sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Monday, December 31, 2018

Are you not Entertained?

I am not a re-enactor. Who would be comfortable handing me a machine gun to replay times when I used live ammunition...exactly. That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate people who do it. I think that it's a fun and harmless way to entertain yourself. There are also historical angles that I find interesting. 

Here are some photographs of the 21st Legion

First Cohort marches into camp.
Roman legions units incorporated torture teams. This is a photo of
crucifixion unit on the way to a village to deal with some people who
have been uncooperative. Modern man reared his ugly head by leaving
tire track on the 'Roman road'. And if they keep doing that, they may end
up crucified.
Waiting for the barbarians. Not some wear segmentata armor and others wear
chainmail. Still others in some of the photos wear scale armor over their chainmail.
The Roman military system was a combined arms force that included articulated heavy infantry, light artillery (archers), heavy artillery (siege machines), light and heavy cavalry. They lost a few battles, but not many. Prior to the age of the Caesars, much of the military was voluntary. Marian reforms brought some innovations that carried them forward through the ages and the management of vast territories. 

The First Cohort on parade.
There is a lot of attention to detail with arms and armor. Roman soldiers
practiced with wooden swords for obvious reasons. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

New Years - Old and New

So what is genuinely old and what is genuinely new?

There are books on the Epic story of Gilgamesh. Possibly the first epic written by man? (more HERE) Theories abound when it comes to interpretations (it mentions the Flood of Noah), but to me, it's a reassurance that the difference between ancient peoples and us - with the intervening years - is very small. 
The story follows Gilgamesh, a young and handsome Uruk. Gilgamesh was the son of Ninsun, a goddess, and Lugalbanda, a priest-king. Wanting for nothing, he grew up spoiled, arrogant and cruel. He spends his time beating the other men of Uruk in fights and taking many women to bed, including the wives of other men – as royalty and the son of a goddess, he feels he is entitled. 
The people of Uruk, terrorized by Gilgamesh, and unable to do anything because of his royal and divine status, cry out to the king of heaven, Anu, to help them with the young king.

In response, the gods send Enkidu, a wild man who lives in the desert, to Uruk. Enkidu lives in the wilds, side by side with the animals when he encounters a priestess named Shamhat, who partially civilized him – she teaches him how to eat like a human being. Enkidu then heads to Uruk. 
There, he meets Gilgamesh and challenges him to a fight. They fight day and night, but eventually Gilgamesh wins. However, in the process, he begins to learn humility and becomes best friends with Enkidu.
It's a story of buddies, an epic of friendship.  We can understand it today because the same forces that impacted Gilgamesh and Enkidu impact all of us. We relate at a very deep level to their adventures. It's not all that different than a modern hero (pick any of them).

There's a general sense - and I am generalizing, that in the past, people were ignorant, believing in mystical, religious explanations of natural phenomena. That argument rests on the idea that people in the past were incapable of making rational, well thought out, scientific arguments, and that now through the redemptive, mystical power of science mankind has been transformed into a blessed state of rationalism.

So how would an educated Greek respond to the question of what causes lightning? Fortunately we can actually have an answer to that because we have some of the standard science texts from ancient Greece! In a 1965 article by H. Howard Frisinger in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society entitled “Early Theories on the Cause of Thunder and Lightning” Dr. Frisinger briefly the different theories of how lightning worked that were taught by various Greek philosophers.

All of the views of how lightning worked were based on the standard Greek physics of the four elements, earth, water, air, and fire. The theories taught by the Greeks, and the answer that your average educated Greek would give, generally attributed movements of air to be the cause of thunder (just like we teach today), and the motion or effects of fire (sometimes aether) as it interacted with the water and air in the clouds. There was debate about what came first the thunder or the lightning, and there was debate about whether or not one caused the other or if they were entirely separate phenomena.

The most widely accepted theory came from Aristotle who wrote that both thunder and lightning are a result of motions of air colliding with objects, such as clouds or other masses of air. If there was sufficient fire in the clouds then a lightning bolt would be formed, and depending on the purity of the fire you either get a defined bolt or a diffuse flash of light in the cloud. He made his arguments by looking at the evidence, such as when a local temple was struck by lightning, or how lightning was know to burn some kinds of materials but leave others unblackened.

These theories were put into the standard science textbooks of the day and would have been expected reading for an educated Greek. Just like today there would have been people who had no idea what the standard "scientific" explanation of lightning was. There has not been the assumed progression from less rational to more rational thought as is commonly asserted by those who promote science and eschew religion. The evidence does not support that theory.

So, what is my point?

People are more or less the same - 5000 BC or today. And there's a lot of evidence to support the theory.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

This and That

Housekeeping

For those of you who follow this blog, personal illness has kept me from beginning the move to the White Wolf Mine this past week. It's that whole cold and flu season thing. You think that you're going to die, but you don't. However it's incapacitating.

Helpful hints: If you think that you're getting the stomach flu and you feel as if you might throw up, crack open a can of peaches in heavy syrup and drink a tablespoon of the nectar every thirty minutes. It makes the barfing more tolerable. Not tolerable, more tolerable.

And when you're finished with the purge, start on Gatorade...and maybe some chicken soup...and saltines. Replace the fluid and electrolytes that you lost.

Caravans

More are forming in Honduras and Guatemala because there are desperately poor and miserable people there and they want to get out of their situations. They will continue to form and come North so long at the US releases them as soon as they've gone over the fence (not at all a WALL). Many of them bring diseases we haven't seen in the US for a long time, they are uneducated to any standard we'd recognize and and don't speak English, so end up working under the table in the agriculture industry for sub-minimum wages. It's the sub-minimum wage thing that keeps the WALL from being built. There are a lot of 'good old boy Republicans and Democrats' out there who don't want that WALL. 

There are a lot of people born into human misery under circumstances where there is scant hope of escape. A lot of what we call misery in the US would NOT pass for misery in the third/developing world. Volumes have been written about it, and I need not add to it here. Suffice to say that so long as Americans are willing to sit still for the situation, it will still be a situation. Gumballs

Human Travel to Mars?

