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20 July 2012
08 March 2012
07 March 2012
06 March 2012
05 March 2012
11 May 2011
Guevara comes across as the more accessible character. The profane, cigar smoking, asthmatic, alternately lazy and tireless doctor turned revolutionary with a passion for the ladies is a fascinating character. Mao elicits very little sympathy as an asexual opportunist quite willing to throw his comrades under the bus for political gain. Guevara seems genuinely concerned about his fellow guerrillas and the peasants they encounter versus Mao who sells out his own troops by feeding intelligence to the enemy when it benefits his cause and starves millions during his consolidation of power (I have to add a caveat that one of the authors of the Mao biography writes from a Nationalist Chinese perspective so their is some inevitable bias in the work.)
I highly recommend both books.
My interest in this is not that I think the world is going to end- it is going to end, we are all going to end, all things are impermanent. My fascination with the subject is what happens if they are wrong ? Will there be some pronouncement that it was all allegory, that they didn't mean an actual doomsday but rather some type of rebirth, cosmic cycle or God knows what ? On the other hand, I sincerely hope that they result isn't some type of mass suicide among believers that have invested so much in this theory only to see it evaporate before them.
A couple of observations. I believe that this sense that "we" got Bin Laden has been fostered by a long war which has impacted very few Americans. Despite this lack of direct experience, the majority of the citizens of this country seem to feel they have some personal stake in the war. This is a view not far from the American sports fan who proclaims "we" won the Stanley Cup, the World Series or the Super Bowl when their favorite team wins a championship. In this case they apply this logic to SEAL Team 6, the new American fan favorite. In a land of commercialization and virtual experience, one can even bop on down to the local Game Stop to pick up a copy of "SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALS" for Playstation 3 and shoot virtual terrorists all afternoon long. I wonder when the Pakistan expansion pack is coming out ?
It is easy to be pro-war when that war is being fought by volunteers and the mainland is not being subject (with the exception of 9/11) to the horrors of war. The families of those doing the fighting are obviously affected, as are those that lost family members in the 9/11 attacks, but what about the average American ? Sure, they profess their pro-military position with bumper stickers and public pronouncements that they support our troops, they thank veterans for their service but when it comes to the actual heavy lifting they are noticeably absent. On one of our local radio stations, the morning conservative hosts crow about shooting Bin Laden and meting out justice as if they had fast roped into the compound in Pakistan during a station break- for all of their bravado, could they shoot somebody in the face ? One wonders.
As for Rashard Mendehnall, the kid was eviscerated by the same social media that spread his thoughts. Do I agree with him about his 9/11 conspiracy theories ? Nope. Does he have the right to say them ? Absolutely. Should he give up his career of carrying the rock for the Steelers and start a new one as a journalist ? Probably not. That being said, he seems like a spiritual young man that is asking some tough questions about death and killing that the average person doesn't want to look at. No matter, when he scores his first touchdown next season he will be forgiven by the masses- at least in this part of the country.
09 May 2011
08 May 2011
05 May 2011
In a mere 40 minutes, the inserted team was able to complete its mission and egress from the target area despite a mechanical problem with one of their helicopters. That helicopter was reportedly destroyed to deny any technical treasures on board to the Pakistanis who might have been tempted to sell them to their friends in China. As audacious as the raid itself, the act of flying the teams into and out of the target area, apparently undetected and unmolested by Pakistani air defense assets also points to the capability of the pilots and crew that ferried them in and out. Given that President Obama is making an appearance at Fort Campbell, Kentucky to meet and thank the members of SEAL Team 6, one has to wonder if the helicopter unit involved was the U.S. Army's elite 160th SOAR which is based there.
From what can be gleaned from the media reports, this was apparently a relatively small mission with very little room for error. The SEAL Team was brought to the target area in only a few helicopters and possibly without a larger security force on the ground to block any reaction from the local Pakistani garrison. While air assets were probably on call to assist if necessary, the team instead had to rely on completing the mission quickly and exfiltrating with speed before the locals were stirred up enough to try to interfere with the attack. Due to the lead up in intelligence work, the team benefited from the time necessary to study and train within a mock-up of the target house which enabled them to move quickly and decisively towards completion of their mission.
The media story regarding the death of Bin Laden seems to change on a daily basis. He was killed with a weapon, reaching for a weapon or after he surrendered depending upon which story you want to believe. A commentator on Fox News this morning went into a long harangue about why Bin Laden should have been taken alive - all convenient Thursday morning quarterbacking from the comfort of a nice television studio.
