Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Not just for kids anymore

You can't tell me this is NOT a cool present for anyone at any age:

I played a lot with LEGO bricks as a kid.  Mostly the space and town sets.  I had fun, but none of them were anywhere near this cool.

To me, it's incredible how much LEGO has changed, and improved, over the years.  It seems that LEGO has made a conscious effort to expand its market to well beyond children.  Look at the recommended age on the Imperial Shuttle pictured above.  That is well above the age at which I quit playing with LEGO toys.  And when I've gone to the LEGO store at Rockefeller Center or Castleton Square, I've seen very few children.  It's mostly been adults, ooing and aahing over some of the more complicated LEGO sets. Literally every time I've been in the LEGO store, the totally awesome LEGO Death Star has drawn a crowd. Many of the stuff that I've seen seem designed for both play and display.  The Imperial Shuttle comes with both figures and a display stand.  So does the LEGO Super Star Destroyer.  And I know more than a few adults who admit to collecting LEGO toys, especially Star Wars.  I've even seen blog posts written by adults discussing how much fun they've had with the stuff (a particular post involving the construction of the LEGO Imperial Star Destroyer, which cost in the four figures, comes to mind).

Based on what I see on store shelves, My guess is, right now, LEGO Star Wars is more popular than the Hasbro Star Wars action figures, ships and sets, which, considering how big Star Wars figures were when I was a kid, is amazing.

I myself have been looking for the LEGO Roman legionary figures for some time.  Thought they might have them in Rome, but the store I visited said the legioanry figures were a limited edition and they don't have them anymore.

Uh, why was this just a limited edition? This could have been a bonanza!  What a great way to teach history! You could have a LEGO Ancient Collection, featuring LEGO Romans, LEGO Greeks, LEGO Gauls, LEGO Carthaginians, LEGO Persians, LEGO Macedonians, LEGO Trojans.  You could have cool sets like the LEGO Roman Forum, the LEGO Greek Agora, LEGO Qinquireme, LEGO Trojan Horse, LEGO Colisum, LEGO Amphitheater, LEGO Legionary Camp.

Can we get someone on this please? STAT!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Article on the Battle of Adrianople almost done!!!

Yes, I know you've been waiting impatiently.  I've been pestered on the street as to when it will be ready.  I've had scantily-clad Roman history groupies who look like Stana Katic all over me trying to speed this thing up. People have taken hostages to force me to finish.

OK, maybe not.  But I can dream about that whole Stana Katic, thing can't I?

Anyway, you see the new link at the right.  The new article, titled "Cascading Failure: The Roman Disaster at Adrianople AD 378," is almost done.  The draft of the narrative is done.  I'm plugging in the cites.  It is massive, but I think it will be a worthwhile read.  Much of the length is due to some background for those not quite versed in Roman military history.  For those who are, the article will examine the Battle of Adrianople (Hadrianopolis)  and examine a somewhat new scenario, much like my article on the Battle of the Java Sea, for the conduct of the battle, how Roman failure just kept leading into another Roman failure, cascading into the eventual catastrophic defeat that ruined the Roman military and effectively ended the western Empire.

Anyway, afte the editing is done, it will be posted at Military History Online.  In the meantime, check out the other fine articles that site has to offer.

The ongoing sack of Rome

It may have been most spectacular in London last August, but as I commented at the time, it is going on here: barbarians sacking civilized society, stripping it of anything of value, while the government, ostensibly our protectors, either can't or in many cases won't protect us. 

Victor Davis Hanson has made the same comparison before.  Now, he does so again. A taste:

I am starting to feel as if I am living in a Vandal state, perhaps on the frontier near Carthage around a.d. 530, or in a beleaguered Rome in 455. Here are some updates from the rural area surrounding my farm, taken from about a 30-mile radius. In this take, I am not so much interested in chronicling the flotsam and jetsam as in fathoming whether there is some ideology that drives it.
Last week an ancestral rural school near the Kings River had its large bronze bell stolen. I think it dated from 1911. I have driven by it about 100 times in the 42 years since I got my first license. The bell had endured all those years. Where it is now I don’t know. Does someone just cut up a beautifully crafted bell in some chop yard in rural Fresno County, without a worry about who forged it or why — or why others for a century until now enjoyed its presence?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keystone XL and eminent domain

As you know, I've been a big supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline, calling the apparent opposition to it by Obama and others "inexcusable."  And it is.  But that does not mean the pipeline is without issues. At Planet Gore, Greg Pollowitz discuses the pipeline's interaction with an area dear to my heart, eminent domain:
Keystone is being built without taxpayer money, making the hypocrisy of Team Obama and the Left’s new concern for exact job-growth estimates even more galling.
But jobs really aren’t the important issue. There’s an issue brewing that could derail the pipeline, and it’s an issue conservatives really should be taking a hard look at: eminent domain.
From the New York Times in October:
Randy Thompson, a cattle buyer in Nebraska, was informed that if he did not grant pipeline access to 80 of the 400 acres left to him by his mother along the Platte River, “Keystone will use eminent domain to acquire the easement.” Sue Kelso and her large extended family in Oklahoma were sued in the local district court by TransCanada, the pipeline company, after she and her siblings refused to allow the pipeline to cross their pasture.


Christopher Columbus discovered America, and brought back the gift that keeps on giving: syphilis:

Skeletons don’t lie. But sometimes they can mislead, as in the case of bones that reputedly showed evidence of syphilis in Europe and other parts of the Old World before Christopher Columbus made his historic voyage in 1492.
None of this skeletal evidence, including 54 previously published reports, holds up when subjected to standardised analyses for both diagnosis and dating, according to an new appraisal in the current Yearbook of Physical Anthropology. In fact, the skeletal data strengthens the case that syphilis did not exist in Europe before Columbus set sail.
“This is the first time that all 54 of these cases have been evaluated systematically,” says George Armelagos, an anthropologist at Emory University and co-author of the appraisal. “The evidence keeps accumulating that a progenitor of syphilis came from the New World with Columbus’ crew and rapidly evolved into the venereal disease that remains with us today.”

My latest appearance

on Civil Discourse Now with Mark Small and Paul Ogden discusses foreign policy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

There's no crying in baseball (but there is in North Korea)

The quote from Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own came to mind watching the creepy videos of North Koreans crying hysterically at news of the death of Kim Jong Il. 

What is the deal here?

Michael Totten:
A spectrum of opinion exists in North Korea just like anywhere else. On one end is some percentage of the population that is willing to drink the Kool Aid, so to speak, because they’re more susceptible to propaganda than others or because they benefit from the system personally. There are also those who are terrified of the consequences if they resist, so they force themselves to try to believe it. Then there are those who can lie on the outside, but not on the inside. They know perfectly well that the Kim family dynasty is a horror show. A rather large number of North Koreans have escaped with their lives or died trying. Some of those have dedicated themselves to smuggling their comrades out through an underground railroad of sorts into China.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NCAA delenda est

I must paraphrase the ancient Roman senator Cato to describe the travesty of an NCAA Report on Ohio State.

"Travesty" might be too nice a word to describe this piece of garbage that looks and sounds more like it came from the Iranian mullahs' Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) than any legitimate investigation.  If you want an example of arbitrary and capricious, this is it.

Let's get a few things straight about what happened:

New addic ... er, additions to the library

Rome at War AD 293-696, by Michael Whitby
Warfare in Roman Europe AD 350-425, by Hugh Elton.

Both are acquisitions intended to further my quest to figure out just what happened at the Battle of Adrianople.

Don't worry. I'm still working on the article dealing with that issue. It's a long 'un, but I'll get it done ... eventually ...

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Eminent domain" in China

What is going on in Wukan? The Guadian:
After continuous confrontation between villagers and local officials for almost four months, the land grab in the fishing village of Wukan, in Guandong province, China, has now led to the death of one of the elected village leaders in police custody, and further escalated into a violent "mass incident" with tens of thousands of farmers protesting against local officials.
The Wukan case is just one of many mass incidents China has experienced in recent years. In fact, the number keeps rising every year; journalists often cite a figure of 87,000 for 2005, estimates by the China Academy of Social Sciences give a figure of "over 90,000" mass incidents in 2006, and further unspecified increases in 2007 and 2008.
In China, a mass incident is defined as "any kind of planned or impromptu gathering that forms because of internal contradictions", including mass public speeches, physical conflicts, airing of grievances, or other forms of group behaviour that may disrupt social stability. Among China's mass incidents, more than 60% have been related to land disputes when local governments in China worked closely with manufacturers and real-estate developers to grab land from farmers at low prices.

