Sunday, September 30, 2012
Above is one of Ike's TV campaign ads from the 1952 Presidential election. If Ike thought that Adlai Stevenson and the Democrats of the day were out of control bus drivers, I wonder what he would say about Obumbler, Reid, Pelosi and company?
Found via Open Culture, which has a couple more of Ike's ads.
The above video is from Ikeguchi Labs. They've placed 16 metronomes on a suspended table and started them randomly. A bit of their motion is imparted to the others via the swinging table. This causes them to synchronize in a surprisingly short amount of time.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
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Man, who wouldn't want one of these babies?
It's not really fair of me to contrast Franky and Camille to the people in the Philippines who are happy to get light delivered via plastic bottles filled with water. The two seem amiable enough, and not really preachy, which is about all you can hope out of anyone.
Still, it is an interesting contrast. It is just two small slices of time, but the undercurrent of anxiety of Franky and Camille about the power going out is striking. Then they tisk-tisk about how far food is shipped as they stand in front of their camera and talk about their planned their trip across the continent to California. A rather odd picking and choosing of good versus bad technology if you ask me.
For all their spiritualism, compared to the barrio dwellers just happy to have some light in their rooms, perhaps Franky and Camille don't grasp the simple life as well as they think they do. Then again, whatever makes them happy.
Friday, September 28, 2012
The article doesn't exclusively focus on the short-comings of the security for the Libyan mission. Instead, after pointing out that embassy security is largely the responsibility of the host country, Stewart discusses the funding of further, internal security.
It is an interesting read.
For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I turned to film's featuring diplomats. After one of my usual long and thorough searches, I selected Carol Baker for her role in the 1961 film Bridge to the Sun.
The movie is based on a true story. In it Ms Baker plays Gwen Terasaki, a Tennessee woman who married a Japanese diplomat prior to WWII. When Pearl Harbor was bombed her husband was repatriated to Japan and she chose to accompany him. Needless to say, being an American as Japan slowly lost the war and was bombed into rubble was a difficult situation for her.
The movie gets good reviews, although it seems to not get aired anymore. I don't know why. From the date it was made I don't think it is because of PC sensibilities over it portrayal of the Japanese (and reviews don't mention any issues along those lines). Perhaps Gew Terasaki's estate has kept it under wraps for some reason.
Diplomatic Security in Light of Benghazi
By Scott Stewart, September 27, 2012
It has been more than two weeks since the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, yet the attack remains front-page news. One reason is that it has become unusual for a U.S. ambassador to be killed. After the 1968 assassination of John Mein in Guatemala -- the first ever U.S. ambassador to be assassinated -- several others were killed in the 1970s: Cleo Noel Jr. in Sudan in 1973, Rodger Davies in Cyprus in 1974, Francis Meloy Jr. in Lebanon in 1976 and Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan in 1979. However, following improvements in diplomatic security during the 1980s, no U.S. ambassador has died as a result of a hostile action since Ambassador Arnold Raphel, who was killed in the plane crash used to assassinate Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in August 1988.
Another reason for the continued publicity is that it is an election year. Since foreign policy is an area where Republicans believe President Barack Obama is vulnerable, Stevens' death has become highly politicized. In any event, the Benghazi attack remains in the headlines. Unfortunately, as one goes beyond those headlines, there are many misunderstandings that have persisted in both the media coverage and the public discussions of the incident. There simply are not many people who understand how diplomatic facilities work and how they are protected.
With that in mind, and because other U.S. diplomatic facilities remain in harm's way due to the protests occurring throughout the Muslim world, it is an opportune time to again discuss diplomatic security.
First, whenever discussing the security of diplomatic facilities, it must be understood that, by treaty, the responsibility for the security of diplomatic facilities lies with the host government. This clear responsibility was codified in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which took effect in 1964.
This is generally not a problem in a developed, friendly country. There is little doubt that the Australian government will take the appropriate steps to ensure that the U.S. Embassy and the British High Commission in Canberra remain safe. The problems with the responsibilities outlined in the Vienna Convention occur when a diplomatic facility is located in a country that is either unable or unwilling to provide adequate security.
The U.S. government has learned this lesson the hard way. For example, in 1979, the U.S. embassies in Tehran and Islamabad were overrun. In both cases, the host governments could have taken action to stop the mobs attacking the embassies but chose not to. A few years later in Lebanon, the U.S. Embassy and Embassy Annex were targeted in massive bombing attacks in 1983 and 1984, respectively. In these attacks, it was weakness that prevented the Lebanese government, which had been exhausted by civil war, from providing adequate protection for the facilities.
The situation in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, very much resembled the one in Lebanon at the time of the embassy bombings. The Libyan central government has very little authority outside of Tripoli, the capital, and heavily armed tribal and regional militias control many parts of the country. Some of this has changed since locals angry at Ansar al-Sharia, a group believed to have participated in the Benghazi attack, stormed the compounds of some Islamist militias in the Benghazi area, evicting them and turning the compounds over to the government. Nevertheless, the militias left with most of their weapons and will continue to be a threat in the future.
The U.S. government learned from the incidents of the 1970s and 1980s that host governments cannot always be expected to provide security adequate to counter all threats in a country. In response to this reality and the increased attacks against U.S. diplomatic missions, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz set up a commission in 1984 to study the problem and find ways to increase security at U.S. facilities abroad. The panel, headed by Adm. Bobby Inman, was formally called the Advisory Panel on Overseas Security but is widely referred to as the Inman Commission. In addition to recommending a more robust cadre of agents to protect facilities, the Inman Commission made recommendations on physical and procedural security standards for diplomatic facilities. Embassies and consulates constructed in accordance with these physical security standards are often referred to as Inman facilities.
Based on the findings of the Inman Commission, the Department of State's Office of Security was expanded to become the Diplomatic Security Service in 1985. The U.S. Congress codified and funded these changes in the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986.
However, as we've previously noted, funding for diplomatic security follows a notable boom and bust cycle. The influx of funding for diplomatic security provided by the 1986 Omnibus Act quickly evaporated. By the early 1990s, security budgets were being severely squeezed again. This budget crunch affected physical security upgrades at embassies as well as the hiring of new Diplomatic Security Service agents and forced cuts in things such as local guard program budgets. The Crowe Commission, which was appointed to investigate the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in August 1998, concluded that these funding cuts had severely hampered efforts to increase security at U.S. facilities abroad.
