy for a project like this.” It’s unclear how long the review will take. “We actually agree that we need the review,” Crane said. “But the question is what are we looking at? A three month review or longer?” Crane said he hopes his plant will be among the first to be given the green light by regulators. He stressed that the proposed reactors will sit 10 miles from the Gulf Coast, in a non-seismic area.

    It is unfortunate in its timing. This project was already seriously weakened by the pull out of municipalities that used to contribute to new baseload growth; these sorts of alliances were behind many of the nuclear plants that exist in the US right now. But even prior to this disaster in Japan the municipalities were “spooked” by the prospect of unlimited delays and cost over-runs and also under a financial gun more or less to start with.

    We will see what happens in Georgia and South Carolina. I will bet that South Carolina is “all in” because they are in a small state and if they have to “eat” this massive hit by writing off their investment and passing it to taxpayers they will be embroiled in rage, so they have little choice. As for Georgia, Southern Company is much bigger and can absorb more pain, so they may be able to take an (unfortunately) more pragmatic approach.

    Cross Posted at LITGM

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation | 12 Comments »

    Unsung American Hero: Cadet Matthew Joseph La Porte

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 24th March 2011 (All posts by )

    Ed Beakley of Project White Horse alerted me to the untold story of Mathew Joseph La Porte, Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets:

    The story of Cadet La Porte on the morning of 16 April, 2007 is tragic and short.  It is not based on eyewitness account but rather on physical evidence.  Given the magnitude of the tragedy, and the seriousness of trying to understand how to prevent further similar events, his story has almost been lost. And that’s just not right…

    The basic story

    In the early morning of Monday, 16 April 2007, 23-year old Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho entered a dormitory room and killed two students. Sometime later he then entered the Norris Hall engineering building and began to systematically attack five classrooms on the second floor, ultimately killing 30 students and professors and wounding or causing injury of an additional two dozen. As police officers approached classroom 211, Cho took his own life. These premeditated attacks represent the worst mass-murder shooting to ever take place in an American school.

    The final act

    Around 9:52 the police entry teams move up the stairways shouting “Police, Police!” Cho has returned to room 211 where he had previously attacked and killed several students. There is about a half minute of silence with no shots fired by Cho, then a final two shots, the last being the one turned on himself. Evidence indicates that the next to last shot would have been into Cadet La Porte who would have been dead for some time from the previous attack to the classroom.

    From evidentiary photographs…

    The body position and the wounds of Matt La Porte indicate that he had maneuvered around the room from his desk in the rear right of the classroom and attempted to attack Cho across the front of the classroom. Attired in his uniform, he fell just short of the door, lying next to the blackboard facing where Cho would have been standing while shooting. Matt’s arms were outstretched in a classic football tackling position. He had eight bullet entry wounds – fingers, thumb, arms and shoulders and to the front of his head – that could only have been sustained while moving forward on the shooter in the very position he fell.
    The Archangel team believes there is no other conclusion that can be drawn from the physical evidence other than that Cadet Matthew Joseph La Porte died in a charging attack on Seung-Hui Cho.

    His story has not been told:

    Note that nothing of the above is mentioned on any of the available reports or recounting of the incident, and I cannot find anything indicating this story has ever been told, or that this young man’s bravery has ever been recognized…
    As to why this story has never been told, I can only speculate.  Recognizing the magnitude of the tragedy, the necessary crime scene investigation, and the intense desire to understand how this could ever happen and thus translate into prevention of future occurrences in our schools, I can appreciate why key aspects may not have been released for some period of time…
    But to not recognize this act of valor above and beyond just strikes me as –if not wrong – certainly just not right…while there might be an issue of the media presenting a model of student fighting back, the evidence seemed clear of his attempt to stop the killer and dying in the process. Was he not a military serviceman in uniform, who fought to save others under heavy fire at close quarters?  Should Cadet La Porte not be recognized as a national hero?
    There is no axe to grind here on “why” no recognition or award.  My assumption is that within the magnitude of the tragedy and the nature of the investigation, Cadet La Porte’s actions got lost if for no other reason there were no witnesses.  It is indeed only the physical evidence that supports this – where he sat, vice where he died, his posture, and where his wounds were…It just doesn’t appear that you can draw any other conclusion other than that this young man “gave all valiantly.”
    Sometimes it is impossible not to be a victim, but I don’t think Cadet La porte died as a victim at all- when challenged, he acted.
    To me, seems he died like a fighter pilot – spirit of attack, born of a brave heart.”