Ding Dong!

The Kim is dead! Kim Jong Il, that is.

(Oops! Is it "uncivil" to celebrate the death of a murderous communist tyrant?)

While Kim's death is unquestionably a good thing, the immediate aftermath (which is right now) is a very dangerous period. Kim's successor, Kim Jong Un, just conducted a missile test to show what all new murderous tyrants need to show --  that you should not mess with him, whether you are a foreign power or a member of his own military.

The elder Kim had been preparing for this transition for a few years, trying to tie Kim Jong Un to the army and using the food shipments intended for North Korea's starving people to the army.  Evidently, crazy or not, the elder Kim knew the philosophy of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus: "Enrich the army.  Ignore everyone else."

So, what's going to happen? No one knows.  A roundup:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

New additions to the library

(Sorry for the light posting.  Was at a 2-day CLE on bankruptcy.)

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Dealy Obsession in the Amazon, by David Graham.
Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization, by Lars Brownworth.

The Lost City of Z is about British explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in 1925 somewhere in the Amazon jungle looking for -- wait for it -- The Lost City of Z. A recent episode of Secrets of the Dead concluded he and his small, underfunded expedition were, basically, mugged by greedy locals.  The finding was logical, if a little thin on the evidence, but there was more evidence for this finding than anything else. 

Lost to the West has quickly become one of the classics of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) history.  I was remiss in not getting it sooner.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Trying to stop the inexcusable

Finally -- FINALLY! -- House Republicans are actually making an attempt to stop the destructive policies of the Obama administration, this time by slipping in approval for the Keystone XL pipeline in a bill extending unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut.  Naturally, Obama is not happy:
President Obama on Tuesday threatened to veto the payroll-tax-cut package put forward by House Republicans.
The formal veto threat did not mention a provision in the legislation that would expedite a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, but it did state that Republicans should stop trying to score political points on the tax-cut bill.

“With only days left before taxes go up for 160 million hardworking Americans, H.R. 3630 plays politics at the expense of middle-class families,” the administration said in its statement of policy. “This debate should not be about scoring political points. This debate should be about cutting taxes for the middle class.

“If the president were presented with H.R. 3630, he would veto the bill.”

The House could vote as early as Tuesday afternoon on the tax bill, which also extends and reforms unemployment insurance benefits, averts cuts to physician payments under Medicare and delays implementation of environmental regulations on industrial boilers.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

But did he say "please?"

Obama has asked the Iranian mullahs to return our stealth drone.  Tina Korbe has the details:
According to a tweet from the Associated Press (and a spate of snarky follow-up tweets from conservative pundits), the president announced today that the United States has officially asked Iran to return a downed U.S. surveillance drone.

Iranian officials said just yesterday they have absolutely no intention to return the drone — but I’m sure it’s a different story now that the president has asked nicely for it. As S.E. Cupp tweeted, “Obama on the wayward drone: We’ve asked for it back. I for one feel good about its prompt return.” Yes, yes: No doubt the Iranians will get right on that. Meantime, they’ve already mined it for most of the data they wanted.

Not sure what the president’s line of thinking is on this.
You assume that he actually is thinking.  This is so mind-bogglingly stupid that the assumption must be questioned.
He obviously didn’t react to the news of the downed drone quickly enough to reassure anxious Americans. Making the request now just highlights his ineffectuality on this. It would appear that Rick Perry was right at the debate Saturday, when he said the president chose the worst possible response to the news that Iran had a U.S. drone in its possession. As Perry put it, “This president is the problem.”
It gets worse.  Obama had the chance to destroy the drone but refused to do so.

What. An. Idiot.

Think shar'ia law can't happen here?

It can if the State Department helps it along:
The State Department began a three-day, closed-door meeting Monday to talk about U.S. free speech rules with representatives from numerous Islamic governments that have lobbied for 12 years to end U.S. citizens’ ability to speak freely about Islam’s history and obligations.
Free speech advocates slammed the event as an effort to gradually curb public criticism of Islam, but it was defended by Hannah Rosenthal, who heads the agency’s office to curb anti-Semitism.
The meeting is a great success, she said, because governments in the multinational Organisation for Islamic Cooperation have dropped their demand that criticism of Islamic ideas be treated as illegal defamation. Member countries include Pakistan, Iran, Saudia Arabia and Qatar.
In exchange for dropping the demand, she said, they’re getting “technical assistance [to] build institutions to ensure there will be religious freedom” in their countries, she told The Daily Caller.
“That’s a joke,” said Andrea Lafferty, a conservative activist who was repeatedly denied information about the meeting.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New additions to the library

The Punic Wars, by Nigel Bagnall.
The First Punic War, by J.F. Lazenby.
Hannibal's War, by J.F. Lazenby.

(Quick now: guess the common thread of these new books.)

These are older, but well-respected missives on the wars between Rome and Carthage that have been somewhat difficult to find at a decent price.  I'm glad I was able to finally track them down.

Bagnall was a British Army officer.  Based on my quick glance at his work here, it's more of a military analysis of the Punic Wars, which is right up my alley.

Both of Lazenby's books are considered must-haves for any collection on the Punic Wars, but what has me excited of this bunch is The First Punic War.  While the First Punic War, the one that started it all, is given some discussion in Roman and military history books, it hasn't been given a dedicated history of its own.  That's somewhat understandable: The First Punic War isn't nearly as well-documented by contemporary sources as the Second. 

Usually it is given a general history that runs something like this: Rome and Carthage fight over Messana in particular and Sicily in general; Rome defeats the Carthaginian navy at sea using the corvus ("raven") boarding spike but loses an incredible number of its own ships to storms (probably because of the corvus); Roman legions under Marcus Attilius Regulus land in Africa but are defeated by a force of Liby-Phoenicians, (gasp!) actual Carthaginians and some panzer pachyderms under the mercenary Spartan genral Xanthippos; Hamilcar (nicknamed "Barca" or "thunderbolt") ties up Rome in Sicily but is forced to surrender when Rome cuts him off from Carthage, Hamilcar swears vengeance on Rome and forces his son Hannibal to do the same.  That's generally about it. They tend to leave out how Hamilcar fought the war in Sicily with mercenaries then tried to screw them out of their pay after the war, resulting in "The Truceless War," a particularly brutal affair between Carthage and is own mercenaries.

Lazenby purports to put some actual meat on these bones.  Judging by the quick look I've taken at The First Punic War so far, he succeeds.  Should be a fun read.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A political platform of national weakness

Michael Cohen has an insightful piece in Foreign Policy titled, "When Democrats Became Doves With the GOP candidates eager to call Obama weak-willed on foreign policy, it's worth looking at how Democrats got stuck with this tag." Simple answer: they stuck themselves with it.

Not surprisingly, Cohen traces the "peace at any price" philosophy to the 1968 presidential candidacy of Eugene McCarthy and his opposition to the Vietnam War:
McCarthy didn't end the war, but he ended Johnson's political career and in the process heralded the shift of the Democratic Party from Cold War hawks to anti-war doves. By creating a political opportunity for Democrats, opposed to the war in Vietnam, to directly engage in the electoral process McCarthy helped change the way that all political leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- talk about national security policy. No longer could national Democrats ignore liberals skeptical of American power; and Republicans were given a renewed opportunity to cast Democrats as a party beholden to their anti-war base. Quite simply, McCarthy's quixotic presidential bid is the gift that keeps on giving.
Eugene McCarthy was perhaps the single unlikeliest person to launch an insurgent presidential campaign, topple an incumbent president, and spark a year of cataclysmic political change. Aloof, haughty, and frankly a bit lazy, McCarthy was given little chance of having a political impact when he announced his candidacy. He would be, said his fellow Minnesotan and Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman, a "small footnote" to history.
Two events would ensure that McCarthy's run would be far more than that. First the Tet Offensive on Jan. 30, 1968 -- ironically and prophetically the same day Robert F. Kennedy announced he would not challenge the president and would acquiesce to his re-nomination. After months of being told that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel was visible in Vietnam, the surprise Tet attack, which struck at every provincial capital in the country as well as the U.S. embassy in Saigon, shattered the illusion of progress. In the process it exposed Johnson and the members of his administration as serial liars about the war.

"You don't see us bombing YOUR evil rocket base!"

For a while I saw the mullahs' response to the mysterious explosions at their military facilities, some of which handle nuclear and missile research, as akin to Varus and his legions trying to fight off Arminius' and his evil Germans at Teutoberger Wald: under persistent attacks by a foe you can't even see, let alone fight, when the foe has been under your nose all along. 