There is an interesting article HERE about Astronaut Scott Kelly's health issues after having spent a year in space. Given this, we all need to take a deep breath before we start talking about sending an expedition to Mars. There are a number of serious issues that need to be considered well and apart from moving beyond the protective radiation belt that surrounds Earth (and to a lesser extent, the Moon). Landing a bunch of sick people on Mars essentially means that their chances of surviving once they arrive are drastically reduced. A human trip to Mars given our current technology is a one-way ticket. Nobody will be coming back. Weigh that against far less expensive robotic exploration.

It might be possible to build a space elevator and use other innovations that would make construction of a sufficiently advanced spacecraft (creates its own gravity) possible. Better still, send three or four spacecraft in convoy to Mars. It would cost trillions of dollars. But by then, our national debt may be $100 trillion so the cost of the program would be equivalent to a 'rounding error'.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Book Review

Book Review: The Exodus, by Richard Elliott Friedman, PhD

The book was on my Christmas list and I unwrapped it and have already read it. Though I seldom delve into religion on this blog because every single reader has a different take on these things, it's a book review and you can make of the book what you will.

I have an interest in the Late Bronze Age, and recommend 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed, by Eric Cline, PhD (the book and his YouTube presentation) to those of you who have an inclination toward this field of scholarship. One of the mysteries if I can use that word safely, of the Late Bronze Age is the exodus. I have lots of questions about the exodus because there is scant historical or archeological evidence to support it beyond the account in the Bible. The town of Jericho, that Joshua allegedly sacked 'when the walls came tumbling down', wasn't ever sacked and the walls never tumbled down. There is overwhelming evidence of this. I reference the work of Yigael Yadin on the subject. General Yadin has huge credibility to me. He's a man of impressive intellect, Israeli Army Chief of Staff turned archeologist. Additionally, there's ample historical evidence that the 12 tribes of Israel (or most of the 12 tribes) never left Caanan/Israel. 

So given the lack of proof, and given my faith, I have strained to know more. Facts tend to fit the way pieces of a puzzle snap into place. I hate it when people strain to make the pieces fit, and Dr. Friedman didn't do that.

Back to the book. Dr. Friedman makes a compelling argument that "the" exodus occurred, that it was small, consisting almost exclusively of Levites, and that it had intimate links to Egyptian culture and religion. He explores Moses the historical figure and the connection to Midian, etc. along with many other issues that you may have an interest in. I take small issue with some of Dr. Friedman's propositions later in the book, but, overall, I think that it's worth buying and reading if you have an interest in such things.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Compendium

Arctic Sea Ice

It's at a 10,000 year high. (more HERE) Shamelessly lifted from my friend and colleague, John D.)

While progressive scientists tell you to ignore the data, suggesting that the current diminished solar activity will soon be eclipsed by global warming -- it's clearly not warming fast enough. 

Liberal icons like Al Gore said that polar bears would be extinct last year - but they are thriving despite his predictions. And the polar ice grows.

There are a lot of numbers, figures, charts and graphs in the article referenced, above, there is a lesson here. More tax can not equate to weather control. At least until the progressive movement has control of the Sun...and they're not close to doing that.

The US Coast Guard has two ocean going ice breakers (and one that operates on the Great Lakes), one more than the French Navy. The Russians have seventy, including two nuclear powered ice breakers. My sense is that the US Navy feels that submarines can project power from under the ice, and while that's true, it's pathetic that we only have two ice breakers, one of which was built in 1976 and was pulled out of mothballs in 2013 when it appeared that the polar ice cap would NOT dissolve anytime soon.

Mountain Diavel

The Diavel is moving from the beach to the mountains in its trailer. It will end up being a mountain and desert Diavel and will be married to the GoPro shortly for some videos that may or may not be interesting (remains to be seen).

The speed limits on mountain roads are unrealistic for the Diavel... but there is some winding road that will be calling once the snow and ice is off the road. This machine is not designed for use with spiked snow tires.

The concept of use for this machine included ramping up into the trailer, and hauling it someplace where I'd ride it for a few hours, then go somewhere else. I realize that any hard core biker would find that sort of sissy riding to be  - disturbing at best. However, the reality of long rides (on a Harley, the Ducati, or anything else), begins to take a toll on knees, lower back and so forth. I only THINK that I'm made of steel.

Shuffling the Deck

On 26 December, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Russia closely coordinated its activities with Turkey and indicated that an Astana-format ministerial meeting would be held in Moscow in the coming period.

Turkish public statements appear to be a bit confused about what comes next and when. The Turkish position was rather straightforward. The Erdogan government was determined to confront the US about the Syrian Kurds. Turkish leaders must now reexamine the options and outcomes because the Syrians and Russians appear to be moving to fill the military vacuum in northern Syria. Syria and Russia have activated a monitoring site west of Manbij. 

Syria also is concerned about the security and safety of Syrian Arab Army units that remain intact in eastern Syria. 

New alignments are in negotiation. Local sources also reported that the Syrian government held talks last week with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) regarding the threat of a Turkish invasion east of the Euphrates. The discussions included that the SDF would hand over oil fields to the Syrian government forces in exchange for defense of the SDF-controlled areas.

The Turks and the other actors who opposed the US military presence in Syria have shown that they are totally unprepared for a US military withdrawal. The quick flurry of diplomatic and political coordination meetings is a sure sign that national positions have been disrupted and are in the process of change. So too are military cooperation arrangements.

The Israelis are not Idle

By way of a 'Christmas present', Israeli missiles struck targets in and around Damascus. A Syrian military official told state media an arms depot was hit, and three soldiers were injured. Syria said most of the missiles were intercepted.

An Israeli official confirmed the strikes late on the 25th and early on the 26th. He said the targets were a series of facilities involved in transferring Iranian weapons to Lebanese Hizballah. 
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said that six Israeli F-16 jets launched a “provocative” attack at the moment when two civilian airliners were preparing to land in Damascus and Beirut, creating a “direct threat” to the aircraft. 
He said the Syrians did not engage their full air defense system so as to avoid hitting the civilian airliners.
This is the second Israeli attack reported in open sources since the Russians supplied the Syrians with the S-300 modern air defense system in October. The system is advertised as an anti-missile as well as an anti-aircraft defense system. Syrians insist they downed 14 of 16 missiles, but three wounded Syrian soldiers can attest that the air defense system remains porous. The Israelis said all their missiles hit their targets.

