Thursday, May 29, 2014

Left For Posterity

You have been warned, no doubt – as if a word to the wise would be necessary on this count – that posting compromising photos on social media or granting them to a non-family intimate, or the far older uncertainty of placing prejudicial or compromising information into a letter to someone else, is too great a risk to take.

This then (click to enlarge) is a political equivalent of that:

This covers two of the three more infamous promises made by Obama about ObamaCare, excepting the one about keeping your doctor, but there are numerous sound-bites about Obama's earnest declarations that all will be well with the Affordable (?) Care Act.

Mind you, that's just the crap that he laid down about ObamaCare.  Consider the myriad, shovel-ready examples throughout the other areas of his regime.

From those wonderful people who brought you Veterans Health Care.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Obama: The Afghan War Is Ending, So We're Staying

"This year, we will bring America's longest war to a responsible end."  So says Obama in a Rose Garden announcement, after conferring with his military leaders in Afghanistan.

However …

"Bring the boys home by the winter solstice"
We will leave some 9800 troops in country by the end of the year.  Obama was able to say this with some degree of confidence because the two remaining contenders in the next presidential election there on 14 June, the always-a-bridesmaid former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, have both pledged to support the bilateral agreement worked out with the Afghan government, but which Karzai has refused to sign, leaving that to his successor (so he says).

One of the first items that struck me (and which remains unreported) is the enormous problem of logistics and security rearrangements that will have to be overcome in order to ship over 22,000 troops and their gear back stateside from that landlocked country, while leaving the remainder in a secure position, all taking place within the timeframe of only six to seven months, in what is still a combat theater.

Obama went on to say that by the end of the following year, the 9800 figure would be halved to just under 5000, and by the end of 2016 the drawdown will be complete, leaving a "normal embassy staffing" that would include about 1000 troops.  (I have travelled widely in my time and was familiar with several US embassies.  I am unaware that a normal embassy security staff would involve the equivalent of a reinforced battalion of Marines.  But then the guy who makes the rules, or defines the terms, always wins the game.)

Thus the plan is to have the Afghan equivalent of 'everyone' out by what coincides (we are supposed to believe it is sheer happenstance) with the end of Obama's regime.  Thus, whatever success accrues thereafter (extremely doubtful, but then rest assured that the press will characterize it that way) will be gain to the historians and hagiographers of Obama.  If it craters, they can blame his successor.

The 9800 figure (and dropping) is to allow for trainers and advisory staff, and doesn't address the question that the number of those remaining would be primarily focused on trying to defend themselves in the middle of a large, sufficiently hostile country.  Considering that a typical combat ratio would have only around 2000 of them in combat arms, the predicament becomes more exquisite.

One has to also pre-suppose, as Obama would have us, to believe that the enemy will cooperate in our withdrawal, that Obama's simple declaration that "the war is over" (speaking of 'victory' is oh-so-twentieth century) suffices to make it so.  But the enemy always has a seat in our councils of war, and particularly so in our peace delegations, because it only takes one side to make – and sustain – a war, not two, and I have to wonder at the assumed patience, never before displayed, for the enemy to resist the temptation to drive home their point by attacking the remnants of our troops as they depart.  That, after all, is an Afghan tradition.

But the only remnants that Obama spoke of referred to the "remnants of al Qaeda", never blushing at the fact that al Qaeda is as strong, and certainly more widespread, than before.  Sure, he has nailed some of the old time guard, Osama bin Laden among them as he constantly reminds us, but others remain, and younger fanatics have stepped up to fill in the gaps.  This ridiculous attempt to parse "core al Qaeda" from the "al Qaeda affiliates" is a distinction without a difference, as if the terrorists in AQIM, AQAP, al Shabaab, ISIS, Boko Haram, Lashkar e Taiba, Abu Sayyaf and many other franchises are no less intent on killing us than did their predecessors, merely because we exist outside their culture.  Al Qaeda, as we must remember (yes, we really need to), means "the network", and it is still very much so.

And what of the resurgent Taliban just ticking away the time, residing in the dark enclaves of the outlaw territory of Pakistan just across the border, with a barely tottering democracy in a nuclear power?  And Iran to the west?  What influence will have in that savage territory henceforth?  That's not Obama's problem.

Senator George Aiken was attributed to have said, in reference to the Viet Nam War, that we should simply "declare victory and come home", leaving the Vietnamese to fight it out amongst themselves.  Obama falls heir to the quip that repetition is the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case he would have us declare victory but stick around for a while.

Monday, May 26, 2014

White House Reveals CIA Station Chief in Kabul

The Washington Post delivers a lesson in media spin with its story about the White House publication of the name of the CIA station chief in Afghanistan.

Obama works the crowd

The name was listed in a White House press release about a briefing given during a surprise visit to Bagram by Obama, during which he addressed an assembled crowd of troops ('assembled' in the military sense) and sat in on the daily briefing of the country team of Ambassador James Cunningham and ISAF Commander General Joseph Dunford with their top staff officers.  The list of the attendees was passed to Obama's handlers as a matter of course, but in a classic "in one ear and out the mouth" maneuver, it was passed verbatim to the press pool by way of Post reporter Scott Wilson, and thence to some 6000 recipients.