While there was a spike in funding for diplomatic security (along with security more generally) after the 9/11 attacks, security funding has declined over the past decade. This issue has been complicated by the incredible strain placed on the system by the huge diplomatic facilities in Iraq as well as the large diplomatic presence and severe threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Providing security to these posts has also stretched Diplomatic Security Service personnel thin. The two Diplomatic Security Service special agents injured in the Benghazi attack were on their first tours and had been borrowed from domestic field offices in the United States for a temporary duty assignment protecting Stevens in Libya. The personnel situation is not looking much better for the future. With the agents hired after the Inman Commission in the mid-to-late 1980s retiring at a rapid rate, and with others leaving due to strain placed on their families by multiple tours in places in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 100 new special agents the Diplomatic Security Service is slated to hire this year will not be enough to replace those leaving the service.
Into this dynamic we introduce the Arab Spring and the revolution in Libya. The United States had re-established diplomatic ties with Libya after Moammar Gadhafi's regime renounced terrorism and its nuclear ambitions. In 2004, a U.S. interests section was opened in Tripoli, and in 2006, the United States opened a full embassy. In 2009, the United States opened a new embassy building in Tripoli that was built to meet the department's security standards and provide a safe working environment for American diplomats in the Libyan capital. This building, however, was abandoned in February 2011 when the U.S. government severed diplomatic ties with the Gadhafi government and withdrew U.S. diplomats from Tripoli.
At this time it is worth noting that embassy buildings are intended to protect their occupants from terrorist attacks, but they are not immune to prolonged attacks by angry mobs. Even good physical security measures can be breached by a mob with tools and time. This is what happened in Tripoli in May 2011. The new U.S. Embassy building was ransacked, looted and badly damaged by Gadhafi security forces and a gang of Gadhafi supporters, rendering it uninhabitable. As a result, after the fall of the Gadhafi regime, the U.S. Embassy staff had to move into a temporary facility until the former embassy building could be repaired or a new facility could be constructed. They are still in this temporary facility.
One reality of Libya after the revolution is that, as noted above, the country is very divided and the central government has little authority outside of Tripoli. There has also been a long history of an east-west divide in Libya, with Tripoli and Benghazi as the opposing centers of power. Because of this, it makes a great deal of sense for the United States to want to open an office in Benghazi to take the pulse of eastern Libya. The United States also intervened on behalf of the rebels, who were originally based in Benghazi, and U.S. diplomats, led by Stevens, established an office there in early April 2011 to coordinate U.S. aid for the rebels, eventually moving into the villa that was attacked.
Benghazi and Darnah also have long been hotbeds of jihadism in Libya, so having an office in eastern Libya is a logical step in support of efforts to monitor these groups. Additionally, with the vast quantities of weapons that were looted from arms depots in the Benghazi area, including large numbers of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, Benghazi is a good place to base efforts to monitor the flow of such weapons or even to stage programs to recover and destroy them.
So while it is understandable that the U.S. government would want to base diplomats and intelligence personnel in Benghazi, it encountered a problem: It simply did not have a facility in the city that met security standards. Instead, the personnel had to occupy a temporary facility until a suitable building could be funded and then constructed. While the U.S. State Department has adopted a modular design program that has made this process a little easier, the construction of a new office building is nonetheless an expensive undertaking and something that the department cannot do under its current operating budget without the U.S. Congress allocating funds to pay for the construction project. Anyone who has dealt with the U.S. government should not be surprised, then, that the 11 months since the fall of the Gadhafi regime were not enough for Congress to fund, and the State Department to build, a new secure facility to house the consulate in Benghazi.
Risk and Reward
It is difficult for a large bureaucracy like the U.S. government to adapt to rapidly changing events -- even events it is largely responsible for, such as forcing the Gadhafi regime from power.
During such times of transition, there will always be some tension between the need to get the job done and the need to do it safely. Working and living in an environment such as Benghazi where there are heavily armed Islamist militias is dangerous, but there are simply some things that cannot be done without personnel on the ground. Someone somewhere made the decision that the benefits of having U.S. personnel in Benghazi outweighed the risk of housing them in a building that did not meet security standards, and a waiver was granted for the Benghazi facility.
The presence of a U.S. ambassador at a post with a security waiver located in such a volatile environment on the 9/11 anniversary is another issue, especially given the previous attacks against the U.S. Consulate and the British ambassador's motorcade in the city. The situation is even worse if the rumor that Stevens was on a jihadist hit list proves to be true. Former Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering will chair the accountability review board that has been established to investigate the attack in Benghazi. In addition to reviewing the physical security of the facility, the board will certainly be reviewing the rationale behind the decision to allow the ambassador to travel to Benghazi and whether that decision was made at the local level or in Washington.
But the issue of temporary facilities is not just confined to Tripoli and Benghazi. It comes up frequently when there is a rapid change in a nation, or even in the case of a natural disaster. For example, the U.S. recognition of the new nation of South Sudan in July 2011 necessitated the rapid establishment of an embassy in the country's capital, Juba. If the environment continues to improve in Somalia, it is possible that the United States will increase its presence in Mogadishu, and establishing an embassy in Mogadishu will also pose a problem until a secure facility can be constructed.
The issue of temporary facilities is also not a new problem. The December 1972 earthquake that shattered Managua, Nicaragua, destroyed the U.S. Embassy there. Following the earthquake, the embassy was housed in a temporary prefabricated facility -- essentially a large mobile home -- until a new embassy building was completed in 2007. (Much of this delay was due to tensions with the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and its desire to keep the U.S. Embassy insecure.)
The diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue to consume substantial portions of the U.S. overseas security budget and the shrinking cadre of Diplomatic Security Service special agents for the foreseeable future. This means that smaller posts seen as less important, like Benghazi, will remain vulnerable -- especially against a prolonged attack by a large and heavily armed force. U.S. authorities will have to continue to make uncomfortable decisions regarding the risks and benefits of having such outposts.