Syrians aren't to be believed, the Israelis tend to be accurate and credible in their reporting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Winning and Losing

It's Christmas time and my ten year old grandson wanted to try chess moves out on me. He has a math teacher at school that he plays with, often successfully. He also beats his mother/my daughter. I told him, "I can tell in five moves if you'll beat me or I'll beat you." He didn't believe me. He made a move and I said, "I won." After a little training, he began to get it, to understand how control of the center of the board and timely development of pieces made the game develop toward a win. Nobody ever explained chess to him in a way that would allow him to 'see the win'. 

Chess allows for other discussion of things that are the same, and not the same.

Q - "So...what did you do in the war, grandpa?"

A - "It depended on the war. Generally, put ordinance on target."

Q - "What does that mean?"

A - "Blew people up, blew things with people in them up, that sort of thing."

Q - "Did you ever blow something up without people in it?"

A - "Sometimes." (I thought of an oil refinery in the third world that blew up accidentally many years ago, crippling their economy - it might have been empty.)

"Sometimes I just trained people to blow things up and let them do the dirty work. Occasionally shined a laser on something that directed a very large bomb to fly there and blow it up. Other times, I simply planned to blow things up and left the details to operators in the field. Occasionally kidnapped people and brought them in alive, sometimes spoke to people that other people kidnapped. They're called 'direct action missions'."

Q - "Do you play chess often."

A - "No, not often, but I like to play. Sometimes life is a lot more like chess than people want to believe. It's not uncommon to find that while I'm playing chess, they're playing checkers."

Q - "What does that mean?"

A - "I win."

Q - "Do you ever lose at chess?"

A - "Not often. And when it comes to the Great Game, and the strength of tradecraft, losing at chess means a mouth full of dirt."

Q - "I can see why you don't like to lose." 

Today is my birthday.

Q - "How old are you today?"

A - I told him.

Q - "Wow that's old."

A - "I didn't get to be this old by being bad at chess."

Planetary Science

The Planet Rang Like a Bell

More on that HERE. The event took place on November 11. I am guessing that an underwater volcano let loose, accompanied by sub-oceanic earthquakes. But the planet resonated from the event. A more interesting question that we don't have an answer to is how often this happens historically. We've only been able to track these sorts of things for a few decades.

This is one of the ever so famous photos taken of the Earth by the crew of Apollo 8 from orbit around the Moon on Christmas. Their reading from the Book of Genesis on December 24, 1968 still moves me.

Progressives remind us that the current decline in sunspot activity is only temporary and will not reduce global warming. Only usurious taxes, levied soon to the US, Canada and Europe will save the planet (they say). They are ice age deniers. Some of them even deny the Maunder and Dalton grand solar minima that resulted in mini-ice ages. None of them know WHY ice ages occurred in the past.

None of them know why the planet rang like a bell on November 11, 2018 either, but I'm sure that a tax would keep that from happening again. It would have to be a really BIG tax.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Grandchildren: Also a Reason for the Season

Grandsons live in Southern California

Photos of some of the grandkids as they await the arrival of Santa's sleigh, full of stuff (most of which will turn out to be landfill, but it's still fun).

Granddaughters live in Arizona
There is another set of grandsons, but they were sick, and photos didn't work out. I think that it was more over indulgence (can sugar be toxic at some level?) in goodies and the excitement of the season, than it was some sort of virus-induced malady. You all know how that goes.


Monday, December 24, 2018

Looking Toward 2019 from Christmas

The stock market has been plunging, due in party to the sort of hysteria that plages that particular marketplace. Because of that, there have been people who are predicting immediate doom. I have a slightly different take. 

We enjoy freedom of speech (sorta), freedom of religion and the ability to worship or not based on our own faith. There are disturbing trends in the way people live their lives, and the tendency to worship money and goods more than God - but that's been going on since Cain slew Able. 

It all comes down to being kind, a humble and a contrite heart and following the example set by Jesus Christ on a daily basis. Even if you don't believe, it's still a good way to live your life.

I'm optimistic in the short term. Longer term predictions are more difficult.

There has been subtle pressure from the Chinese to 'school' the United States, the Federal Reserve decided to push up interest rates for the seventh time during the Trump Presidency, and the uncertain issues of America asserting itself in areas where trade has been unfair. All this has caused the endemically jittery stock market to respond in a negative way.

At the same time, things are going remarkably well in the United States. Income is up, unemployment is lower than it's been in a generation, and taxes are lower as is the cost of doing business. Yes, the deficit is worrisome, but all of the major developed nations in the first world are in worse shape than we are when it comes to borrowing. I know, cold comfort, but it is something.

The US is beginning to decouple from the role of "world's policeman" that we chose for ourselves. Yes, CNN is hysterical, but they were also apoplectic about the First Lady's choice of Christmas decorations. When everything is a 10, nothing is.

The US has the largest proven reserves of oil, oil shale, natural gas on the planet. We don't need the Middle East. Yes, I know that it's about market forces and the Saudis have the production capacity to pump more than we do. Now. But their oil will end long before ours does. Likewise, the US can feed itself easily. There is no threat to us in this hemisphere. Two oceans provide a buffer. We have not relinquished our control of Space above the planet, and soon we'll have a Space Force which will pull more of the budget in that direction.

China is the only significant global threat to the US and if we stopped all trade with them, they'd be in much worse shape than we'd be in. We have more in common with Russia and were it not for the deep state attacking President Trump on the fake news topic of collusion, we'd have been closer to them now than we are. And China fears that. Think on that for a moment if you will.

We're a bigger threat to ourselves than any outside power. We may be the only nation on the planet that can say that. 

So be joyful this Christmas Eve. Things are going well in the macro sense. You may not like the Farm Bill or you may be unhappy with the lack of progress in building the Wall, but we're ok despite all of that.

When you wake up tomorrow it will be Christmas. And that's pretty cool (or cold, depending on where you live). I'm going to crack open a craft root beer and drop a hunk of vanilla ice cream in it and toast you all. 