    Posted in Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    The Left and the Near Enemy

    Posted by Shannon Love on 22nd March 2011 (All posts by )

    An anonymous reader of Instapundit, in writing about the Left and Libya says:

    I’ve really been enjoying your take on things since the bombing in Libya started this weekend, even more than I normally do. For eight long years, well-meaning people on the right have been accused of all manner of hate, dishonesty, stupidity, and wickedness, from a bunch of people who believe their own neighbors are the primary cause of suffering in the world.[emp added]

    That is Leftism in a nutshell. Leftism is nothing but a continuously shifting series of excuses for why Leftist should have the right to use the violence-based coercive power of the state to dominate and control their own neighbors. For the Leftists there are no true external enemies, every problem in the world is ultimately caused or controlled by someone within our own society. For Leftists, there is only the near enemy, the people they see everyday.

    No where is that more clear than in foreign policy. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Political Philosophy | 17 Comments »

    Defining American Victory in Libya

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 22nd March 2011 (All posts by )

    This is how I see America’s definition of victory in the current Libyan War:

    Total American Victory

    1) Qadaffi dead or fled and,
    2) A stable successor state that is not a terrorist haven, and,
    3) A democracy.

    American Victory

    1) Qadaffi dead or fled and,
    2) A stable successor state that is not a terrorist haven.

    Marginal American Victory

    1) Qadaffi dead or fled and
    2) Unstable state run by junta or autocrat, very anti-Israel to maintain power, hostile to Al-Qaeda.

    Marginal American Defeat

    1) Qadaffi dead or fled and
    2) Unstable state run by junta or autocrat, very anti-Israel to maintain power, neutral to supportive of Al-Qaeda.

    American Defeat

    1) Qadaffi dead or fled and
    2) Iranian aligned, Al-Qaeda terrorist supporting state.

    Total American Defeat

    1) Qadaffi survives in power, or

    Special Victory Conditions:

    1) America suffers total defeat if we get a 9/11/2001 class terrorist attack connected to the Libyan fighting, regardless of any other outcome.

    2) Drop our victory level by one level for every successful, less than 9/11/2001 class, domestic terrorist attack linked to foreign terrorists during Libyan fighting.

    3) Drop victory level by two levels if the victory requires extended commitment of a division plus (20,000) of American troops for more than a year.

    This is what comes of President Obama channeling Theodore Roosevelt:

    America wants Perdicaris alive, or Raisuli dead!

    Posted in Anglosphere, Big Government, Civil Society, International Affairs, Islam, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Obama, Politics, USA | 16 Comments »

    Could We Just Buy Off Gaddafi’s Mercenaries?

    Posted by Shannon Love on 22nd March 2011 (All posts by )

    Gaddafi is relying on foreign mercenaries to serve as his security troops just like Romania’s Nicolae Ceaușescu relied on hired Palestinians. This is a sure sign that his regime has little to no internal support.

    My spouse and I were explaining this to our son who asked, “So, since they’re mercenaries, couldn’t we just outbid Gaddafi?”

    We laughed at the idea at first but then stopped to think. Back in the day when mercenaries were far more common, they could sometimes be bought off especially if it looked like their current employer would never be able to pay up. The basic economics of a mercenary life has not changed so maybe Gaddafi’s mercenaries would be just as susceptible to financial inducements as their historical predecessors.

