Friday, September 27, 2013

Ransom Note

Via dailykos:

Monday, September 23, 2013

India's Defense Spending

Pavan Srinath at Pragati, has a great infographic on India's defense spending.

The good news is that Indian defense spending is at around 2% of GDP, trending down as a fraction of GDP, and yet rising. The bad news is that the money doesn't seem to be spent effectively.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Another Dalrymple essay

In other words, Bashar al-Assad reveals himself as a kind of Baathist Mr Blair, infinitely nastier because of the political traditions and situation of the country in which he finds himself. You can just hear him saying, Blairishly, “Surely you can’t think that I ordered the deaths of all those people, at least not unless I thought it was really necessary for the good of my country and the rest of humanity.”

This is all very sick, but it is not the pathology of the Middle East alone. It is what happens when the contemporary psychology of the Real-Me (the notion that, no matter what I do or how I behave, my inner goodness, my original virtue, remains intact), which since the 1960s has become so profoundly Western, intersects with a vile political tradition. 


Listening to reason?

A Theodore Dalrymple Essay

Recounting the experiences of Jews in Algeria under Muslim and under French rule:
But what is the moral of this history, if there is one? It is certainly not one of the immemorial goodness and tolerance of the western tradition and the immemorial wickedness and intolerance of the Islamic one. I suppose a Martian, on reading this story, might come to the conclusion that human beings were a bad lot, and that he had better leave Earth as soon as possible.
In other words, the moral of Professor Stora’s book is that Islam, whatever its past glories, achievements, strengths and even tolerance by comparison with extremely low standards prevailing at different times elsewhere, has no means as yet of dealing with the modern world in a constructive fashion, and perhaps (though here it is impossible to be dogmatic) never can have such a means without falling apart entirely. I leave it to the experts to decide.   

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Via redflagnews, a very scary view of the tsunami, 2011 - relentless and unstoppable.
PS: please disregard any conspiracy theory, etc.-- seems to have been added since I first saw the video.

For a less edited version: here

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Some great quotes

The comments on Krugman's NYT column have some great quotes:

"Democracy breeds its own enemy, which is extremism." —Prime Minister of Greece

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself." —John Adams

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."—Abraham Lincoln

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."— John F. Kennedy

"Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule."—Frederick Nietzsche

Coupled Oscillators

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rajiv Malhotra on Double Speak

A worthwhile 2 minutes.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Today's Republicans are like the Muslim League 1940-47

In a comment on this NYT article, Sastrugi from North Carolina wrote:
John Boehner sounds very reasonable when he tells the Democrats to "show the courage to work with us". Unfortunately, in GOP-speak "work with us" usually translates into "give us everything we want".
In American history, this is the pro-slavery side before the Civil War.  In Indian history, this is the Muslim League 1940-47.  This is Pakistan today. 

Football and Junk Food

America's version of bread and circuses?
When a country places more importance on sports than on academic achievement, its decline is inevitable.
Lesson from a previous empire.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lifestyle disease.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Street Art

Sunday, September 08, 2013

What Col. Wilkerson said


Retd. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson was interviewed by Chris Hayes on MSNBC some days ago, and some of the transcript was just posted on dailykos.

What I hear Wilkerson saying is that death by napalm or white phosphorus weapons is more horrible than death by sarin gas; but only sarin gas is outlawed as chemical warfare; and that the reason we don't ban napalm or white phosphorus weapons (and the US doesn't join in the land mine ban) is because these are highly effective weapons, compared to poison gas.
Chris Hayes: What do you think when you watch him talk about the Iraq experience. Do you think we’ve learned our lesson?

Lawrence Wilkerson: In some ways perhaps, in other ways not. My first reaction and this in no way meant to be cold. It is meant to be the exact opposite. What’s the difference in a child dying of sarin gas in the night, a child dying in the morning with napalm, and a child dying in the afternoon with white phosphorous? Personally as a soldier I rather die of the sarin gas than the other two; those other two perfectly legal. And many people in Syria are dying of other causes than chemical weapons. So I have a real problem with this from that point of view.

Chris Hayes: So you question drawing this ring around this class of weapon in the way the civilized world, if we can use that phrase, has basically said you can’t do this.

