Monday, September 15, 2014

Anti-terrorism is a Schtick and Democrats are worse at it

It doesn't really matter that the GOP has had a horrible record in fighting terrorism, from having the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil occur on their watch, to the disastrous foreign policies that effectively created a terrorist incubation system in Iraq, to its trashing of the U.S. judicial system (in favor of its made-up-on-the-spot military commissions system) which has hampered the ability of the U.S. to adjudicate terrorism cases for more than a decade. Despite all that the American people are under the impression that Republicans are better at dealing with the problem because they have a history talk tougher about the problem even as they are doing stuff to make things worse. So, as Weigel points out, jumping on the "ISIS is an imminent threat!!!" bandwagon doesn't help the Obama administration at all politically. In fact, it hurts them.

I'm not a fan of foreign policy by poll watching. But to the extent this new anti-ISIS campaign is driven by domestic politics (and I think it clearly is), last week's announcement was a major political mistake. I mean, Obama is pursuing a new possible foreign debacle without getting any political bounce from it. How senseless is that?

UANI is illegal

There is no explanation for this unless United Against Nuclear Iran is an American intelligence front group. Because the group advertises to the American people and lobbies for legislation in the United States, stuff that American intelligence agencies can't legally do. Which means that the organization is just a conduit for American intelligence services' illegal activity against the American people.

Chocolution 37: Pacari, Single Origin: Piura Quemazon

As I mentioned before, I am now in my annual caffeine-free month. While that usually means I can't have chocolate (because of the small amount of caffeine in chocolate and because I'm such a hard-ass about my no-caffeine month), this year when I came up with the rules for my fancy chocolate tasting new year's resolution, I include a caffeine-free month exception which allows me to continue my taste this month.

But because I am chocolate deprived right now, I was wondering if that would affect my ratings of the various bars I taste. Will they taste extra good if it is all the chocolate I can eat? Or will the fact that I am continuing to sample these fine chocolates while abstaining from the cheap stuff make me lose the contrast effect to the benefit of the fancy stuff? I'll have to wait until next week to find out. Because just a few hours before I tasted this bar last night, I screwed up and accidentally ate some chocolate custard with chunks of Reece's Peanut Butter Cups. Oops.

Anyway, this bar was okay. It has become increasingly easy to recognize the single origin/simplicity style bars. The one I tasted falls solidly into that camp, with the same lingering bitter aftertaste that they all have. Don't get me wrong, this is a really good chocolate--far better than the regular stuff. All the ones I am tasting are. But if I'm going to go fancy, I would just rather have others over this kind.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Yesterday was Cold Turkey Day. Today is very sleepy day. Actually Cold Turkey Day tends to be pretty sleepy too. But it is hitting me hardest right now, mid-afternoon, CTD + 1.

What the hell am I talking about? Why it's my annual decaffeination ritual! I'm too sleepy to explain right now, but luckily, I complain about this every freaking year (except for 2010, the year I didn't do it because Kazakhstan). So go do your own research. The answers are all there:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10.

I guess there is one thing that is different about this year. When I made my New Year's resolution to sample one fancy chocolate bar per week, I decided to make that tasting exempt from my annual caffeine-free ritual. So this year's cold turkey is not 100% turkey. But right now it still feels pretty cold.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Going back

As others have said, it's pretty discouraging that Obama held up American actions in Somalia and Yemen as the model for his shiny new war against the ancient Egyptian goddess of health and marriage. At least he broke some new ground with the speech, when was the last time that Somalia was held up as a positive example for anything?

Actually, this whole thing is pretty discouraging. As I said yesterday, it really has been astounding to watch the war fervor being whipped up against ISIS over the past two weeks. Somehow we need to get past the idea that not deciding to go to war is a sign of weakness, especially when the war in question has no clear endgame. Once again, the Onion gets it right. Until this country figures out how to not go charging into the Middle East anytime the usual war mongers start their mongering, we will continuously face the question of how to extract ourselves from another Mideast quagmire. But I guess that will be the next President's problem.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

TPM: Has the World Been Bamboozled by the ISIS PR Machine?

Yes, absolutely.

The rhetoric about how ISIS presents some imminent threat to the U.S., without much in the way of actual evidence, is really remarkable. Yes, they beheaded on camera two American reporters. All that shows is their sadism and brutality. Not their actual capabilities to attack this country. Sawing off someone's head with a knife in the desert in the area where you live is a terrible cruel thing to do. But it doesn't take a whole lot of technical prowess or sophisticated equipment. It also doesn't tell us anything about the group's ability to attack a country with the world's most powerful and high-tech military in the world and is located 7 time zones away.

