30 September 2013

I Think that this is a Diss of John Paul II

It's generally being presented as a unifying gesture, but I think that the decision to canonize Popes John Paul II and John XXIII on the same day:
Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be declared saints on 27 April 2014, Pope Francis has announced.

The Pope said in July that he would canonise his two predecessors, after approving a second miracle attributed to John Paul.

Polish John Paul, the first non-Italian pope for more than 400 years, led the Catholic Church from 1978-2005.

Pope John was pontiff from 1958-1963, calling the Second Vatican Council that transformed the Church.

The decision to canonise the two at the same time appears designed to unify Catholics, correspondents say.

John Paul II is a favourite of conservative Catholics, while John XXIII is widely admired by the Church's progressive wing.

………

The double canonisation will be the first in the Church's history.
Here is why I think that this is a comment on
John Paul has been on a fast track to sainthood since his death, when crowds in St Peter's Square chanted "santo subito" ("sainthood now").

During his own papacy he simplified the process by which people are made saints, and created more of them than all previous popes combined.

John XXIII is remembered for introducing the vernacular to replace Latin in church masses and for creating warmer ties between the Catholic Church and the Jewish faith.

He has a big following in Italy, where he is known as Il Papa Buono, the good pope.

………

Two miracles have been officially attributed to Pope John Paul II - the number usually needed for canonisation.

………

Pope John XXIII was beatified by John Paul II in 2000, and Pope Francis took the unusual step of waiving the requirement of a second miracle in his case.
John Paul II's canonization was on a rocket docket that Francis knew could not be stopped, but by making John XXIII, he takes some of the wind out of the sails of the inevitable JPII, and by waiving waiving the "2nd miracle" for John, he makes a comment on how standards were relaxed by John Paul.

Then again, ich bin a Yid, so my knowledge on the Catholic Church is neither deep nor broad.

29 September 2013

This is a Level of Surreal that Buggers the Mind

I am at a Jiffy Lube, and a Football Game is on, Baltimore vs. Buffalo.

They cut to the Vikings-Steelers game at Wembley in England.

It's a foreign outreach thing that the NFL does.

They show the singing of both national anthems, the Star Spangled Banner, and God Save the Queen.

Singing the the Star Spangled Banner was Kiss bassist Gene Simons.

Gene Simmons singing the Star Spangled Banner?

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?


Posted via mobile

28 September 2013

An Important Lesson About How to Reduce Piracy

Interesting. It appears that the expansion of Netflix into Canada had reduced piracy by ½:
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings dropped a surprising statistic during an interview with Dutch website Tweakers last week, as he made the rounds promoting the launch of Netflix Netherlands.

When asked if Dutch viewers would switch from piracy to Netflix, Hastings said sure, some will switch, and that piracy helps “create the demand” for easier, legitimate ways to watch video through the Internet. Pressed for examples of markets where Netflix has actually brought about a decrease in piracy, Hastings pointed to Canada. Here, he claims, “Bittorrent traffic’s down by about 50 per cent since Netflix launched three years ago.”
There are some facts in the entire copyright debate, particularly as applies to entertainment:
  • It's inconvenient for people to pirate things.
  • They are willing to pay when the institutions who control the content aren't dicks who make "legal" use of the products even more inconvenient because they want to wring every possible penny from their users.
Of course, it's rather unlikely that the the powers that be are going to stop acting like a dicks, seeing as how they have the political pull to turn what should be civil infractions into felonies though their pet congresscritters.

H/t PP at the Stellar Parthenon BBS.

Sikorsky S-97, the Proposed Production Application of Advancing Blade Helicopter Technology, Enters Final Assembly


Fuselage is on its way to Sikorsky




3-view images are courtesy of Sikorsky
I've had an affection for this technology since the Advancing Blade Concept in the 1980s.

It's simpler than a tilt rotor and does things like autorotation and a lower disk loading, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it flies:
Sikorsky will begin final assembly of its S-97 Raider helicopter prototype this week, according to company officials.

That puts the helicopter manufacturer — which is competing for the US Army’s Armed Aerial Scout program — on track for a first flight at the end of 2014.

“It’s just a really exciting foundational milestone for us, and it’s great to be leaving the design phase of Raider and getting into the build phase,” Chris Van Buiten, Sikorsky Innovations vice president, said.

The Raider is based on the X-2 technology developed by Sikorsky in the late 2000s, but grows the size and weight significantly. Where the X-2 demonstrator was a one-person, 5,000-pound platform, the Raider will be roughly 11,000 pounds with room for six troops in its combat assault mode. In reconnaissance mode, that space could be used for extra equipment or ammunition.

Despite that growth, Sikorsky executives are confident the design will bring a mix of speed and maneuverability that helicopters have not yet achieved.

“This thing has to fly faster than 220 knots” at cruising speed, Van Buiten said when asked about key performance targets. “It has got to do more than a 3G turn at speed. It has to demonstrate hover at 10,000 feet and 95 degrees. Those are the non-negotiables.”
Hopefully, this will work better than the over priced and under performing bucked of bolts called the V-22 Osprey.

Linkage


Well, at least it's not saying, "So long and thanks for all the fish."

H/t Ecop on the Stellar Parthenon BBS.

27 September 2013

Captain Obvious Strikes

It appears that his secret identy is Nancy Pelosi:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sought Friday to lay the blame for a possible government shutdown on congressional Republicans, saying that they refused to negotiate on the issue.

Pelosi pointed to the GOP's inability to reconcile their competing factions as the reason that the federal government is a few days away from shutting down.

"It's impossible for Democrats to negotiate with House Republicans when they can't negotiate with themselves," Pelosi told reporters. "We don't know what we're going to vote on from one minute to the next because I don't think they know what they're going to vote on."

"I don't know that they even know what they're doing," she added.
Well, duh!

She Triggers My Drunkdar Something Fierce

My father has the uncanny ability to spot people with drinking problems, which is odd, as he has never been a heavy drinker.

Genetics has given me the same ability, though I think that my Kung Fu is weaker than his.

Then again, you do not need mutant powers to see that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer appears to have a drinking problem.

Ma'am, it's pronounced Tusk-Key-Gi:



Matt Taibbi Nails it Again

This time, he's writing about how Wall Street is robbing ordinary working people's retirement:
In the final months of 2011, almost two years before the city of Detroit would shock America by declaring bankruptcy in the face of what it claimed were insurmountable pension costs, the state of Rhode Island took bold action to avert what it called its own looming pension crisis. Led by its newly elected treasurer, Gina Raimondo – an ostentatiously ambitious 42-year-old Rhodes scholar and former venture capitalist – the state declared war on public pensions, ramming through an ingenious new law slashing benefits of state employees with a speed and ferocity seldom before seen by any local government.