    Gaddafi supposedly has a lot of money to pay his mercs with but I think it safe to say we have more and a much better track record of paying off.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    Waste of Time and Money

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 21st March 2011 (All posts by )

    Mrs. Dan from Madison and I vote absentee every election. We like it for a couple of reasons, the biggest being that we can sit at home and fill out our ballots at our leisure rather than standing in a line (much more important in presidential elections) and we get to hash out a few things politically away from the TV. We typically make it a date over a bottle of wine to research the candidates and talk about the issues on the ballot.

    The ballot for our upcoming election in early April has a very strange referendum on it, proposed to the good people of Dane County:

    Should the US Constitution be amended to establish that regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting freedom of speech, by stating that only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights?

    The city of Madison council is famous for preparing and passing declarations denouncing all sorts of crap on the federal level (this activity, I assume has ceased since the zero became president), but I had hoped that the county board wouln’t get involved with this waste of time and ink. Sigh.

    What’s next, declarations of war? Impeaching federal officials? Raising the federal tax rate?

    Posted in Elections, Politics, That's NOT Funny | 13 Comments »

    Yet Another Overworked Metaphor For Understanding American Foreign Policy

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 20th March 2011 (All posts by )

    If the Government of these United States was truly engaged in a War on Drugs, it would avoid building precision guided munitions designed to target individual midnight tokers. Instead, the USG would concentrate on one particularly dangerous narcotic that floods United States markets from time to time: Wilsonianism.

    When the 15-20 Americans (on a good day) that think about current U.S. foreign policy in the light of past U.S. foreign policy, their use of the term “Wilsonianism” embraces three out of four of the “New Testament” of Walter McDougall’s American foreign policy traditions:

    (5) Progressive Imperialism (comprising Navalism, Overseas Bases, and the Open Door Policy)
    Born 1898, reaffirmed or enlarged 1901-17, 1940-41, 1949 to the present
    Annexation of Spanish islands, Panama Canal Zone and Roosevelt Corollary, Pacific and Caribbean naval bases, FDR’s hemispheric defense, Truman, Eisenhower, Carter, and Bush doctrines, and foreign bases and global power projection during and since the Cold War, Gulf War I, NATO expansion, and GWOT
    (6) Wilsonianism, or Liberal Internationalism (as more accurately called)
    Born 1918, reaffirmed or redefined 1921-29, 1940-46, 1977-79, 1993-2000, 2009-?
    Wilson’s 14 Points and League of Nations Covenant, Hughes’s and Kellogg’s 1920s engagement in Asia and Europe, FDR’s Atlantic Charter and United Nations, Carter’s human rights agenda, Clinton’s Enlargement and Assertive Multilateralism, Obama’s Engagement (?)
    (8) Global Meliorism (aka Democratization, Nation-Building, Foreign Aid and Development)
    Born 1899 and practiced et seriatim, esp. 1901-23, 1944-52, 1961-68, 1977-80, 2003-09
    McKinley’s Philippines Speech, Wilson’s “Idea of America” and War Message, Hoover’s Relief Programs, FDR’s Bretton Woods and UNRRA, Marshall’s Plan and Truman’s Point Four in Inaugural, Kennedy’s Inaugural and May 25, 1961, address, The “Best and Brightest” strategy in South Vietnam and Third World, Carter’s Third World agenda, G. W. Bush’s “democratization of the Middle East”

    Three of McDougall’s four “Old Testament” foreign policy traditions are often offered up as Wilsonianism’s evil nemesis under terms like “realism” or “isolationism” (depending upon who you ask):

