Monthly Archives: January 2010

Question time

Best political TV in a long time…Obama’s remarks and question time before the GOP.  Man, I hope we see more of this sort of stuff.

The Annotated State of the Union

James Fallows does some really good work and his history as a presidential speech writer gives him great insight into political messages.  Check out his annotated transcript of the State of the Union

Sweden engages in phase one of its world domination plan

I warned you.  Don’t say you didn’t have time to prepare.  King Karl Gustav has begun unleashing his terrible hordes upon the rest of the Earth like a modern day Genghis Khan.  He’s begun by forcing the Finns into a humiliating show of submission by giving up some of their territory.

Sweden is set to undergo a territorial expansion following a government decision on Thursday which will alter the border with Finland to Sweden’s advantage.

In the north, the border is partially defined by a groove along the bottom of the Torne river which separates Finland from Sweden.

A joint Finnish-Swedish border commission has now registered that the groove has moved somewhat in the last quarter century.

Yeah, right.  An underwater groove just moves all by itself.  Next you’re gonna tell me that the climate is ‘changing’.  It’s clear the King of Sweden has formed an alliance with the Mole Men who are engaging in a bit of clandestine groove moving.

Look like a master chef…

This past weekend I made a Spicy Galangal-Coconut Mussels Soup which was very good and very easy.  The taste was a nice mix of hot and sweet and it went fast.

I couldn’t find galangal and so substituted ginger (which it is related to) and replaced the chicken stock with fish broth.  While I didn’t have any, it would go well with some crusty bread.

ingredients

3 shallots, sliced
2 jalapenos, sliced with seeds
5 slices galangal
2 pounds PEI mussels, scrubbed
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup coconut milk
Juice of 5 limes
Canola oil to cook

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

In a stock pot over high heat coated lightly with oil, saute shallots, jalapenos and galangal until slightly softened and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add mussels and deglaze with fish sauce and add stock and lime juice. Cover and let come to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, until mussels have opened. Uncover, check that mussels have opened, add coconut milk and check for flavor and season, if necessary.

I also tried to make a Florida Snapper with Galangal and Jalapeno Curry (recipe here) but in addition to having to substitute galangal with ginger (not a deal breaker) I substituted the snapper (very expensive here) with basa which, while ok, I don’t think was flavorful enough to compete with all the other ingredients.  Mrs. TwS  enjoyed it very much but I’d recommend going with the snapper.

On trials for terrorists

There’s a lot of hysteria over the possibility that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed might be tried in federal court in NY.  In fact, the pushback from politicians and the public is so intense that the administration is reportedly considering moving the venue somewhere else.

I do not agree.

The agruments against giving KSM a trial revolve around (at least) the following points:

  • We shouldn’t give terrorists constitutional rights
  • The law enforcement system prevents us from getting needed information and puts Americans at risk to future attacks
  • A public trial would provide the terrorist with a forum for spreading his views
  • The trial would make NYC a terrorist target

Quite frankly, I have no idea why these ideas made it out of whatever elementary school they came from.  They just aren’t serious.  They are, however, effective political weapons with which one can attempt to win votes in the upcoming elections.  Allow me to deconstruct these arguments:

Al-Qaeda is really Spinal Tap.  NYC is already a terrorist target.  For years we’ve said it’s the prize of al-Qaeda, the holy grail (if I may mix my religious symbols).  Arguing that a KSM trial somehow reminds al-Qaeda that NYC exists or bumps it up on their priority list is a bit like arguing that your amplifier is better because it goes all the way up to 11.

It’s bad symbolism.  A KSM appearance in NYC would be bad symbolism if he came to town riding in a chariot to be crowned the king of the city.  How exactly does this guy win by being dragged in chains to face justice in the very city he attacked?  In ancient Rome, enemies of the state were brought back to the capital to face justice.  Caesar didn’t kill Vercingetorix in some backwater village in Gual after he defeated his revolt.  He brought him back to Rome to demonstrate to the world that you don’t mess with the big dog.

Information, rights and a public forum.  I lump these together because they’re all nonsense individually and in any combination.  How can I say that?  Because we have another terrorism case going on right now that involves a terrorist attack on American soil, the accused was afforded all the rights under the constitution despite the fact he publicly proclaimed that he had personal knowledge of imminent terrorist attacks and he is being given a public forum to espouse his hateful ideology.  The terrorist?  Scott Roeder.