………

Nor did anyone know that part of Raimondo's strategy for saving money involved handing more than $1 billion – 14 percent of the state fund – to hedge funds, including a trio of well-known New York-based funds: Dan Loeb's Third Point Capital was given $66 million, Ken Garschina's Mason Capital got $64 million and $70 million went to Paul Singer's Elliott Management. The funds now stood collectively to be paid tens of millions in fees every single year by the already overburdened taxpayers of her ostensibly flat-broke state. Felicitously, Loeb, Garschina and Singer serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute, a prominent conservative think tank with a history of supporting benefit-slashing reforms. The institute named Raimondo its 2011 "Urban Innovator" of the year.

The state's workers, in other words, were being forced to subsidize their own political disenfranchisement, coughing up at least $200 million to members of a group that had supported anti-labor laws. Later, when Edward Siedle, a former SEC lawyer, asked Raimondo in a column for Forbes.com how much the state was paying in fees to these hedge funds, she first claimed she didn't know. Raimondo later told the Providence Journal she was contractually obliged to defer to hedge funds on the release of "proprietary" information, which immediately prompted a letter in protest from a series of freaked-out interest groups. Under pressure, the state later released some fee information, but the information was originally kept hidden, even from the workers themselves. "When I asked, I was basically hammered," says Marcia Reback, a former sixth-grade schoolteacher and retired Providence Teachers Union president who serves as the lone union rep on Rhode Island's nine-member State Investment Commission. "I couldn't get any information about the actual costs."

This is the third act in an improbable triple-f%$#ing of ordinary people that Wall Street is seeking to pull off as a shocker epilogue to the crisis era. Five years ago this fall, an epidemic of fraud and thievery in the financial-services industry triggered the collapse of our economy. The resultant loss of tax revenue plunged states everywhere into spiraling fiscal crises, and local governments suffered huge losses in their retirement portfolios – remember, these public pension funds were some of the most frequently targeted suckers upon whom Wall Street dumped its fraud-riddled mortgage-backed securities in the pre-crash years.
Read the rest.

Not enough bullets.

26 September 2013

I am Celebrating Simchat Torah at the Local Chabad

And I am not as think as you drunk.

That is all.


Posted via mobile

Linkage





H/t Balloon Juice for the cartoon.

25 September 2013

You Cannot Make this Sh%$ Up

Ted Cruz just engaged in a mammoth talk on the Senate floor, (it was not a filibuster) talking about the evils of Obamacare.

At one point, he read from the children's classic Green Eggs and Ham, while talking about how awful the PPACA will be.

As Senator Claire McCaskill observed, Ted Cruz does not get the Dr. Seuss story, which is all about not prejudging things:
During Sen. Ted Cruz’ marathon talk-a-thon, he dramatically read one of his children’s favorite books, Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, saying it was a good-night story for his children.

How ironic, Sen. Claire McCaskill, remarked on Morning Joe, that the Texas Republican used that book in a marathon speech opposing a healthcare reform bill he has never tried.

“I went the University of Missouri, I did not go to Harvard, but I’ll tell you that my daughter texted me this morning and said ‘Mom, does he not know the point of the story?’” the Missouri Democrat said.

In the classic Seuss novel, a grumpy character declares “I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham…I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere.”

Eventually, the character tries the green eggs and ham to appease his persistent friend and finds that he quite likes them: “I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!”

“It’s that you can’t knock things till you try it,” McCaskill said with a smile. “It’s ironic that he used that in the filibuster because I think when people realize how the these exchanges are going to work…It’s all private insurance companies on these exchanges.”
Not only reading Seuss on the Senate floor, but getting it wrong.

Theodore Seuss Geisel must be spinning in his grave.



Someone Else Calling for a Postal Savings Bank

Just like I did a few months ago.

It's Senator Bernie Sanders and Represantative of Pete Defazio:
The Postal Service Modernization Bills brought by Peter DeFazio and Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, would allow the post office to recapitalize itself by diversifying its range of services to meet unmet public needs.

Needs that the post office might diversify into include (1) funding the rebuilding of our crumbling national infrastructure; (2) servicing the massive market of the “unbanked” and “underbanked” who lack access to basic banking services; and (3) providing a safe place to save our money, in the face of Wall Street’s new “bail in” policies for confiscating depositor funds. All these needs could be met at a stroke by some simple legislation authorizing the post office to revive the banking services it efficiently performed in the past.
I don't think that it's going to happen.

Wall Street owns Congress, and Wall Street does not want an alternative.

Tell me You Don't See Echos of Wiemar Germany Here………

Greece, of course, though I would argue that it was a foreseeable consequence of policies foisted on them by the Germans.

We have seen an explosive growth of the Fascist Golden Dawn party, with the tacit approval of the more mainstream Greek political parties, because they see them as providing a counterweight to the growth of the SYRIZA party, and because it allowed them to cast the Socialist SYRIZA, which is a real threat to the corruption of the Greek elites and to the interests of the banksters.

Basically, Golden Dawn allows them to play the, "Both sides of the same coin," game.

They aren't of course.

SYRIZA doesn't engage in systematic violence against people that they do not like, and they haven't made a concerted effort to infiltrate the Greek state security apparatus to obtain approval for their campaign of intimidation and violence.

Golden Dawn has done all of this in spades, and now, following the murder of anti-Fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a Golden Dawn member, the Greek government is trying to put the Genie back into the bottle, and ban the Golden Dawn party:
The Greek government has hinted that it will seek to ban Golden Dawn after the far-right party was linked to the murder of a leading leftwing musician in Athens.

As violence erupted on the streets and demonstrators protested after the fatal stabbing of Pavlos Fyssas, a prominent anti-fascist, the public order minister, Nikos Dendias, cancelled a trip abroad saying the government would table emergency legislation that would seek to outlaw the group.

………

Earlier in the day, police raided Golden Dawn offices across the country, with media reporting running street battles outside branches in Crete, Thessaloniki and Patras.

Voted into the Greek parliament for the first time last June, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn has been widely accused of employing violence to further its ratings in the polls.

The socialist Pasok party, the junior member of Antonis Samaras's two-party coalition, [The ruling coalition, not SYRIZA] has campaigned openly for it to be banned, saying it should be considered a criminal gang.

………

Eyewitnesses said the singer was stabbed several times by a man who suddenly appeared in a car after being phoned by members of the mob. The attack bore all the hallmarks of a premeditated assault, they said.
Unfortunately, it may be too late, because it looks like Golden Dawn has already infiltrated the Greek state security apparatus:
The killing of Mr. Fyssas has spurred the government to begin a risky crackdown on Golden Dawn, opening its first investigation into whether the police forces are infiltrated by sympathizers or members of the group, one of the most violent rightist organizations in Europe.

On Tuesday, officers raided three police stations on the outskirts of Athens. The sweep came a day after the government replaced seven senior police officials — including the chiefs of special forces, internal security, organized crime and the explosives unit — to ensure the investigation would take place with “absolute objectivity.” In addition, two top members of the Greek police force resigned abruptly Monday, citing “personal reasons.”