Now, for some reason, I am more reminded of the protests from the robots defending Dr. Nefarious' space station in Ratchet and Clank: "You don't see us infiltrating your evil fortress!"

Because the Iranian mullahs are now mad, though not necessarily in a bad way, it seems to me.  More like fire and brimstone flowing from the mouth of a ferret:
An order from Gen Mohammed Ali Jaafari, the commander of the guards, raised the operational readiness status of the country’s forces, initiating preparations for potential external strikes and covert attacks.
Western intelligence officials said the Islamic Republic had initiated plans to disperse long-range missiles, high explosives, artillery and guards units to key defensive positions.
The order was given in response to the mounting international pressure over Iran's nuclear programme. Preparation for a confrontation has gathered pace following last month’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna that produced evidence that Iran was actively working to produce nuclear weapons.
The Iranian leadership fears the country is being subjected to a carefully co-ordinated attack by Western intelligence and security agencies to destroy key elements of its nuclear infrastructure.
Recent explosions have added to the growing sense of paranoia within Iran, with the regime fearing it will be the target of a surprise military strike by Israel or the US.
Um, if you're preparing for a surprise attack, then it's not really a surprise attack, is it? 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Putin needs to talk to Pastrick

In spite of vote fraud on a massive scale, Vladimir Putin's party apparently managed to lose seats in the Russian election:
The consequences of Barack Obama’s miserably failed “reset” policy with Russia became horrifyingly clear last weekend. The Russian people did their part in fighting for American values, but America itself did not meet them halfway, and so an iron curtain came clanging down across Russia.
Last Sunday, Russians went to the polls in a parliamentary election that former parliament member Vladimir Ryzhkov predicted would be “the dirtiest in post-Soviet history.” As if to prove him right, in the days leading up to the vote Lilya Shibanova — leader of the country’s only independent polling place monitor, Golos — was arrested and her laptop confiscated. State-owned media also aired a vicious (and false) attack on her organization’s integrity. Also, one of Russia’s most independent and outspoken foreign correspondents, John Helmer, was summarily booted out of the country, and a full-scale crackdown was launched everywhere against Russian media.
Clearly, the Kremlin planned unprecedented ballot box stuffing and wanted to minimize the blowback.

Mullahs' missile program crippled?

You hate to see bad things keep happening to good people:
The huge explosion that destroyed a major missile-testing site near Tehran three weeks ago was a major setback for Iran’s most advanced long-range missile program, according to American and Israeli intelligence officials and missile technology experts.

In interviews, current and former officials said surveillance photos showed that the Iranian base was a central testing center for advanced solid-fuel missiles, an assessment backed by outside experts who have examined satellite photos showing that the base was almost completely leveled in the blast. Such missiles can be launched almost instantly, making them useful to Iran as a potential deterrent against pre-emptive attacks by Israel or the United States, and they are also better suited than older liquid-fuel designs for carrying warheads long distances.
It is still unclear what caused the explosion, with American officials saying they believe it was probably an accident, perhaps because of Iran’s inexperience with a volatile, dangerous technology. Iran declared it an accident, but subsequent discussions of the episode in the Iranian news media have referred to the chief of Iran’s missile program as one of the “martyrs” killed in the huge explosion. Some Iranian officials have talked of sabotage, but it is unclear whether that is based on evidence or surmise after several years in which Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated on Tehran’s streets, and a highly sophisticated computer worm has attacked its main uranium production facility.

New additions to the library

The Burma Campaign: Disaster Into Triumph, by Frank McLynn.
Fatal Crossroads: The Untold Story of the Malmedy Massacre at the Battle of the Bulge, by Danny S. Parker.

The war in Burma in World War II hasn't gotten much of a unified look in spite of some real characters such as generals Joseph Stillwell and William Slim.  I'm excited to read this account.

The Malmedy Massacre is a sad, murky incident in which members of Kampfgruppe Peiper, an "operational group" of Waffen SS panzers under Jochen (or Joachim) Peiper, the spearhead of the German 6th SS Panzer Army in the Ardennes offensive,  killed US army POW's it had captured during the course of the Ardennes Offensive.  Peiper (who looks suspiciously like Morden from Babylon 5) proved himself to be a very talented panzer commander, but was tried for war crimes in connection with this incident and spent time in prison.  After he got out he moved, strangely enough, to France where he was murdered.

Parker has researched the Malmedy Massacre for more than a decade.  Fatal Crossroads purports to get to the bottom of the incident and whether it was just battlefield emotion gotten too high, an inability of the supply-starved Kampfgruppe Peiper to properly care for POW's, or a planned massacre ordered from command level officers.  Should be a good detective piece.

Friday, December 2, 2011

New addition to the library

Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Decided Himself the Hero of Gettysburg, by James A. Hessler.

Right now I'm freshening up my knowledge on the Battle of Gettysburg.  Based on everything I've read so far, U.S. Army Major General Daniel E. Sickles was not only a terrible commander but was one of the most contemptible personalities on either side of the Civil War (and that's saying something, considering the slave-trading background Nathan Bedford Forrest). 

Even by the low standards of the Union generalship that gave the military history such sterling figures as George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, John Pope, George Wagner, Oliver Otis Howard and Thomas Wood, Dan Sickles was extraordinarily bad, yet another example of a political general with no formal military training and very little battlefield experience.  As corps commander in the Union Army of the Potomac Sickles was specifically ordered to deploy his corps on Little Round Top by army commander General George Gordon Meade.  Yet Sickles decided instead to occupy a low hill between Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge well in front of his assigned position.  Meade angrily ordered him back, but it was too late; the Confederate assault had already begun.  Compounding his error, Sickles then tried to steal units from the neighboring Union corps to try to save his faltering line.  His corps was smashed.  His incompetence almost cost the Union the Battle of Gettysburg.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

More inexcusable

Remember what House Natural Resources Committee chairman Doc Hastings said: "The President’s plan is to simply say ‘no’ to new energy production."

After what will most likely be a disastrous decision to "delay" a ruling on the Keystone XL Pipeline -- Obama's will probably try to kill the pipeline outright -- now Obama's EPA is trying to block the domestic production of oil from oil shale:
The latest salvo in the administration's war on energy may be new rules and permits to regulate a process to get oil and gas from porous rock, sacrificing jobs and economic growth while under review.
There are a few areas of the U.S. that are booming. Two of these are in North Dakota and Pennsylvania, states that sit atop two massive shale rock formations, the Bakken and the Marcellus.
Extraction of oil and natural gas from these formations have created jobs and economic growth in the midst of a stagnant and parched economy.
The oil and gas is extracted from this porous rock by a process called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
The process involves the injection under high pressure of fluids, mainly water with a few chemical additives, to fracture the porous shale rock and allow the release and extraction of the oil and gas trapped inside the porous rock. Environmentalists contend these chemical additives contaminate groundwater supplies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Civilian-military disconnect?

Mary L. Dudziak has an interesting post titled "A Growing 'Civilian-Military' Gap, and its Consequences."  She cites a revealing poll from Pew Research:

"A smaller share of Americans currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces than at any time since the peace-time era between World Wars I and II," according to a new report from the Pew Research Center< (hat tip New York Times).
During the past decade, as the military has been engaged in the longest period of sustained conflict in the nation’s history, just one-half of one percent of American adults has served on active duty at any given time.1 As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between military personnel and the broader civilian population appear to be growing more distant.
The data reveals is "a large generation gap." According to the report, "more than three-quarters (77%) of adults ages 50 and older said they had an immediate family member –a spouse, parent, sibling or child – who had served in the military."  In contrast, for people under 50, "57% of those ages 30-49 say they have an immediate family member who served. And among those ages 18-29, the share is only one-third."

What's going on in Iran, again?

Another curious explosion in Iran, this time in Isfahan, the center of Iranian nuclear weapons research.  We've seen this before, of course.  The Washington Post gives a rundown of the known incidents:
A massive blast at a missile base operated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps nearly two weeks ago was the latest in a series of mysterious incidents involving explosions at natural gas transport facilities, oil refineries and military bases — blasts that have caused dozens of deaths and damage to key infrastructure in the past two years.
Iranian officials said the Nov. 12 blast at the missile base was an “accident,” and they ruled out any sabotage organized by the United States and its regional allies. The explosion on the Shahid Modarres base near the city of Malard was so powerful that it shook the capital, Tehran, about 30 miles to the east.