    (1) Independence, Unity, and Liberty At Home, or “Exceptionalism” (as properly understood)
    Born 1776, reasserted 1796, 1800, 1812, 1821, 1848, 1863 et seriatim until 1898
    Declaration of Independence, Tom Paine’s Common Sense, Washington’s Farewell, John Quincy Adams’ Fourth of July Address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, etc.
    (2) Unilateralism, or “Isolationism” (as mistakenly derided)
    Born 1796, reasserted 1801, 1812, 1885, 1917, 1920, et seriatim to 1947
    Washington’s Great Rule, Jefferson’s Inaugural, Cleveland’s Inaugural, Wilson’s War Message, Reservations about League of Nations, Borah’s self-definition, etc.
    (3) The American System, or Monroe Doctrine (as commonly called)
    Born 1783, codified 1823, reaffirmed or enlarged 1841, 1861, 1895, 1904, 1941, 1962
    Tom Paine, Treaty of Paris, Monroe’s Message to Congress, Tyler’s Corollary, Union Blockade, Olney’s “14-inch gun,” Roosevelt Corollary, etc.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, International Affairs | 2 Comments »

    Happy Birthday, Emlyn, and Applause, xkcd

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 20th March 2011 (All posts by )

    [ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Zenpundit ]


    My son, Emlyn, turns sixteen today.

    He’s not terribly fond of computers to be honest — but he does follow xkcd with appreciation, as do I from time to time: indeed, I am led to believe I receive some credit for that fact.

    So… this is a birthday greeting to Emlyn, among other things. And a round of applause for Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd. And a post comparing more reliable and less reliable statistics, because that’s a singularly important issue — the more reliable ones in this/ case coming from a single individual with an expert friend, the less reliable ones coming from a huge corporation celebrated for its intelligence and creativity… and with a hat-tip to Cheryl Rofer of the Phronesisaical blog.

    The DoubleQuote:


    Radiation exposure:

    Today, xkcd surpassed itself / his Randallself / ourselves, with a graphic showing different levels of radiation exposure from sleeping next to someone (0.05 muSv, represented by one tiny blue square top left) or eating a banana (twice as dangerous, but only a tenth as nice) up through the levels (all the blue squares combined equal three of the tiny green ones, all the green squares combined equal 7.5 of the little brown ones, and the largest patch of brown (8Sv) is the level where immediate treatment doesn’t stand a chance of saving your life)…

    The unit is Sieverts, Sv: 1000 muSv = 1 mSv, 1000 mSv= 1 Sv, sleeping next to someone is an acceptable risk at 0.05 muSv, a mammogram (3 mSv) delivers a little over 50,000 times that level of risk and saves countless lives, 250 mSv is the dose limit for emergency workers in life-saving ops — oh, and cell phone use is risk-free, zero muSv, radiation-wise, although dangerous when driving. [I apologize for needing to write “mu” when I intend the Greek letter by that name, btw — software glitch with the ZP version of WordPress.]

    The xkcd diagram comes with this disclaimer:

    There’s a lot of discussion of radiation from the Fukushima plants, along with comparisons to Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Radiation levels are often described as “ times the normal level” or “% over the legal limit,” which can be pretty confusing.
    Ellen, a friend of mine who’s a student at Reed and Senior Reactor Operator at the Reed Research Reactor, has been spending the last few days answering questions about radiation dosage virtually nonstop (I’ve actually seen her interrupt them with “brb, reactor”). She suggested a chart might help put different amounts of radiation into perspective, and so with her help, I put one together. She also made one of her own; it has fewer colors, but contains more information about what radiation exposure consists of and how it affects the body.
    I’m not an expert in radiation and I’m sure I’ve got a lot of mistakes in here, but there’s so much wild misinformation out there that I figured a broad comparison of different types of dosages might be good anyway. I don’t include too much about the Fukushima reactor because the situation seems to be changing by the hour, but I hope the chart provides some helpful context.

    Blog-friend Cheryl Rofer, whose work has included remediation of uranium tailings at the Sillamäe site in Estonia (she co-edited the book on it, Turning a Problem Into a Resource: Remediation and Waste Management at the Sillamäe Site, Estonia) links to xkcd’s effort at the top of her post The Latest on Fukushima and Some Great Web Resources and tells us it “seems both accurate and capable of giving some sense of the relative exposures that are relevant to understanding the issues at Fukushima” — contrast her comments on a recent New York Times graphic:

    In other radiation news, the New York Times may have maxed out on the potential for causing radiation hysteria. They’ve got a graphic that shows everybody dead within a mile from the Fukushima plant. As I noted yesterday, you need dose rate and time to calculate an exposure. The Times didn’t bother with that second little detail.