Now, others may say that his case is different because he’s an American citizen and so has to be afforded those rights and a forum but allow me to pose a thought experiment.  If KSM was an American citizen, does anyone thing we wouldn’t be having this same, exact conversation?  After all, Jose Padilla is an American citizen and he wasn’t afforded his constitutional rights.  He was tortured for information.

So why was Roeder allowed to ‘lawyer up’ without having the thumbscrews put to him to find out what other Americans were at risk?

What if Roeder’s name was really Hadem al-Salaam and he said ‘allah akbar’ before gunning down Tiller?*

This is where our current administration drops the ball.  We continue to allow the paranoid fantasies of the Cheney cabal drive how we view these issues.

No, the best way to deal with terrorists is to demonstrate how ultimately impotent they are.  That, despite their pathetic attempts they will always fail to destroy or twist our system of governance.

*Now I realize Nidal Hasan could be used as a counter-argument to this point and so allow me to present two ways to read the events fo the Ft. Hood shooting in terms of what I’m talking about here.

  1. While Hasan is a member of the military and clearly falls within the pervue of the military judicial system I don’t see how that would stand up to people who think we need to do everything possible (rather than everything practical or everything prudent) to prevent future attacks.  I think one significant point is that there doesn’t appear to ever have been an indication that Hasan was anything more than a ‘one-off’ event.  He wasn’t connected to a larger, coordinated plot about which information could be derived.
  2. I could just be talking out of my wazoo and just got beat up by a straw man of my own making.

Kvick Tänkare (and coming attractions for TwShiloh)

Outward Bound and the Sierra Club have partnered to allow veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to partake in free expeditions.

China is talking about enacting legislation outlawing the eating of dogs (and cats, but who cares about them?)!

Finland is thinking about lower the voting age to 16 for local elections.  Before you poo-poo that, allow me to remind you that Alexander the Great became king at 20 and Augustus became heir to Caesar’s fortunes at 18.  Why shouldn’t 16 year olds get some exposure to the world they’re about to inherent?

I was reading through the latest issue of Homeland Security Affairs this weekend and there’s an article titled “Changing Homeland Security: Twelve Questions From 2009″ (http://www.hsaj.org/pages/volume6/issue1/pdfs/6.1.1.pdf) that I was going to blog about but I really think it would benefit more from a hashing out of its ideas from multiple perspectives.  Therefore, I asked a number of others to participate in a virtual round table to hash out these questions over the months ahead.  So, beginning in February we’ll be highlighting one of Bellavita’s questions and discussing it from our various perspectives.

We’re not only in a new decade but fast approaching ten years since 9/11 and it seems as if we’re still operating under assumptions that were made in those early, hectic moments and days after the attacks.  At some point, we should take a moment and bring them out, dust them off and see if they make as much sense now as they did when we thought color coding our threats was a good idea.

So…please feel free to participate in any way you’d like:  comment on our blogs or post on your own.  The questions we’ll be discussing include:

1. Why is it so difficult to make risk-based decisions in homeland security?
2. Why are we unable to measure the relationship between homeland security expenditures and preparedness?
3. Why is illegal immigration a homeland security issue?
4. Why is FEMA still a part of the Department of Homeland Security?
5. What can the nation realistically expect from its intelligence apparatus?
6. How does technology contribute to homeland security, and how does it make us more vulnerable?
7. Are the direct and indirect costs of security – for example aviation security — worth the benefits?
8. How important is cyber security?
9. Can the values of security and privacy be complementary, or must they be
competitive?
10. Under what conditions will the United States torture people?
11. Is it necessary to understand Islam to develop an effective counterterrorism policy?
12. What can the homeland security enterprise learn from the apparent success managing the H1N1 pandemic?

Coll’s testimony

You really, really need to read Steve Coll’s prepared remarks for the Armed Services Committee.  Very nice summary of the current state of al-Qaeda.  The parts I thought worthy of note:

Al Qaeda the organization has never been tested by a succession crisis because its two foundational leaders have remained at large for so long.