Lawrence Wilkerson: The main reason we have a chemical weapons ban and the success we do with over a hundred and eighty eight countries members of the convention is because they aren’t very good weapons. That’s the real reason. Look at why the United States continues to use depleted uranium, white phosphorous, wouldn’t join the land mine ban and so forth is all because we find utility in the weapons. That’s not to be cold. That’s simply to be rational about it.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Alternative to Bombing Syria

In response to my letter to him, my representative, Chris Smith (R-NJ 4th district) sent me this interview that he had with the Washington Post.  Though Rush Holt was redistricted out of my area, I still have a anti-war Congressman.  I'm one lucky dude :).  Now if only Senator Bob Menendez wasn't such a hawk!

Is there an alternative to bombing Syria? Rep. Chris Smith thinks so.

By Brad Plumer, Updated:

Are there ways to respond to the atrocities in Syria without U.S. military action? Rep. Chris Smith thinks so.

The House Republican from New Jersey introduced a bill Wednesday to set up a Syrian war crimes tribunal as an alternative to missile strikes against Bashar Assad’s government.

Smith’s resolution would call for an immediate ceasefire in Syria and direct the president to work with the United Nations to set up a tribunal to investigate war crimes committed by both the Syrian government and rebel groups in the country.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Libya: How has it worked out?

The Independent, UK, reports on NATO's last military venture.
A little under two years ago, Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, urged British businessmen to begin “packing their suitcases” and to fly to Libya to share in the reconstruction of the country and exploit an anticipated boom in natural resources.

Yet now Libya has almost entirely stopped producing oil as the government loses control of much of the country to militia fighters.

Mutinying security men have taken over oil ports on the Mediterranean and are seeking to sell crude oil on the black market. Ali Zeidan, Libya’s Prime Minister, has threatened to “bomb from the air and the sea” any oil tanker trying to pick up the illicit oil from the oil terminal guards, who are mostly former rebels who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi and have been on strike over low pay and alleged government corruption since July.

As world attention focused on the coup in Egypt and the poison gas attack in Syria over the past two months, Libya has plunged unnoticed into its worst political and economic crisis since the defeat of Gaddafi two years ago. Government authority is disintegrating in all parts of the country putting in doubt claims by American, British and French politicians that Nato’s military action in Libya in 2011 was an outstanding example of a successful foreign military intervention which should be repeated in Syria.

The Root of the Syrian War?

Early warning for humanity's future?  Syria's drought may not have been climate change due to greenhouse gases; but climate change is coming, human systems will fail.  And less than the cost of the impending US strike on Syria in food aid might have saved us this war and a hundred thousand Syrians. Where were all the rich Arab neighbors who are willing to give weapons, but not food aid? Why is the whole world like the Tea Party NRA member who is all for guns and against food stamps?

William R. Polk writes:

Syria has been convulsed by civil war since climate change came to Syria with a vengeance. Drought devastated the country from 2006 to 2011.  Rainfall in most of the country fell below eight inches (20 cm) a year, the absolute minimum needed to sustain un-irrigated farming. Desperate for water, farmers began to tap aquifers with tens of thousands of new well.  But, as they did, the water table quickly dropped to a level below which their pumps could lift it. 

Syria: The Fog of War reports on the stories from the various intelligence organizations, and how they differ.

William Polk on Syria

Timeline of US involvement in Syria

It looks like the first squad of C.I.A.-trained fighters was passing through Ghouta when it was gassed.  If true, it explains why the Nobel Peace Laureate is so pissed off, and itching for war, and what the red line was.  

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Syria:UN Inspectors timeline:Kerry lied?

Jeffrey Sachs on Syria

Here. Quote:

Then and now, the US has claimed to speak in the interest of the Syrian people. This is very doubtful. The US views Syria mainly through the lens of Iran, seeking to depose Assad in order to deprive Iran’s leaders of an important ally in the region, one that borders Israel. The US-led effort in Syria is thus best understood as a proxy war with Iran – a cynical strategy that has contributed to the massive rise in violence.

The US should reverse course. A direct US attack on Syria without UN backing is far more likely to inflame the region than it is to resolve the crisis there – a point well appreciated in the United Kingdom, where Parliament bucked the government by rejecting British participation in a military strike.

