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Monthly Archives: March 2009

“Afpak”

March 31st, 2009 - 6:42 pm

Outraged, maybe. Amazed? No. The Taliban have threatened to astound America with a spectacular attack that will be their answer to Obama, saying the attack on the police academy in Lahor was only the beginning. The Times Online reports:

Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taleban, threatened yesterday to launch an attack on Washington that would “amaze everyone in the world” as he claimed responsibility for the raid on a police academy in Lahore and boasted of a new regional militant alliance.

Mr Mehsud, for whom the United States offered a $5 million reward last week, said that Monday’s raid, which killed seven police officers, was retaliation for US drone attacks on Pakistan’s northern tribal areas, now the main hub of Taleban and al-Qaeda activity. … The 35-year-old leader of Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan (Movement of Taleban Pakistan), made the claims after taking the highly unusual step of telephoning Western news organisations from an undisclosed location. …

Mr Mehsud’s threat illustrates his growing confidence in the Pakistani Taleban’s strength and reach. He recently agreed to shelve differences with fellow commanders and join forces with the Afghan Taleban.

The alliance appears to be a deliberate response to President Obama’s “Afpak” strategy, unveiled on Friday, to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, pour $7.5 billion into Pakistan, and to treat the two countries as a single military theatre.

Now if only we could be sure that the ISI and the rest of the Pakistani government was on the American side then we’d know who wore the white and the black hats. There are hints in the article that the operations against the Taliban will have certain law enforcement aspects. The US Rewards for Justice website, referred to in the article, lists the persons who have been turned in by informants since its establishment.

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Culture post of the day: Form 27B

March 31st, 2009 - 1:42 pm

The Wikipedia article on the 1985 movie Brazil says:

Brazil is a 1985 film directed by Terry Gilliam. … John Scalzi’s Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies describes the film as a “dystopian satire”.

The film centers on Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a young man trying to find a woman who appears in his dreams while he is working in a mind-numbing job and living a life in a small apartment, set in a dystopian world in which there is an over-reliance on poorly maintained (and rather whimsical) machines. Brazil’s bureaucratic, totalitarian government is reminiscent of the government depicted in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, except that it has a buffoonish, slap-stick quality, and lacks any kind of figurehead.

Jack Mathews, movie critic and author of The Battle of Brazil (1987), characterized the film as “satirizing the bureaucratic, largely dysfunctional industrial world that had been driving [Gilliam] crazy all his life.” Though a success in Europe, the film flopped upon initial release in North America, even with the extra publicity of the fight with the studio. It has since become an important cult film.

It is a world where freedom, as we remember it, is a forgotten concept. But everything is well regulated, perhaps too well regulated. And despite appearances, it is not safe. “The film often mentions an ambiguous form called 27B-Stroke-6. 27B was the number of George Orwell‘s apartment in London.” There’s actually a G20 Pro-Capitalist Counter-protest, whose tagline is “We don’t want your charity; we don’t need your chains” scheduled for today.

Date: Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Time: 11:00am – 5:00pm
Location: April 1st – Outside the Bank of England (The Museum portion of it – outside Bank station)
City/Town: London, United Kingdom

Does life imitate art, or is it the other way around?
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Silence, ye unbeliever

March 31st, 2009 - 3:36 am

Science is now saving the world from cow farts.

Yes you read that right. The Telegraph describes how an amazing discovery by Irish scientists may help Britain meet its Climate Change targets. Dr Lorraine Lillis has discovered that cows fart less when fed fish oil, especially those rich in Omega 3 acids. The news was enthusiastically greeted by “Jonathan Scurlock, an adviser at the National Farmers Union, said farmers were willing to modify feed in order to reduce emissions but at the moment there are few affordable options on the market and he encouraged more research into the area.”

Speaking at the Society for General Microbiology meeting in Harrogate, Dr Lorraine Lillis, one of the researchers, said the study could help the agriculture industry cut emissions. She said: “The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cow’s gut, leading to reduced emissions.