Merry  Christmas

Christmas Eve Thoughts

Thank You

Christmas is about observing the birth of Jesus Christ, some 2019 years ago. But it's far more than that to most of us. It's about thinking of the things and the people that matter to us. Some of those people have died, and others remain. As important as money is to our lives, it comes and goes and hearses don't have luggage racks. 

So amid the worship, the family gatherings, the nice meals and the bright decorations, I want to take a moment to thank those few of you who follow this blog. Some of you, such as Lone Star Parson, Juliette, Old NFO, DRJIM, Odie, etc. I have met in person over the years as a result of this blog and the people who visit the blog. Others, such as John D. from Norway, I've worked with or continue to work with from time to time. Most of you are known to me either from your own blogs or from the messages you leave here. This blog exists because of you. 

I use this as a sounding board, and to share thoughts from time to time and the extent to which you participate (or don't) shapes what you read here. Most of you don't share all the same politics, the same backgrounds or the same personal histories, but your opinions are welcomed and appreciated here. Disagreement (though how could you in all good conscience disagree with my slurred words?) is useful. It's constructive. It helps us to lens what's going on around us through the eyes of others, and I find that input valuable as I try to make sense of things.

So at this Christmas time, this family time, I thank you for being a part of me and a part of my family. Thank you for being people who matter to me. And thank you for sharing interesting times. Now, I'm going to go on a rant and beat a few familiar themes once again, like an old dog chewing on a shoe...because you've grown to expect it.

Interesting Times

I find the times we live in to be fascinating. Just read this summary of disgraced, former FBI Director Jim (Big Jim) Comey's testimony before Congress. I've never held the FBI in particularly high regard, but this testimony (in a nutshell) explains a level of incompetence, most, including me, find shocking.

Retrospective Review

On December 11, 2009, when this blog was still new, I wrote this:
Robert Kaplan wrote a very interesting book titled, Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. In that book, Robert Kaplan argues that the bedrock of sound foreign policy should be "comprehensive pragmatism" rather than "utopian hopes." Kaplan calls for a reestablishment of American realpolitik, one distanced from Judeo-Christian (or private) virtue and closer to a "pagan" (public) one. He aligns himself with America's Founding Fathers, who, he says, believed good government emerged only from a "sly understanding of men's passions."
I'll let that comment stand as this blog enters its tenth year.

On Syrian Policy

I've heard a lot about President Trump's mistake in pulling US Troops from Syria. These complaints are hogwash, and I don't care who is doing the complaining, what their titles are, etcIt is time to let the locals go back to killing each with the same exuberance they’ve shown since the Ottoman yoke was lifted a hundred years ago. 

If the cynics are right and we’re still only there to protect the global oil market, then all the more reason to excise ourselves. The Turks, the Syrians, the Kurds, Iraqis, and Iranians - and the Saudis and UAE filling the vacuum left by the USA have more than enough manpower and weaponry on the ground to finish the fight. No reason for Americans to die there or to go into combat next to people who would just as soon kill Americans soldiers as their hated neighbors. It is not a question of “ultimate victory”, but of who should bear the cost in blood. It’s their fight; let them fight it.

Small Wars Rationale

There is a vocal group of Beltway insiders who pay people like Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) a lot of money to beat a drum. The current jibe is that if we don't stay in Afghanistan with at least a division of soldiers supported by USAF fixed wing assets, that we're inviting the "next 9/11". What they forget is that no Afghans participated in the attack on 9/11. They were mostly Saudis with a few Packs. Yes, bin Laden showed up there to build roads and later to meet with other bad guys. But the bad guys could have been trained anywhere including Pakistan (an American ally). You will recall that Pakistan was home to Osama bin Laden who lived down the road from the Pakistan military academy and near police headquarters when we eventually caught up with him. The claim you hear is a red herring. The military industrial complex will be denied billions of dollars we we pull out of Afghanistan. (war is a racket)


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Call Me Sabrina

"Call me Sabrina..." She's not a spy, but she's heir apparent to the inner circle of Chinese leadership and she's a heavy shot caller in one of their intelligence networks, facing charges in the US.

The Middle Kingdom's Revenge Hostages

If you visit China, they will tell you with a certain amount of pride, that they are a communist nation. Then you look around and realize that rampant capitalism is the rule, not the exception and that "communism" in the current definition, has nothing to do with Das Kapital (Marx). It's a one-party system, managed by a power-elite oligarchy that makes centralized decisions for the benefit of all -- but cash is still king.

China has set out to rule the world, offering their enlightened system for the benefit of all. The Chinese oligarchs are as distant from the "floating population" of homeless Chinese as the European banking illuminati are from a Paris street sweeper. They live in a place where "you", dear readers, can't go.

Thus it is with some interest that I watch the Chinese Communists arresting innocent Canadians in retaliation, and using them as revenge hostages for Huawei Corporation CFO Meng Wanzhou, a member of the inner circle in China. 
Meng Wanzhou faces charges in the United States for violating sanctions by doing business with Iran and committing bank fraud by disguising the payments it received in return. She's set to be extradited.
Spying

'Sabrina' Meng Wanzhou
China's international ambitions can't be undertaken without a sophisticated plan to spy on the world and Huawei Corporation is the mechanism by which that is happening (as I type). Huawei is the world's second largest cell phone manufacturer, behind Samsung.

Huawei's founder and Chairman, Ren Zhengfei is Meng's father. He's one of the circle of ten (or eleven) powerful people who makes every important decision over Chinese affairs. President Xi is one of the ten, and not the most powerful among 'equals'.

Some assert that Huawei is a state sponsored spy agency. It is - in a Chinese way - and operates in a Chinese fashion. It doesn't work the same way that Western intelligence organizations operate. You need to step back and think through a Chinese brain if you want it to fit in your notions of spy agencies, of clandestine collection and analysis, etc. The People's Republic of China has repeatedly claimed that Huawei is a spy agency. So we take them at their word. Then again, the Communist party has asserted twice within the past three years that all Chinese companies must collaborate as intelligence collectors.
“All organizations and citizens must support, assist with, and collaborate in national intelligence work, and guard the national intelligence work secrets they are privy to.” (Article 7 of China’s National Intelligence Law)
5G Technology

Huawei is China's mechanism to export their version of the next networking technology worldwide, and as 5G (100 times faster than 4G) overtakes all systems, they want to use that system to exploit their intelligence collection efforts and their control (potentially total control) over the networks where Huawei's technology 'lives'.