It was only then that Wilson noticed the title of Chief of Station for one of the attendees, a title reserved for the head CIA officer working out of the embassy, and chief of likely the largest such CIA country operation in the world.  'Chief of Station' is always a covered position, with the person publicly holding the title of some innocuous posting.  [The running gag for as long as I can remember is that the fellow holding the Public Health post is automatically suspected of being CIA by the host country, providing an ego boost to the PH appointee and cover to the real station chief.]

Wilson actually had to not only inform the White House of the error, but convince them of the seriousness of it.  Once done, the staff quickly withdrew the story and disseminated one in which the name was redacted, but the genie was already out of the bottle.  Rest assured that the named party is packing his bags.

The Post starts off by calling a station chief the "highest-ranking spy in a country".  He may be under cover but he is not a spy, a distinction which a truly educated correspondent on that beat should know, but I expect the temptation to dumb it down for the hoi polloi proved irresistible.

The story then lurches immediately to a typical 'blame Bush' rationale:
The disclosure marked a rare instance in which a CIA officer working overseas had his cover – the secrecy meant to protect his actual identity – pierced by his own government.  The only other recent case came under significantly different circumstances, when former CIA operative Valerie Plame was exposed as officials of the George W. Bush administration sought to discredit her husband, a former ambassador and fierce critic of the decision to invade Iraq.
Despite the standard accounts ("repeat it over and over again"), the dissection of that paragraph goes as follows:

Valerie Plame was a CIA employee, not an operative.  She held a CIA analyst job in Washington.  She was widely known to have that position because her husband Joseph Wilson (apparently no relation to the Post reporter) invariably introduced her as such around the cocktail circuit.  She is the only CIA employee that I know of who simultaneously decried her public exposure while posing for Vanity Fair and other media rags.  Both she and her husband forcefully denied that his famous trip to Niger was due to her manipulation, when in fact it was clearly established otherwise.  His famous exposé in the New York Times bore no resemblance to the report he made upon his return.  His ambassadorships were to the backwater posts of Gabon and São Tomé & Principe, after his turn as assistant to April Glaspie and her literally disastrous tour as ambassador to Saddam Hussein's Iraq (practically inviting him to invade Kuwait).  Plame was not outed by Scooter Libby but instead by Richard Armitage, who disclosed the information "inadvertently" to Robert Novak because he thought it was public knowledge (see "cocktail circuit" above).  Armitage told the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald of his disclosure but was told to keep it quiet, while Fitzgerald continued his investigation for two more years.

And so on.  I just thought I'd toss in those snippets, seeing as how the MSM will not.

Other publications carry on in like manner, such as Foreign Policy, which twice forces the point that their investigation of the name that fell into their lap (which in righteous dudgeon they refuse to publish, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are ultimately making the opposite argument) has not been released to the public by any of the other (and foreign) news services, as if this somehow mitigates or eliminates the harm.  This completely obfuscates the fact that intelligence services (our own certainly, and I'm not divulging anything that isn't otherwise obvious) make maximum use of the public information provided by news services.  No matter what intelligence assets, human or technical, one might have at whatever schwerpunkt, it avails us to read the open stream of updates from journalists (whether benighted or not) at the scene, or at least firmly esconced nearby in a secure hotel deep within the local green zone, in what we term "all-source fusion".  It is absolutely ludicrous to expect us to believe that all other intel services (and don't think that al Qaeda and the Pakistani ISI Taliban don't have that capability too) were not immediately aware of the name.

These media covers for the administration (and if you Google the story you will find a strangely coincident language in the Plame excuse) are simply the typical attempt to gild the lily, or as Chesterton would put it, gild the weed.

So the White House gives a not-so-subtle dig to the military for providing a factual list of who attended the brief, and feels that they have no responsibility for due diligence in sanitizing the names for public release.  Let's make this clear - the military did not release the list to the press; the White House did.  And the Post provides cover by its reflexive reference to Bush in parroting the story of the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson media/Democrat circus.  This is serious journalism?  Is the Post going to call for a special prosecutor like in the Plame affair?

Don't hold your breath.

Memorial Day, 2014

Here dead lie we
because we did not choose
to live and shame
the land from which we sprung.

Life, to be sure
is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
and we were young.
--A E Housman, 1936, "Here Dead Lie We"
We care for our own

To save your world, you asked this man to die:
Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?
--W H Auden, 1953, "Epitaph for the Unknown Soldier"
Memorial Day, 2011

Memorial Day, 2012

Memorial Day, 2013

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Army Picks New Camouflage: Scorpion (Update; Rangers Lead The Way)

The French have a phrase for it: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

That would seem to be the case in the recent "soft launch" of the US Army transition to a new (well, sort of) camouflage pattern – Scorpion.  This will finally replace the blithering choice of the Army Universal Camouflage Pattern back in 2004 which has been universally condemned as pathetically ineffective.