Diplomatic Security in Light of Benghazi is republished with permission of Stratfor.
Watch your step this weekend with Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
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They're taken from kitchner.lord's gallery of Dutch Posters and Advertising. There are more examples after the jump, and many more examples at kitchner.lord's link.
An old farmer worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.
"Maybe," the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.
"Maybe," replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
"Maybe," answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
"Maybe," said the farmer.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
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the males use a single fin to move the sand and the result of their work not only attract female pffer fish to mate with, the ridges protest the eggs that they lay from currents. You can read about it in more detail, as well as see more pictures, at Spoon and Tamago's post The Deep Sea Mystery Circle – a love story.
Once again it is time for a fight scene to get you over the hump in hump day. This fight starts when The Man tries to frame a gold lame clad Brother. Much slow motion kung fu ensues -- the best part being the Bruce Lee like kung fu vocalizations have also been slowed down, which makes them all the more silly.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
In the previous century Japan had invaded China and a long war resulted which shades their relationship to this day. In the aftermath of WWII China was weak and Japan slid under the umbrella of American protection which dampened the strategic competition between the two nations.
However, with China flexing its muscles as an emergent major power Japan is also beginning to make moves to bolster its ability to respond to threats of force,
It is a good article, that looks at the strengths, weaknesses and constraints of both countries as well as the US's influences in the region.
For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I looked towards Japan for a candidate. It turned out one of my major problems was finding an actress who looked older than 16 years of age. Yeesh. At any rate, after some research I selected Keiko Kitagawa to receive the honors for this article.
Ms Kitagawa started out as teen model and was quickly signed as an actress as well. She gained her first success playing Sailor mars in the Sailor Moon TV show. Since then she has had a very active career bouncing between Japanese TV and films, generally in the lead role.
Understanding the China-Japan Island Conflict
By Rodger Baker, Vice President of East Asia Analysis, September 25, 2012
Sept. 29 will mark 40 years of normalized diplomatic relations between China and Japan, two countries that spent much of the 20th century in mutual enmity if not at outright war. The anniversary comes at a low point in Sino-Japanese relations amid a dispute over an island chain in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China.
These islands, which are little more than uninhabited rocks, are not particularly valuable on their own. However, nationalist factions in both countries have used them to enflame old animosities; in China, the government has even helped organize the protests over Japan's plan to purchase and nationalize the islands from their private owner. But China's increased assertiveness is not limited only to this issue. Beijing has undertaken a high-profile expansion and improvement of its navy as a way to help safeguard its maritime interests, which Japan -- an island nation necessarily dependent on access to sea-lanes -- naturally views as a threat. Driven by its economic and political needs, China's expanded military activity may awaken Japan from the pacifist slumber that has characterized it since the end of World War II.
An Old Conflict's New Prominence
The current tensions surrounding the disputed islands began in April. During a visit to the United States, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, a hard-line nationalist known for his 1989 book The Japan That Can Say No, which advocated for a stronger international role for Japan not tied to U.S. interests or influence, said that the Tokyo municipal government was planning to buy three of the five Senkaku/Diaoyu islands from their private Japanese owner. Ishihara's comments did little to stir up tensions at the time, but subsequent efforts to raise funds and press forward with the plan drew the attention and ultimately the involvement of the Japanese central government. The efforts also gave China a way to distract from its military and political standoff with the Philippines over control of parts of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
For decades, Tokyo and Beijing generally abided by a tacit agreement to keep the islands dispute quiet. Japan agreed not to carry out any new construction or let anyone land on the islands; China agreed to delay assertion of any claim to the islands and not let the dispute interfere with trade and political relations. Although flare-ups occurred, usually triggered by some altercation between the Japanese coast guard and Chinese fishing vessels or by nationalist Japanese or Chinese activists trying to land on the islands, the lingering territorial dispute played only a minor role in bilateral relations.
However, Ishihara's plans for the Tokyo municipal government to take over the islands and eventually build security outposts there forced the Japanese government's hand. Facing domestic political pressure to secure Japan's claim to the islands, the government determined that the "nationalization" of the islands was the least contentious option. By keeping control over construction and landings, the central government would be able to keep up its side of the tacit agreement with China on managing the islands.
China saw Japan's proposed nationalization as an opportunity to exploit. Even as Japan was debating what action to take, China began stirring up anti-Japanese sentiment and Beijing tacitly backed the move by a group of Hong Kong activists in August to sail to and land on the disputed islands. At the same time, Beijing prevented a Chinese-based fishing vessel from attempting the same thing, using Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status as a way to distance itself from the action and retain greater flexibility in dealing with Japan.
As expected, the Japanese coast guard arrested the Hong Kong activists and impounded their ship, but Tokyo also swiftly released them to avoid escalating tensions. Less than a month later, after Japan's final decision to purchase the islands from their private Japanese owner, anti-Japanese protests swept China, in many places devolving into riots and vandalism targeting Japanese products and companies. Although many of these protests were stage-managed by the government, the Chinese began to clamp down when some demonstrations got out of control. While still exploiting the anti-Japanese rhetoric, Chinese state-run media outlets have highlighted local governments' efforts to identify and punish protesters who turned violent and warn that nationalist pride is no excuse for destructive behavior.
Presently, both China and Japan are working to keep the dispute within manageable parameters after a month of heightened tensions. China has shifted to disrupting trade with Japan on a local level, with some Japanese products reportedly taking much longer to clear customs, while Japan has dispatched a deputy foreign minister for discussions with Beijing. Chinese maritime surveillance ships continue to make incursions into the area around the disputed islands, and there are reports of hundreds or even thousands of Chinese fishing vessels in the East China Sea gathered near the waters around the islands, but both Japan and China appear to be controlling their actions. Neither side can publicly give in on its territorial stance, and both are looking for ways to gain politically without allowing the situation to degrade further.
Political Dilemmas in Beijing and Tokyo
The islands dispute is occurring as China and Japan, the world's second- and third-largest economies, are both experiencing political crises at home and facing uncertain economic paths forward. But the dispute also reflects the very different positions of the two countries in their developmental history and in East Asia's balance of power.