The US and its allies have been isolating Huawei to the extent possible and have convinced others which are concerned about China's expansion to do so as well.

So what will happen to Meng? She'll go to a US court, will be convicted of bank fraud and will be fined a billion dollars or so (chump change). But it's a bigger game than just squeezing the Chinese Illuminati for cash. It's more about broadcasting to the world that China's expanding intelligence technology and its masters, are not beyond arrest and embarrassment. 

Whoever controls 5G networks, will call the shots and China is on the way to seize that technological high ground as part of it's Tech 2025 program (putting China in the catbird's chair by 2025).

Friday, December 21, 2018

Looking Abroad

Norkland

North Korea has been chirping a lot lately and none of it has made this blog because it's "chirping".  The official policy of the DPRK is that they will only feel safe when the US withdraws all its forces from Asia and eliminates ALL of its nuclear weapons that can reach North Korea. Chairman Kim said a year ago that North Korea supports denuclearization in the context of world-wide elimination of nuclear weapons. The North Korean idea of denuclearization of the Peninsula is a regional subset of Kim’s global messianic mission. 

On a tactical level, this commentary makes clear that when Chairman Kim offered to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear reactor in return for corresponding US action, Kim was referring to the destruction of some US nuclear facility. It is not a serious basis for any kind of exchange, and the North Korean leaders know it. The conclusion is inescapable that they deliberately published a position that they knew the US would reject so that they can end the talks and blame the US for their failure.

The Soviets and the Chinese have been fond of using the same tactic over the years when they wanted to terminate negotiations without incurring blame.

Some opine that Chairman Kim’s bonhomie has been a tactical ruse. It is another facet of the plan to induce South Korea to let down its guard and the US to reduce its commitment to the defense of “the Korean Peninsula.” However, the US need not have the fleet poised on the North Korean doorstep. "Rods from God" can rip down from orbit and remove the little tin pot dictatorship. Nuclear weapons aren't the only option. As the US Space Force develops and grows, an expanded number of options that don't violate any treaty in place will become more clear.

Back to the Norks. A range of hypotheses suggest themselves. One is that the Central Committee gave Kim’s outreach and détente policy a year in which to show substantial results. This commentary would then signal the end of the détente policy towards the US. If this is accurate, Kim’s New Year’s address in 10 days should make that clear.

Ending Foreign Adventures

Afghans and others are likely to perceive that the announced draw-down of US forces there in Syria indicate that President Trump has lost confidence in the senior personnel who have managed the Syrian enterprise since 2011 and the Afghan enterprise for the past 17 years.

Those of you who have read this blog will understand that as a former participant in small wars, my particular opinion is that US policy of remaining at war for interminable periods constitutes "a racket" as General Smedley Darlington Butler put it so many years ago.
Smedley Darlington Butler was a United States Marine Corps major general, the highest rank authorized at that time, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.
President Bush authorized the CIA and US Special Operations Forces to engage the Afghan military post 9/11/01, largely because we had to attack somebody and because attacking Saudi Arabia, a US ally, wasn't in the cards. I have no problem with the actions of CIA and SOF because they were effective. When "Big Army" moved in to take their place, it became a trillion dollar money pit. Blood and treasure flowed freely. What seventeen years of war do for America? What did it do for Afghanistan?

In December 1979, Soviet 40th Army moved south from Turkmenistan under a thick cloud cover that defeated satellite surveillance. Within two weeks, the Soviets deployed 100,000 soldiers, 1,800 tanks and 2,000 armored fighting vehicles to Afghanistan. 

We stayed twice as long as the Soviets, and it can be argued that we accomplished less. If true, why should we remain? I believe that President Trump asks these same questions and that his instincts are correct despite the crooning of his detractors.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Review of International Events

Home for the holidays - and because of that, I thought that an update on what is going on around the compass rose might be helpful.

US Military to Withdraw from Syria

Progs criticized President Trump for deploying the US Military in Syria to degrade or defeat ISIS. Now that the last ISIS stronghold fell to the US/Kurds, those same curs are blaggarding him for withdrawing the troops. I realize that war is a racket and our deployment in Syria benefits defense contractors in the DC Beltway. At the same time, President Trump's move is the correct one.

Mission Creep

The US military forces had a specific, narrow mission which originally was to capture Raqqa. They accomplished that. 

Capturing Raqqa expanded into ensuring the Islamic State was permanently defeated, which won't happen ideologically, but they can be denied territory and we did that.

Then the mission morphed into protecting the Kurds. 

That expanded into blocking the Iranians. 

Then came ensuring a government without Syrian President Assad; then staying until there was a political settlement and finally seeking a fundamental regime change but Assad can stay. 

The US has never had a strong rationale for involvement in Syria. The images of then Secretary of State Kerry fawning over Assad during the miserable years of obamanation were as unnatural as the US supporting soldiers and Marines in a completely land-locked enclave that is mostly desert. 

The US is not ceding Syria to anyone. It never had anything to cede. Despite dominating a third of Syria, the US has had no influence in Syria beyond the fight against the Islamic State. 

The other parties live in the region, except the Russians. The Russians have had ties to Syria since 1946. They have had a naval facility at Tartus since 1971 by invitation. The Russians, Iranians and Turks filled all available political space long before the first US soldier arrived.

The US could not protect the Kurds. The US backing of the Kurds could not prevent their loss of Afrin Canton to the Turks in two major operations. None of the major regional actors support the Kurds. Russia tried and failed to arrange for the Kurds to attend UN-backed or Russian-backed political meetings. 

Islamic State fighters remain in Syria and continue to relocate and reconstitute in many countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indian Kashmir. China is concerned about returning Uighur fighters. The US military success in Syria forced non-Syrian fighters to return to their homes, generating an Islamic State diaspora. Sorry China...no, not really.

The many Israeli air attacks against Iranians in Syria are a testament that the US military presence posed no significant obstacle to expansion of Iranian activities in Syria.