A rarely-accessible photo of a soldier kitted up in an earlier version of Scorpion (

The 'stay the same' aspect comes into play because Scorpion was an earlier concept developed by Crye Associates leading to the popular MultiCam design, which the bureaucrats, being bureaucrats, refer to as Operation Enduring Freedom [Afghanistan] Camouflage Pattern, or OCP.  At first glance, the two designs appear practically identical when seen in isolation, somewhat less so side by side.  It becomes more confusing because the old Scorpion design was rejected during the first phases of the project back in 2004.

The updated Scorpion design tends to use some of the base colors (there are seven to choose from) as more predominant, particularly the Coyote variations, a type of brown initially chosen by the Marines in their development of their MARPAT design while doing research in the Ralph Lauren collection at a local Home Depot.  There are also some vertical elements of the MultiCam design that are eliminated in Scorpion.

No official announcement has been made, only communications through the Command Sergeant Major channels.  Perhaps by the usual date of the Army birthday, 14 June?

Faithful readers know that the Army was originally due to make an announcement last year on that date but was forestalled by the Enyart-Duckworth amendment to the NDAA, which requires an eventual common uniform pattern for all of the Defense Department, in a cost-saving measure that is to overcome the current ensemble of ten different camouflage uniforms available to the four services of DoD.  Close examination of the language (§351) provides some cover for the Army because this can be considered 'transitional'.  Note that the new Scorpion, being so similar, will still be called OCP.

What few photos that are available tend to be proprietary, but the HyperStealth site provides some excellent detail.

What appears to be the winning factor, a good effort at tweaking the original in the intervening decade, is the function of the uniform in the various spectra of infra-red, and the link above provides good evidence of that.  For those of you who work at night, you should be attired accordingly.

The dates for planning are still minimal and are simply soft estimates awaiting some official fine tuning, but a hypothesis is that, considering a start-up at the current square zero, initial issue of MultiCam (already in the system but production lines need to be re-started) service-wide should begin in FY 2016.  Scorpion can begin to show up by May 2015.

Some have noticed that the current deployment of a battalion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade to Poland and the Baltics had the soldiers wearing MultiCam.  This is the first time that MultiCam has been authorised for use outside of the Afghanistan theater.

Complications to overcome include the fact that there are different versions of MultiCam, such as field ready and garrison, and variations in quality (and expense) down range.  Fleshing out the Army with stop-gap MultiCam while bringing in the replacement Scorpion will probably take something like eight years.

Update:  Military Times provides some amplifying information about the Scorpion W2, including a small swatch of the material.  Sources speculate that the name could change in the near future.

The pattern displayed cuts back on the biege and brown colors to result in a type that falls in between a woodland and desert environment, likely applicable to future output of web gear as well as garrison and field uniforms.  Deploying troops could be issued variations on the coloration to adapt to jungle, woodland, desert or mountain terrain.

Update:  A more recent example of the pattern now rendered in a uniform, as published on

Update:  The Army announced that as of the 30th birthday of the 75th Ranger Regiment (3 October), the Rangers will wear the new design full time, and do away with the previous UCP pattern altogether.  A close contact that I have within the regiment said that the Scorpion W2 pattern is officially authorized, but since none of it is available, the MultiCam (OCP) pattern will be used until such time as the Scorpion becomes available.  Any photos, he says, will be taken at such a distance that no one will be able to tell the difference, which shouldn't be much of a problem.

Another example of "Rangers Lead The Way."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

El Puente Nuevo

Been there.

Ronda, Spain – a city with elements tracing back to Neolithic times, was settled by Celts and later founded by Scipio Africanus, conqueror of Hannibal and Carthage and thus victor of the Second Punic War, one of the great generals and leaders of history.  It lies in the heart of the hills of Andalucía, the real Spain to my mind.

This magnificent bridge, the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge), towering almost 400 feet above the Rio Guadalevín, is an engineering marvel painstakingly built in the last half of the 18th century by José Martín de Aldehuela.  It is said that some 50 workers perished during its construction.

The city has been a redoubt for centuries of wars, and was no less so for the Spanish Civil War of the latter 1930s.  Both the Republicans and Nationalists at times occupied the city, and both used the chamber under the central arch as a jail and interrogation chamber, tossing the condemned to the rocks of the El Tajo gorge.

Aldehuela also constructed the nearby Plaza de Toros, the birthplace through the Romero family of the modern art of bullfighting.  Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles became entranced by the city and its now controversial sport.  The Plaza holds few exhibitions these days due to its relatively small size, but we attended a corrida in Sevilla, where my son immediately caught on to the art of the event and, like me, was thoroughly taken by it.  My wife, however, certainly did not.  Such is the dichotomy of bullfighting: one either loves it or hates it, nothing in between.

The effort it takes to travel to Ronda is worth the time and bother, one of the understated but must-see places of Spain.

(H/T to Daily Timewaster)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

NATO's Rasmussen: Russian Defense Spending Greatly Outpaces Europe

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking at security conference in Bratislava, Slovakia last Thursday, drew a contrast between defense spending in Russia and several NATO countries, a topic brought home most prominently with the Russian annexation of Crimea and further hardly-veiled threats against eastern Ukraine and even Baltic countries like Estonia.