China, the emerging power in Asia, has seen decades of rapid economic growth but is now confronted with a systemic crisis, one already experienced by Japan in the early 1990s and by South Korea and the other Asian tigers later in the decade. China is reaching the limits of the debt-financed, export-driven economic model and must now deal with the economic and social consequences of this change. That this comes amid a once-in-a-decade leadership transition only exacerbates China's political unease as it debates options for transitioning to a more sustainable economic model. But while China's economic expansion may have plateaued, its military development is still growing.
The Chinese military is becoming a more modern fighting force, more active in influencing Chinese foreign policy and more assertive of its role regionally. The People's Liberation Army Navy on Sept. 23 accepted the delivery of China's first aircraft carrier, and the ship serves as a symbol of the country's military expansion. While Beijing views the carrier as a tool to assert Chinese interests regionally (and perhaps around the globe over the longer term) in the same manner that the United States uses its carrier fleet, for now China has only one, and the country is new to carrier fleet and aviation operations. Having a single carrier offers perhaps more limitations than opportunities for its use, all while raising the concerns and inviting reaction from neighboring states.
Japan, by contrast, has seen two decades of economic malaise characterized by a general stagnation in growth, though not necessarily a devolution of overall economic power. Still, it took those two decades for the Chinese economy, growing at double-digit rates, to even catch the Japanese economy. Despite the malaise, there is plenty of latent strength in the Japanese economy. Japan's main problem is its lack of economic dynamism, a concern that is beginning to be reflected in Japanese politics, where new forces are rising to challenge the political status quo. The long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party lost power to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan in 2009, and both mainstream parties are facing new challenges from independents, non-traditional candidates and the emerging regionalist parties, which espouse nationalism and call for a more aggressive foreign policy.
Even before the rise of the regionalist parties, Japan had begun moving slowly but inexorably from its post-World War II military constraints. With China's growing military strength, North Korea's nuclear weapons program and even South Korean military expansion, Japan has cautiously watched as the potential threats to its maritime interests have emerged, and it has begun to take action. The United States, in part because it wants to share the burden of maintaining security with its allies, has encouraged Tokyo's efforts to take a more active role in regional and international security, commensurate with Japan's overall economic influence.
Concurrent with Japan's economic stagnation, the past two decades have seen the country quietly reform its Self-Defense Forces, expanding the allowable missions as it re-interprets the country's constitutionally mandated restrictions on offensive activity. For example, Japan has raised the status of the defense agency to the defense ministry, expanded joint training operations within its armed forces and with their civilian counterparts, shifted its views on the joint development and sale of weapons systems, integrated more heavily with U.S. anti-missile systems and begun deploying its own helicopter carriers.
Contest for East Asian Supremacy
China is struggling with the new role of the military in its foreign relations, while Japan is seeing a slow re-emergence of the military as a tool of its foreign relations. China's two-decade-plus surge in economic growth is reaching its logical limit, yet given the sheer size of China's population and its lack of progress switching to a more consumption-based economy, Beijing still has a long way to go before it achieves any sort of equitable distribution of resources and benefits. This leaves China's leaders facing rising social tensions with fewer new resources at their disposal. Japan, after two decades of society effectively agreeing to preserve social stability at the cost of economic restructuring and upheaval, is now reaching the limits of its patience with a bureaucratic system that is best known for its inertia.
Both countries are seeing a rise in the acceptability of nationalism, both are envisioning an increasingly active role for their militaries, and both occupy the same strategic space. With Washington increasing its focus on the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing is worried that a resurgent Japan could assist the United States on constraining China in an echo of the Cold War containment strategy.
We are now seeing the early stage of another shift in Asian power. It is perhaps no coincidence that the 1972 re-establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Japan followed U.S. President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China. The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands were not even an issue at the time, since they were still under U.S. administration. Japan's defense was largely subsumed by the United States, and Japan had long ago traded away its military rights for easy access to U.S. markets and U.S. protection. The shift in U.S.-China relations opened the way for the rapid development of China-Japan relations.
The United States' underlying interest is maintaining a perpetual balance between Asia's two key powers so neither is able to challenging Washington's own primacy in the Pacific. During World War II, this led the United States to lend support to China in its struggle against imperial Japan. The United States' current role backing a Japanese military resurgence against China's growing power falls along the same line. As China lurches into a new economic cycle, one that will very likely force deep shifts in the country's internal political economy, it is not hard to imagine China and Japan's underlying geopolitical balance shifting again. And when that happens, so too could the role of the United States.
Understanding the China-Japan Island Conflict is republished with permission of Stratfor.
Monday, September 24, 2012
Our leader has spoken, "Oh, I think that, you know, as President I bear responsibility for everything, to some degree...but mainly it's Bush's fault.'
OK, I may have added the part about Bush, but you know Obama was thinking it. Regardless, we can't have Truman turning a phrase better than the Great Orator, can we?
Monday morning, start of the workweek blues by Marvin Gaye.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
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3D modeling software allows us to enter one of M. C. Escher's disorienting worlds.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
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These images are taken from the Frank R. Paul gallery, which discusses each image as well as having detail views. There are more samples after the jump, and many more at the Paul gallery.
A yacht anchored off Pitcairn island is caught in a storm. It needs to be moved to a safer anchorage on the other side of the island, but nobody is on board, so the captain and first mate set off in a zodiac and attempt to board her in extremely rough seas.
Friday, September 21, 2012
He had planned to detonate an IED outside of a chicago bar, but it turned out that the FBI had been tracking him and that they had provided him with a dummy IED and arrested him as soon as he tried to trigger it.
It is an interesting article. It covers how and why he came to be on the FBI's radar, and the steps they took to ensure that he would have, at best, a weak entrapment case.
For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe, since the arrest took place in Chicago the movie Chicago naturally sprang to mind. After careful consideration, and mindful of the fact I should pick a blonde before Strafor heads back to Asia, Africa, the middle East or Latin America, I selected Renée Zellweger for the singular honor.
Ms Zellweger has had a solid and successful career. I've seen her in a few films and she has an appealing screen presence. She can be considered an A-List actress by today's standards. She's been in film for 20 years already and she's gotten over the hump of age 30 that torpedoes so many actresses, so I expect she'll continue to have success in the film industry.