About Russia

The Russians have been a Syrian ally for 60 years. Their position has been strengthened because they did not have to fight the Islamic State. They added an airbase and signed a 99 year lease for the naval base. They used the civil war to field test their most modern weapons and all their field commanders. Most of that would not have been possible without the US effort that defeated the Islamic State. The Russians would have been required to commit far more forces than they have.

The Turks are the historic enemy of the Russians, Arabs and the Persians. The US intervention force distracted the Russians, Arabs and Iranians from that underlying fact. None of these parties will defend the Kurds, but they will now be able to focus on frustrating Turkish President Erdogan’s pretense to restore Ottoman dominance

The Kurds want to create a federal state. That won’t happen, but the US has empowered them. With better arms, training and experience, they are better equipped to negotiate an arrangement with the Syrian government and to resist the Turks. If the Turks attempt genocide, US airpower will remain in the region and on call.

The next order of business will be the re-emergence of the old hatred of the Turks. Russia, Syria and Iran eventually will induce Turkey to withdraw its forces back across the border. Turkey’s invasion of Syria; its support for Syrian Islamic extremist groups and its dalliances with Russia and China will diminish its stature in NATO. When there was an Islamist threat on NATO’s flank, the Turks sided with the Islamists. 

With no US forces in Syria, the US will have the opportunity to have a relationship with Syria. In many indirect and important ways, the US military presence saved the Assad government by enabling its allies. However, the government in Damascus will be looking for opportunities to balance its dependence on Russia and Iran. The Russians will always be amenable to letting the US shoulder the costs of Syrian reconstruction.

As for Iran, Syria is a secular state, the last of the Ba’athists – pan-Arab socialists. Iran’s relationship with Syria during peace time always has been uneasy, bordering on unnatural. Religion has almost nothing to do with the Syrian-Iranian relationship. It is based on the Syrian confrontation with Israel. The practices and beliefs of the Alawite sect in Syria border on heresy and apostasy for Sunni and Shia Muslims of strict observance. 

For years, Syria has allowed Iran to use Syria as the conduit for arms to Hizballah, enabling Hizballah to open the Lebanese front on Israel’s northern border. Tension between Hizballah and Israel is likely to increase and could lead to conflict, but the US presence in Syria has been tangential to that scenario, despite the best efforts of Prime Minister Netanyahu to draw the US into the larger Arab-Israeli confrontation.

Mischief in Ukraine

19 December situation map produced and
published by the Ukrainian National
Security and Defense Council staff.
Eastern Ukraine is quiet, but Kyiv wants another dustup. Despite Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s outcries, the military situation in eastern Ukraine is almost quiet. In the past two days, the daily situation map produced by the Ukrainian National Defense and Security Council shows limited exchanges of fire across the contact line.

This week Russia has deployed 10 combat aircraft to Crimea, but the Ukrainian threats of an imminent invasion are not supported by the the staff of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council or any reputable news service. Generally, most people are preparing for the winter holidays.

Ukraine announced its intention to send more patrol ships back to its Azov Sea ports again.

Oleksandr Turchynov, Secretary of the Ukrainian government’s national security and defense council said in an interview with the BBC, “Russia’s aggression will not stop our plans to create a naval group in the Sea of ​​Azov...If we stop and retreat, Russia will actually fulfill its task of capturing the Sea of ​​Azov, present the world with self-determined new sea borders in the Black Sea, de facto legalizing the occupation of Crimea,” (BBC News

The Ukrainians want to draw the US and Europe into their arguments with Russia and they are instigating trouble where it doesn't need to be. The hope of money and power from outside of the nation motivate those moves.

Gurza-M class artillery boats (built in 2012) are made in
Ukraine to patrol harbors, rivers, and lakes. They are a poor
match for the Russian fleet.
Turchynov said Kyiv would invite representatives of NATO and the OSCE on board next time to prove Ukraine was not violating any regulations.

The Russians retain custody of three Ukrainian vessels and their crews that provoked the Russians in the Sea of Azov last time. The Ukrainian navy probably cannot afford to lose many more patrol ships, and they will if they continue to provoke the Russians.

The Ukrainians talk boldly, but the Sea of Azov has been Russian-controlled since Prince Potemkin formed the Black Sea Fleet in 1783 at Sevastopol. The Russians have established rules for passing through the Kerch Strait, and enforce those rules. 

France

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner posted on Twitter that he was to meet union representatives on Tuesday evening, 18 December. Two police unions complained on 17 December about working conditions and strained resources in light of the past few weeks of protests, which have seen officers sent in to clear road blockades and control demonstrations.

The outcome of Castaner’s meeting was interrupted for budget discussions and was set to resume on Wednesday night, 19 December. The issues are pay increases and overtime pay.

France asked the national police to defend the government from the positions that it adopted. The police then abandoned that duty (in part) through their own protest to the same unpopular decisions to levy a tax on the weather, and send the proceeds to the third world for some sort of alchemy that is not well defined. 

The French government is in a bind. They can't exist without police support and the police want pay and overtime that they earned, and the government doesn't want to pay. That reluctance does have to do with the police mutiny. When the police fail to respond to lawful orders, a government is in jeopardy as well as embarrassed.

Christmas Short


A fictional short for the Texans who follow this blog -- at Christmas.

Kin

It wasn’t much of a whorehouse. The one room shanty at the end of Third Street serviced what few men were left working at the mill. On payday, all three beds were busy and the girls came in shifts. On other days, there was usually at least one girl there to take pick-up business as it may present itself. 

Rusty knocked on the door and nobody answered. He twisted the knob and pushed, but the door had been barred. He walked around to the side of the building and stood on a box to get a view through the only window. A grimy, brown patina, the color of Texas dust, fogged the window. He could see the three beds, tangled with filthy sheets. The bed closest to the window had sheets bound and twisted over a small bundle, curled onto one side. A shock of flaming hair twisted from one end of the sheets. He stood and watched the bundle rise and fall. Behind her, dim through the glass and unlighted, a Christmas tree stood, crooked, mounted on two pieced of crossed lath. It wasn’t a pine, just a branch of a tree with some tinsel on it.

“Missy!” He tapped on the glass. 