The NATO recommendation is that each country spend at least two percent of its GDP on defense but hardly any make that mark.  The US is currently at 3.8% (down from 6% during the Cold War), with the Sequester cutting further into the total for at least out to 2024, and Canada is at 1.3%.  For European countries, France, the UK, Turkey, and Estonia hold to a commitment to the goal (2.2%, 2.3%, 2.3%, and 2.3% respectively) but all others fall below, some dramatically so (e.g., Germany 1.4%, Italy 1.6%, Poland 1.9%, Norway 1.4%, Spain 0.85%, Czech Republic 1.1%, Slovakia 1.1%, Romania 1.2%, Latvia 1.4%, Lithuania 1.4%, Hungary 0.8%).

Putin strolls away from inspecting a Sukhoi T-50, the Russian stealth answer to the US F-35

Russia weighs in at 4.4%, and Rasmussen said that it has increased spending by 10% for each of the past five years, since its stumbling victory against small and remote Georgia in 2008.  Calculation of these GDP estimates for spending can be difficult to pin down, but there is no doubt that Russia is putting an increasing pace on its defense spending which some believe will top 5% possibly by the end of the year.

In contrast, Rasmussen stressed that during that same five year period, some NATO countries have decreased their defense spending by 20%.

The US commitment to Europe has dropped to some 68,000 personnel in all branches (down from a peak of 420,000 during the Cold War), including staffing the multiplicitous NATO headquarters and many logistic nodes, and not a single US battle tank remains.

NATO has recently been focused on the multinational support of efforts in Afghanistan and has not yet begun to shift to a more Eurocentric role, its original mission.  Previously a counter to the very real threat of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, it is no longer in a current state of readiness to capably resist an incursion of a renascent Russia.

Putin, of course, has already taken that into account, and is further confident that any attempt to fundamentally re-align NATO will take more time than we can afford.  He has two and a half years of an Obama administration remaining, representing the historic US backbone of NATO (or now the lack thereof), to do what he feels he can get away with, and he is making good on that opportunity.

Obama obliges with his frequent declarations that the US will make no military commitment whatsoever - even minor support - to the crisis in Ukraine and its ripple effect in Eastern Europe.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

#Grandstand: The Actual "Power of Hashtag"

A deft illustration of the feckless twittering of those who want to make a grand show, but only demonstrate how bereft they are of any real intention to follow through:

The cartoon, for those too young to remember, brings to mind the famous 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York.  The story that grew from it, telling of the reaction of the neighbors who heard her pleas for help, resulted in the cliché "I didn't want to get involved."

Kitty Genovese

The story continued to grow because of her murderer, Winston Moseley, who was apprehended soon thereafter.  He quickly admited to the murder in his interrogation ("I chose women to kill because they were easier and didn't fight back.")  Initially he received a sentence of death, the judge proclaiming that he was against the death penalty but would make a notable exception in Moseley's case, even to the point of "pulling the switch" himself.  (Such fuzzy principles often give way when confronted by reality.)  The sentence was later commuted to life with the possibility of parole due to an insufficient argument for "medical insanity".

Moseley escaped shortly afterward during a medical transport, overpowering a guard and taking his pistol.  He took a couple hostage, binding the husband and raping his wife, until an FBI agent broke into the apartment and confronted Moseley, guns drawn on each other for half an hour while the agent negotiated with Moseley, who finally surrendered.  Moseley went on to participate in the famous 1971 Attica Prison riot.

Moseley (center) after his re-capture (John Duprey, NY Daily News)

Moseley is still alive and has made a taxpayer-financed career of trying to secure his parole, still denied.  He has argued that he himself is a victim of his incarceration, arguing a classic argumentum ad misericordium: "For a victim outside, it's a one-time or one hour or one minute affair, but for the person who's caught, it's forever."

My heart bleeds ...

Considering the similarity of their circumstances, there is no word whether he has been in correspondence with celebrity cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.  If only his defenders would limit themselves to an equally useless hashtag campaign.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Russian Navy Is Coming Back

In case you missed it in the news (and you likely did, because it probably wasn't there), a Russian naval task force is cruising north through the English Channel, returning from a six-month deployment in the Mediterranean to the Russian Northern Fleet based out of the Barents Sea.

The Admiral Kuznetsov escorted by HMS Dragon in the southern approaches of the English Channel

The flagship of the task force is the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (formally the Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov), accompanied by the battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy (trans. Peter the Great), amphibious landing ship Minsk (the latest of the name), three supply ships – Sergei Osipov, Kama, and Dubna – and an ocean-going tug Altay.

Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great) with HMS Dragon in background

The Kuznetsov is the star of the Russian Navy as its single remaining aircraft carrier (though the Russians classify it as a 'heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser'), and started as a Soviet project that was to include a planned five carriers.  Its only sister ship to begin construction, the Riga (later Varyag) was left uncompleted with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  (The Chinese acquired the Varyag hulk with the purported purpose to convert it to a floating hotel, but once it came into their possession, it was then converted and upgraded to the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning.)  The Kuznetsov-class carriers were to be follow-ons to the Kiev-class, of which four were built and completed practically just in time to be decommissioned.