Aspiring Jihadist Arrested in Chicago
By Ben West, September 20, 2012
On the evening of Sept. 15, Adel Daoud parked a Jeep Cherokee loaded with a large explosive device outside a bar in downtown Chicago. As he walked down the street away from the vehicle, he activated a trigger to detonate the bomb. The bomb, however, was inert, and FBI agents positioned nearby immediately took Daoud, an 18-year-old from the Chicago suburbs, into custody.
Daoud had been the subject of a four-month FBI investigation and sting operation, during which undercover agents had been communicating with Daoud and recording his statements. Sting operations have become the tactic of choice for the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement organizations when investigating would-be jihadists. As U.S. law enforcement agencies perfect their sting operations to identify aspiring jihadists and prevent attacks, jihadists, too, can be expected to innovate and evolve alternate means of communication and vetting of those with whom they collaborate.
Details of Daoud's Case
Daoud was a typical aspirational jihadist. He read Inspire magazine (an online jihadist publication), watched jihadist training videos, cited arguments from the late Anwar al-Awlaki, participated in jihadist forums denouncing U.S. policy and justified attacks against U.S. citizens. He was not shy in voicing his intent to kill Americans in retaliation for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Daoud tried to recruit at least six people over the span of seven months to help plot an attack against the United States before he crossed paths with an undercover agent on the Internet around May 2012. Based on records later obtained by investigators, Daoud did not appear to have any hard skills to conduct a bombing attack. He downloaded several instructional documents and videos on how to make explosives and build bombs, but there is no indication that Daoud attempted to make any weapons himself. Instead, he talked about going to Saudi Arabia or fighting in Yemen, although he expressed a desire to conduct attacks in the United States before going abroad.
By himself, Daoud was still a long way from posing a direct threat to the United States, but he was bent on conducting an attack. Along the way, he made a number of mistakes. For one, it is apparent from Daoud's conversations with the undercover agent, documented in the Sept. 15 criminal complaint, that Daoud did not heed all of the advice that he read in Inspire magazine. Over the years, Inspire has emphasized that big, elaborate attacks are risky, expensive and hard to put together. One of the magazine's main contributors, Nasir al-Wahayshi, has argued that small, simpler attacks such as the Fort Hood shooting in 2009 are much easier to execute, are more effective than bombings and do not open up aspiring jihadists to discovery by the authorities during the planning stage.
Daoud unequivocally rejected the idea of a shooting attack, even mocking the July 20 shooting that killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Daoud insisted on carrying out a spectacular attack, killing "a lot of enemies" and making headlines worldwide. One of the characteristics of dramatic attacks of the sort Daoud envisioned, however, is that they are difficult to execute alone -- especially if the individual doesn't know how to make explosives or a bomb. Early in Daoud's planning, he saw it necessary to reach out for help, which helped to tip off law enforcement agents.
Rather than immediately arresting Daoud and making a weak case to a federal judge based on an 18-year-old's online rants, investigators continued to monitor Daoud, seeking more evidence to make a stronger case and get a more severe sentence. The FBI set up a sting operation, during which authorities recorded Daoud plotting an attack with an undercover law enforcement agent. The FBI also watched Daoud conduct surveillance on the bar he intended to attack. In a textbook sting operation targeting an aspiring jihadist, an undercover agent offers the suspect an explosive device (or other deadly weapon). As soon as the suspect attempts to use the inert explosive device, authorities have all the evidence they need to charge the suspect with attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction. The FBI has conducted dozens of these sting operations, where it finds an individual who self-identifies as an aspiring jihadist and then uses informants or undercover agents to collect more evidence against the suspect. Many of those put on trial have received 20- to 30-year sentences.
While the government's pursuit of an incompetent, would-be jihadist may seem extreme, individuals like Daoud (known in some law enforcement circles as "Kramer jihadists," after the bumbling character from Seinfeld) have posed a threat before when they have linked up with competent jihadist operatives. For example, the FBI conducted surveillance on the group that would conduct the 1993 World Trade Center attack but dropped the investigation when the informant turned out to be problematic and when it was determined that the group did not possess the skills to pose a threat. Later, the group met Omar Abdel-Rahman (also known as the Blind Sheikh), who arranged for competent jihadist operatives -- Abdul Basit (also known as Ramzi Yousef) and his partner, Ahmed Ajaj -- to come in and lead the group of amateur jihadists. Under the leadership of Basit, the group transformed into the terrorist cell that successfully attacked the World Trade Center.
Other jihadist operatives, such as Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, were similarly incompetent but became dangerous when competent bombmakers and operatives exploited their willingness to conduct jihad. Given these past failures, U.S. counterterrorism officials have no appetite for letting aspiring jihadists slip through the cracks just because they appear incompetent on the surface.
With the investigation under way, the FBI initiated its efforts to dispel any inklings of coercion. Defense attorneys, civil rights groups and some in the media have alleged that FBI sting operations targeting aspiring jihadists are entrapment -- where law enforcement agents coerce an individual who would not otherwise have posed a threat into an illegal act. The FBI's handling of Daoud's case shows that it is taking steps to combat these charges.
Several times during recorded conversations, the FBI undercover agent gave Daoud opportunities to back away from his planned attack. The agent cited Ramadan as a reason to delay the attack and further delayed by fabricating excuses, such as needing to wait for approval from his sheikh. On at least two occasions, the undercover agent directly asked Daoud if he was sure he wanted to carry out his attack. The agent emphasized that Daoud had to have jihad in his heart in order to carry out a justified attack. He stressed that Daoud couldn't be pressured into the attack, that he had to be completely self-motivated to execute it. Any outside help would be just that -- help, not coercion.
As stated above, this step was likely included deliberately. Entrapment has been raised as a possible defense in the upcoming trial of Mohamed Mohamud, the 21-year-old Somali-born American accused of attempting to bomb a Christmas ceremony in Portland, Ore., in November 2010. Even though the entrapment defense hasn't proved to be successful, to avoid a recurrence of this defense in Daoud's case, the undercover agent cleverly used jihadist principles to get Daoud to emphatically show that he wanted to commit an attack himself and that nobody was forcing him to do it. Recordings of these conversations will make for a more solid case when prosecutors put Daoud on trial in the coming weeks or months.