    In any case, many thanks, Cheryl — WTF, NYT? — and WTG, xkcd!


    Once again, xkcd nails it.

    I’ve run into this problem myself, trying to use Google to gauge the relative frequencies of words or phrases that interest me — things like moshiach + soon vs “second coming” + soon vs mahdi + soon, you know the kinds of things that I’m curious about, I forget the specific examples where it finally dawned on me how utterly useless Google’s “About XYZ,000 results (0.21 seconds)” rankings really are — but the word needs to get out.


    Paging Edward Tufte.

    Sixteen today:

    Happy Birthday, Emlyn!

    Posted in Announcements, Arts & Letters, Blogging, Diversions, Internet, Japan, Science, Statistics, The Press | 4 Comments »

    Dr Claw and the Lobster Underground

    Posted by David Foster on 20th March 2011 (All posts by )

    An interesting story about the way regulation is used to protect incumbent businesses and suppress competition.

    In New York City, the number of food-cart vending permits is capped by the city’s administrative code:

    And you cannot get one. The waiting list is even closed. But it was 10 or 15 years’ wait. It’s impossible to get a food vending permit from the city.…If you want to get a permit for your cart or truck, you cannot do it.

    In Washington DC, regulations applicable to food vendors are much more liberal (with “liberal” being used here in the older sense of the term)…local restaurant owners, predictably, are often very resentful of this situation. The article cites a Domino’s Pizza manager who:

    ..can’t hide his contempt for the lobster truck parked in a metered space in front of his store in September. “Of course it’s hurting, because it’s right in front of your store,” Basha says. He points to a line of about 30 customers waiting to buy lobster rolls. “Most of those customers were ours.

    A true free market, in which incumbent businesses must compete with aggressive newcomers, is stressful for the incumbents. A growing thicket of regulations can help shield them from this necessity, while ensuring that individuals without extensive capital or credentials are excluded from economic success.

    Posted in Business, USA | 15 Comments »

    The iPad2 is So Much Better If You Have Any Money Left to Buy One

    Posted by Shannon Love on 19th March 2011 (All posts by )

    The Wallstreet Journal on the Fed’s new media campaign to spin its inflationary policies:

    The former Goldman Sachs chief economist gave a speech explaining the economy’s progress and the Fed’s successes, but come question time the main thing the crowd wanted to know was why they’re paying so much more for food and gas. Keep in mind the Fed doesn’t think food and gas prices matter to its policy calculations because they aren’t part of “core” inflation.
    So Mr. Dudley tried to explain that other prices are falling. “Today you can buy an iPad 2 that costs the same as an iPad 1 that is twice as powerful,” he said. “You have to look at the prices of all things.”

    Here’s the thing: The iPad was always going to provide more bang for the buck regardless of what the Fed did or didn’t do. The cost drop for the iPad is due to the rapid technological change in the computer field. Moreover, without the Fed destroying the value of the money in people’s pockets, the cost to performance ratio change for the iPad would have been even more dramatic.

    How can the Fed claim they aren’t causing problems by pointing to a factor over which they have no influence. Shouldn’t we hold the Fed accountable for the factors they do influence?

    Improving technology automatically improves the standard of living but that has nothing to do with inflation. Yes, it’s great that you can buy a much more powerful iPad2 for the same price as an iPad1 but it’s not so great if you can’t afford even the price of an iPad1 now because your food and gas prices have increased to absorb all the excess income you had budgeted to get a new iPad!

    Inflation is the most dangerous of all financial strategies. It destroys real wealth and utterly disrupts the price mechanisms that drives the entire economy. To the extent it works, it does so by transferring vast amounts of wealth from ordinary people to those who get the inflated currency first. In this case, it is the large banks that the Fed are trying to re-inflate after the housing bust sucked all the capital out of them.