Instead, the US should provide evidence of the chemical attacks to the UN; call on the Security Council to condemn the perpetrators; and refer such violations to the International Criminal Court. Moreover, the Obama administration should try to work with Russia and China to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention. If the US fails in this, while acting diplomatically and transparently (without a unilateral attack), Russia and China would find themselves globally isolated on this important issue.

More broadly, the US should stop using countries like Syria as proxies against Iran. Withdrawal of US financial and logistical support for the rebellion, and calling on others to do the same, would not address Syria’s authoritarianism or resolve America’s issues with Iran, but it would stop or greatly reduce the large-scale killing and destruction in Syria itself.
It would also enable the UN peace process to resume, this time with the US and Russia working together to restrain violence, keep Al Qaeda at bay (a shared interest), and find a longer-term pragmatic solution to Syria’s deep domestic divisions. And the search for a US modus vivendi with Iran – where a new president suggests a change of course on foreign policy – could be revived.
It is time for the US to help stop the killing in Syria. That means abandoning the fantasy that it can or should determine who rules in the Middle East.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

(Chemical) blast from the past - 3

The New York Times, August 18, 2002:

It is evident that the American administration is OK with the use of chemical weapons when a useful regime's survival is in question.   If you are Syria's Assad, however - quite the opposite of a useful enemy - you have crossed a red line and must be bombed.

A covert American program during the Reagan administration provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program.

Those officers, most of whom agreed to speak on the condition that they not be identified, spoke in response to a reporter's questions about the nature of gas warfare on both sides of the conflict between Iran and Iraq from 1981 to 1988. Iraq's use of gas in that conflict is repeatedly cited by President Bush and, this week, by his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, as justification for ''regime change'' in Iraq.

Though senior officials of the Reagan administration publicly condemned Iraq's employment of mustard gas, sarin, VX and other poisonous agents, the American military officers said President Reagan, Vice President George Bush and senior national security aides never withdrew their support for the highly classified program in which more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.

Iraq shared its battle plans with the Americans, without admitting the use of chemical weapons, the military officers said. But Iraq's use of chemical weapons, already established at that point, became more evident in the war's final phase.

In early 1988, after the Iraqi Army, with American planning assistance, retook the Fao Peninsula in an attack that reopened Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf, a defense intelligence officer, Lt. Col. Rick Francona, now retired, was sent to tour the battlefield with Iraqi officers, the American military officers said.

He reported that Iraq had used chemical weapons to cinch its victory, one former D.I.A. official said. Colonel Francona saw zones marked off for chemical contamination, and containers for the drug atropine scattered around, indicating that Iraqi soldiers had taken injections to protect themselves from the effects of gas that might blow back over their positions. (Colonel Francona could not be reached for comment.)

C.I.A. officials supported the program to assist Iraq, though they were not involved. Separately, the C.I.A. provided Iraq with satellite photography of the war front.

Col. Walter P. Lang, retired, the senior defense intelligence officer at the time, said he would not discuss classified information, but added that both D.I.A. and C.I.A. officials ''were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose'' to Iran.

''The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern,'' he said. What Mr. Reagan's aides were concerned about, he said, was that Iran not break through to the Fao Peninsula and spread the Islamic revolution to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Colonel Lang asserted that the Defense Intelligence Agency ''would have never accepted the use of chemical weapons against civilians, but the use against military objectives was seen as inevitable in the Iraqi struggle for survival.'' Senior Reagan administration officials did nothing to interfere with the continuation of the program, a former participant in the program said.

Iraq did turn its chemical weapons against the Kurdish population of northern Iraq, but the intelligence officers say they were not involved in planning any of the military operations in which those assaults occurred. They said the reason was that there were no major Iranian troop concentrations in the north and the major battles where Iraq's military command wanted assistance were on the southern war front.

The Pentagon's battle damage assessments confirmed that Iraqi military commanders had integrated chemical weapons throughout their arsenal and were adding them to strike plans that American advisers either prepared or suggested. Iran claimed that it suffered thousands of deaths from chemical weapons.

The American intelligence officers never encouraged or condoned Iraq's use of chemical weapons, but neither did they oppose it because they considered Iraq to be struggling for its survival, people involved at the time said in interviews.