[I mention the Kiev-class carriers partially to recollect a fulfilling moment of my career.  My last overseas assignment was a short period assigned to the ROK Marines of South Korea in the mid-1990s, which occasioned me to travel to Chinhae, headquarters of the ROK Navy.  I was escorted to a remote part of the base along a winding coast with several near-offshore islands, when we turned a corner to see looming before me the floating anchored hulk of the Minsk – then the second Kiev-class carrier and former Soviet Pacific Fleet flagship – listing slightly to starboard, its formerly glorious stern emblem of red, white and gold covered with a green patina of verdigris, acquired by the Koreans as scrap.  Completely unexpected, it was a stunning sight, and reminded me at that moment of the Charlton Heston character in Planet of the Apes stumbling upon the remnants of the Statue of Liberty.  I had studied those ships in their glory days (to make a long complicated story short), and here before me was a stark example that we had won the Cold War.  In retrospect and with an eye to the near future, I should update that to the idea that we had won that phase of the Cold War.]

The Kuznetsov is named after the commander of the Soviet Navy of World War II, and started life as the Riga (yes, the names are switched around to different ships in often confusing abandon), the Leonid Brezhnev, and the Tbilisi.  Likewise, the Peter the Great was originally the Yuri Andropov.  The slow burn of the Soviet collapse necessitated a revolving door program of name changes as former leaders became discredited and great Soviet cities became foreign.  There was time to adjust though: while the Russians were staggering back to their feet, ships such as these were laid up for some ten years or so before completion in modern reconfiguration.

Note that all of the now-Russian aircraft carriers were built in Nikolayev Shipyards in Crimea, along with a number of other major combatants, which gives you another hint about the significance of the once and yet again Russian Crimea.

The Pyotr Velikiy is a Kirov-class cruiser and currently one of a kind as well, and constitutes the largest surface combatant ship in the world.  The Russians plan to have three other such mothballed ships re-commissioned and returned to service by 2020.

The latest Minsk in this task group is a Polish-built Ropucha-class amphibious landing ship capable of carrying various configurations of tanks (10 MBTs in one plan) or APCs and up to 340 Russian Marines.

Su-33 Flankers embarked aboard Admiral Kuznetsov

One of the missions of our own US Navy is naval diplomacy, or 'showing the flag', and it is one that the Russians are back to adopting.  These two capital ships are impressive, though the Kuznetsov doesn't come close to a Nimitz-class (or the new Gerald Ford-class) CV.  The air complement of the Kuznetsov consists of some 17 or so Kamov Ka-27 ASW helicopters, four Sukhoi Su-25UTG Frogfoot trainers with a limited ground-attack capability, and 14 Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker (also known as Su-27K) interceptors (with plans to be replaced by the MiG-29 Fulcrum).

The nuclear-powered Pyotr Velikiy has a large complement of anti-ship, -submarine, and -air missiles that are vertically launched.

One might suspect (though I no longer have any way of even speculating) that one or two submarines are in loose company, much like our carrier battle groups are likewise 'associated' with attack submarines, but the Russians may still be trying to work out the complicated coordination of such support.

While this task force looks pretty nifty, it is really quite vulnerable as a combined task force per se.  An American carrier battle group (CVBG) will have several cruisers and destroyers in company (and an unmentioned submarine or two) embarking up to some 80 or so aircraft, ensuring dominance of the air, surface, and sub-surface around it out to a considerable distance.  The Russians are far behind in comparative quality of carrier aircraft, not helped by the severe slump during the recovery from the Soviet disintegration.  The Su-33 Flanker is supposed to fill an air superiority mission, mentioned some time before as an equivalent to the now-obsolete F-14 Tomcat, and the prospective Mig-29 Fulcrum would be equivalent to our F/A-18 Hornet, which we have already substantially upgraded to a Super Hornet.  The Russians are short on numbers and quality, but they are making steady progress.

One must also take into account that the Russians, like the Soviets before them, do not see their missions as we do ours.  This is a subject for another, longer and more detailed article, but the Soviets envisioned using their navy as a protective force for their ballistic-missile submarines, further protected under the Arctic polar ice cap, and to support a thrust of the Red Army into western Europe with the Warsaw Pact.  I can attest better than practically anybody that the US Navy of the 1980s surely did not appreciate the distinction and was ready to fight a war at sea that the Soviets weren't going to play.  I hope that today's Navy has a better appreciation.

Approach of a Tupolev Tu-95 Bear H, as photographed by escorting RAF fighters

But notice that this transit, well publicized in the UK and other publications in Europe, is taking place at the same time as the build-up of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border (which remain in force despite Putin's assurances of a stand-down), a large-scale nuclear strike exercise and launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and two submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), and approaches of Russian Tu-95 Bear strategic bomber/reconnaissance aircraft to British airspace (a common occurrence during the Soviet Union but dormant for some fifteen years until revived by Putin a few years ago).  Putin is clearly flexing his muscle for an increasingly divided Europe (with Putin doing his best to divide it still further) that cannot muster the political will to stand up to his threats, undercut by an even weaker stance by the Americans under Obama, who simply cannot pass up an opportunity to proclaim that any option involving the military is clearly off the table.  The intimidation advantage is decidedly to the Russians.