The bedding shifted slightly and a single blue eye turned to the window, opened and blinked. They eye was surrounded by a bruise, and it regarded him indifferently. A small hand brushed the hair away from the other eye, and then the head turned away from him, and tucked itself into gray, mildewed sheets.

“They’re closed, Rusty.” The voice came from behind him and he knew it immediately. Deputy Sinclair’s bass voice. 

Rusty turned. Sinclair stood on the wooden stoop, looking up at him, in much the same way as a hawk would. Dispassionate, eyes split by a beak of a nose. When Sinclair moved, his movements reminded Rusty of the cylinder of a revolver turning. Deliberate, calculated, as if Sinclair’s entire life had been orchestrated in advance with a minimum of movement, the same way as a hawk rolled its head without moving the rest of its body. Sinclair had a reputation from working as a peace officer in cattle towns decades earlier. He may not have been the fastest with a pistol, but he hit his target with disturbing accuracy when he had to fire.

There wasn’t much call for gunplay in Goliad. Not much money, the mill was on its last legs, and there were cattle but the bottom dropped out of the market. And in the world of deputies, it was a last stop for those who had been washed up by women or booze or had been brushed with the tar of corruption once too often.

“I understand you wanting to be a peeping tom, Rusty, but the girls don’t like it because they don’t make no money from it.”

“I came by to see Missy.”

“Step down off that box and skedaddle down the street, before I tell your step-mama what you’ve been up to.”

Stepping down the street, Rusty started down the boardwalk and felt Deputy Sinclair’s boot hit his britches. 

“Skedaddle!”

Rusty ran down the street and around the corner, past the dry goods store, and then he stopped and sat down. The kick in his seat didn’t hurt him. It wasn’t about that. He felt humiliated. The law tended to do that to him. If he drank Pa’s home brew and got a little joyful, there was one of the deputies, to grab him and lock him up until his mother came to the jail to take ownership, and haul him home to his father’s justice. 

Now there was Missy. Beat up – again, there in that house that the reverend cautioned the God fearing folks about. Satan’s crib, he called it. 

“Hello, Rusty.” He knew that voice too, Clara, one of the whores. She’d come all the way from New Orleans to their dusty Texas county. The girls lived together in a house in Fannin, about ten miles away. They’d ride together into Goliad when things were slow in Fannin, which had been a mystery to Rusty. Nothing happened in Fannin since the battle of Coleto Creek, sixty years before, during the Texas War for Independence. Fannin surrendered to General Santa Ana, in much the way that he’d surrendered to Deputy Sinclair, and the Mexican general then kicked his ass as Sinclair had kicked Rusty’s.

“Hello Clara.” There were four girls, Clara was the fattest, and the one with the best business sense. She didn’t exactly tell the girls what to do, but she made suggestions that they seemed to follow. 

“I went by the livery and your father wasn’t there.”

“You in the market for some jars of refreshment, Clara?”

“Not me, Rusty, but our gentleman callers like to wet their whistles when they come to visit.”

“Ok, I’ll get it for you, follow me. I can put it in a box and we can drive your buggy over and put it in the back.” Rusty walked to the livery and Clara walked with him, with the women of the town looking on. “Why do you and the ladies live so far away, Clara?”

“It suits the town that we are not close under foot.”

“What happened to Missy?”

“It was that deputy again, Sinclair. He likes to beat women. He killed two women in Amarillo and the judge called it self-defense, except the ladies were not armed. He’s fast with that pistol and they died in the bed where they’d been entertaining him.

***

They say that Deputy Sinclair died on Christmas morning. A ten-gauge shotgun loaded with shot, nails and chunks of horse shoe can cut a man in half if both barrels discharge at the same time. They didn’t find either half of him for two days, figuring he might be sleeping off a bender.

Rusty Caldwell and his half-sister, Missy left town after the New Year. It wasn't well known that they were kin because the Caldwells didn't discuss their step-daughter's fallen state. Some say the siblings settled in San Antonio where Missy married a wealthy rancher and Rusty prospered in the building trade. The deputy's murder was never solved. Maybe nobody wanted to look too closely?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Random Thoughts

Be Careful What You Wish For

The National Bolivarian Militia is a reserve force composed of civilian volunteers, founded by former President Hugo Chavez in 2008 to assist the armed forces. Cuba helps pay for the force since the 

The Bolivarian Militia is a gimmick to ensure popular loyalty. Venezuela might have the guns to arm a militia of this size, but no sane leader would entrust the members with ammunition. Is it time for the US to air drop small arms ammunition to the militia? Give Maduro what he wants?

Venezuelan President Maduro tripled the militia in size. Yesterday he said, “We will arm the Bolivarian militia to the teeth! An invading imperialist force may enter a part of our fatherland, but the imperialists should know that they will not leave here alive.”

(Viva Maduro)

Politically Correct Christmas

Monday, December 17, 2018

Crib Notes

Fictional Shorts: A Retrospective from 2014

I was chopping out these shorts on a regular basis in 2014. It was a tough time for me. Events had me thinking too much - never a good thing. Kipling's Vampire, and all that.

Encounter in Zamboanga - April 29, 2014 - Nonfiction - Response to request by Jonathan H.
The Monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga - US Navy Sea Shanty

Requiem - April 24, 2014 - Nonfiction
Sometimes things suck. And a lot of the time, you just have to roll with it and embrace the suck.

Loose Ends - May 5, 2014 - Nonfiction
Everyone wants you to tie up loose ends. 

Vampire Zombies from Venus - June 19, 2014 - Fiction
You take one down and pass it around

Her Garden - April 26, 2014 - Nonfiction
People were left behind.


Moving on to your international update:

France

For a fifth consecutive Saturday, yellow vest protestors clashed with police in Paris and some other cities. The BBC reported fewer protestors showed up because of rainy weather. No news service reported looting.

The police deployed 69,000 personnel. The BBC reported no more than 66,000 yellow vests protested. The yellow vests do not appear to have evolved a political organization, which must occur for a movement to continue. The government’s responses, the weather and the holiday season are likely to encourage a decline in political activism in the next two weeks. During that time, some key members of the crew may begin to create a more organized effort, but the present composition of the dissatisfied includes both the communists and the anarchists.