“Understanding which microbial species are particularly influenced by changes in diet and relating them to methane production could bring about a more targeted approach to reducing methane emissions in animals.” The UK is committed to cutting greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050.

CNN continues the story with a touching piety that must be read to be appreciated.

Lowering methane emissions is important for the environment, as the gas given off by farm animals is a major contributor to greenhouse gas levels. More than a third of all methane emissions, around 900 billion tonnes every year, are produced by methanogen bacteria that live in the digestive systems of cattle, sheep and goats. By volume, methane is 20 times more powerful at trapping solar energy than carbon dioxide making it a potent greenhouse gas.

Through some conjury the Greens have made the earth autoimmune. “Autoimmunity is the failure of an organism to recognize its own constituent parts as self, which results in an immune response against its own cells and tissues.” Humanity, all kinds of living creatures, volcanic activity and even water vapor evaporating from the oceans are now regarded as mortal threats to earth, as if they were never a part of it. Things have reached the stage where Chris Rapley
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The Dead Hand

March 31st, 2009 - 12:44 am

The Times Online described a conflagration where the British police kept neighbors back from attempting a rescue of people screaming for help from a burning house for reasons of “health and safety”. The police defended their actions saying they were just trying to prevent more people from getting hurt.

A pregnant woman, her husband and their three-year-old son were killed in a house fire early yesterday as police who arrived before the fire brigade prevented neighbours from trying to save them. The woman screamed: “Please save my kids” from a bedroom window and neighbours tried to help but were beaten back by flames and were told by police not to attempt a rescue….

Davey Davis, 38, a friend of the family, said: “It was the most harrowing thing I have ever witnessed. Michelle was at the bedroom window yelling, ‘Please save my kids’ and we wanted to help but the police were pushing us back and not allowing us near. We were willing to risk our lives to save those kiddies but the police wouldn’t let us. “Tempers were running very high, particularly with the women who were there, but the police were just saying we have to wait for the fire brigade because of health and safety.

“There were four or five police officers. They were here before the fire brigade. We heard the sirens and we came across to help but they wouldn’t let us.

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The deadly drones

March 30th, 2009 - 7:34 pm

SpaceWar reports that the arms convoy bound for Egypt, then Gaza, which was destroyed by a “major power” in the Sudanese desert was attacked by Israeli UCAVs.

Israel used unmanned drones to attack clandestine Iranian convoys in Sudan that were attempting to smuggle rockets into Gaza, Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper reported. The paper said that western diplomats confirmed that Israel attacked the Iranian truck convoys in late January and the first week of February in the remote Sudan desert, just outside the Red Sea town of Port Sudan. … It quoted defence sources as saying the convoys were carrying Fajr-3 rockets, which have a range of more than 40 miles (65 kilometres), and were split into sections to be smuggled through tunnels into Gaza from Egypt. …

“They built the Fajr in parts so it would be easy to smuggle them into Gaza, then reassemble them with Hamas experts who learnt the job in Syria and Iran,” a source told the paper. The main reason for using drones instead of manned aircraft to attack was that a convoy forms a “slippery” target, a source said.

“When you attack a fixed target, especially a big one, you are better off using jet aircraft. But with a moving target with no definite time for the move UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are best, as they can hover extremely high and remain unseen until the target is on the move,” the source said.

The 65 km version is the Fajr 5, which was used by Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon war. It is normally fired from a truck chassis, but the missile itself is about a foot wide, about 21 feet long and weighs half a ton. “The Fajr-5 is a 6.6m long solid fuel rocket with a diameter of .33m and a weight of 915kg. It carries a 90kg warhead to a distance of 75km. Both the Fajr-3 and -5 are produced under the auspices of the Aerospace Industries Organization.” Broken it up, it might conceivably be moved by narrow gauge rail through a tunnel.

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Nazis! Part 2

March 30th, 2009 - 3:27 pm

Jonathan Foreman was the other person, beside Michael Totten, who was with Christopher Hitchens when he was attacked on Hamra Street in Beirut. Here’s his account of what happened.