Such steps have the potential for volatile repercussions in a country where the security forces have had links to far-right organizations at various points since the end of World War II. They are likely to test the determination of the government and the public to turn back the influence of Golden Dawn, which has climbed steadily in opinion polls in the past year and has 18 of its members in Parliament.

………

The public outcry after the killing of Mr. Fyssas, who used the stage name Killah P, placed greater pressure on Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a member of the right-leaning New Democracy party, to investigate a police force he has repeatedly defended, despite a cascade of reports drawing links between the police and Golden Dawn.

Human rights groups say the police have for the most part looked the other way as Golden Dawn has systematically terrorized immigrants. These aggressive acts, sometimes captured on video by Golden Dawn members and posted on the Internet, involve roving groups crushing market stands run by immigrants, riding in gangs on motorbikes armed with clubs and shields bearing swastika-like symbols and beating immigrants with wooden poles draped in the Greek flag.

Nikos Demertzis, a professor of political sociology at the University of Athens, said allegations of police collusion with the far right were not surprising. “Generally there is a tradition in Greece that the far-right organizations have certain links with the police — this is a historic, recurring theme,” Mr. Demertzis said.
They are Fascists, and they have a large amount of influence over the police during a period of social disorder.

It might already be too late to fix this.  History is littered with who thought that they could control extremists (on both right and left) and end up being devoured by the monster that they have created.

Stay Classy, Barack

What a surprise. When Congress wants to hear testimony from innocent victims of drone strikes in Pakistan, the Obama administration invokes the immigration authorities to prevent their entry:
The US government is being accused of derailing a congressional hearing that would be the first to hear testimony from survivors of an alleged CIA drone strike by failing to grant the family's lawyer a visa.

Shahzad Akbar, a legal fellow with the British human rights group Reprieve and the director of the Pakistan-based Foundation for Fundamental Rights, says the state department is preventing him from taking his clients to Capitol Hill next week. The hearing would mark the first time US lawmakers heard directly from drone strike survivors.

Akbar's clients, Rafiq ur-Rehman, his 13-year-old son, Zubair, and his nine-year-old daughter, Nabila, are from the tribal regions of north Waziristan. The children were injured in the alleged US strike on the village of Tappi last year. Their grandmother – Rehman's mother, Mamana – was killed.

Rehman and his children have spent months making preparations to visit Washington after being invited by US representatives to testify in the ad hoc hearing on drone strikes.

According to Akbar, his clients' visas for the trip have been approved, but his has not. He believes the hold-up is political.

"It's not like my name is scratched because there is some sort of confusion. My name is blocked," Akbar told the Guardian. "Before I started drone investigations I never had an issue with US visa. In fact, I had a US diplomatic visa for two years."

This is the third tangle Akbar has experienced with US authorities over a visa since 2011, a year after he began investigating drone strikes. In April, Akbar said he was being prevented from speaking at a human rights conference in Washington because of a delay processing his application. He was eventually granted entry.
This is indefensible, and is a consequence of having a policy that terrorizes millions throughout the world, and creates more terrorist, is indefensible.

Obama and His Evil Minions know that their policies will not hold up to scrutiny, so they are conspiring to keep a 13-year old talking about the death of his grandmother.

And this guy is a Nobel laureate.

What were they thinking in Sweden?

24 September 2013

Supply Side Economics is a Fraud

In interesting showing in a very concise form that the data does not support the theory of supply side economics:
The biggest political theory of the last 30 years is supply side economics. It was the basis of the policies of all Republican presidents from Ronald Reagan onward. The idea is that if the rich are given more money, they will use it to invest in business and thus create jobs. According to the theory, if you give money to the poor, they will just spend it. The rich, on the other hand, will help businesses to grow and this will help the poor.

The idea is nonsense as anyone who has ever run an actual business should be able to explain. Businesses expand when they see a lot of demand for their products. If a computer repair business has to turn away business for lack of resources, it will hire another tech to be able to take the extra work. This is as simple a notion as there is. Now it is also the case that in rare instances, a company may see a market opportunity but not expand to meet it because they simply don't have the start up capital to do it. Maybe expanding would require buying more property and the cost of a loan is too high. But that is a rare case. In general, businesses are demand constrained.

But this isn't a matter of conjecture. If businesses really acted the way that conservatives claim, then businesses should invest a lot more when profits were high compared to when they were low. That's why I found the following graph from Dean Baker so interesting. It shows corporate profits and investment as a share of GDP since the end of World War II. The thing to notice here is that there is nothing to notice:

While correlation does not imply causation, as the saying goes, a lack of correlation does imply a lack of causation, and in this case, we have what appears to be a slight  negative correlation.

Economics is frequently called dismal science for reasons that are patently obvious, but supply side economics does not even rise to that meager standard.

It is instead a reflection of Calvinist theories of predestination, which, among other things believes that wealth and material success are indications that one is part of the "elect" and hence bound for salvation.

Calvinism believes that wealth is a (though not the only) sign of virtue, and supply side economics is an outgrowth of a philosophy that came over with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

It's an article of faith, and as such it should be accorded no more intellectual weight than the precepts of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. (Maybe less, because Pastafarians don't want to screw it up for the rest of us.)

Just When You Thought that the American Military Could Not Get Any Worse on Rape in the Military

We have a the convening authority allowing cross examination that would not be out of place in a Taliban court:

Earlier this month, the U.S. Naval Academy held a hearing into allegations that three of its football players had sexually assaulted a female midshipman. The alleged victim was a 20-year-old sophomore in April 2012 when she attended an off-campus “toga and yoga” party, drank heavily, and had alleged sexual contact with the three men while being allegedly too intoxicated to give consent. That’s a lot of “allegedlys,” but if true, the midshipman’s tale is a worn, familiar one—especially in the military, where a recent Defense Department report found that an estimated 26,000 service members experienced some form of sexual assault last year, up from 19,000 two years before. Of those incidents, 3,000 were reported; only 302 went to trial. As details from this latest hearing leak out, it’s easy to see why so many victims might prefer to disappear rather than face the punishing interrogations and institutional pressures that come with speaking up.

The woman, now 21, spent more than 20 hours on the stand, requesting several times to be excused from testifying because of exhaustion. Though, according to newspaper accounts, she said repeatedly that her memory of the night was fuzzy (she came to believe she’d been raped after she heard rumors and saw posts about her on social media), the defense lawyers pounced on discrepancies in her story as evidence of instability and deceit. They grilled her on her mental health. They inquired whether she wore a bra or underwear at the party. They quizzed her relentlessly about her oral sex technique, including how wide she opened her mouth. (Why? Because, as the New York Times reports, “oral sex would indicate the 'active participation' of the woman and therefore consent,” according to one of the player's lawyers.) They asked, the paper of record continues, “whether she had apologized to another midshipman with whom she’d had intercourse for ‘being a ho.’ ”

This is shameful. And it makes an excellent case for Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand’s bill to remove sexual assault trials from the military chain of command, prosecuting them in civilian courts instead. Supporters of the Gillibrand proposal cite the web of conflicting loyalties between the accused, the accuser, and the judges as one reason that the current system is failing to protect victims. They argue that authorities’ first allegiance may be to the military’s reputation—that the bias is to acquit. But here’s an even simpler reason to make the switch: Civilian courts don’t allow the kind of abusive questioning described above. Lawyers in civilian courts are prohibited (or at least strongly discouraged) from asking an alleged assault victim about her sexual history. Judges in civilian courts would probably break their gavels admonishing a counsel who wanted to know how wide a woman opened her mouth for oral sex.
This is truly obscene.