Iraq

Encouraged by the French yellow vest protests, about 250 people in Basra protested the poor condition of public services, official corruption and to demand jobs. Security forces used live bullets and teargas on the 14th to disperse protestors, but no injuries were reported. Protesters threw rocks at riot police vehicles

It's a gesture on the part of the protesters, but deep seated unrest remains throughout Iraq based on a wide variety of completely valid issues. There isn't anyone who is reading this blog who would want to move to Iraq. (or Honduras, Guatemala, Syria, Yemen or anywhere in Africa) In fact, I can't understand why a woman would want to be Islamic, and therefore chattel.

Syria

On 16 December, clashes renewed in Hajin in the middle Euphrates River Valley when Islamic State fighters counter-attacked the newly-established positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) inside the town. The US-backed SDF said that its fighters had repelled the attack, despite suffering some minor loses.
“The terrorists attacked the front positions of our forces, our fighters repelled them … following this, the terrorists began shelling from a far distance, they targeted the positions of our forces with mortars and artillery shells,” the SDF media center said in its daily press release.
US-led coalition warplanes conducted 50 airstrikes on Islamic State positions and vehicles in the Euphrates Valley in order to support SDF forces. Local sources said that one of the airstrikes on the village of Bukhatir, in Hajin’s countryside, killed more than 17 civilians including women and children.

71 fighters and commanders of ISIS were killed in the Euphrates Valley in the last 24 hours.

On 14 December, SDF fighters claimed they liberated Hajin, which was another Islamic State strong point. Reports on the 16th indicate most of the town has been destroyed. The Islamic State fighters have no where to retreat, so they fight on.

Ghosts, Tamales and Dangerous Women

Writing Shorts

Since I'm on a retrospective bent with fictional shorts, you can drift by this one if you have time on your hands. Finding Miss Right, from back in 2015. Some women have your name on them - like a bullet or a nail in the road...The concept is explored in this short.

I enjoy writing shorts because they're one-topic usually, a few paragraphs to convey emotions, some complexity, and then I'm off and on to something else. 

Fiction?

The problem with writing true stories is that nobody believes them. You have to fictionalize to make some things acceptable, or drift into science fiction where you can write what you want in the name of fiction and have the action taking place somewhere other than Earth. A mirror reflects, but not precisely, because of the reverse effect that it gives you and the two-dimensional nature of the polished glass. That notwithstanding, I like including mirrors in stories. 

I knew a crazy woman once, who kept rubbing soap on the mirrors in her house so that she couldn't see herself distinctly. She could have broken the mirrors, but that wasn't the effect that she was after. You will ask, "What is crazy, LL?" Now that is a question for the ages isn't it?

A Season of Ghosts

The holiday season is a season of ghosts (father, brother, close friends, etc) for me, because I lost a lot of my family and those closest to me during this particular time of the year, where days are short, the darkness pervades, and there is an expectation that everything is merry and bright. fa-la-la. So it's not unusual that I throw myself into work, and the distractions that work can bring. But there is still the night, isn't there? Unless I bounce across the equator, and I'm not doing that this year. 

Tamales

Enough of the morose, this is also the season of the tamale. They take a lot of effort to make and they're more likely available at this time of year. It's not easy to find good ones. I know of a family restaurant who takes on a "tamale lady" (a crone from the Mexican interior) in December to manage their tamale production. I think that's the secret of great tamales. You need somebody who has been making them all their lives and absorbed every single secret recipe they came across. They also whip the lard that goes into the masa, to make it lighter. They're careful in the selection of meat and they are even more cautious in the choice of seasoning. The gentle flavor of chili has to be there but in such a way that you don't even know that's what it is. All you judge is that the tamale is perfect. Is there such a thing as a perfect tamale? Likely not.

But there is no such thing as an imperfect sky. That gives hope, doesn't it?

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Holiday Retrospective & Sermonette

Virtual Mirage has been around for a while. I thought (possibly because I'm out of town and too lazy to be creative?) that  pointing you at some older articles that appeared in December might be interesting then again, it's sort of the same old drivel except that it's older. I'm including graphics from previous holiday season postings.

Dinner - Because Everyone has to Eat

Dinner at the Brass Monkey - December 20, 2015 - A fictional, or possibly not so fictional short story set in the Philippines almost two decades ago.
It was the year 1999, just before monsoon struck the Philippines. The clouds rolled in off the ocean black, and angry and the humidity must have been close to one hundred percent. By night time, you couldn't see the clouds, but you could feel them moving overhead. 
Dinner in the Makati City District didn't begin until ten at night. Every dinner in Makati is a power dinner with somebody wanting something from somebody else. I arrived at the Brass Monkey early. A fat, dirty police officer carrying a pump action riot gun moved aside when I walked up. 
"Mr. Birch," He said with a nod of his head. 
"Sergeant Santos," I replied with a nod of mine. Having a reputation with the police in Manila was a prerequisite for success at any venture. My mojo remained intact. I wore a baro, long enough to cover my .45 Colt, but it didn't disguise the bulge. It wasn't meant to. A Colt 1911A1 was and remains a fashion statement in the P.I...
There are two kinds of people in America. Those who celebrate Kwanzaa and racists - December 26, 2014. 
I don't know what you will be doing on the First Day of Kwanzaa in 2018, but four years ago, I chose not to celebrate.
It might have had something to do with a white wolf that was seen hanging out around the presents on Christmas, terrorizing small children, and so forth, looking for a decent plate of beef chow mien. Those of you who are confused at the Christmas photo (left) and the reference to eating Chinese food - cultural appropriation in 2018 - need to roll with it. If you see a werwolf prowling around your kitchen door, for the sake of all that's holy, (thus your sermonette) DO NOT LET HIM IN.

In 2014, the Obamanation was in full swing and nobody thought that we'd ever see anyone talking about Making America Great Again. Hillary, the wicked crone, was said to be the safe bet for the national election in 2016.

Back in 2014, I posted a blog about Sky Burial, Friendship and the Season because I have weird friends. In 2014, I did not think that there would be a White Wolf Mine in the Central Arizona highlands, but from all accounts, I should see a certificate of occupancy issued by the County on the 20th of December. Will weird friends visit? Possibly. All the more reason to beware.