No one from the café moved to help us. The policeman we had spoken to earlier was no longer in sight. Then a squat middle-aged man in a sweatshirt and open leather jacket, who seemed to be the leader of the attackers, said something to the youth kicking Christopher. He backed off. Christopher climbed uneasily to his feet, blood staining the arm of his blue shirt, just as another taxi pulled up to the intersection. The three of us jumped in with Hitch in the front seat. This time, when we asked the cabbie to “just drive”, he did so. Fortunately, the street was clear ahead. As we accelerated past the gang, one of them reached in an open window to punch Hitch once more in the face. Fearful of being followed, we had the driver take us to a big international hotel in another part of town.

Read the rest here.

Decisionmaking under uncertainty

March 30th, 2009 - 3:07 pm

David Horowitz denounces the Obama Derangement Syndrome while John Podhoretz, at the Weekly Standard, takes on the myths that Hollywood creates.  What’s the connection? They are linked by a single theme: the substitution of preconception for reality. Podhoretz describes the World of the Watchmen, an ‘alternative reality … with Nixon elected to term after term after term and the Soviets invading Afghanistan out of fear of American malfeasance’. This is a world where nothing is as it truly was. We’re all familiar with it: the world where Lincoln was a Democrat, Bull Conner a Republican, Martin Luther King a Democrat and when the Vietnam War was started by Tricky Dick, instead of by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.  Not that anybody’s got something against JFK, but facts are facts.

David Horowitz’s denunciation of the Obama Derangement Syndrome is at heart a warning against being consumed by fantasy in the way that liberals once imagined George W. Bush. Horowitz writes:

Even as astute a conservative thinker as Mark Steyn has been swept up in the tide that thinks Obama is a “transformative” radical. But look again at his approach to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both cases, as noted, he is carrying out the Bush policies – the same that he once joined his fellow Democrats in condemning. And that should be reassuring to anyone concerned about where he is heading as commander-in-chief.

In other words, while it’s reasonable to be unhappy with a Democratic administration and even concerned because the Democrats are now a socialist party in the European sense, we are not witnessing the coming of the anti-Christ. A good strategy for political conflicts is to understand your opponent first – not to underestimate him, but not to overestimate him either.

Readers of this site will have observed an attempt to understand Obama with through the method of a priori/a posteriori. Starting from any viewpoint you want about BHO (a priori), the trick is never be insensitive to new information (a posteriori) about him.  This is subtly different from the David Horowitz approach because while it eschews fantasy, it isn’t bounded in either direction. President Obama may be much better than we imagine — or much worse. Much more likely he is different from anything his liberal supporters or his conservative opponents believe.  But in any case the thing to achieve isn’t disgust avoidance; it is fantasy avoidance.  Self-deception is one of the easiest mistakes to commit. One way to avert it is to avoid making an personal and emotional investment in either position. And again, it works in either direction. Just because we once liked BHO doesn’t mean we should adore him forever. But the reverse is also true.

I suspect that David Horowitz is keenly aware of the cost of an Obama Derangement Syndrome, or its appearance. Any effective political opposition to Obama, granting one wanted to be in opposition, requires building alliances with the undecided or even the liberal disenchanted. Becoming like the Daily Kos is the surest way not to build alliances. The big winner of the Obama victory wasn’t the Daily Kos, it was the Huffington Post.

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Max Boot on Afghanistan

March 30th, 2009 - 1:39 am

Writing in Commentary, Max Boot describes President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy as everything John McCain would have done — with some changes in atmospherics.