Despite the official denial of foreign involvement in the latest blast, suspicions have been raised in Iran by what industry experts say is a fivefold increase in explosions at refineries and gas pipelines since 2010.
Explaining the increased number of industrial incidents is proving to be a predicament for Iranian leaders, who do not want to appear vulnerable at a time when Israeli leaders have been debating military intervention against Iran over its controversial nuclear program.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hazing scandal hits Florida A & M Marching Band

I can't believe that I was so taken with Thanksgiving that I missed this story, a story that is incredibly sad on so many levels:
Robert Champion fell in love with music at about age 6 when he saw a marching band at a parade in downtown Atlanta. So mesmerized by the festivities, he came home, took out pots and pans and started banging away like a little drummer.
His passion led him to marching bands from middle school through college. He was a drum major for the famed Marching 100 band of Florida A&M University, a group that has performed at Super Bowls, the Grammys and presidential inaugurations. The prestige brought along a "culture of hazing" and a secret world that played a role in Champion's death, his family said Monday.
"It needs to stop. The whole purpose is to put this out there and let people know there has to be a change," Champion's mother, Pam, said at a news conference.
On Nov. 19, after the school's football team lost its annual game with rival Bethune-Cookman, Champion collapsed on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel. The 26-year-old junior had been vomiting and complained he couldn't breathe shortly before he became unconscious.
When authorities arrived about 9:45 p.m., Champion was unresponsive. He died at a nearby hospital.

The folly of the drug war (or "Why police care more about drugs than they care about you.")

This piece by Radley Balko confirms my worst suspicions:
As Jessica Shaver and I chat at a coffee shop in Chicago's north-side Andersonville neighborhood, a police car pulls into the parking lot across the street. Then another. Two cops get out, lean up against their cars, and appear to gaze across traffic into the store. At times, they seem to be looking directly at us. Shaver, who works as an eyebrow waxer at a nearby spa, appears nervous.
"See what I mean? They follow me," says Shaver, 30. During several phone conversations Shaver told me that she thinks a small group of Chicago police officers are trying to intimidate her. These particular cops likely aren't following her; the barista tells me Chicago cops regularly stop in that particular parking lot to chat. But if Shaver is a bit paranoid, it's hard to blame her.
A year and a half ago she was beaten by a neighborhood thug outside of a city bar. It took months of do-it-yourself sleuthing, a meeting with a city alderman and a public shaming in a community newspaper before the Chicago Police Department would pay any attention to her. About a year later, Shaver got more attention from cops than she ever could have wanted: A team of Chicago cops took down her door with a battering ram and raided her apartment, searching for drugs.

News you can use. Or Not.

Why do we have to turn off our electronic devices for takeoff and landing on airplanes?  No one knows.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Did we just outmaneuver China?

If I'm going to bash Obama when he gets things wrong -- which, let's face it, is pretty often -- it's only fair that I give him credit when he gets something right.  And it looks like he got something really right in the Far East. Walter Russell Mead:
The cascade of statements, deployments, agreements and announcements from the United States and its regional associates in the last week has to be one of the most unpleasant shocks for China’s leadership — ever.  The US is moving forces to Australia, Australia is selling uranium to India, Japan is stepping up military actions and coordinating more closely with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, Myanmar is slipping out of China’s column and seeking to reintegrate itself into the region, Indonesia and the Philippines are deepening military ties with the the US: and all that in just one week. If that wasn’t enough, a critical mass of the region’s countries have agreed to work out a new trade group that does not include China, while the US, to applause, has proposed that China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors be settled at a forum like the East Asia Summit — rather than in the bilateral talks with its smaller, weaker neighbors that China prefers.
Rarely has a great power been so provoked and affronted.  Rarely have so many red lines been crossed.  Rarely has so much face been lost, so fast.  It was a surprise diplomatic attack, aimed at reversing a decade of chit chat about American decline and disinterest in Asia, aimed also at nipping the myth of “China’s inexorable rise” in the bud.

New additions to the library

Die Schlacht bei Adrianopel, by Ferdinand Runkel
Geschichte des Untergangs der antiken Welt, by Otto Seeck.

Yes, I just acquired two books that deal with the Battle of Adrianople.

In German.

Since I speak some German, this will be easier than the two books I got on the Battle of the Java Sea in Dutch, but this will still be a major project.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Inexcusable (or "Obama's plan is to simply say ‘no’ to new energy production.")

That is the only way to describe Obama's decision to delay a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada until after the 2012 elections:
[T]he talk between Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton put the pipeline plan in the ditch. About an hour before the State Department issued a press release Thursday afternoon, Ms. Clinton called John Baird, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, and broke the news.
The State Department, which has already spent 39 months reviewing the $7-billion project, concluded it will wait until the beginning of 2013 to render a decision on Keystone XL. First, it wants TransCanada to come up with an alternate route through Nebraska.
The decision left Canada’s oil industry, which had viewed Keystone XL’s approval as a slam-dunk, alternately gasping and fuming. Keystone XL was a major element of Canada’s energy growth ambitions. The pipeline derailment raises questions about Canada’s trade relationship with the U.S., the world’s largest energy consumer. The timing of the decision also stung, coming just before an APEC meeting in Hawaii where Mr. Obama is scheduled to sit down with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Playing the Burma card

I didn't even know there was a Burma card for the US to play in East Asia.  Like most tyrannical, murderous regimes these days, the military junta that rules Burma is close to China.  Could that be changing?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Burma next month, in a thawing of diplomatic ties between the United States and the Southeast Asian nation whose strong-arm government has outraged the West.
The two-day trip, starting Dec. 1, would mark the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state in 50 years.
President Obama made the announcement Friday shortly after he began a series of meetings here with Southeast Asian leaders about regional security, including disaster relief. Obama is the first U.S. president to participate in a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose chairmanship recently was awarded to Burma, also known as Myanmar. The main summit meetings will take place on Saturday.
Burma’s military rulers, who have held power since a 1962 coup, have taken a hard anti-democratic line, cracking down on opposition leaders including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been under house arrest for years.
But she was freed last year, and hundreds of other political prisoners have been released since then, suggesting that Burma might be signaling an opening to the West as a hedge in its relationship with China.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is Iran in the middle of a civil war?

This past Monday I mentioned a rather odd explosion in Iran that was either at an ammunition depot or a missile base.  As if walking right out of an old beer commercial, Michael Ledeen says, "How 'bout both?"
This past weekend’s monster explosion at a Revolutionary Guards base outside Tehran has attracted the usual assortment of speculation and “informed information,” most of it sucked from the thumbs of pundits who feel they must write quickly.  There is still a scarcity of hard information, but I’m reasonably confident that:
–There were two explosions at the RG base at Bidganeh, one smaller, the other very large.
–At almost the same time, there was an explosion at another military base in the west, in Luristan.  The explosions seem to have been coordinated.
–The area around Bigdaneh is a military zone, with various facilities including two air fields, thus questions like “was it a munitions depot or a missile base?” are best answered “yes. Both.”

We are the XCIX percent

Past Horizons is showcasing a project to study the DNA of ancient Romans.  The article is titled "Roman DNA project gives voice to the silent majority:"

A new project to carry out DNA analysis on a group of skeletons who were immigrants to Rome, has been created by Kristina Killgrove, a biological anthropologist from Vanderbilt University.

Kristina has been raising money by Crowd-Funding in order to carry the project out and she has now exceeded the $6000 required to carry out the basic analysis of at least 20 individuals (the immigrants to Rome that she found through Sr/O isotope analysis). However, every additional contribution above the original target amount will help to test more samples.

This project will be the first to study the DNA of  immigrants to Rome and will help rewrite the history of everyday life there.

Be careful what you wish for

For years and years anti-Americanism was a major force in the politics of South Korea (in particular), the Philippines (where it combined with a temperamental volcano to drove out the century-old US military presence), New Zealand (which stupidly elected a leftist prime minister that dismantled their military) and Japan.  Now, it seems, they miss us:
Much is being made of China's unease at President Obama's initiative this week to raise the U.S. presence in the Pacific Rim. The real story is Asia's unease with China's expansionism. It wants America back.
Beijing was taken by surprise at the U.S. president's newfound interest in making America a presence again in the Pacific.
But in reality it was a sign that Asian states prefer a U.S.-centric Pacific over a China-centric one.
Up until now, the only message being sent by this White House was of kowtowing, isolationism and weakness in the face of a supposedly inevitably rising China.
The media made much of Beijing's discomfort at the new American assertiveness, as if there was something unnatural about it. "China uneasy over U.S. troop deal in Australia," blared the headline in the U.K. Guardian.
But Beijing's discomfort is irrelevant — it's a tyranny and Asia's neighborhood bully. It's not the model of economic development many believe, as its growing imbalances show. Nor is it a particularly peaceful presence.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Should Catholics be offended by Assassin's Creed now?