I'd go further than Gillibrand, and put this in Federal Court, removing it completely from the jurisdiction of the military, because it is clear that they cannot be trusted with this.

As the Germans once said of the British, "They fight like lions, but they are led by asses."

It appears that the same could apply to our officer corps, at least with regard to their morality.

Why High Frequency Sucks Part 86

Some high frequency traders in Chicago made a lot of money by having 7 milliseconds advance notice of the recent Fed decision:
In the wake of an unusual trading pattern after the Federal Reserve's decision to continue economic stimulus last week, Fed officials have contacted certain news organizations to discuss rules and procedures for the central bank's advance release of sensitive information, CNBC has learned.

On Sept. 18, the Federal Reserve shocked the financial world with its decision not to scale back its level of support to the economy as most market participants expected.

Financial markets reacted at the speed of light, pushing stocks dramatically higher in just moments. But it looks like the speed of light just wasn't fast enough for some traders.

Some traders in Chicago appear to have had access to the Fed's decision before anyone else in the Windy City. According to trading data reviewed by CNBC, they began buying in Chicago-traded assets just before others in that city could possibly have been aware of the Fed's decision. By one estimate, as much as $600 million in assets changed hands in the milliseconds before most other traders in Chicago could learn of the Fed's September surprise-a sharp contrast to the very low volume of trading ahead of the Fed's decision.

………

The precise timing of the release is crucial because information can only travel as fast as the speed of light-a physical reality first laid out by Albert Einstein. Information-like a Fed decision-released in Washington takes as much as 7 milliseconds to travel to Chicago, where futures and other assets are traded. And because high-speed trading firms are now able to execute trades at the millisecond level, there is a brief window of time in which information can be publicly available in Washington but is still traveling to Chicago, where computers won't receive it until milliseconds later.

Thanks to modern technology, that window is long enough for some to profit if they know which direction the market is about to go and can place millisecond-level trades accordingly. None of this trading would typically involve a human being-it takes slow-moving humans about 300 milliseconds just to blink an eye, making them much too slow to react to news at the millisecond level. Instead, high-speed data feeds are plugged directly to algorithmic trading computers, which in turn analyze the news as it comes in and execute pre-programed trading strategies.
What apparently happened is that a reporter who was given the information ahead of time, the Federal Reserve does this in a locked room (really) under sequester.

The reporters can prepare their reports, but they cannot release any information before 2:00 pm.

Someone cracked the system, and used the speed of light to gain a competitive edge.

The bitch is, I am not sure that this was illegal.

Whoever did this did not act on non-public information, it had been released publicly at 2:00pm EDT, which is when they traded, they simply beat the information going down the wires .

It should be illegal, and I'd love to see someone prosecute these motherf%$#ers.

Linkage




If Time magazine is right, we are doomed as a society.

Machiavelli Explains Syria

It now appears that rebels in Syria have found the "leadership" in exile to be incompetent self-serving leeches:
With empty pockets and clothes smudged with dirt, the Syrian rebel fighter smuggled himself across the border and traveled 18 hours by bus to plead with Syrian opposition leaders meeting in a luxury hotel here to send help back home.

The fighter, Hassan Tabanja, a former electrician, needed money to provide food, weapons and ammunition for dozens of men fighting alongside him against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. But after two days of scant results at the main opposition coalition’s meeting here last weekend, Mr. Tabanja sat on the patio glaring at the men in suits all around him.

What they had provided, he said, “will barely get me back to Syria.”

For Mr. Tabanja and many other government opponents inside Syria, the leaders of the coalition who claim to represent them abroad have long seemed detached from their suffering, and frugal or mysterious with the money they have raised. As the leaders have shuttled among world capitals and bickered in fancy hotels, they have appeared increasingly powerless to affect the course of Syria’s war: more than 100,000 people have died, millions have been displaced, and extremist groups are gaining ground.

The leaders complain that their efforts to win recognition and support have been thwarted by the world’s indifference and the competing agendas of their own tightfisted patrons, but their words have failed to assuage many of the people relying on them for help.

“It’s a political game,” said Mr. Tabanja, after he was shooed away by guards surrounding Ahmad al-Jarba, the leader of the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition. “They are like puppets in the hands of their enemies,” he said. “They are prolonging the presence of Assad.”
I will remind you what Nicolo Machiavelli said about exiles:
A prince should therefore be slow in undertaking any enterprise upon the representations of exiles, for he will generally gain nothing by it but shame and serious injury.
We could have learned this from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Or we could just have read Machiavelli, is one of the found figures of the study of governments.

Seriously, this sh%$ is literally governance 101.

23 September 2013

The New York Times Ratf%$#s* Bill de Blasio

It appears that they are (I'm not joking here) accusing Bill de Blasio of having been a commie during the 1980s:
The scruffy young man who arrived in Nicaragua in 1988 stood out.

He was tall and sometimes goofy, known for his ability to mimic a goose’s honk. He spoke in long, meandering paragraphs, musing on Franklin D. Roosevelt, Karl Marx and Bob Marley. He took painstaking notes on encounters with farmers, doctors and revolutionary fighters.

Bill de Blasio, then 26, went to Nicaragua to help distribute food and medicine in the middle of a war between left and right. But he returned with something else entirely: a vision of the possibilities of an unfettered leftist government.

As he seeks to become the next mayor of New York City, Mr. de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, has spoken only occasionally about his time as a fresh-faced idealist who opposed foreign wars, missile defense systems and apartheid in the late 1980s and early 1990s. References to his early activism have been omitted from his campaign Web site.

But a review of hundreds of pages of records and more than two dozen interviews suggest his time as a young activist was more influential in shaping his ideology than previously known, and far more political than typical humanitarian work.

………

By the beginning of 1990, Mr. de Blasio had a foot in two worlds — government official by day, activist by night.

He was becoming a part of the institution he had railed against — the establishment — as a low-level aide to Mr. Dinkins in City Hall. On the side, he helped raise funds for the Nicaragua Solidarity Network and forge alliances between New York and Nicaraguan labor unions.
And they f%$#ing put it on the f%$#ing front page.

Gee the US government was funding terrorist operations against the Sandinistas, and they did so in violation of the law.

I think that maybe some of the more overpaid New York Times staffers are upset that de Blasio won't be genuflecting to the rich like Bloomberg did.