To say that Putin is telegraphing his punch would be to speculate that he will actually follow through with a punch, but he is definitely telegraphing.  Done adroitly, he won't have to worry about delivering the blow.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Unsettling Science: Saturated Fat and Heart Disease, and Where We've Gone Wrong

The Wall Street Journal has published a review of a book sure to raise a controversy, or more accurately revive a standard one, this time taking on the nutrition industry, an area just as corrupted and exploited by government grants, bastioned academics, and commercial interests as any other pop science.

Nina Teicholz has been a reporter for National Public Radio and authored articles for Men's Health, Gourmet, the Economist, and the New York Times, et al., studied biology at Yale and Stanford and earned a masters degree as an Oxonian (to revive a slightly arcane term).  Her new book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet will be published by Simon & Shuster next Tuesday the 12th, and it presents the argument that the accepted wisdom about a diet high in fat leading to heart disease is based on a highly flawed study.  Citing a study from a recent issue of Annals of Internal Medicine that questions the link between saturated fat and heart disease, she states:
The new study's conclusion shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with modern nutritional science, however.  The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease.  We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.

Our distrust of saturated fat can be traced back to the 1950s, to a man named Ancel Benjamin Keys, a scientist at the University of Minnesota.  Dr Keys was formidably persuasive and, through sheer force of will, rose to the top of the nutrition world – even gracing the cover of Time magazine – for relentlessly championing the idea that saturated fats raise cholesterol and, as a result, cause heart attacks.
Dr Keys published a study that quickly became the settled science, an examination of some 13,000 men in the US, Japan, and Europe, that purportedly proved that heart disease was the result of poor nutrition.
Critics have pointed out that Dr Keys violated several basic scientific norms in his study.  For one, he didn't choose countries randomly but instead selected only those likely to prove his beliefs, including Yugoslavia, Finland and Italy.  Excluded were France, land of the famously healthy omelet eater, as well as other countries where people consumed a lot of fat yet didn't suffer from high rates of heart disease, such as Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany.  The study's star subjects – upon whom much of our current understanding of the Mediterranean diet is based – were peasants from Crete, islanders who tilled their fields well into old age and who appeared to eat very little meat or cheese.

As it turns out, Dr Keys visited Crete during an unrepresentative period of extreme hardship after World War II.  Furthermore, he made the mistake of measuring the islanders' diet partly during Lent, when they were forgoing meat and cheese.  Dr Keys therefore undercounted their consumption of saturated fat.  Also, due to problems with the surveys, he ended up relying on data from just a few dozen men – far from the representative sample of 655 that he had initially selected.  These flaws weren't revealed until much later, in a 2002 paper by scientists investigating the work on Crete – but by then, the misimpression left by his erroneous data had become international dogma.
The rest of the article explains more of the flaws and shoddy methodology, the results on our health, and how entrenched is the industry, pushing carbohydrates instead.  It is a very interesting read, and she concludes:
Our half-century effort to cut back on the consumption of meat, eggs and whole-fat dairy has a tragic quality.  More than a billion dollars have been spent trying to prove Ancel Keys' hypothesis, but evidence of its benefits has never been produced.  It is time to put the saturated-fat hypothesis to bed and to move on to test other possible culprits for our nation's health woes.
This is just another stanza in the dirge that represents the hijacking of science, and its reliance on the fallacy of ipse dixit – an appeal to authority – that is already found in global cooling, global warming, climate change disruption, as well as the discovery that increased levels of iron are not, in fact, a guard against heart disease (au contraire), or the embarrassment of the public discovery that the previous dogma of the food pyramid and its claim of a healthy diet happened to be quite similar to the USDA's recommendation for a diet to fatten livestock, to name but a few examples.

I don't recommend the article as an argument that we should eat more fat – I don't believe that it is actually saying that so much as it is that certain types of fat are more beneficial, but it is an excellent revelation of how pop 'settled' science is sold to a gullible audience.  (It is a neat temptation though, much as I love my steak and bacon, and this can go along with the discovery that the best source of lycopenes, so important to men's health, can be found in cooked tomatoes, leading immediately in my mind to the pizza diet.)

Cicero is credited, among others in history, with the observation that nothing is so absurd that it has not been said by some philosopher.  We should extend that observation to the various battalions of charlatans in lab coats.

Update:  Walter Willett of Harvard weighs in on the subject with a lengthy yet easily informative discussion on NPR, expanding on the topic.  Such as:
[T]he food guide pyramid that was developed in 1991 really is based on the idea that all fat is bad.  Therefore [if] fat is bad, and you have to eat something, carbohydrate must be wonderful.  So the base of the pyramid is really emphasizing large amounts of starch in the diet.  We're told we can eat up to 11 servings a day, and if that wasn't enough starch, the pyramid puts potatoes along with the vegetables, so you can have up to 13 servings a day.  That's a huge amount of starch….

Fat's up at the top of the pyramid, and where it says explicitly "fats and oils, use sparingly."  It doesn't make any distinction about the type of fat, and it tells us to eat basically as little as possible….