Awhile back I complained about the Assassin's Creed franchise's treatment of the Catholic Church.  Though I love all games in the series, I believe that Assassin's Creed 2 and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, take too many gratuitous shots at the Catholic Church and the Catholic religion.  Though the Renaissance popes were often villainous (such as the Borgias) that should not reflect on the religion itself or on individual Catholics. 

Now I've just gotten Assassin's Creed Revelations, which takes place largely in Ottoman Constantinople about 60 years after the fall of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) capital.  I've just started the game.  Interesting that so far in the game the Orthodox Christian Byzantines are resurrected as villains while the Muslim Ottomans are treated as heroes.  In Assassin's Creed Brotherhood the corrupt Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) and his son Cesare ruled Rome.  Since as the assassin you are trying to liberate Rome, in that sense making them villains makes sense.  In Assassin's Creed Revelations, even though Constantinople is the Ottoman capital, your goal is to liberate it from ... the Byzantines.  Huh?  It's like the designers of Assassin's Creed are determined to make Christians the enemy.

New additions to the library

The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes
1781: The Decisive Year of the Revolutionary War, by Robert L. Tonsetic
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder

I'm interested in seeing Bloodlands' coverage of Stalin's atrocities, which, though not nearly as systemic as Hitler's, were actually far worse.

And it may come as a surprise to many to hear that the Crimean War was more than The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Uh, giant crop circles?

What the hell is China building in the desert?

Why foreign policy matters

In spite of my vehement disagreement with and general abhorrence of social conservatism, my disgust with their increasing economic ruthlessness and my mistreatment at the hands of several Republicans, I nevertheless remain a Republican and will in all likelihood do so for the foreseeable future.  Why? Simply put, security issues.  In general, Republican are far, far tougher on issues of crime, defense and foreign policy than their opponents.  And, more than anything else, security issues are, going back to Hobbes and Locke, government's reason for existence.

Roger L. Simon touches on this in his latest piece, "It's the Foreign Policy, Stupid:"
“It’s the economy, stupid,” some dude named Carville once said. He was referring to what was the correct prescription for winning a presidential election — and it’s been gospel ever since.
He’s probably right. Except when it comes to actually being president, it’s something else altogether. “It’s the foreign policy, stupid” — because day one of being POTUS, you, and basically you alone, determine the foreign policy of the United States of America and much of the future and present of humanity.
And that’s not just because you wake up with an intelligence briefing that could make bald men lose their hair or because you are the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful armed forces on Earth with all the life or death decisions that entails or because some unsmiling individual follows you around with the nuclear football, putting Armageddon in your hands.

Why are we fighting the Lord's Resistance Army?

Recently I came out in support of Obama's escalation of US involvement in fighting the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.  Nevertheless, I do no pretend to be fully versed in Obama's reasoning behind the move.  Harvey Glickman provides some possible reasons:
U.S. support for the anti-LRA war has not been an unmitigated success. The National Security Council authorized training and financial support for the December 2008 Operation Lightning Thunder, a joint Uganda-Congolese-South Sudan campaign. This resulted, however, in major casualties among Congolese civilians, with 200,000 people displaced and the LRA escaping to fight another day.
Somewhat puzzling about the new U.S. deployment “to protect civilians” — as stated by the U.S. Embassy in Kampala on October 17, 2011 — is the fact that the Ugandan army announced that the Kony/LRA problem is no longer a threat in Uganda, but a regional problem. So, apparently the UPDF is joining the U.S. in an African regional conflict. Uganda has been a leader in the African Union’s battle against the al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia, and suffered a retaliatory bombing in Kampala by them in July 2010.

One of the most inexcusable acts ever perpetrated by Congress

The ban on incandescent light bulbs. 

In recent years Congress has put forth several pieces of legislation that are flat-out designed to hurt the American people.  Many such acts come from the environmental sphere.   The prohibition of incandescent bulbs is one.  Flat-out inexcusable.  Stupid.  Borderline malevolent.

Cap-and-trade is another.  Designed to lower our standard of living.  Making everyday, logical actions in some way painful.

That is not the behavior of a government with the best interests of its people at heart.  Or even with consent of the governed.

What's going on in Iran?

If you're like me (but, really, who is?) you follow events in Iran to determine if there's any hope for elimination of a self-styled enemy of the United States.  Now we are hearing of an odd explosion:
An Iranian exile group claimed Saturday that a blast near Tehran hit a missile base run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, disputing the Iranian government’s account that it occurred at an ammunition depot.
Former Mujahedin-e Khalq spokesman Alireza Jafarzadeh, citing what he called reliable sources inside Iran, said that the explosion hit the Modarres Garrison of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps west of Tehran. The group, also known as the MEK, has in the past disclosed the sites of several key Iranian nuclear installations as well as details of their operations.

Jafarzadeh, now an author and commentator critical of Tehran’s clerical regime, said the Modarres Garrison belongs to the IGRC’s missile unit and the blasts “resulted from the explosion of IRGC missiles.” He did not say what triggered the explosion.

Friday, November 11, 2011

NCAA's treatment of Ohio State is arbitrary and capricious

Considering the, um, other major events in college football this week, it is not surprising the the new body slam the NCAA gave the Ohio State football program went relatively unnoticed.  But it was a body slam nonetheless:
Ohio State monitored Northeast Ohio booster Bobby DiGeronimo some. But not enough.
Though Athletic Director Gene Smith and former football coach Jim Tressel took steps five and six years ago to keep DiGeronimo away from the program, the university's failure to do more will cost the football team at least five scholarships over three years and has brought a more serious "failure to monitor" charge from the NCAA.
According to the NCAA report, Tressel once kicked DiGeronimo out of a locker he was hiding in while trying to listen to a pregame speech in 2001 or 2002. DiGeronimo called that report "baloney" and said "that's as low as I've heard," contending he had a pass to be in the locker room.
Yet as late as 2011, the school was surprised and unaware DiGeronimo -- once embraced as a friend of the program, particularly under former coach John  Cooper -- was still associating with players. Eventually, DiGeronimo gave money to some players at a 2011 charity event and overpaid others for work done at his company, according to the NCAA and Ohio State.
The school filed its response to the NCAA, and Thursday made the new charges and sanctions public. DiGeronimo, however, disputes several of Ohio State's assertions, including the forcefulness of Ohio State's message.

Syrian opposition trying to get army help?

Jess Hill on Twitter links to an interesting Al Jazeera report on defectors from Syria's army meeting with members of the Syrian National Council, the umbrella group opposed to Bashar al-Assad.  It's really just a short blurb, but an interesting one.  Here it is:
The Syrian National Council, a group of opposition figures based outside the country, met on Thursday with defected soldiers who belong to what is being called the Free Syrian Army, according to a statement posted by the Council on its Facebook page.
The SNC "stands by" the defectors "who refused the regime's orders to fire at the unarmed demonstrators," the statement said.
The Council delegation included members of executive office Samir Nashar and Farouk Taifor, who met with Colonel Riad al-Asad, a defected officer based in a Turkey refugee camp who has assumed a role as the face of the Free Syrian Army.
Asad confirmed his support for the Council, "which reflects the demands of the Syrian people," the release said. 
The Syrian Army's recent crackdown in Homs makes me wonder if this is part of a new push by the National Council for more army defections.

More true than you think

SportsPickle's satirical "High School Gym Class Syllabus."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Jerry Sandusky Rape Case

put in context by Terry Pluto, the amazing columnist for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.  How dangerous is child rape for society?  Some chilling statistics:
According to the Department of Justice, about 3 percent of incarcerated men and 25 percent of women report being sexually abused as children. The state of Maryland found 1-in-3 women and 1-and-5 male inmates admitted being sexual abused as children.
Based on a dozen years of weekly jail ministry in Akron, I'd guess at least 25 percent of males that I've encountered had some type of damaging sexual experience at a young age. Men hate to admit what happened to them as children.
It does not excuse their crimes.
But there is so much truth in the saying, "Hurt people hurt people."
Read the whole thing.

I originally called this post "The Penn State Rape Case," but I changed it because think that title is unfair to a great university like Penn State (not necessarily its administrators), its students and alumni.  The biggest crime here was (allegedly) by Jerry Sandusky.  Without his (alleged) actions, none of this would have happened.