The new Afghanistan policy that President Obama unveiled at the White House today was pretty much all that supporters of the war effort could have asked for, and probably pretty similar to what a President McCain would have decided on. … The big news — though it had been apparent for some time — is that Obama is eschewing those who argue for a major downsizing of our efforts to focus on a narrow counter-terrorism strategy of simply picking off individual bad guys. Instead, Obama is embracing a more wide-ranging counterinsurgency strategy focused on enhancing “the military, governance, and economic capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan.” …

I am not sold on every aspect of the Obama policy. For instance, he endorsed legislation to send even more money to Pakistan promising that there would be “benchmarks” to make sure the aid isn’t wasted like previous U.S. donations to Islamabad. … I also have grave doubt that the “new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan” will do much good. … Count me skeptical that Iran, for one, actually has a stake in “lasting peace and security” in Afghanistan if that means that Afghanistan will be a democratic ally of the United States, a.k.a. the Great Satan. But it is true that the Iranians were mildly helpful in Afghanistan in early 2002, and it wouldn’t hurt their willingness to provide cooperation in the future while remaining skeptical of any promises they may make.”

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Help, the police

March 30th, 2009 - 12:02 am

Today was a bad day to be a Pakistani cop. AFP reports a military-type strike against a police academy.

LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) — At least 20 people were killed Monday after gunmen stormed a Pakistan police training school near the eastern city of Lahore, police officials told AFP. “The number of killed is at least 20,” police sub inspector Amjad Ahmad told AFP outside the police training ground in Manawan.

Other police officials said the number of casualties may be higher given the heavy crossfire between the attackers holed up at the training centre and paramilitary troops who fanned around the perimeter of the ground. …

Television footage showed bodies of policemen lying face down on the parade ground as heavy gunfire rattled out of the training ground at Manawan outside Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore.

Bill Roggio describes more attacks on Pakistani police officers — this time in the tribal areas.

The Taliban captured 12 policemen after attacking a police outpost in the Khyber tribal agency in Pakistan’s northwest. The atack capped a weekend of violence in the region surrounding Peshawar, the provincial capital of the Northwest Frontier Province. … “Militants came to the Shin Qamar checkpost before dawn and disarmed our policemen and then bundled them into vehicles,” Gul said. “We’ve launched a search but there’s been no progress.” …

The Taliban are seeking to strangle NATO’s main supply route into Afghanistan as well as conquer the Peshawar region. NATO’s most vital resupply route for its forces in Afghanistan stretches from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to Peshawar, then through the Khyber Pass to Kabul. More than 70 percent of NATO supplies and 40 percent of its fuel moves through Peshawar.

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The southern neighbor

March 29th, 2009 - 9:13 pm

Pundita says Mexico is in a worse way than the administration is willing to admit; that the current policy of propping up the government in Mexico City will at some point run the risk of failing. In her view the time for reform is long overdue in Mexico.

Mr Calderón has shown surprising and admirable courage in confronting drug lords and corrupt officials, but he must find even more courage and get the elite to turn out their pockets more. What must NOT be done, and which Hillary Clinton is already offering to do, is for the U.S. to hurl more aid at Mexico to help the government build up the middle class and needed infrastructure. No; that’s the job of Mexico’s elite. If the U.S. keeps doing their job for them, they’ll never find the impetus to change.

From his letter, clearly Obrador wants more U.S. development aid for Mexico, but surely he’s aware that this business of the U.S. throwing Mexico aid, combined with remittances, has only helped to keep the elite off the hook. So any additional U.S. aid — no matter how worthy the project — should be tied to real political change in Mexico.

The AP has a combat-style story entitled “With Mexico’s army in the war on drugs”. But how much of it is headline grabbing crime reporting and how much indicative of a problem that threatens to swallow the Mexican state?

The Associated Press spent five days on the front line of Mexico’s drug war, embedded with the army’s 8th Division in Tamaulipas state, one of many organized-crime hotspots now policed by 45,000 troops nationwide. Launched by President Felipe Calderon in December 2006, the army is Mexico’s last and best hope to gain control over drug cartels and spiraling violence, which have killed more than 9,000 people since then.

But the AP’s exclusive front-row seat reveals the army offensive to be at once successful and imperfect, marred by police corruption, lack of training and local distrust. As Calderon has said, it’s a temporary fix. There’s still not a long-term solution. … “Here you can’t call police,” says army Capt. Huascar Santiago, “because they’re in collusion.”

How bad is Mexico? Is there any way to objectively know? What indicators ought one watch to know the true state of play there? Open thread.