    Even if is necessary, and I’m not saying it is, the Fed should have at least have the good grace to explain things straight to us instead of trying to convince us that our rapidly decreasing purchasing power is nothing to worry about. Inflation is just a form of taxation. They are taking money from us to prop up our financial institution. That taking will leave us all with a lower standard of living than we would have had otherwise. They should be honest about that.

    Just because Steve Jobs is very good at his job doesn’t mean the Fed doesn’t suck at theirs.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

    Happy Belated St Pat’s Day

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 19th March 2011 (All posts by )

    When you are laid up on St Patrick’s day the green beer comes to you!

    Posted in Humor | 8 Comments »

    The Austro-Hungarian Empire Revisited

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 18th March 2011 (All posts by )

    A while back Dan sent me a book by an Austrian author and intellectual Stefan Zweig titled The World Of Yesterday. This book is the author’s auto-biography that he wrote from Brazil in the early 1940s when Hitler was at the apex of his power and had overrun France and his beloved Paris and basically destroyed the Jewish intellectual culture in the region; after sending it to his biographer the author killed himself. You can see the post-it note that Dan put on the book – “one of the best books I have ever read”.

    Stefan describes Austria under the regime of the Austro-Hungarian empire, when Vienna was the cultural center. The portrait is of an intellectually enlightened culture where music and the arts are held in high esteem; part of this is due to the fact that the author’s family owned a successful business and they also resided in what was presumably the wealthiest part of the empire.

    It is my own ignorance but I generally lumped the Germans and the Austrians into one ethnicity in my mind and this book calls out the differences. The Germans are seen as the efficiency-expert types and the Austrians are by comparison tolerant and focused on the arts. As the climate against the Jews turns from bad to worse it is the Germans (whether in Germany or the ethic Germans in the borders of the empire) that lead this effort.

    All in all a great book about an intellectual leader who was part of a proud and ambitious art culture but watched it all laid waste under the rise of the Nazis. In the end his entire world was effectively destroyed, as the Austro-Hungarian empire fell (replaced with deprivation for the surviving states) and then finally almost all of continental Europe fell under the boot of fascism.

    In parallel I purchased an award-winning book about a WW1 front of which I knew very little, the war between Italy and Austro-Hungary on the Italian border called The White War by Thompson. This book describes the futile Italian offensives as the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian army attempts to hold them off against the provinces of its empire.

    My knowledge of the Italian front was limited and incomplete; the combined offensive with the Germans at Caporetto in 1917 was well known not only because Rommel won his Pour Le Merit (highest military honor) at this engagement but that Hemingway documented it in fiction through “A Farewell to Arms” as the Italians collapsed. The time of 1915-1917 and repeated battles in the mountainous region consumed armies on both sides in difficult mountainous conditions and in harsh winter weather. In fact Caporetto is also known as Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, to put the series of attrition-like engagements in context.

    One item that stood out to me throughout the book was how they would identify the Austro-Hungarian troops based upon the regions from which their units were raised; whether they were Czech riflemen or Bosnian soldiers. And although the armies faced terrible hardships, in general these troops from differing nationalities fought for their empire right up to the end.

    Despite blizzards of propaganda by Czech, Yugoslav, Polish and other separatist groups; half a million POW s returning from Russia, many of them newly politicized and loudly critical; extremely degrading conditions at the front, and the disappearance of any hope of victory – despite all this, the Hapsburg army remained loyal. There were no mutinies on the Italian front until late October, just before the last battle; even these were limited to a few units.

    In today’s world there is a view among intellectuals that differences among groups are receding and that entities like the European Union or the UN can bring them together for coherent and common purposes. On the other hand, there is the reality “on the ground”, as nations split into smaller and smaller pieces, such as the Yugoslavian split, the Czech / Slovak split, and the likely impending Belgium split.