Meanwhile, in Syria

otherwise known as "Not Happy Valley," things get worse and worse:
Syrian troops on Monday routed government opponents in a neighborhood of Homs that had emerged in recent weeks as a center of armed resistance to the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad, dealing what appeared to be a serious setback to the protest movement and to an Arab League peace initiative designed to end the violence.
Homs residents and human rights groups said security forces stormed the Bab al-Amr neighborhood in the small hours of the morning, concluding a six-day assault in which dozens were killed and scores injured, many of them in tank bombardments.

Defected soldiers who had been defending the protest hot spot either fled to the surrounding countryside or were captured or killed, said residents and activists. Syrian troops combed through the neighborhood Monday detaining all the young men they encountered, and government supporters staged a noisy demonstration through the deserted streets.
The assault came as Assad’s government braced for the potential fallout from its failure to abide by the terms of an Arab League-sponsored peace initiative agreed to last Wednesday. Under the deal, Syria was to withdraw troops from cities, allow peaceful protests and release detainees.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

And before anyone else asks ...

No, I did not go to Penn State and have no affiliation with that school.  I am a proud alum of The Ohio State University and its marching band (by far the finest in the land).  And, yes, I do think that Jim Tressel and Ohio State have been royally screwed by the NCAA, an arrogant, hypocritical, two-faced organization that is beyond despicable.

Much of my family comes from Pittsburgh, and some of them are Penn State graduates.  So we have always paid attention to Penn State.  Even though our schools are rivals, we have always had the highest respect for Penn State and Joe Paterno.  When we went to Happy Valley in 2001 to see Ohio State play (and blow a 17-point lead to lose the game), we had a great time.  Great ice cream.  Fans were friendly and knowledgeable.  They love football and know the game as well as anyone.  Their respect for Joe Paterno was palpable, and his respect and love for them was obvious as well.  The Penn State Blue Band was a first-rate marching band, and the Silks were an excellent dance team. 

They had something really special in Happy Valley. 

Now that is all gone.

A few words on Mike McQueary

I originally posted most of the following in response to comments concerning the conduct of Penn State Assistant Coach Mike McQueary made in response to my post In defense of Joe Paterno.  But the issues facing McQueary are a bit different than those facing Paterno, so I think it deserves its own post and discussion. 

McQueary is taking an incredible amount of heat himself for his relative lack of action in the Jerry Sandusky case.  That he did not immediately run into the shower and, apparently, beat the crap out of Sandusky to protect the boy very near the top of that criticism.

And, indeed, McQueary bears far more "moral" culpability than Paterno does, because he witnessed the actual incident.  Maybe legal culpability as well.

That said, I'm going to play Devil's Advocate again.  Keep in mind a few things.

In defense of Joe Paterno

It is with shock and tremendous sadness that I am following the events coming out of State College, where Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach under Joe Paterno at Penn State, is charged with sexually assaulting at least 8 boys.  The grand jury presentment can be found on the website of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here.  Be warned: it makes for very disturbing reading.  In my decades of historical research, I've read about some of the most brutal atrocities in history, and this document made even me uncomfortable. 

The charges against Sandusky are so disgusting, so vile that it can and does easily become a case of guilty until proven innocent.  For anyone associated with them.

Before I continue, let me tell you three stories from my personal experience:

Monday, November 7, 2011

More on army control of Egypt

No sooner does Barry Rubin do an article on how the last chance for civilization in the Middle East is the army than he writes another one, focusing on Egypt.  He starts out:
This is of tremendous importance. Only hours ago I wrote about how the Egyptian military felt forced by circumstances to play a bigger, longer political role in order to stem anarchy and prevent Egypt from becoming an Islamist state. Now there’s more evidence of that happening.
In an editorial that reflects also the Obama administration’s position, the Washington Post explained that the army having political power is bad and civilian rule is good:
The generals’ justification for their proposed decree will sound familiar to any student of the Mubarak regime: They claim to be protecting the country from Islamic fundamentalists, who appear likely to capture a plurality of seats in parliament.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The armies are the last bastions of civilization

Barry Rubin asks the question, Will Their Armies Save (Some) Arab States from Islamism?
Nowhere in the world is Mao Zedong’s dictum that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun truer than in the Middle East.
The armed forces have been the basis of power in the Arabic-speaking world and in Turkey, too. That’s why the nationalist dictatorships and traditionalist monarchies, which had seen so many coups and coup attempts in the 1950s and 1960s, had to find special ways to control the armed forces. They did so by special privileges, close intelligence watches, promoting officers on the basis of loyalty to the regime, and many other measures.
One of these was the creation of elite, parallel military formations. Examples include the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Iraqi Republican Guard, the Saudi “White Army,” and others.

Speaking of allies from Hell

What's Turkey doing these days? I had always wondered why the Islamist regime agreed to host US missile defense installations.  Now we know: to hamper it.
In September 2011, America engaged Turkey in missile defense by providing Ankara with the same type of X-Band radar system that Israel was given in September 2008 by former U.S. President George W. Bush.  The deployment of that radar system into Turkey, later this year, will be located in the eastern part of the country, close to the Iranian border.
These radar systems are designed to alert technicians of incoming enemy missiles.  The U.S. Joint Tactical Ground Station (JTAGS) in Europe is to be the data hub for all U.S. supported European and Middle Eastern radar systems, including those in Romania, and in a U.S. Aegis ship in the Mediterranean.
However, the current U.S. agreement with Turkey has become problematic, according to Scheinmann.  "The Turks are saying that what they get from the radar site in their country will not be shared with Israel.  This is supposed to be a European-wide missile defense system, but, they have maintained their strong objection to anything Israeli.  If there were an Iranian missile launched towards Israel, they would not allow the sharing of information from their radar to help Israel."
What this means, Scheinmann explained, is that an incoming Iranian missile that would target Israel would probably go over Syria, south of the Turkish radar site.  It would be easier for technicians to track the precise location of the missile in milliseconds because they would be seeing the side view of it from Turkey, rather than a frontal view from Israel.  But Turkey is now planning to hinder such cooperation.  This inhibits protection for Israel from Iran's ballistic missile arsenal.

With a title like ...

... "The Ally From Hell," you know the article is about Pakistan.  And this article, a joint venture by The Atlantic and National Journal, is a doozy.  Most disturbing section:
There is evidence to suggest that neither the Pakistani army, nor the SPD itself, considers jihadism the most immediate threat to the security of its nuclear weapons; indeed, General Kayani’s worry, as expressed to General Kidwai after Abbottabad, was focused on the United States. According to sources in Pakistan, General Kayani believes that the U.S. has designs on the Pakistani nuclear program, and that the Abbottabad raid suggested that the U.S. has developed the technical means to stage simultaneous raids on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.
In their conversations, General Kidwai assured General Kayani that the counterintelligence branch of the SPD remained focused on rooting out American and Indian spies from the Pakistani nuclear-weapons complex, and on foiling other American espionage methods. The Pakistani air force drills its pilots in ways of intercepting American spy planes; the Pakistani military assumes (correctly) that the U.S. devotes many resources to aerial and satellite surveillance of its nuclear sites.

Like chocolate sauce and sauerkraut

... some things are just not meant to go together.  Like, a dump and Hadrian's villa:

The noble descendant of a 17th century pope is fighting a battle against government plans to dump Rome's garbage at a site near one of the western world's most celebrated archeological sites - Hadrian's Villa.

Prince Urbano Barberini, whose bloodline is traced to some of Italy's most storied nobles families and individuals - including Maffeo Barberini, who became Pope Urban VIII in 1623 - says disposing of the capital's trash in a quarry near Hardian's Villa in Tivola could keep tourists at bay when the wind passes over the tons of garbage in the direction of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Who wants to bomb Iran?

Or, given recent media reports, I suppose the better question is, "Who doesn't?" Because there seems to be a line forming to do just that.

Israel (not surprising):

Over the past several days, Hebrew media reports have been engaged in intense speculation regarding a possible imminent Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to have made a veiled reference to the issue again on Tuesday, when he told the Knesset that Israel may have to protect its vital interests alone, while other reports focused on comments by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who stated this week that difficult decisions were “keeping him up at nights,” without elaborating further.

Israel is believed to have a fully prepared plan to launch such a strike, which would likely involve at least several hundred aircraft.