*It's a term for political dirty tricks, allegedly made popular by Nixon dirty trickster Roger Stone.

Today's Must Read

Public Knowledge's Amicus Brief in WildTangent v. Ultramercial, or more accurately their summary of their brief, where they point out that obfuscating on a patent application does not make an idea non-abstract or original.

Or, to put this in a slightly earthier way, they argue that Utramercial, the holder of the "Patent" have engaged in a strategy of, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullsh%$."
Today, Public Knowledge filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to review an important case on software patents, WildTangent v. Ultramercial. The basic question in this case is whether a patent to a simple, abstract idea can be valid simply by tacking on enough legal and technical language to that idea, even if that extraneous language has no real meaning.

The patent in question is U.S. Patent No. 7,346,545. That patent basically describes a simple idea familiar to anyone who has watched videos on the Internet: the idea of taking a video available for purchase, and showing it for free in exchange for viewing an advertisement first.

If you’re thinking that this idea is too simple to be patented, you’re right. The specific legal concept, as the Supreme Court has said, is the “abstract idea,” which includes things like methods of financial hedging and algorithms for converting decimal to binary numbers. Abstract ideas, like laws of nature and physical phenomena, cannot be patented, because they are the “basic tools of scientific and technological work,” and “monopolization of those tools through the grant of a patent might tend to impede innovation more than it would tend to promote it”—so said our highest court last year, in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories.
Here is the kicker:
Sometimes the courts need a little help in understanding all of this technical stuff, and that’s where we came in. Our brief took the 349-word claim of the patent (for comparison, the 349th word of this blog post is this), and reduced it to 16 lines of computer code.

I have little doubt that most everyone would agree that 16 lines of computer code is not “intricate and complex computer programming.”

As an example, here are two steps of the process claimed in the patent.
a fifth step of offering to a consumer access to the media product without charge to the consumer on the precondition that the consumer views the sponsor message;

a sixth step of receiving from the consumer a request to view the sponsor message, wherein the consumer submits said request in response to being offered access to the media product;

a seventh step of, in response to receiving the request from the consumer, facilitating the display of a sponsor message to the consumer;

For all those words, here’s the computer code that implements them:
if (window.confirm(“View ad or buy?”)) {window.alert(selected_ad.text)
For those of you unfamiliar with JavaScript, this just asks the user whether to view an advertisement (the “window.confirm” part), and if the user says yes, then the advertisement is displayed (the “window.alert” part).
How many federal judges do JavaScript?

How many have done C, or FORTRAN, or even lowly Basic?

So Ultramercial figured that if they threw enough crap against the wall, and couched it in obscure technobabble, that a technically illiterate judge will see some "there" where there is no "there".

Huh.

It appears that when Muhammad Morsi became Egypt's President, Hamas decided to ditch its Syrian and Iran, and hitch their wagon to the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood.

It has not worked out well for them:
The party-militia Hamas, a distant offshoot in Palestinian Gaza of the Muslim Brotherhood, has seldom been on the sunny side of the street. But a combination of difficult political choices has left it more isolated and more broke than ever before in its history, as China’s Xinhua wire service points out. Adding insult to injury, it faces a Tamarrud (Rebellion) youth movement of a strong secularist bent that is vowing to do to it what Tamarrud in Egypt did to former President Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Israel imposed a blockade on the entirety of Gaza in 2007 after its attempt to dislodge the party from power there failed. The blockade was damaging but imperfect, creating deep unemployment and food insecurity. There were ways partially to circumvent it. Egypt winked at the construction of huge underground tunnels from Gaza to the Sinai desert, through which smugglers brought in millions of dollars worth of goods. Moreover, cash came in from Iran to reward Hamas (Sunni fundamentalists) for allying with secular Syria and the Shiite fundamentalist Hizbullah of south Lebanon.

These were not ideological allies but rather strange bedfellows, all of whom only had in common fear of Israeli expansionism. ………

Palestinians have been among the least fundamentalist populations in the Muslim world, and the hard line religious temptation is one that only a minority felt. The party did win the January 2006 elections for the Palestine legislature, but that was a fluke and said more about the corruption and unpopularity of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) than about desire for religious rule. ………

Hamas was presented with a severe dilemma by the outbreak of the attempted popular revolution and then the civil war in Syria. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood enthusiastically joined the opposition to the Baath government of Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood had opposed the socialist, secular policies of the Baath Party and its land reform and large public sector. The Muslim Brotherhood represented urban shopkeepers and entrepreneurs and ideologically is not so far from the evangelical wing of the US Republican Party. Moreover, the Baath came to be dominated by Alawite Shiites, whom Muslim Brothers do not consider Muslims. The MB staged a revolt in Hama in 1982, which Bashar’s father brutally crushed, killing thousands.

Not only was Hamas’s alliance with Bashar al-Assad increasingly uncomfortable, what with the Syrian Muslim Brothers denouncing them as traitors, but then in June of 2012 Muhammad Morsi of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood won the presidency. He opposed al-Assad and was a long-time warm supporter of Hamas.

So most of the Hamas leadership (not all) abandoned al-Assad and Damascus, seeking to replace his patronage and support with that of Morsi in Cairo. ………

But the Hamas abandonment of Syria angered Iran, which allegedly cut Hamas off without a further dime. (The US has to stop charging Iran with being a supporter of ‘terrorism’ if what it means is that it gives money to the government of Gaza.) That cut-off of Tehran support was all right with much of the Hamas leadership, though, because Morsi in Egypt was willing to become the movement’s patron instead.

Then on July 3 of this year, Morsi was overthrown in a combination popular revolution and military coup. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was more or less declared a terrorist organization by the military, with 2000 of its leaders arrested and its sit-ins broken up in a bloody crackdown, killing hundreds.

………

So the Egyptian military now has it in for Hamas, as well, which they suspect of links to Egyptian militants and rebellious Bedouin in the Sinai Peninsula, where Egyptian troops have lost their lives fighting al-Qaeda affiliates. So the officers have done what Mubarak never dared. They have definitively closed the tunnels. Apparently nothing is getting through. And they closed the Rafah crossing. The Palestinians in Gaza are complaining that Egypt’s Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has deeply harmed “tourism,” but surely that is a euphemism for smuggling.

Just as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown in part by the militantly secularist Tamarrud or Rebellion movement, so Palestinian youth in Gaza have thrown up their own Rebellion group. They feed stories to the Egyptian press such as that Hamas keeps a secret string of secret prisons where they imprison their ideological (secular) enemies and where they practice the ugliest kinds of torture and interrogations. The Gaza Rebellion/ Tamarrud movement claims to have masses of supporters and to be considered a real threat by Hamas.

………

While it is true that guerrilla movements are difficult to simply starve out, Hamas does at the moment seem in real trouble. There have long been signs that Palestinian youth in Gaza are sick and tired of its extreme fundamentalism, so if change comes, it could have a local social base.
I cannot say that I am sad about this.