    In the twenty first century the world is continuing a tradition of splintering nations into tinier entities, along ethnic lines, and with resources or major cities being the main prizes that are fought over. While this occurs there is a “gloss” of cooperation and collaboration that is more theater and for show.

    It is interesting how this “false” world of collaboration (where it is in everyone’s best interests) contrasts with the much more public and up-front efforts of running an empire like Austro-Hungary. In fact the monarchs were aware of public opinion and for its day attempted to preserve customs and religions of the areas under its control, and to leverage the resources and skills of its far-flung citizens. While the downsides of the empire are well known (lack of self determination for every nationality), the empire as a whole had rapid economic growth, a consolidated foreign policy, and investment in areas such as transportation (rail) and post systems that benefited everyone.

    The Austro-Hungarian empire also provided the Jewish culture in Vienna and elsewhere with relative protection compared to what they faced elsewhere (Russia) and later (with the rise of Hitler and the ultimate annexation of Austria). It is this world that dissolved and was utterly destroyed in the Zweig book, leading to his eventual suicide at the time of Paris’s occupation by the Germans in the early 1940s.

    While you’d be seen as “insane” to advocate anything similar to the Austro-Hungarian empire in today’s world of hyper-local countries with a pan-gloss of cooperation, it would be an interesting thought experiment to see if nationalities could work together for a common good, even including military efforts. Today’s EU has a poor standing military; it is the member states that provide specific firepower. In 1914-8 the Austro-Hungarian empire brought soldiers together willing to die for their common goals, and in the context of that era (not by today’s context) they were relatively successful, until toppled by the two “isms” of nationalism and the incipient communism / fascism that was to plague the thirties and forties.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Book Notes, Europe, History | 15 Comments »

    David Brooks’ Leash

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 17th March 2011 (All posts by )

    One of the most prominent examples of experimental genetics is the infamous domesticated silver fox:

    The domesticated silver fox …is a domesticated form of the silver morph of the red fox. As a result of selective breeding, the new foxes not only became tamer, but more dog-like as well…
    Domesticated foxes exhibit both behavioral and physiological changes from their wild forebears. They are friendlier with humans, put their ears down (like dogs), wag their tails when happy, and vocalize, and bark like domesticated dogs. As a consequence of breeding, they also developed color patterns like domesticated dogs and lost their distinctive musky ‘fox smell’…
    The experiment was initiated by scientists hoping to produce easier to handle fur animals and who were interested in the topic of domestication and the process by which wolves became tame domesticated dogs. They saw some retention of juvenile traits by adult dogs, both morphological ones, such as skulls that were unusually broad for their length, and behavioral ones, such as whining, barking, and submission…
    [Project founder Dmitry] Belyaev believed that the key factor selected for [in the] domestication of dogs was not size or reproduction, but behavior; specifically, amenability to domestication, or tameability. He selected for low flight distance, that is, the distance one can approach the animal before it runs away. By selecting this behavior it mimics what happened through natural selection in the ancestral past of dogs. More than any other quality, Belyaev believed, tameability must have determined how well an animal would adapt to life among humans. Because behavior is rooted in biology, selecting for tameness and against aggression means selecting for physiological changes in the systems that govern the body’s hormones and neurochemicals. Belyaev decided to test his theory by domesticating foxes; in particular, the silver fox, a dark color form of the red fox. He placed a population of them in the same process of domestication, and he decided to submit this population to a strong selection pressure for inherent tameness.
    The result is that Russian scientists now have a number of domesticated foxes that are fundamentally different in temperament and behavior from their wild forebears. Some important changes in physiology and morphology are now visible, such as mottled or spotted colored fur. Many scientists believe that these changes related to selecting for tameness are caused by lower adrenaline production in the new breed, which causes these physiological changes in a very small number of generations, thus allowing for these new genetic offshoots not present in the original species.