When Greeks and Turks agree

... given their history (Trojan War, Persian Wars, Alexander the Great, Seljuks v. Byzantines, Ottomans, etc.), it should perhaps give one pause.  Yet that's what seems to be happening.  Just after the Turkish government cleans out the top brass in its armed forces, the Greek government is now doing the same thing:
In a surprise move, on Tuesday evening the defence minister replaced the country’s top brass. An extraordinary meeting of the Government Council of Foreign Affairs and Defence (Kysea), which comprises the prime minister and other key cabinet members, accepted Defence Minister Panos Beglitis' proposal that the following changes be made to army, navy and air force and the general staff:

Sorry for the light posting

Been extremely busy this week, but also completely engrossed with The Confederacy's Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, by Wiley Sword.  I hope to have a big post on it this weekend.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

But ... but Obama said he was a "reformer."

Michael Totten on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's latest gambit:
The Syrian opposition is slowly arming itself—inspired, I presume, by the disposal of Moammar Qaddafi—and Bashar al-Assad is spooked. He thinks the West may want to gun for him next. And he says if the West does come after him that it will set off an “earthquake” in the region.
“Syria is the hub now in this region,” he said. “It is the faultline, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake. Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region.”
In other words, he’ll set Lebanon and Israel on fire again. It’s what he does. And it’s why he needs to go.
Against thug dictators, peaceful resistance usually doesn't work.

The Line of the Night

After last night's Catastrophe in Kansas City, a Twitter pal of mine had this to say:
Jocelyn (@legalesque)11/1/11 1:05 AM
Saw this on Facebook: the flight home for Philip Rivers is going to be longer than Kim Kardashian's marriage.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New additions to the library

The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici, by Elizabeth Lev;
Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire, by Robin Waterfield; and
Maurice's Strategikon: Your Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy, translated by George T. Dennis.

OK, I threw in the "Your" for Maurice's Strategikon.  It just seemed to fit, though.  I mean, who doesn't need to know about Byzantine military strategy, right?  Anyway, this book was THE Bible of Eastern Roman tactics, written as it was by the Eastern Roman Emperor Maurice, and was actually intended for use by field commanders.  It gives insight on how the workings of the late Roman and Eastern Roman military and how its officers were supposed to think.

Dividing the Spoils is part of my attempt to assemble a library of a rather undercovered period of history, the wars of the Diadochi.

If you have played the video games Assassin's Creed 2 or Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, you've gotten a taste of Caterina Sforza, who is one of the main protagonists (and a very impressive protagonist at that, especially with her intelligence, drive and sharp tongue). Check out how the real life Caterina Sforza measures up to her video game counterpart.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Losing more hope in the Middle East

In a piece in PJMedia, Barry Rubin picks up on a theme I had yesterday.  Key grafs:
Ladies and gentlemen, liberals and conservatives, Obama-lovers and Obama-haters, no matter what your race, creed, gender, national origin, or level of unpaid college loans, two things should be clear to all of you:
First, to describe the Obama administration’s Middle East policy as a disaster — I cannot think of a bigger, deadlier mess created by any U.S. foreign policy in the last century — is an understatement.
Second, the dominant analysis used by the media, academia, and the talking heads on television has proven dangerously wrong. This includes the ideas that revolutionary Islamism doesn’t exist, cannot be talked about, is not a threat, and that extreme radicals are really moderates.
I won’t review all the evidence here, but it amounts to a retreat for moderates, allies of the West, and American interests coupled with an advance for revolutionary Islamists.

So, how's India doing?

Micah Zenko takes a look.

Our military weakness may cause the next Korean war

My study of military history has taught me that, with very few exceptions, military weakness causes war.  The pacifist case for foreign policy is flat-out wrong and to follow it to any significant degree is extremely dangerous.  The examples of it are too numerous to mention in their entirety, but I can think of a few prominent examples.
  • Archaeological and geological evidence shows the Mycenaean Greeks took down the Minoan civilization in Crete after the Minoans were devastated by the eruption at Santorini and the resulting tsunami.
  • The Philistines kept picking on the Israelites because the Israelites, despite their victories over the Canaanites at places like Jericho and Hai, could not compete militarily with the newcomers.
  • After the First Punic war, when the Carthaginians were distracted by a revolt of their own mercenary army -- because the Carthaginians tried to cheat them out of their pay -- the Roman Republic helped itself to Carthiginian Sardinia.  The Roman seizure of Sardinia helped fuel the anger of the Barcids in starting the Second Punic War, but the Barcids were also encouraged by the weak Roman response to their own seizure of Saguntum, in northern Spain.
  • For all the complaining by the German tribes about the Romans invading their territory, when the the Romans would withdraw their legions from the Rhine the Germans rarely missed a chance to attack, especially under the emperors Gratian and Honorius. 
  • Ditto in the east with the Sassanid Persians. 
  • Both William, Duke of Normandy (later William the Conqueror or (King William I of England) and Harald III Sigurdsson (Harald Hardrada) were encouraged to invade England by the military and political weakness of the Anglo-Saxon King Harold II Godwinson. 
  • After it was permanently weakened by the defeat at Manzikert, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire was constantly facing nibbling attacks on its territory, culminating in the Fourth Crusade, which conquered and sacked a defenseless Constantinople.  The Eastern Roman Empire was eventually restored, but the damage had been done.
  • Western weakness in the face of Hitler's provocations encouraged him in the drive to World War II. 
  • The Arab states attack Israel when they perceive it to be weak.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Losing hope in the Middle East

The news out of the Middle East continues to turn silver clouds into dark ones.  Where to begin?

Libya -- The new government is replacing Muammar Gadhafi's thuggishness with a new one, or more precisely an old one: shar'ia law:
The announcement that Islamic sharia law will be the basis of legislation in newly liberated Libya has raised concerns, especially among women, despite Islamists insisting moderation will prevail.
Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said on Sunday, during his speech to the nation in Benghazi to formally declare the country's liberation from the ousted regime of Moammer Kadhafi, that sharia would be Libya's principal law.
"Any law that violates sharia is null and void legally," he said, citing as an example the law on marriage passed during the slain dictator's 42-year tenure that imposed restrictions on polygamy, which is permitted in Islam.
"The law of divorce and marriage... This law is contrary to sharia and it is stopped," Abdel Jalil said.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Is South Africa turning into Zimbabwe?

For some years now, South Africa has been slowly but steadily sliding towards heavy socialism, and suffering considerable negative economic consequences because of it.  The latent racial issues still tormenting the country make this slide particularly dangerous.  Nevertheless, even I was surprised by this piece in Forbes:
Julius Malema, the 30-year old leader of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) has attracted growing headlines since 2010 for his calls to nationalize South Africa’s mines, and to emulate Zimbabwe’s land redistribution program in order to rectify a wide wealth imbalance between the white minority, which accounted for 9% of the 50 million person nation according to a 2010 census.  Malema proclaimed “The only option is to take the land without compensation, if you refuse to give us an alternative.”

Last month, he was convicted of hate speech for singing an inflammatory anti-apartheid song which translates into “Shoot the Boer” (Dubhula iBhunu) at a ANCYL rally.  Are these the harmless ravings of an innocuous radical activist, or an ominous harbinger for South Africa’s future?   Current President Jacob Zuma has previously referred to Malema as a future president.

Britain about to break up?

I can't say I like this news from Walter Russell Meade:
News from the not-very-United Kingdom these days is that the Scottish National Party, now in full control of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, plans to press ahead for a referendum on full independence for the land of Burns.  Rejecting the idea that fiscal independence would be enough, SNP head and Scots first minister Alex Salmond told his cheering party conference that independence in foreign policy was a key party goal: “[E]ven with economic powers Trident nuclear missiles would still be on the River Clyde, [...]we could still be forced to spill blood in “illegal wars” such as Iraq, and still be excluded from the councils of Europe and the world.”  (From the invaluable, if pay wall protected, Financial Times.)
In other words, it’s the whole thing the Scots want, and this raises a question: if the UK breaks up, can little England (even if Northern Ireland and Wales stay loyal) hold on to one of only five permanent seats on the UN Security Council?  Legally a case can be made that England would be the successor state to the UK, and could therefore hold on to the seat, but one wonders whether countries like India and Japan could accept a system in which the English rump of the UK would continue to hold a veto-wielding seat denied to them?

New additions to the library

Gallipoli, by Peter Hart
Green River Running Red, The Real Story of the Green River Killer --  America's Most Notorious Serial Murderer, by Ann Rule.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Son of Stuxnet?"