I hope that a movement that is both more secular than Hamas, and less corrupt than Fatah develops out of this, because neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are well served by what amounts to Palestinian leadership.

22 September 2013

Oops!

A while back I reported that a story co-written by Dale Gavlak which related reports that the rebels were responsible for the gas attacks in Ghouta.

Much of the credibility on this story was as a result of Gavlak's journalistic credibility.

It turns out that she did not write the story. She just provided what amounts to editorial help with the writing of the story:
A freelance contributor to the Associated Press whose byline appeared on a controversial story that alleged Syrian rebels had gassed themselves in an accident told McClatchy on Saturday that she did not write the article and has been seeking to have her name removed from it since it was published by a small Minnesota-based website.

Dale Gavlak, a long time contributor from the Middle East to AP, released an email statement to McClatchy and several blogs denying any role in reporting the story, which was published Aug. 29 by Mint Press News, which describes itself with the phrase “independent advocacy journalism.” The article carried her byline along with that of Yahya Ababneh, a Jordanian Arab-language journalist.

………

The initial email detailing the filing of the story – Gavlak admits to helping Ababneh convert his Arabic reporting into English – reads “Pls find the Syria story I mentioned uploaded on Google Docs. This should go under Yahya Ababneh’s byline. I helped him write up his story but he should get all the credit for this.”

After seeing the story published under her name and the amount of interest it was generating – in large part because of the credibility lent to it by her relationship with AP, which bills itself as the “world’s oldest and largest newsgathering organization” – Gavlak demanded her name be removed. Muhawesh refused.

"We will not be removing your name from the byline as this is an existential issue for MintPress and an issue of credibility as this will appear as though we are lying," Gavlak said Muhawesh responded.
Needless to say, any credibility that I assigned to the story by Gavlak's association with it is now inoperative, and the response of MintPress makes me less inclined to assign any credibility to them.

MintPress has also released a statement on this issue contradicting Dale Gavlak's account.

Needless to say this is now well and truly a clusterf%$#.

A Low Cost Low Complexity Solution, So the US Air Force Will Hate It

Click for full size


Note Widely Spaced Engines for Damage Tolerance


Performance specs indicate that it could also serve as a trainer



Structures appear to be rather low tech by aerospace standards
Textron is offering an unsolicited proposal for a simpler close support aircraft: (paid subscription required, there is also a CNN story with a bit less detail)
It takes a gutsy move for a company to pitch a brand new, clean-sheet aircraft to the Pentagon for a set of requirements it has not even said it wants, and to present this idea while defense spending in the U.S. faces massive cuts.

But, that is exactly what a newly formed joint venture between Textron and a young company—AirLand Enterprises, formed in 2011—is doing. Textron is best known for its Cessna business jets and turboprops, as well as Bell Helicopter's long experience with rotorcraft. Its partner, AirLand, however, was formed by a small group of investors, including retired defense officials, to explore a new concept for light attack.

It could actually be the scarce funding environment that validates the strategy behind the joint venture's new aircraft—the two-seat, twin-engine Scorpion. The team is unveiling its self-funded project Sept. 16 at the annual Air Force Association Air & Space Conference outside Washington, and officials gave Aviation Week an exclusive sneak peak.

The Scorpion demonstrator is intended to whet the U.S. Air Force's appetite with the promise of a low procurement and operating cost. The pitch is for this aircraft, which is optimized for 5-hr. endurance with onboard intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) collectors and weapons, to handle the Air Force's low-end missions such as U.S.-based interdiction, quick-reaction natural disaster support and air sovereignty patrols. The goal is to field an aircraft capable of operating for less than $3,000 per flying hour; the company declined to cite a target unit cost. By contrast, the Pentagon in June cited the cost per flying hour of the F-16, which currently performs many of these missions, as $24,899.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, F-15s, F-16s and A-10s have been used for patrols and close air support in completely uncontested airspace. This was overkill, according to some military officials. Built for high-speed, high-G maneuvers, these aircraft made little use of their strengths in these conflicts, but were needed to drop ordnance and provide armed overwatch for ground troops.
Aside from the obvious correction, that the A-10 was not built for high speed, high-G maneuvers, it is clear that the F-15 and F-15 are ill suited to this role: They are too expensive, and they prosecute these missions at speeds and altitudes that are too high, and with far less endurance over the battlefield, particularly at low altitude where CAS aircraft should do their business, than either this aircraft or the A-10.

The A-10 is designed to attack tanks trying to attack NATO through the Fulda Gap, so it is much larger and heavier than is necessary (It's empty weight is more than max weight for the Scorpion) for a low intensity conflict like Iraq or Afghanistan.

It should be noted that the USAF has been trying to get rid of the A-10 almost since it entered service.

One of the things that I don't get about this aircraft
Though designed as a tandem-seat aircraft, Scorpion can be flown by a single pilot. Textron is building it to include a highly simplified and reconfigurable bay that is capable of carrying 3,000 lb. of weapons or intelligence-collecting equipment; the aircraft also has six hard points total. The twin Honewell TF731 engines were selected to provide ample power and cooling for a variety of ISR payloads, Donnelly says. Though used for the demonstrator, these engines could be swapped out.
I'm not sure why you want to have an internal weapons bay on what is clearly a non-stealthy subsonic airframe.

I think that this might be a way to create a large avionics bay without having to spend years (decades) developing the custom systems that the Air Force would likely demand.

That being said, I think that this aircraft is dead on arrival.  Low cost and simplicity makes it more difficult for retired Generals to snag highly remunerative jobs with the other side of the military industrial complex.

20 September 2013

It's Bank Failure Friday!!!

I missed stuff over the past month, my bad.

And here they are, ordered, and numbered for the year so far.
  1. The Community's Bank, Bridgeport, CT (on September 13)
  2. First National Bank also operating as The National Bank of El Paso, Edinburg, TX (on September 13)
Full FDIC list

And here are the credit union closings:
  1. Craftsman Credit Union, Detroit, MI (on September 6)
Full NCUA list

So, here is the graph pr0n with last years numbers for comparison (FDIC only):

19 September 2013

Crap

Tom Delay's money laundering conviction was just overturned:
A Texas appellate court has overturned the conviction of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for allegedly scheming to influence Texas state elections with corporate money.

A three-judge panel voted 2-1 to overturn the conviction, calling the evidence "legally insufficient," according to court papers released Thursday. The decision formally acquits DeLay of all charges, but it could still be appealed by the government.
Their ain't no justice.

I'm Beginning to Really Like His Holiness

He may not be John XXIII, but he is a breath of fresh air after the reactionary JP II and Benedict.

Latest case, he makes the obvious observation that the exclusive focus on abortion and gays by the reactionary wing of the Church is not a good thing:
Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics.