The Effectiveness of the Sting
U.S. law enforcement agencies have been extremely active with these types of jihadist sting operations, especially in the past three years. While most of the suspects that the stings involve do not appear to pose a serious threat at the outset, aspiring jihadists can be dangerous if they encounter the right people with the right tradecraft.
In addition to being an effective law enforcement tactic, sting operations also threaten the integrity of jihadists' communication channels. Such operations will increasingly make aspiring jihadists skeptical of the person to whom they are speaking. In Daoud's case, he told the undercover agent that one of his contacts thought he was talking to a spy. Daoud's sheikh, who was not aware of the planned attack, also repeatedly discouraged him from talking about jihad and violence. Others around him knew the risk of discussing plans of attack, but Daoud persisted due to his inexperience.
U.S. law enforcement's struggle with aspiring jihadists will be a drawn-out affair, punctuated by action and counteraction. The FBI and other U.S. agencies are refining their skills in sting operations, which have proved to be an effective tool for pre-empting terrorist attacks. The success of these stings will plant doubts in aspiring jihadists' minds about who they can trust, further complicating their efforts to conduct dramatic attacks. Now the onus is on the jihadists to adjust. They can be expected to implement alternate methods of communication and to step up efforts to verify one another's identities to avoid detection and arrest.
Aspiring Jihadist Arrested in Chicago is republished with permission of Stratfor.
Get ready for a weekend of twisted nostalgia
with Senor Coconut and his orchestra.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Meccano was an English company that started making model construction kits in 1902. They predated Erector sets. As you can see in the above video, their old models, some of which were steam powered, are a marvel of mechanical complexity. Alas, time caught up with them and for all practical purposes the company went out of business in the 1960s
People still build the kits. Wes Dalefield has a website with a nice gallery of Meccano projects. Below are some of his pictures, there are many more pictures and projects in his gallery. There is also the International Society of Meccanomen which has a lot of information for people still fiddling with the old kits.
The above lesson seems like a ridiculous thing to have to teach an adult these days, but as we saw in the post San Francisco streets then and now there was a time when streets didn't have defined lanes much less crosswalks. Still, it is odd to see a lesson we now give to a toddler being given to an adult instead.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
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Some photographers have taken portraits with slit scan cameras. They set the subject o a turntable and rotate them at the same speed the pull the film past the slit. As you can see in these samples, the results are striking.
When I gathered these samples I had a text file with URLs to where I found them. I can't find that text file and so I apologize for not being able to properly credit the photographers.
Another fight scene to help you get over the hump in hump day. In this one a space monster, which looks like a short, fat carrot with fangs, invades Earth and has the good fortune to encounter the stupidest platoon of soldiers ever. All looks well for its invasion until a civilian with a hand-held blow torch shows up in the nick or time.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
From what I've read, that is not at all my understanding of the situation.
With my usual caveat that I am but an internet blowhard while Friedman is an analyst with sources and whatnot, I think he often misses the mark in his interpretation of Middle Eastern events.
It strikes me he frequently underplays Obama's effect on America's changing Middle Eastern posture while over-estimating other countries, particularly Iran's, diplomatic finesse and control. The result is an interpretation that I find slightly askew.
For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe, since he moved on to discuss unrealistic Western expectations vs reality on the ground, the notion of unreality was rattling around in my head as I considered the choice. In the end, the movie Mannequin: On the Move came to mind, where a store dummy came to life and thus launched a romantic comedy. For that reason the film's female lead Kristy Swanson gets the nod for the honor.
I've never seen Mannequin: On the Move, which apparently is a sequel to Mannequin, which I've also never seen. i figure i only have so many brain cells to waste, and watching the trailer for either film is enough to warn me away from them.
As for Ms Swanson, she started out in TV and the moved to film where she made a number of box office bombs, although a few of them are familiar titles. She then drifted back into TV where it appears she's had better luck.
One of her films was Swamp Shark, which is the sort of crappy Saturday night SyFy original I've probably watched, although I don't remember ever seeing it.
From Gadhafi to Benghazi
By George Friedman, September 18, 2012
Last week, four American diplomats were killed when armed men attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attackers' apparent motivation was that someone, apparently American but with an uncertain identity, posted a video on YouTube several months ago that deliberately defamed the Prophet Mohammed. The attack in Benghazi was portrayed as retribution for the defamation, with the attackers holding all Americans equally guilty for the video, though it was likely a pretext for deeper grievances. The riots spread to other countries, including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, although no American casualties were reported in the other riots. The unrest appears to have subsided over the weekend.
Benghazi and the Fall of Gadhafi
In beginning to make sense of these attacks, one must observe that they took place in Benghazi, the city that had been most opposed to Moammar Gadhafi. Indeed, Gadhafi had promised to slaughter his opponents in Benghazi, and it was that threat that triggered the NATO intervention in Libya. Many conspiracy theories have been devised to explain the intervention, but, like Haiti and Kosovo before it, none of the theories holds up. The intervention occurred because it was believed that Gadhafi would carry out his threats in Benghazi and because it was assumed that he would quickly capitulate in the face of NATO air power, opening the door to democracy.
That Gadhafi was capable of mass murder was certainly correct. The idea that Gadhafi would quickly fall proved incorrect. That a democracy would emerge as a result of the intervention proved the most dubious assumption of them all. What emerged in Libya is what you would expect when a foreign power overthrows an existing government, however thuggish, and does not impose its own imperial state: ongoing instability and chaos.
The Libyan opposition was a chaotic collection of tribes, factions and ideologies sharing little beyond their opposition to Gadhafi. A handful of people wanted to create a Western-style democracy, but they were leaders only in the eyes of those who wanted to intervene. The rest of the opposition was composed of traditionalists, militarists in the Gadhafi tradition and Islamists. Gadhafi had held Libya together by simultaneously forming coalitions with various factions and brutally crushing any opposition.
Opponents of tyranny assume that deposing a tyrant will improve the lives of his victims. This is sometimes true, but only occasionally. The czar of Russia was clearly a tyrant, but it is difficult to argue that the Leninist-Stalinist regime that ultimately replaced him was an improvement. Similarly, the Shah of Iran was repressive and brutal. It is difficult to argue that the regime that replaced him was an improvement.