A new computer virus is making its rounds ... somewhere.  It goes by various names.  It's "official" name is "Duqu" but many are calling it the "Son of Stuxnet":

A powerful new computer virus that some are calling the "Son of Stuxnet" has been discovered, and researchers are concerned about its potential for attacking critical infrastructure computers around the world.
The mysterious Stuxnet worm -- perhaps the most powerful ever created -- managed to infiltrate computer systems in Iran and do damage to that nation's nuclear research program. The new worm, dubbed Duqu, has no such targeted purpose. But it shares so much code with the original Stuxnet that researchers at Symantec Corp. say it must either have been created by the same group that authored Stuxnet, or by a group that somehow managed to obtain Stuxnet's source code. Either way, Duqu's authors are brilliant, and mean business, said Symantec's Vikrum Thakur.
"There is a common trait among the (computers) being attacked," he said. "They involve industrial command and control systems."

News you can use

The NFL's 10 Best Cheerleading Squads, as rated by CNBC.

My question: why is CNBC rating them?  How about having dance professionals rate them?

Probably because by "best," CNBC means "most profitable and best marketed."

REALLY no more "Libyan Hit Squad" cartoons

It seems the inspiration for my old "Libyan Hit Squad" cartoons is no more:

Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi is dead, Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril has confirmed.

"We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Muammar Qaddafi has been killed," Jibril told a news conference in the capital Tripoli. Qaddafi died of wounds suffered during his capture near his hometown of Sirte on Thursday, according to a spokesman for Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC).

"Qaddafi is dead. He is absolutely dead ... he was shot in both legs and in the head. The body will be arriving in Misrata soon," media spokesman Abdullah Berrassali told Sky News.
Something tells me there was something lost in the translation.  "Absolutely dead?" As opposed to what? "Mostly dead?"  I think he was trying to get the point across that Gadhafi's death is confirmed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What is the Lord's Resistance Army?

Barack Obama's decision to send 100 US troops to Uganda to take part in operations against a group that calls itself "The Lord's Resistance Army" is leaving quite a few people scratching their heads.  And understandably so. 

Well, the obvious question is many people (including myself, and I've studied Africa) asked is, what exactly is The Lord's Resistance ArmyHot Air pretty much nails it when they call it "a cross between the Branch Davidians and the Khmer Rouge, with a special fondness for killing families and then impressing the surviving children into service as soldiers."

I rounded up as much as I could find online about the LRA. GlobalSecurity.org:
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, operated in the north from bases in southern Sudan. The LRA committed numerous abuses and atrocities, including the abduction, rape, maiming, and killing of civilians, including children. In addition to destabilizing northern Uganda from bases in Sudan, the LRA congregated in the Bunia area in eastern Congo. They linked up with the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR) and other rebel groups that were battling with forces from the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD).

Bring on the trade war

Business interest groups are lining up against the China currency bill.  The latest is the US Chamber of Commerce:

Thomas Donohue, the president and CEO of the influential business group, told a group of Dow Jones reporters and editors that U.S. policy makers should resist embracing protectionism. While understandable in times of economic stress, an attempt to force China’s hand could have negative repercussions for U.S. firms, he said, as Beijing seeks to maintain full employment for its citizens.
“They want to keep all those people working and if that was forced on them somehow … they would simply just drop the prices as low as they have to to keep those folks working,” Mr. Donohue said.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators last week passed legislation intended to force Chinese officials to allow for greater appreciation of the yuan through trade channels and other international governing bodies. House GOP leaders have thus far balked at moving the bill, even though it enjoys support from both House Democrats and Republicans.

Is there a "Western underground" in Egypt?

Michael Totten explains:
The first time I traveled to Egypt I was shocked at how Islamicized the place is compared with other Arab countries I’ve visited. It’s liberal compared with Saudi Arabia, but that’s not saying much and, besides, I’ve never been to Saudi Arabia. Egypt is still the most conservative Muslim country I’ve ever seen.

It’s hardly less Islamicized now than it was in the middle of the last decade, but modern liberal “Western” culture is nevertheless a little more visible now than it was. And that’s something. It’s not yet enough to bring Egypt fully into the 21st century, but it’s something.

This summer in Egypt my colleague Armin Rosen showed me a copy of magazine called Awesome that he found in a coffeeshop. We were both surprised to see anything like it in Cairo at all. A magazine like that in the United States would be described, if you’ll allow me to use an outdated term, as part of the counterculture. Awesome is in some ways like an Egyptian version of Vice, which makes it defiantly anti-Islamist and anti-traditional even though little of the content is actually about politics.

Monday, October 17, 2011

An interesting question

In the midst of all its other troubles, why is the Assad regime now attacking the Kurds ... again:
The murder this month by the Assad regime’s security forces of Syrian Kurdish leader Mashaal Tammo is the latest act of unprovoked brutality by this most cruel of regimes. Tammo was killed in his own home in the northern Syrian town of Qamishly by regime gunmen. Afterwards, Syrian security forces opened fire on a crowd of 50,000 at his funeral procession. Two more Syrian Kurds were killed and many more wounded. Tammo, leader of the Kurdish Future Party, favored non-violent opposition to the Syrian regime.
The killing of Mashaal Tammo might at first glance appear to be just the latest atrocity by a regime whose hands are deeply stained with the blood of its own citizens. About 2,900 Syrians are estimated to have been killed so far as Assad fights for his political life against his own people.
Yet Tammo’s murder also contains within it a mystery. Kurds represent between 10-15% of the population of Syria. They have been perhaps the most harshly oppressed section of the population since the Arab nationalist Ba’ath Party came to power in 1963. Many Syrian Kurds have been deprived of citizenship. Others were expelled from their homes in the early days of the regime, as the Ba’athists created a belt of Arabic speaking communities along the Syrian-Turkish border.

Victor Davis Hanson is on a roll

At his usual hangouts.  Pajamas Media:
In 2008, the following was the general right-wing argument against Obama’s candidacy:
a) The self-professed “uniter” Obama had, in truth, little record of uniting disparate groups. From community organizing to politics, his preferred modus operandi was rather to praise moderation, but politick more as a radical, and sometimes go after opponents as unreasonable or illiberal. Thus the most partisan voting senator in the Congress, who talked grandly of “working across the aisle,” also urged supporters to “get in their faces” and “take a gun to a knife fight.” Acorn, Project Vote, and SEIU were not ecumenical organizations.
b) Obama knew very little about foreign affairs, or perhaps even raw human nature as it plays out in power politics abroad. At times, he seemed naive about the singular role of the U.S. in the world, especially his sense that problems with Iran, the Middle East, Venezuela, Russia, and others were somehow predicated on American arrogance and unilateralism (and neither predating nor postdating George Bush) — to be remedied by Obama’s post-racial, post-national diplomacy.

New additions to the library

Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific, by Michael Sturma;
Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire, by James Romm; and
Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride at Gettysburg, by Eric J. Wittenberg and David Petruzzi.

It may seem strange today, but during the First and Second World Wars, submarines usually had deck guns to engage in limited surface warfare.  The Germans actually preferred the use of deck guns until the arly part of World War II, when advancements in anti-submarine measures rendered the tactic too dangerous.  The US did use deck guns in the Pacific on a limited basis.

While Alexander the Great has been covered (and covered and covered and covered and ...) by authors over the centuries, the wars of his successors, called the Diadochi, have gotten relatively little, even though one of the Diadochi was Ptolemy, son of Lagos, who would start the Egyptian Macedonian Ptolemaic Dynasty that would produce the famous Queen Cleopatra.  (Truth be told, the Ptolemaic Dynasty produced multiple Cleopatras.)  I'm anxious to leard more about the Diadochi through Ghost on the Throne.

As for Gettysburg, I have never found that battle as interesting as the Vicksburg Campaign or the Chickamauga-Chattanooga Campaign, but Plenty of Blame to Go Around sounds like a great "sniper" book that I almost always find appealing.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What to do about Iran?

Haven't we been asking this question for more than thirty years now? As Power Line says to Obama about the latest outrage, "This was an act of war, pal. Ralph Kramden radiated more more menace than you.
One of these days…."

(And while this is indeed an outrage, let's not lose sight of the fact that, whatever diplomatic law and custom has been over the millennia, diplomats have always been targets.  Remember the case of Benjamin Bathurst, a British envoy to Austria who disappeared in Perleberg in 1809.  Initial suspicions were that he had been kidnapped and murdered by French agents.  Turns out Bathurst was likely just a victim of a mugging.)

James Jay Carafano is in a similar mood to Power Line:
It’s just that talking about states that foster and fund the slaughter of innocents is much too inconvenient a truth for the administration.
The president came into office with a plan to make nice with evil regimes (which won him the Nobel Peace Prize after just months in the White House). The Obama Doctrine called for engaging with America’s enemies. Little foibles -- bankrolling terrorists, or trampling the human rights of their own citizens -- would just have to be overlooked.