His surprising comments came in a lengthy interview in which he criticized the church for putting dogma before love, and for prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized. He articulated his vision of an inclusive church, a “home for all” — which is a striking contrast with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, the doctrinal defender who envisioned a smaller, purer church.

Francis told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
It is noteworthy that this is an interview with a Jesuit which was released in Jesuit publications.  This is more than public assertion of his views, but an assertion of the traditional role of the Jesuits as being intellectual gadflies for the church, something which John Paul II detested,

As to the reactionary bigots, like this guy, who are upset that they no longer get to use the institutions of the church to go after people they find "icky", I say go pound sand:
But there has been a low rumble of discontent from some Catholic advocacy groups, and even from some bishops, who have taken note of his silence on abortion and gay marriage. This month, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., told his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis” because he had not spoken about abortion. “Many people have noticed that,” he said.
My heart bleeds for the right wingers like Tobin who are intent on abandoning the poor in order to wage war against women and the LGBT community.

This is actually pretty mild.  The Pope is telling the officers of the church to chill out, and remember that there is a lot more to the Catholic Church than abortion, birth control, and gay marriage.

It's not like he's forcing them out of the priesthood, like JPII did.

Why I Have No Comment on CNN's Coverage of the Navy Yard Shooting

Because Jon Stewart says all that needs to be said:

It's Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Have a nautical video.


The Crimson Permanent Assurance by PigLips

This is Called Catch 22

The FISA court has said that since none of the telcos have ever challenged the collections orders, and that they are the only ones with standing to challenge these orders.

I guess that it might have something to do with the fact that the only time that a phone company resisted their demands, the government retaliated against them and threw their CEO in jail.

So, no harm, no foul, I guess:
No telecommunications company has ever challenged the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court's orders for bulk phone records under the Patriot Act, the court revealed on Tuesday.

The secretive Fisa court's disclosure came inside a declassification of its legal reasoning justifying the National Security Agency's ongoing bulk collection of Americans' phone records.

Citing the "unprecedented disclosures" and the "ongoing public interest in this program", Judge Claire V Eagan on 29 August not only approved the Obama administration's request for the bulk collection of data from an unidentified telecommunications firm, but ordered it declassified. Eagan wrote that despite the "lower threshold" for government bulk surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act compared to other laws, the telephone companies who have received Fisa court orders for mass customer data have not challenged the law.

"To date, no holder of records who has received an Order to produce bulk telephony metadata has challenged the legality of such an Order," Eagan wrote. "Indeed, no recipient of any Section 215 Order has challenged the legality of such an order, despite the mechanism for doing so."

That complicity has not been total. Before the Bush administration moved the bulk phone records collection under the authority of the Fisa court, around 2006, Qwest Communications refused to participate in the effort.
If you know what happened to Qwest, and you might understand why the telcos have never challenged the order.

Qwest lost numerous government contracts after refusing to collaborate in the Bush administration's illegal data collection, and missed its numbers, which caused the stock to tank, and then they went after the CEO, Joe Nacchio. who was then prosecuted for insider trading on the basis of his rosy projections for the company.

See Nacchio's allegations here: (from 2007)
Nacchio was convicted for selling shares of Qwest stock in early 2001, just before financial problems caused the company's share price to tumble. He has claimed in court papers that he had been optimistic that Qwest would overcome weak sales because of the expected top-secret contract with the government. Nacchio said he was forbidden to mention the specifics during the trial because of secrecy restrictions, but the judge ruled that the issue was irrelevant to the charges against him.

Nacchio's account, which places the NSA proposal at a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 attacks have been cited by the government as the main impetus for its warrantless surveillance efforts.

They sent him to jail for 6 years. (He actually is coming out after a bit less than 5)

Is there any wonder that none of the telcos have challenged such an order?

Even if they don't send you to jail, supplying secure connectivity to government agencies is a particularly lucrative part of the business, and if they took the NSA to court, it would all end, and they would lose their, "Phoney Baloney Jobs," to quote Mel Brooks.

Harrumph, indeed.

18 September 2013

How About some F%$#ing Details

OK, so now the Russians are denouncing the UN chemical weapons report, claiming that they have been given evidence that the rebels gassed the people in Ghouta:
Russia sharply criticized the new United Nations report on Syria’s chemical arms use on Wednesday as biased and incomplete, hardening the Kremlin’s defense of the Syrian government even while pressing ahead with a plan to disarm its arsenal of the internationally banned weapons.

The Russians also escalated their critiques of Western governments’ interpretations of the report, which offered the first independent confirmation of a large chemical weapons assault on Aug. 21 on the outskirts of Syria’s capital, Damascus, that asphyxiated hundreds of civilians.

………

Russian news reports quoted the country’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, as saying during a visit to Damascus that Syria’s government had provided additional information that showed insurgents used chemical weapons not only on Aug. 21 but also on other occasions.

The Syrians offered no such information to the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors before they left Syria with a trove of forensic samples on Aug. 31. The inspectors have said they will return to Syria to investigate other reported instances of chemical weapons use, but no dates have been announced.
I called off Obama and His Evil Minions about their profoundly disingenuous claims regarding poison gas use in Syria, where they said that they had incontrovertible evidence, and put out crap completely bereft of information, and I will call out Mr. Ryabkov as well.

If you have information release it.

I have been thinking about the implications of the UN Report (more in a later post) and it does appear to present a much stronger case for the Assad regime having agency in the gas attack than I have previously seen.

I am dubious of the Russian "evidence".

If Only We Could Do It Here

The French Senate Votes To Ban Child Beauty Pageants, because they find that it "hyper sexualizes little girls.

As if Here Comes Honey Boo Boo didn't already show that this is sick twisted sh%$ that is harmful for the children who participate in it.

Your Syria Update

Let us start with the thought that maybe Binyamin Netanyahu should tell his political allies to shut the F%$# up:
'Israel wanted Assad gone since start of Syria civil war'

"Tehran-Damascus-Beirut arc is the greatest danger," says outgoing Israeli envoy to US Michael Oren.

“Bad guys” backed by Iran are worse for Israel than “bad guys” who are not supported by the Islamic Republic, Israel’s outgoing ambassador to the US Michael Oren told The Jerusalem Post in a parting interview.

Oren, in the interview that is to be published in full on Friday, traced the evolution of Israel’s message on Syria during the three weeks of the chemical weapons crisis.

“The initial message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted [President] Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” he said.

This was the case, he said, even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated to al-Qaida.
Seriously. In one interview, he dissed the United States by saying that al Qaida is not that bad, and effectively endorses Bashir Assad, because if Israel is for it, then the Arab world is against it.

Oh, for f%$# sake, shut the f%$# up!