There is no assurance that opponents of a tyrant will not abuse human rights just like the tyrant did. There is even less assurance that an opposition too weak and divided to overthrow a tyrant will coalesce into a government when an outside power destroys the tyrant. The outcome is more likely to be chaos, and the winner will likely be the most organized and well-armed faction with the most ruthless clarity about the future. There is no promise that it will constitute a majority or that it will be gentle with its critics.
The intervention in Libya, which I discussed in The Immaculate Intervention, was built around an assumption that has little to do with reality -- namely, that the elimination of tyranny will lead to liberty. It certainly can do so, but there is no assurance that it will. There are many reasons for this assumption, but the most important one is that Western advocates of human rights believe that, when freed from tyranny, any reasonable person would want to found a political order based on Western values. They might, but there is no obvious reason to believe they would.
The alternative to one thug may simply be another thug. This is a matter of power and will, not of political philosophy. Utter chaos, an ongoing struggle that leads nowhere but to misery, also could ensue. But the most important reason Western human rights activists might see their hopes dashed is due to a principled rejection of Western liberal democracy on the part of the newly liberated. To be more precise, the opposition might embrace the doctrine of national self-determination, and even of democracy, but go on to select a regime that is in principle seriously opposed to Western notions of individual rights and freedom.
While some tyrants simply seek power, other regimes that appear to Westerners to be tyrannies actually are rather carefully considered moral systems that see themselves as superior ways of life. There is a paradox in the principle of respect for foreign cultures followed by demands that foreigners adhere to basic Western principles. It is necessary to pick one approach or the other. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that someone can have very distinct moral principles, be respected, and yet be an enemy of liberal democracy. Respecting another moral system does not mean simply abdicating your own interests. The Japanese had a complex moral system that was very different from Western principles. The two did not have to be enemies, but circumstances caused them to collide.
The NATO approach to Libya assumed that the removal of a tyrant would somehow inevitably lead to a liberal democracy. Indeed, this was the assumption about the Arab Spring in the West, where it was thought that that corrupt and tyrannical regimes would fall and that regimes that embraced Western principles would sprout up in their place. Implicit in this was a profound lack of understanding of the strength of the regimes, of the diversity of the opposition and of the likely forces that would emerge from it.
In Libya, NATO simply didn't understand or care about the whirlwind that it was unleashing. What took Gadhafi's place was ongoing warfare between clans, tribes and ideologies. From this chaos, Libyan Islamists of various stripes have emerged to exploit the power vacuum. Various Islamist groups have not become strong enough to simply impose their will, but they are engaged in actions that have resonated across the region.
The desire to overthrow Gadhafi came from two impulses. The first was to rid the world of a tyrant, and the second was to give the Libyans the right to national self-determination. Not carefully considered were two other issues: whether simply overthrowing Gadhafi would yield the conditions for determining the national will, and whether the national will actually would mirror NATO's values and, one should add, interests.
The events of last week represent unintended and indirect consequences of the removal of Gadhafi. Gadhafi was ruthless in suppressing radical Islamism, as he was in other matters. In the absence of his suppression, the radical Islamist faction appears to have carefully planned the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The attack was timed for when the U.S. ambassador would be present. The mob was armed with a variety of weapons. The public justification was a little-known video on YouTube that sparked anti-American unrest throughout the Arab world.
For the Libyan jihadists, tapping into anger over the video was a brilliant stroke. Having been in decline, they reasserted themselves well beyond the boundaries of Libya. In Libya itself, they showed themselves as a force to be reckoned with -- at least to the extent that they could organize a successful attack on the Americans. The four Americans who were killed might have been killed in other circumstances, but they died in this one: Gadhafi was eliminated, no coherent regime took his place, no one suppressed the radical Islamists, and the Islamists could therefore act. How far their power will grow is not known, but certainly they acted effectively to achieve their ends. It is not clear what force there is to suppress them. It is also not clear what momentum this has created for jihadists in the region, but it will put NATO, and more precisely the United States, in the position either of engaging in another war in the Arab world at a time and place not of its choosing, or allowing the process to go forward and hoping for the best.
As I have written, a distinction is frequently drawn between the idealist and realist position. Libya is a case in which the incoherence of the distinction can be seen. If the idealist position is concerned with outcomes that are moral from its point of view, then simply advocating the death of a tyrant is insufficient. To guarantee the outcome requires that the country be occupied and pacified, as was Germany or Japan. But the idealist would regard this act of imperialism as impermissible, violating the doctrine of national sovereignty. More to the point, the United States is not militarily in a position to occupy or pacify Libya, nor would this be a national priority justifying war. The unwillingness of the idealist to draw the logical conclusion from their position, which is that simply removing the tyrant is not the end but only the beginning, is compounded by the realist's willingness to undertake military action insufficient for the political end. Moral ends and military means must mesh.
Removing Gadhafi was morally defensible but not by itself. Having removed him, NATO had now adopted a responsibility that it shifted to a Libyan public unequipped to manage it. But more to the point, no allowance had been made for the possibility that what might emerge as the national will of Libya would be a movement that represented a threat to the principles and interests of the NATO members. The problem of Libya was not that it did not understand Western values, but that a significant part of its population rejected those values on moral grounds and a segment of the population with battle-hardened fighters regarded them as inferior to its own Islamic values. Somewhere between hatred of tyranny and national self-determination, NATO's commitment to liberty as it understood it became lost.
This is not a matter simply confined to Libya. In many ways it played out throughout the Arab world as Western powers sought to come to terms with what was happening. There is a more immediate case: Syria. The assumption there is that the removal of another tyrant, in this case Bashar al Assad, will lead to an evolution that will transform Syria. It is said that the West must intervene to protect the Syrian opposition from the butchery of the al Assad regime. A case can be made for this, but not the simplistic case that absent al Assad, Syria would become democratic. For that to happen, much more must occur than the elimination of al Assad.