The whole reason that they beheaded Foley and Sotloff with a camera rolling and then uploaded the video to the internet was to make themselves look  threatening to the U.S., even though it doesn't tell us anything about how threatening the group actually is. Why is the media playing along? Why are politicians?

I know the President got slammed for his "J.V." remarks. But nothing that ISIS has done indicates that characterization was wrong--at least not if the Varsity team is a modern military like what the U.S. has.

Plus, let's face it, ISIS is in deep shit. The group is surrounded by hostile forces and has no allies aside from a few Iraqi Sunni tribespeople. Everyone hates them, including all of the governments in the region, and including governments that really don't like each other: from Israel, to Iran, to Assad's regime in Damascus, to the Iraqi government, to the Turks, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, etc., not to mention all of the countries from outside the region with military forces that have a global reach. Even the Gulf Arab states, who probably funded the group just a couple of months ago, are now feeling threatened by it. Other armed groups that are not an official government are not any more friendly. The other factions in the Syrian rebellion are already fighting ISIS, Lebanese Hezbollah is anti-ISIS, as is the Pesh Murga. And by imposing a strict Talibanesque form of Shariah on the people they rule over, they are not building much support there either. Even al Qaeda doesn't like them because they are the upstart kool kidz in the world of militant Islamic movements that is stealing all their best recruits. Really the only thing ISIS is its ability to seem like the baddest militant Jihadi outfit so it can snatch up most of the world's alienated youth with psychopathic tendencies to be their cannon fodder.

It might take a little time but eventually, ISIS is fucked. The U.S. doesn't have to go to war with it for that to happen. It doesn't have a sustainable model for its own survival.

Why aren't primary upsets more common?

I don't get why incumbents have such an advantage in low-turnout primaries. You would think, for example, that (to pick the example that got me thinking about this) supporters of Andrew Cuomo would be pretty complacent going into the primary and probably would not show up to vote. Meanwhile, all the liberals who are pissed off at how Cuomo has sold them out again and again during their administration would be chomping at the bit at the chance to vote for Zephyr Teachout. So even if a clear majority of Democrats preferred Cuomo over Teachout, I would think that the passion that would drive voter turnout in an off-year primary would ultimately decide the race.

But that's not how it works most of the time. Upsets do happen, but they are still really rare. Why not? I mean, if I were a Cuomo supporters (and a New Yorker), I would be a lot less motivated to vote than if I were a Teachout supporter and enthusiasm is supposedly the primary motivating factor that gets people to the polls. Do that many people really show up to vote for the status quo that they are generally okay with?

Vali Nasr muses about the Middle East and the NYT writes a whole article about it

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that the fact that everyone hates ISIS is not going to completely reshape the political landscape of the Middle East. The U.S. and Iran will quietly cooperate with each other to fight the militant group, while publicly maintain their hostile stance to each other. Sunni and Shia powers in the region might both hate ISIS, but they will still find a way to stay at odds with each other as well. And the pipe dream of Israel suddenly getting official recognition from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States will remain a pipe dream.

Maybe the PKK will come off the State Department's list of terrorist groups, but, like the list of state supporters of terrorism, that list has always been a crock. Groups get off that list when it becomes politically expedient for them to, and they can remain on the list largely because of where the U.S. government thinks its interests are, or the interests of its allies. And in any case, the PKK's removal would hardly be the kind of sweeping restructuring the politics of the region that Nasr's musings are about overall.


Land for Bodies

I've seen this strange logic mentioned in several places in the past week:
It is also the area where Palestinian militants kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers in June. The land declaration came as compensation for the settlers and was a punishment for the Palestinians at a time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was under political pressure over the war in Gaza.
If the Israelis are allowed to seize 1,000 acres of land from Palestinians as punishment for the deaths of the three Yeshiva students, what Israeli land to Palestinians get to seize for the Palestinian kid who was murdered in retaliation? Have we moved from "land for peace" to "land for bodies"? If so, I don't think that's something that the Israelis want. The Palestinians have a lot more bodies in this conflict than the Israelis.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Flying ban

How much of a sanction would "a possible ban on airlines from Europe flying over Russia" be? Routing European flights around that enormous country would cost the airlines a lot more money in terms of fuel and flight time. But would it cost Russia anything? Do countries or airlines pay the countries they fly over?

I guess it would make sense if they do. They do use the ground control of the places they pass over. Still, I wonder if the primary victim of that particular sanction would be European airlines, not Russia. Without passing over Russia, the Frankfurt to Almaty flight I used to take would have to be much longer. I think airlines are already avoiding Ukrainian airspace after the Malaysian Air flight 17 disaster. Cutting out Russia airspace would compound that problem for the airlines.