    Bryant Gumbel once observed of former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his relationship with late NFL Players Union head Gene Upshaw:

    Before he cleans out his office, have Paul Tagliabue show you where he keeps Gene Upshaw’s leash. By making the docile head of the players union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch.

    While watching this TEDtalk by New York Times columnist David Brooks, I thought of silver foxes, Gene Upshaw, and how David Brooks would be the ideal sire for a selective breeding program to produce a tamer right-winger. Generation after generation, you’d just have to breed for floppy ears, wagging tails, and low flight distance and you’d eventually end up with a more amenable Loyal Opposition. American politics would be a simple matter of showing your successor where you kept David Brooks’ leash.

    For the record, Brooks does take some well-aimed potshots at his TEDset/Davos-set masters. But his digs are in that long tradition of peasant humor where the serf was allowed to let off some steam while the lord of the manor reached for his knout to give the recalcitrant peasant a good whipping.

    I’m confident the next generation of TED-ready, Davos-approved conservative will offer less lip.

    And have floppier ears.

    [props Isegoria]

    Posted in Bioethics | 17 Comments »

    Good-Bye, Tokyo

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 17th March 2011 (All posts by )

    Minutes ago I received an Email. It seems that the US military has ordered a “voluntary evacuation of military dependents from the Tokyo/Yokosuka region.”

    As my source has a very young child, her husband and daughter will be leaving the country very soon. Details are sketchy at this time, but it appears that they will be flown to Korea before repatriation to the States.

    Posted in Announcements, Japan, Military Affairs | 7 Comments »

    Embracing the Crazy

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 16th March 2011 (All posts by )

    Only two strategic practitioners have covered themselves with glory in the past month:

    If we accept Professor Lawrence Friedman’s recent proposition that “strategy is the creation of power”, both now and in the present, than no one has strategized better than Mad Mo and Crazy Carlos. They both show an intuitive grasp of this piece of ancient strategic maxim: if all you have is the Crazy, be the Crazy.

    Your enemies will be so mesmerized by someone showing the Crazy in public that they’ll be drawn into your trap like lemmings to a lemming-zapper.

    Mad Mo and Crazy Carlos look to be having the last laugh.

    An honorable mention goes to Saddam Hussein, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, and James Tiberius Clapper. While Saddam and Kaddaffi are proven losers in making war on the people of other countries, they’ve done banner work making war on the people of their own countries. Odierno successfully drew on Saddam’s plan for crushing a revolt in Baghdad during the battle for that city in 2008:

    At about the same time Odierno was targeting the Baghdad beltway, he tasked his staff to find out how Saddam Hussein had defended Baghdad against the many secret cells and gangs that wanted to upend his regime. The answer came back: Saddam had always maintained a complex perimeter around Baghdad that on paper looked like a series of concentric circles. Saddam had posted his Republican Guard in various towns that ringed the capital, and inside the city, he had stationed his Special Republican Guard. If it had worked for Saddam, thought Petraeus and Odierno, it might work for them against the insurgents.

    Saddam peaked before his time. He might have made a living as a COIN lecturer at COIN seminars with a few different career choices.

    Hosni Mubarak was apparently trying to run a play from the Saddam playbook too but he’s no Muammar Qaddaffi.

    James Tiberius Clapper wins his asterisk for accidentally speaking the truth in a congressional hearing. Take pity on Clapper when he’s begging for COIN around downtown Washington after losing his own battle of the beltway.

    The president may have made the list if he’d merely repeated the line “We expect all parties to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which they are a signatory.” and refused to do anything more without a UN Security Council Resolution. Unfortunately BO gave into political pressure and indulged in his Nerd Quotes Eighties Action Movie Lines schtick which always falls flat. If he’d ducked behind the principle of Wilsonian collective security he would have achieved the only certain strategic result Wilsonian collective security ever guarantees: collective inaction.

    And that’s what his strategy was all along.

    Maybe he’ll have better luck with his NCAA bracket picks.

    Posted in Morality and Philosphy | 9 Comments »