BTW, in the whole soft on terrorist sh%$, we have Obama waiving the rule against supplying weapons to terrorists:
President Obama, in order to arm Al-Qaeda linked Syrian rebels, has waived a provision of federal law designed to prevent the supply of arms to terrorist groups. Not surprisingly, federal law currently bans giving weapons to terrorists. Though it seems Obama does have the authority to bypass the restriction and he is choosing to do so by arming the Syrian rebels who have links to Al Qaeda, a group still listed as supporting terrorism.
The president, citing his authority under the Arms Export Control Act, announced today that he would “waive the prohibitions in sections 40 and 40A of the AECA related to such a transaction.”
Those two sections prohibit sending weaponry to countries described in section 40(d): “The prohibitions contained in this section apply with respect to a country if the Secretary of State determines that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” Congress stated in the Arms Control Export Act.
The Syrian rebels not only include factions that are explicitly loyal to Al Qaeda but, according to US intelligence and experts analysts, those factions are now dominant within the opposition. So it is highly likely that some of the arms being shipped into Syria right now by the CIA will fall into the hands of Syrian rebels loyal to Al Qaeda.
This has epic fail written all over it.

As to the UN report it is not conclusive, but it does point toward the Syrian government as being the perps.  Note however though that some people disagree with this strongly.

I've looked at the UN report, I have a number of thoughts:
It's 41 pages long, and pages 9-41 are appendices.  (I like this format, it allows you to take in the information quickly.)
  • It's definitely Sarin.  The processes and technology are solid.
  • They were scrupulous in maintaining a chain of custody.
  • There are mentions of "interesting chemicals" in addition to decomposition products of Sarin.  
I would assume that this would be stabilizers and production impurities, but my knowledge of the chemistry of chemical weapons is limited.  (I'm sort of in the "biz", but I just package detection methods, and so have a limited knowledge of the chemistry)

As such, the "interesting" chemicals that could present a clearer picture of how the agents were manufactured and stored.

This would probably give some better indications as to the who produced the agents.

In any case, it appears that my earlier assessment, where I fingered the rebels, now appears to be somewhat less likely.

17 September 2013

Crap

Wife's laptop has a virus.

No more blogging tonight.

Wal-Mart Wins in DC

The city council failed to override the Mayor's veto of the living wage bill.

Damn.

Linkage




We live in strange times. H/t DC at the Stellar Parthenon BBS for the pic.

16 September 2013

If the NSA is Geeks, They are Really Bad Geeks




All on the Taxpayer's Dime
It turns out that the deranged mind of NSA chief General Keith Alexander has created an "Information Dominance Center" based on the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise:
But a perhaps even more disturbing and revealing vignette into the spy chief's mind comes from a new Foreign Policy article describing what the journal calls his "all-out, barely-legal drive to build the ultimate spy machine". The article describes how even his NSA peers see him as a "cowboy" willing to play fast and loose with legal limits in order to construct a system of ubiquitous surveillance. But the personality driving all of this - not just Alexander's but much of Washington's - is perhaps best captured by this one passage, highlighted by PBS' News Hour in a post entitled: "NSA director modeled war room after Star Trek's Enterprise". The room was christened as part of the "Information Dominance Center":
"When he was running the Army's Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a 'whoosh' sound when they slid open and closed. Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather 'captain's chair' in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.

"'Everybody wanted to sit in the chair at least once to pretend he was Jean-Luc Picard,' says a retired officer in charge of VIP visits."
It's not just that it's wasteful and silly.

It's also  that it shows a level of narcissism that should disqualify anyone who is going to be going to have anything close to his level of access to personal information.

The fact that General Alexander really appears to be really nuts should scare the hell out of all of us.

Also, it's the wrong series.

Not only should it be the original, but it should be modeled on the one from this episode:



That is, after all, the reality of what he really wants.

Why do High Fashion Models Look so Pissed Off?




OK, this one I get, if I had to wear that, I'd join a monastery in Tibet


She looks positively murderous






In the final analysis, who pissed in their Cheerios?
OK, so I am looking up a Guardian essay, and there's a link to a London fashion show, and I pop it open in a new tab, because the picture above the link shows a very skinny woman looking unbelievably miserable, and because, well, the internet.

I peruse the pictures, and they all look like their favorite grandfather just died.

Is there some sort of rule that fashion models have to be miserable?

Because, to me, at least, miserable women are not attractive, and neither are their clothes.  (To be fair, there is some sh%$ on the runway that the Goddess Aphrodite could not save).

Idiot of the Day

David Ignatius:
You can think this new American caution is potentially dangerous (as I do), but there’s no arguing that it’s deeply felt and (given the immense cost and almost nonexistent benefits of war in Iraq and Afghanistan) understandable. The question is what a president should do about it.
It's dangerous to avoid costly wars with no benefits.

Seriously, what the f%$# is the problem in Washington, DC?

There seems to be a conventional wisdom that in order for us to be "centrist", we have to bomb the sh%$ out of people just because, or just because the President made a stupid, "Red Line," comment at a news conference.

Just how small are their penises anyway?



H/t Atrios.

Must Read

It's a PDF, and it's 22 pages, but John Quiggen of the University of Queensland makes the fascinating point that the great financial centers of the world, primarily New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo, exist because the concentration of the financial industry facilitates corruption and cronyism of the managing class:
Recent developments in the global system of cities present a curious paradox. With the cost of communications declining almost to zero and substantial, though less dramatic reductions in transport costs, there is now little technical requirement for most kinds of production to be undertaken in any particular location, or for elements of production chains to be located close to each other. This fact has had dramatic consequences for the organisation of manufacturing industry. Simple production chains involving the import of raw materials, usually from developing countries, for processing in a specialised centre, have been replaced by far more complex structures.

Yet, in important respects, the dominance of a small number of ‘global cities’has never been greater. In this paper, it is argued that the dominance of global cities reflects a desire for clustering on the part of finance sector professionals and corporate executives. It seems likely that such clustering provides private benefits by enhancing the value of personal contacts, but reduces the efficiency and profitability of the corporate sector

………

These concerns are even more pronounced in relation to personal networks connecting financial enterprises with their clients. It is reasonable to assume that such personal networks facilitate the development of business relationships between the firms in question, leading to flows of payments on services based on relationships of personal trust and shared interests, rather than on formal and transparent contractual relationships.

Such a system is commonly referred to as ‘relationship capitalism’ or, more pejoratively as ‘crony capitalism’. In general, it is viewed favourably during booms, when the disregard of process tends to facilitate rapid generation of wealth, and less favourably during recessions when the exchange of personal favours and the evasion of formal controls tends to be reclassified (often retrospectively) as corrupt.
Basically, if you are in an environment where you can run into a potential co-conspirator at a restaurant, or at a party, where small talk can allow you to tease out a deal that will benefit you, and your friend, but not your clients without the sort of transaction trail that you would see with phone calls, and emails, etc.

Essentially, it turns out that centralized financial district are a particularly criminogenic environment in terms of control fraud.

A few casual conversations at a party with, for example, a stock analyst, and that IPO you are pumping up, or the stock price of the company in which your stock options have just vested, and Ka-Ching, there you are with a vacation home in the Hamptons, a yacht, and a Ferrari.