Not As Great Britain

The picture at the top of this post made me wonder: if Scotland splits from the UK, will the UK change it's flag? The British flag that everyone knows, aka the Union Jack, is actually designed to be the combination of the English and Scottish flags (with Patrick's cross to represent Ireland). Without the Scottish bits, all the blue would go. It would just be 2 red crosses (one standing on one leg, like a lower case "t", and the other standing on two, like an "X") on a white field. Pretty dull, if you ask me.

In fact, I doubt they would change the flag. It is among the most recognized flags in the world. But I do wonder if "UK" will fall out of favor if the K is not so U anymore.

Monday, September 08, 2014


Noz Jr. can write his name, but he writes the "N" backwards. He always writes it that way. He doesn't seem to be guessing the direction each time because then at least some of them would be right. His Ns are 100% backwards. It seems like that is a pretty common mistake--from what I see from his peers a lot of kids write a capital N that looks like the mirror image of the letter.

I wonder what happens when kids learn to write in countries that use the Cyrillic alphabet. Do they write the И like our N? Or do they get the И right immediately because of some innate human tendency to favor "И" over "N" in early writers?

Chocolution 36: Patric, 70% Signature Blend

I think I'm getting jaded. But these bars that follow the basic "nothing but cacao and sugar" philosophy all seem to have a similar taste. This one really reminded me of that Dandelion bar so I wasn't surprised when I discovered that the Patric Signature Blend bar is based on a similar philosophy of simplicity.

And, unfortunately, I have decided that simplicity does not produce my favorite bars. Don't get me wrong. This bar (and the Dandelion bar I had months ago) is very very good. It will beat common gutter chocolate every time. It's just that I like some of the fancy bars that throw in more ingredients better. The simplicity bars all seem to have this bitter aftertaste that lingers.

Chocolution 35: Dolfin, Noir 70% de Cacao

Dammit. I forgot to write a "Chocolution" post last week. I didn't notice until I posted #36 just now. I'm going to mess with the time stamp to make sure this appears before the next one, to keep the numbers in chronological order.

Anyway, this Dolfin bar was really good. I like the deep cocoa flavor it somehow brings, with only minimal bitterness. It may not be my favorite of the series, but it is way up the scale. I guess those Belgians know how to make chocolate after all.

Damage control as a strategy

Maybe he would have done it anyway, but I have the feeling that this new strategy against ISIS is just the administration's attempt to quell the hubbub over Obama's "we don't have a strategy yet" gaffe. The gaffe, like most gaffes, is really based on a misinterpretation of the quote. Obama was saying he had not figured out a strategy of how to deal with ISIS in Syria. He wasn't talking about ISIS in general. He clearly already had a strategy for that, the one that he was already pursuing by giving the Pesh Murga and Iraqi Army air support to reverse ISIS' gains.

But the fact that "we don't have a strategy yet" was repeated by the Washington bobbleheads as if it was an admission that Obama had no strategy at all, made the administration look bad. That's the reality. Like it or not, the President has to deal with when the people who create the overall narrative among the political class are either morons or pretend to be because they think that's all the plebs can handle. So now they have rushed out this strategy for dealing with ISIS that conveniently pushes the hard part (dealing with ISIS in Syria) back a few years, which is both after this President's term and gives time for the situation in Eastern Syria to change.

I'm going to resist the urge to pick apart the overall plan. Suffice it to say that coming up with a new policy to quell the controversy surrounding a gaffe has got to be one of the worst ways to come up with a military strategy.

Friday, September 05, 2014

We need better bigoted Islamophobic rants

This post has created a bit of a stir. Not surprisingly either.

There are all kinds of reasons to criticize it, but the thing that I really noticed is how the author didn't know how to spell ISIS. ISIS! Four letters!!! It's even acceptable to spell it "ISIL" or even "IS", but he didn't use those either. Instead, it's "ISSA" in the first paragraph and "ISSI" in the second to last paragraph. He can't even spell it the same wrong way consistently. What the fuck is this guy's problem?

(via Memeorandum)

another step up the crazy scale

The abduction of this Estonian officer is a particularly alarming development with Russia. The FSB, Russia's federal security services, has now admitted that it "detained" the officer, although it claims he was on the Russian side of the border. Estonia isn't buying it and is treating the matter as an act of aggression against the country.

Estonia, unlike Ukraine, is a member of NATO. Which means if Estonia responds militarily to Russia (which would be an insane idea, given the relative sizes of the two countries, if Estonia couldn't depend upon the NATO umbrella), then every NATO member, including the U.S., could find itself at war with Russia.

Not that I think it will go that far. But if Russia really did do what Estonia says it did, then Putin has reached a new level of recklessness.