Could Bin Laden have surrendered and been executed ? I suppose it's possible. The SEAL team commander may have made the decision based on the fact that he already had one helicopter in trouble and the possibility that they would have to fight their way out through a force of Pakistani military units and unhappy civilians. Why take the risk when you can effectively accomplish the mission at that moment ? It's equally possible that Bin Laden tried to grab a weapon since capture for him would be as unappealing as it would have been for Hitler back in 1945.
The fact that the U.S. violated the airspace of a sovereign nation without (wisely) tipping off the Pakistanis to the plan, points to the amount of resolve necessary to execute the mission, diplomatic consequences be damned. The margin of error was tremendously small- what would have happened if the Pakistanis had reacted faster on the ground ? What if the Pakistani Air Force, which apparently scrambled fighters after the raiders departed, had shot down one of the helicopters ? What if it the entire mission was a dry hole and Bin Laden was not in the house ? What if Bin Laden had been tipped off and prepared an ambush for the U.S. forces ?
I have to give credit to President Obama for giving the go-ahead on a mission that had so many potential ways to go wrong quickly. I would surmise, however, that nearly 10 years of constant war has sharpened the capabilities of the SEAL Team, the various intelligence agencies that were involved, and the helicopter unit that ferried them to such a fine point that the mission was less risky than it would have been before the war.
The raid itself will go down in military annals as one of the most audacious and well-executed operations in history. The reaction of the American public to the death of Bin Laden has been interesting to see- chest thumping jingoism and showings of unity (the "we" in "we got him") which I think are the result of the U.S. fighting a war which really doesn't involve 95 % of the general population.
The reaction of the left and right wings of American politics were as disappointing as they were predictable as each side tried to take credit and out do each other in the political theater. Add to all of this the odd kabuki theater of Bin Laden's funeral at sea, Native Americans being upset over the code name used for him and the questions regarding the pictures of his body, and we have a potent mix of news to comment on.
04 May 2011
First of all, the document in question was allegedly published in the NSA's Technical Journal. Many government agencies publish these types of documents, both classified and unclassified, to share information within their confines and with other external agencies. The document refers to an earlier volume of the Technical Journal, which is not shown, and herein may be the answer to the question. It is entirely possible that the code in question was merely an exercise or contest put out by the agency for its code breakers to solve, perhaps on the page after the one announcing who was bringing potato salad to the next agency picnic. For those that see this as implausible, take a look at the code sculpture that has been a focus of interest at the CIA's headquarters since 1988.
03 May 2011
I've recently come to the conclusion that I'm getting old. I turned 44 years old in March and am starting to see the symptoms that I am basically at the mid point of my life- creaking knees in the morning, an ever expanding waist line and, most surprisingly, a new affinity for baseball.
When I was kid growing up I occasionally went to a Pirates game with my dad and was usually bored silly by the second inning. While my dad would watch games on television, and listen to them on the radio while working in the garage or the back yard, my attention span was limited to asking what the score was and then moving on to something more interesting. Even during the glory days of the 1970's when the Pirates won two World Series, my commitment to the team never went beyond collecting the occasional baseball card. I just couldn't see the fun in watching a game on a sunny day when you could be playing baseball or run-down with your buddies in the neighborhood.
Over the past couple of years, a strange thing started to happen. It began gradually as I tuned in to watch entire games on the television and listen to them on the radio in the car. While I usually went to only one or two Pirate games a year, my attendance suddenly skyrocketed to three or four games despite the fact that the team was working hard on an 18 year losing streak of record proportions. I concluded something had indeed gone horribly wrong as I caught myself checking game box scores on a daily basis and worrying about the performance of individual players.
My first game this year was a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon. I took this picture from my seats (I invested in a 5 game package this year) looking down the first base line. No, this picture was not taken long before or after the game, it was taken in the sixth inning. Note the preponderance of empty seats vs. the scattered attendees (there were around 4,000 people at the game so the stadium was about 10 % full.) The game was against the Washington Nationals (we lost, of course) and in all fairness to the Pirates it was Easter Sunday so that could have affected attendance a bit.
Despite the loss, it was a nice afternoon out and it occurred to me that I really have never had a bad experience at a Pirates game. The fans were mostly comprised of families, nobody was drunk and out of control and the Nationals fans in attendance were at worst politely ignored. Contrasting this to the "Mad Max" atmosphere at Steelers games and the beer fueled youth at Penguins games only made me appreciate it more. A teenager caught a foul popped into our section and then promptly walked down the steps to hand it to a little kid sitting with his parents. Along with the 6 or so other people in my part of the stadium, we gave him a polite round of applause for a very classy move.