(Chemical) blast from the past - 2

While the US and the world was keeping silent about Iraqi use of chemical weapons 1983-1988,  it was different about the Soviets.  The NYT, March 9, 1982:
WASHINGTON, March 8— The Reagan Administration asserted today that Soviet forces had killed at least 3,000 people in Afghanistan with poison gas and other chemical weapons in violation of an international treaty the Soviet Union signed.

Deputy Secretary of State Walter J. Stoessel Jr. told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the information came from Afghan Army defectors who had been trained by the Soviet Union in chemical warfare and from refugees in Pakistan who purportedly were victims of chemical attacks.
''As a result of chemical attacks, 3,042 deaths attributed to 47 separate incidents between the summer of 1979 and the summer of 1981 have been reported,'' Mr. Stoessel said. He said the number was based on conservative analyses and was reliable. 

Number May Be Higher 

A State Department intelligence official, Deputy Assistant Secretary Philip H. Stoddard, who accompanied Mr. Stoessel to the hearing, said, ''We think the actual total of numbers killed by chemical weapons was considerably higher.'' 

In his testimony, Mr. Stoessel said, ''Analysis of all the information available leads us to conclude that attacks have been conducted with irritants, incapacitants, nerve agents, phosgene oxime and perhaps mycotoxins, mustard, lewisite and toxic smoke.''
The UN conducted an investigation and found the evidence to be inconclusive.  

(Chemical) Blast from the Past

The New York Times, August 5, 1988:- (note, per the article itself, this article appeared after 5 continuous years of use of chemical weapons by Iraq).  This article is relevant because the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons recently is said to have crossed a red-line, legitimized the use of chemical weapons, blah, blah, blah, thereby justifying a military strike (i.e., killing people and blowing up things) in Syria as a deterrent to future use of such weapons.

Let us note that US doctrine is, that, officially not having any more biological or chemical weapons, it will view an attack on the US with any Weapons of Mass Destruction -  biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons - as inviting a retaliatory nuclear strike.   Of course, the Syrian government's action is not seen as meriting a nuclear strike, something to be thankful for.

PS: the last bit that Iran also used chemical weapons, I am informed, is apparently US government disinformation.  It has apparently been acknowledged later that Iran did not use chemical weapons.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4— American military officers say Iraq's routine use of chemical weapons against Iran in their eight-year-old war could encourage the common use of poison gas in future wars between third-world nations. 

''It is a poor man's way to wage war,'' a Pentagon officer said. 

The fact that there has been only limited negative world reaction over the use of chemicals in the war, the first widespread use since World War I, may be seen as tacit repudiation of an international agreement outlawing chemical warfare, the officer said. 

Iraq Accused in U.N. Report 
On Monday an independent team of experts appointed by the United Nations issued a report accusing Iraq of using chemical weapons on an ''intense and frequent'' scale against Iran. And Iran accused Iraq of two more attacks this week in which, it said, a total of 2,700 people were wounded. 

Iraq first began extensive use of chemical warfare in 1983, when its army was on the defensive and having difficulty stopping the human-wave battlefield attacks by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. ''At first it was an act of desperation,'' an American general said. ''But as the war progressed the Iraqis incorporated the use of chemicals in their artillery planning as a standard practice.'' 

The general said the Iraqis, when defending against an Iranian attack, used persistent chemical agents, usually mustard gas, so the effects would linger and contaminate the areas through which the Iranians were attacking. 

Later, when they themselves were on the offensive, the Iraqis systematically targeted Iranian command posts, artillery and supply points with dissipating chemicals to kill and disable them, but to leave them free of chemicals by the time attacking Iraqi troops reached them. In most cases, both defensively and offensively, the Iraqis used artillery barrages to release the chemicals. 
No Widespread Protest 
Iraqi chemical attacks brought international criticism this year when the Iraqi Air Force bombed the Iraqi town of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan with mustard gas, after it had fallen to the Iranians. Thousands of civilian Kurds were reportedly killed in the attack. But for the most part there has been no widespread public protest. 

Since the bombing of Halabja, Iraq has used chemicals extensively in its offensives around Fao, Basra, Majnoon, and in attacks along the central front after the recent Iranian agreement to accept a United Nations call for a cease-fire. 

Iran, too, has used chemical weapons, but not as frequently nor extensively as the Iraqis. Each side blames the other for starting their use. Figures for total casualties from chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war have not yet been made available.