Wishful Thinking vs. Managing the Consequences
In 1958, a book called The Ugly American was published about a Southeast Asian country that had a brutal, pro-American dictator and a brutal, communist revolution. The novel had a character who was a nationalist in the true sense of the word and was committed to human rights. As a leader, he was not going to be simply an American tool, but he was the best hope the United States had. An actual case of such an ideal regime replacement was seen in 1963 in Vietnam, when Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam was killed in a coup. He had been a brutal pro-American dictator. The hope after his death was that a decent, nationalist liberal would replace him. There was a long search for such a figure; he never was found.
Getting rid of a tyrant when you are as powerful as the United States and NATO are, by contrast, is the easy part. Saddam Hussein is as dead as Gadhafi. The problem is what comes next. Having a liberal democratic nationalist simply appear to take the helm may happen, but it is not the most likely outcome unless you are prepared for an occupation. And if you are prepared to occupy, you had better be prepared to fight against a nation that doesn't want you determining its future, no matter what your intentions are.
I don't know what will come of Libya's jihadist movement, which has showed itself to be motivated and capable and whose actions resonated in the Arab world. I do know that Gadhafi was an evil brute who is better off dead. But it is simply not clear to me that removing a dictator automatically improves matters. What is clear to me is that if you wage war for moral ends, you are morally bound to manage the consequences.
From Gadhafi to Benghazi is republished with permission of Stratfor.
Monday, September 17, 2012
A site I read regularly is the website Kings of War. It is a blog by faculty and students of the Department of War Studies, King's College London. They argue from a variety of different view points, but their posts are always illuminating, thought provoking and lucid.
I've added them to Dlares' 'Bolg of Interest' section of the blogroll. I recommend you check them out -- some of their positions may be different than yours, but at least they are well reasoned. The comments are well worth reading as well.
I've added them to Dlares' 'Bolg of Interest' section of the blogroll. I recommend you check them out -- some of their positions may be different than yours, but at least they are well reasoned. The comments are well worth reading as well.
As a taste, this is from their post 9/11: Eleven years on, is it time for our liberalism to be more, not less, muscular?
But the point of this post is rather simple actually, and I think gets lost in all the noise surrounding radicalisation, counter-radicalisation etc etc..
That point is that the west has a set of defensible ideals that it should not be ashamed to uphold vigorously, as it did sixty-six years ago: freedom of speech (including within limits, tolerance of marginal views and ways of life), freedom of association, freedom from state interference, all being equal the access to prosperity, and the ability to change the government.
It would be right to point out that the west needs to do some of its own housekeeping to uphold these values internally (and it clearly does - for a wonderfully written and caustic view of our current political elites see link) but we should not get lost in the relativist backwaters of everyone’s inequality is fair enough. The west has asserted values that have improved the life experience of individuals for at least the post-war period, and brought relative prosperity for the majority of people living through it. Now that this prosperity has atrophied, it is time to reassert the values and conditions that underpinned it, and not to get sucked into lowering our standards to those of emergent nations. President Bush was ridiculed when he called for a democratic revolution in the Middle East, but he proved to be surprisingly prophetic, as the early inklings of a democratically based revolution have occurred in that region. It is now time for the values the underpin the progressive success of the west in the post-war period to be the lasting legacy, the phoenix from the 9/11 ashes. It is time for the our liberalism to be more, not less muscular.
Monday morning, start of the workweek blues by Lightning Hopkins.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
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These were inspired by the Flikr gallery airplane food, although most were gathered from elsewhere on the web. There are more examples after the jump.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
How in the world does the top picture lead to the bottom? Obama responds to an attack on American embassies with a midnight knock on the door of somebody who posted a YouTube video? What an absolute disgrace.
The flimsy excuse for the region-wide and supposedly spontaneous Islamic protests was some obscure film that 'offended' the so-called prophet Mohamed. Only an idiot would have given any credence to that story. In fact, these were coordinated attacks, one of which led to the the murder of one of our ambassadors, and they were obviously timed to occur on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. We've now learned that warnings were given of such a possibility.
In the face of all that, since day one, Obama's administration has been treating seriously the claim that this is all about some YouTube video. In a time where it may just pay to have Middle Eastern governments, who are the ones that can dispel those rioters in a heartbeat after all, to be worrying about what sort of angry response the U.S. might adopt, we have Obama and company ignoring the reality of the First Amendment and enabling the protests by harassing a YouTube filmmaker.
It is the price of having a fool in office who knows how to campaign, but not how to govern. In a post called Obabbler's speech I said this:
Obama gave his big Middle East speech today. My reaction to it is colored by my suspicion, which I cannot shake, that Obama has largely dialed out of the foreign policy component of the Presidency.I still think that is true. Obama has been skipping his intelligence briefings for some time, he is so little interested in the rioting that he's not stopped campaigning and fundraising, the State Department appears to be frozen with indecision as it flounders in contrary directions. And the media in all of this? About as useful as tits on a bull.
The initiatives he tried to implement in the beginning of his Presidency have all been reduced to a shambles; and rather than rethink his policies, the biggest Brainiac in the Universe has simply shoved the mess aside. Out of sight, out of mind.
My belief is that when he clocked out of directing foreign affairs other elements in his administration began to, in the resulting power vacuum, struggle with each other over the direction of America's policy. I think you see this in the confused response to the Egyptian crisis, then in the dithering and eventual incomprehensible intervention as Europe's lapdog in Libya, and in the US's obvious uncertainty as to what to do in Syria. Even the multiple and conflicting stories that came out of the raid that killed Bin Laden point to multiple sources pushing multiple narratives.
As a result I thought he speech was a bit of a hodgepodge: his Howard Zinn-like understanding of history as a pastiche of exploited fuzzy-wuzzies, mixed with the Clintonista's pro-Arab slant, mixed with the State Department's usual inertia.
The above videos are a couple of test flights of a Reproduction Curtis pusher biplane. It is amazing to see what a contraption the Curtis pushers were -- looks absolutely terrifying to fly.
It's based at a Florida attraction called Fantasy of Flight. I've been there, and it's one of the nicer tourist attractions in Florida. It's near Polk City just off I-4 between Tampa and Orlando. If you're vacationing in Florida and like this sort of thing plan to spend a good part of the day there if you decide to visit it.