Perhaps this was the key to my new found love of baseball- I am simply getting old and crotchety and completely intolerant of the drunken escapades witnessed at other sporting events. Sitting in PNC Park watching the Pirates lose on a Spring afternoon was far more appealing to me than freezing my ass off in Heinz Field and watching the Steelers win. I closed my eyes for a moment of Buddhist mindfulness and enjoyed the moment- the birds singing, the crack of the bat and braying of the men selling beer and popcorn. I think I've found a home for the next 40 years.
02 May 2011
30 April 2011
There are times when I wonder if Barak Obama rubs his hands together and does his best Simpson's impersonation of Montgomery Burns when the cameras switch off- "Excellent" he mutters to Bernanke filling in for Waylon Smithers, "our plans to drive the U.S. economy into the ditch are working better than expected." My suspicions about the Community Organizer in Chief were confirmed when he came out swinging against oil traders, speculators and other malcontents who were artificially driving up the price of oil- all while completely ignoring (conveniently) the fact that the U.S. dollar is dropping like a rock causing the prices of commodities (gold, silver, oil among others) to march steadily higher. I'm not a Harvard educated economist but even my rudimentary understanding of finance tells me that when you are printing dollars by the truck load, you are undercutting your own currency and prompting inflation.
Besides a weakening dollar, metal prices are driven by fear. I think there is now a real disconnect between those within the Washington Beltway and the other 99.99 % of the country that have the uneasy feeling that no matter how we rearrange the deck chairs, the Titanic is about to roll over and sink. While the government crows that inflation is barely noticeable, a loud buzzer went off in the back of my head when I recently paid $ 7.00 for two uncooked chicken breasts and $ 15.00 for a small/medium bottle of laundry soap. I walked out of the store with $ 67.00 worth of groceries that I swore would have cost half of that a year or two ago. The politicians just don't get it and the same can be said for the establishment media that labels all of this a speculative bubble. When silver last spiked it truly was for speculative reasons as the Hunt brothers attempted to corner the entire market. This time around, I see more than enough fundamental problems with the U.S. economy to justify the price appreciation.
So what's a hard working American supposed to do ? I do recommend picking up some physical metals, especially on price dips, but not betting the family farm on it. I've been telling family that anyone with cash in the bank needs to be highly tuned to what is happening to the dollar and fully prepared to move those dollars into other assets if the devaluation accelerates. Real estate if you can afford it, or maybe just the new fridge or washer/dryer that you've had an eye on. If the drop in the dollar accelerates, you might as well spend it while you can get something for it. Call me unpatriotic, but one move I made was to invest in a bear dollar inverse ETF (it appreciates as the dollar falls) which has given me a nice return- perhaps I should send a thank you note to Mr. Obama.
I have done some research into opening overseas accounts denominated in foreign currencies but the account minimums and accompanying red tape make this a far more daunting exercise than I expected. Over the past couple of years, our dear government has quietly made it far more difficult for foreign banks to accept us a depositors. I never considered this course of action because I wanted to avoid paying taxes, only because I wanted to protect the money that I have worked very hard to earn. Only an idiot would screw with the IRS- I read all of the IRS statues on reporting foreign interest accounts etc. but it was all a moot point when you can't open a foreign account in the first place. I would avoid dabbling in Forex accounts (you would do better at the dog track) but converting dollars into hard currencies through banks might not be a bad idea. I would stick with currencies from nations with strong current accounts- Norway, Australia and Canada all look good based on their strong raw material and commodity production.
29 April 2011
Being a former soldier myself, I have always been impressed with the history and reputation of some of the best soldiers on the planet- incredibly tough, loyal and brave men that have served in the Indian and British armies for generations. A recent news story (scroll down on page that is linked) about a retired Gurkha fighting off a mob trying to attack a girl in India only confirmed my admiration for these people. For the Gurkha communities in Nepal, the Army has remained the occupation of choice and young soldiers have been the prime export of these tough hill people. Why on earth, I wondered, was a company making hand bags capitalizing on their name ? More importantly, were they paying anything for the right, or at the very least supporting the charities that assist Gurkha veterans ?
I'm going to do a bit of digging to see if I can find anything out.