[T]his pyramid is really not compatible with good scientific evidence, and it was really out of date from the day it was printed in 1991, because we knew, and we've known for 30 or 40 years that the type of fat is very important.  That was totally neglected.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Hillary's Foray into Gun Control

An axiom of politics is that one must run to the base to secure the nomination, then pivot to the center to win the election.  Is that why Hillary went to great length to spell out her stance on gun control?

Speaking from an armchair to an assembly of the National Council of Behavioral Health, she responded to a question about the use of guns in suicides by hovering near a third rail of political discourse – an attempt to spell out a position on gun control, a forlorn hope with the Left in all cases up to now.
I think again we're way out of balance.  We've got to rein in what has become almost an article of faith that almost anybody can have a gun anywhere at any time.  And I don't believe that is in the best interest of the vast majority of people.

[High-profile incidents in movie theaters and parking lots are] what happens in the countries I've visited that have no rule of law.

At the rate we're going, we're going to have so many people with guns in settings where … [they] decide they have a perfect right to defend themselves against the gum chewer or the cell-phone talker.
People who are bound and determined to take out a cell-phone talker don't need permission to do so; it is the others who have a perfect right to defend themselves against such maniacs and criminals.

I could go much further on that principle, but the focus here is on why she would introduce a relatively lengthy explanation beyond the question.  (To add some precision about the original question at the conference, some two-thirds of gun deaths in America are from suicide, lest we be led to believe that there are raging gun battles in our streets – other than in Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Los Angeles – those areas with strict gun control laws.  But guns don't commit suicide; people do.)

The Left has sought to impose gun control restrictions for years now, ignoring the clear meaning of the Second Amendment about the right to keep and bear arms, clarified in recent years by the Supreme Court.  Nevertheless, people such as former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg persist in bankrolling efforts to set up obstacles despite the fact that now all fifty states have some form of carry permit for citizens.  That evolution has seen an increase in the general public of gun possession and a huge increase in concealed carry permits, yet a definite decrease in gun crime, the opposite of Hillary's doomsday scenario.

Hillary and others like her are rolling against the tide, and the Left loses track of the fact that gun control attempts consistently fail or are at the very least only temporarily successful.  Attempts by Dukakis, Bill Clinton (losing Congress in a landslide in 1994), and Gore all had painful consequences, and states like Colorado, New York, and Connecticut are seeing stiff resistance – civil disobedience from citizens and law enforcement alike.

What would compel her to talk at length about 'reining in the rights' of citizens in a prospective presidential campaign?  She is touted as a shoo-in for the Democrat nomination (but then, she was before), despite her age.  (Reagan was criticized for being the oldest President in history at his inauguration.  Hillary would be just shy of that age at [*gag] hers.)

There is talk that the Democrat field could have a challenge from the deeper blue part of the spectrum, perhaps from Elizabeth 'Fauxcahontas' Warren, who demurs at the present but I expect that she could be prevailed upon.  After making such a declaration in favor of gun control, could Hillary pivot back again?  Sure, she's done it before.  That's easy when you are a professional politician, blessed with such a credulous audience.

More Hashtag Diplomacy Against Terrorists

Just when I thought that Jen Psaki's "power of hashtag" must be one of the most inane and worthless bits of pandering, even by State Department standards, along comes no less than Michelle Obama, the woman who stands behind the man who leads from behind, with this contribution:

"This is me, looking concerned."

"Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families.  It's time to #BringBackOurGirls. - mo"

Now just what does she expect this will do, other than pump up her Park Avenue creds with the Kumbaya base?  International news services simply aren't up to the task of reporting news anymore?  Her pouty duck face of sadness will only provide some mirth to the Boko Haram terrorists who have kidnapped hundreds of adolescent schoolgirls as fodder for the sex slave trade – yet another unanswered example of the Muslim war on Christians.  (I tossed in that last fact, since press reports typically do not.)

The recent attacks also resulted in up to 300 people slaughtered in the process: throats cut, shot in the head, some burned alive.

Interestingly, Hillary Clinton repeatedly and inexplicably refused to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, despite many attempts by the CIA, FBI, the Justice Department, Africa Command, and members of Congress to have her make that declaration.  This was hand-in-glove with the refusal to recognize a terrorist risk in Benghazi because, after all, the Obama campaign kept insisting that groups like the al Qaeda-affiliated Boko Haram were no longer a problem.

These attacks and their scale are nothing new; last February some 50 boys were slaughtered at Buni Yadi, and 40 were slaughtered last September.  These atrocities dove-tail into other attacks, some occurring weekly, where hundreds are killed.  The gender of the victims seems to have been a factor in taking more widespread notice.

Does Michelle actually believe that the families of the girls will receive some solace from this narcissistic little tweet?

Other celebrities have to get in on the act, solidifying their Feelings® bona fides.  Now that will make a big difference.


How do we properly attack the problem of terrorists?  Track them down and kill them.  That takes time and commitment – anything of real value does.

With terrorists, whether you counter-attack or not, you will encourage them.  You either let them attack you, or you fight back.  Fighting fanatics makes them angrier still, but it at least has the real advantage of killing them.  They will be dissuaded no other way.

You have to speak to people in a language they understand.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Clues: Which Side Is Which in Ukraine

I have been asked about some of the symbols seen in photo and video reportage about the unfolding events in Ukraine, in an effort to sort out which side is which.

Some have noticed the presence of ribbons – orange and black striped – affixed to the uniforms of varied camouflage patterns worn by the actors in and around the occupied sites of government buildings in eastern Ukraine.  That would be the ribbon of Saint George, with the colors symbolizing fire and gunpowder, and now a makeshift indication that the wearer is pro-Russian.  It comes from the old Order of Saint George, established by Catherine the Great as a medal for bravery in combat, and the colors were apparently taken from the imperial shield that had a black eagle on a golden background.  The order and medal were disestablished with the Bolshevik Revolution, along with anything else that was historically Russian, but the ribbon was re-established to some degree in World War II when it was found that Russians simply weren't enthusiastic about fighting for Communism, but would fight for the glory of Mother Russia.  The medal was fully re-established by Boris Yeltsin.  The Red Banner of the Guards units in the Soviet Red Army, designating famous units and their valor in combat, has been replaced with stripped banners of orange and black.

This goes along with the black balaclavas of the pro-Russian separatists, the "little green men" as the Ukrainian government has called them, and laughably called "spontaneous" by Putin and his apologists.  The balaclava is now the most popular fashion accessory in that area since the invention of pants.

On the other side, demonstrations with the Ukrainian flag of blue and yellow (blue sky, yellow wheat fields) are sometimes supplemented with other flags of red and black (red Ukrainian blood, black Ukrainian soil) that hearken to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (or Ukrayins’ka Povstans’ka Armiya, UPA [УПА]) of World War II.  It has a very chequered past, dedicated to Ukrainian independence by alternately fighting Nazi, Soviet, and Polish armies in an often rapid spiral of realpolitik, thus alienating practically everyone around it except for Ukrainian nationalists.  This is why you see and hear Russian accusations of "fascists" and "Nazis" applied to the Ukrainian movement, and the contending factions see in the flag what they want.

These national colors have some history to them.  Take for example, this excuse I have for adding a painting that has always amused me, Ilya Repin's Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Sultan.  Note the furled banners in the upper left.  [click to enlarge]

The Ukrainian national emblem is a trident symbol – the tryzub – that goes back to Vladimir the Great of a thousand years ago, symbolizing the triune God.  Vladimir is to Ukraine what Constantine is to the Roman Empire, the first monarch to bring Christianity to his land.

"Donetskaya Respublika"

The Donetsk separatist flag has been resurrected as well from the chaotic days of the attempt to establish an independent Soviet republic in the area after the Revolution of 1917, one particularly independent from Ukraine.  It was unsuccessful though it saw early and brief Russian support until it became consolidated into the Soviet Ukraine in 1918.  It is not surprising that the idea would be revived with recent events, supported by a spirit of irredentism.  The basic flag of black-blue-red is a play on the classic Russian flag of white-blue-red, and I would expect that the black was a nod to the local Black Army of anarchists under Nestor Makhno that fought in the swirling Russian Civil War that followed the Revolution.

Unfortunately, it would seem that another major clue is that any military unit equipped in abundance with modern weaponry and equipment clearly is not Ukrainian.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Behind every blade of grass"

I am uncertain whether or not this is an actual Remington poster, but I appreciate the sentiment.

Remington Arms has been a fixture in Ilion, New York since Eliphalet Remington built his first musket barrel there in 1816, and really dug in and gained notoriety as a result of its output in the Civil War.  Near bankruptcy after World War I, after the Bolsheviks cancelled the massive Imperial Russian contract and the US took its usual eat-your-young approach to downsizing the military after a war (WWI was, after all, the "war to end all wars"), the company was convinced to focus on the sporting arms industry for more stability.  Clearly, one of its more successful products has been the Model 700 series, with off-shoots such as the Marine M40 sniper rifle and the Army M24 Sniper Weapons System (a basis for the new XM2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle).  The company has learned to be a political animal, declaring its love of the environs of Ilion despite its presense in one of the more knee-jerk left-wing states, but any expansion of note is taking place in Alabama, a direct result of the inane New York SAFE Act of Governor Cuomo and his insistance that "extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay ... have no place in the state of New York."  Remington will keep its headquarters and their legacy families in place in its slowly attriting Ilion, but Huntsville is the new place for some 2,000 Remington jobs.  And Remington's departure from areas politically hostile to it is just one of many.

This map doesn't cover other stories, like PMAG fleeing Colorado for Texas and Wyoming (likewise HiViz and the Outdoor Channel) due to the governor and his steadily dwindling allies in the state legislature (two senators recalled and a third forced to resign in order to keep the Senate from Republican control) and a political revolt from the Colorado Sheriff's Association over the anti-gun laws forced onto the public.

But the Reminton poster ties in nicely ("... the world's largest army...") with a previous poster which I appended to a story of trying to eliminate harrassment of law-abiding citizens transporting firearms through states:
So the number of firearms in the possession of American citizens continues to increase, while at the same time the crime rate, certainly in states that emphasize the right to gun ownership, goes down.  Is that the only direct causal relationship?  No, but it's likely a vital element of the result.  Until proven otherwise, I'll stick with that trend.

(H/T to Daily Timewaster)