One recent, particularly rigorous poll was published in 2009 by The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, entitled, “Public Opinion in the Islamic World on Terrorism, Al Qaeda and U.S. Policies.” It found that support for Al Qaeda-conceived attacks against American civilians in the U.S. homeland, such as the attack attempted aboard Flight 253, is virtually negligible in a diverse array of heavily populated Muslim-majority countries. In Pakistan, where anti-American feeling has reached a fevered pitch, only nine percent supported such attacks; in Indonesia, the number was five percent.
In other words, enough of this Islam is inherently linked with violence nonsense.
Yet the outlook of Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri is not merely political. It is also millenarian, in the sense that both of them believe, as they often repeat, that they have been called by God to lead a war whose outcome is pre-ordained and will only finish at the end of Earthly time.
…it is now clear that the construction of a political strategy has proven to be beyond their abilities. Al Qaeda’s political appeal seems to have crested and barring provocative mistakes by the United States, or allies such as India and Israel, it is hard to see how that appeal can be broadly revived.  (italics added)
In a strategic or global sense, Al Qaeda seems to be in the process of defeating itself. Its political isolation in the Muslim world has set the stage for the United States and allied governments, with persistence, concentrated effort, and perhaps some luck, to finally destroy central Al Qaeda’s leadership along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Where soldiers fear to tread

I just finished ‘Where Soldiers Fear to Tread‘ which is the account of the author who, in 1998 decided to volunteer with the World Food Program in Somalia as an operator of a boat to carry humanitarian supplies to villagers displaced by flooding.

I’d read Burnett’s book Dangerous Waters which was interesting if a bit uneven but this book is far better.  What struck me was how similar the experience of aid workers are to combat journalists and soldiers.  The big differences being soldiers get to go into dangerous places armed and can count of having a whole bunch of armed support if things don’t go well.   Aid workers have to rely on a mixture of negotiations, bribes and dumb luck.

The end of the book discusses security of aid workers in the post Cold War world and how the perceived safety of them through their neutrality has been shattered.  The book takes the UN and other NGOs to task for neglecting security and proper training of their personnel (and provides yet another critique of Kofi Anon that I keep stumbling on).

The book dances around the issue of the role of adrenaline addiction as critical to both the aid and military fields.  Why, exactly, would someone who is skilled and could get safe, profitable work in any number of places volunteer to insert themselves in some of the most dangerous places on earth where you are likely to be viewed alternately as a source of funds, human shield, bargaining chip, spy, or target for frustration.  It does cast a cynical eye at those who claim to do so for purely altruistic reasons.

Cruel and unusual punishment

Apparently the Wisconsin prison system has enacted a regulation preventing inmates from playing Dungeons and Dragons.  According to the Oakland Tribune:

Prison officials instigated the Dungeons & Dragons ban among concerns that playing the game promoted gang-related activity and was a threat to security.

Uh, I thought we dispensed with this sort of goofy thinking back in the mid-80s.  If the biggest gang threat in your prison is guys sitting around a table arguing about the blast radius of a fireball (c’mon, don’t you pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about) then you really should just sit back and count your lucky stars.

Dungeons & Dragons “promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling,” according to the ruling.

Yes, we need less of this sort of behavior, let’s get inmates involved in more wholesome activity like metal working (best shanks in town!), learning how to bribe prison guards for cell phones, drugs and other contraband, and real hostility.

It seems to me that since we’ve essentially decided to forgo rehabilitation in favor of warehousing prisoners we could do worse than allow prisoners to self-organize to participate in activities which promote cooperative behavior, following rules, suppressing impulsive behavior, etc. (all of which D&D does if you know anything about it).

h/t boingboing

An opportunity and experiment in intelligence analysis

Courtesy of Zero Intelligence Agents I found this link to Jeffrey Carr‘s website where he makes an interesting proposal:

My goal for Grey Balloons is to create a talent bank that the Intelligence Community can tap at any time, for any purpose, without charge, and which is composed entirely of volunteers from private industry and academia who want to serve their country in a completely new way – with their intellectual and creative capital.

——————-

Just from my work with Project Grey Goose, I’ve come to know lots of talented individuals in varying disciplines who I’m sure would be happy to join an on-call list to volunteer at least some of their work week if their specialty was needed.

Let’s follow MIT’s lead and mobilize via the Social Web, organize it via a wiki, sketch out possibilities on a virtual white board, bring in talent as-needed, and come up with some solutions for the ODNI to apply. Let’s make it a permanent revolving resource so support is always available. And best of all, there are no budgetary issues, no bureaucratic obstacles, no BAAs that take two years to go from white paper to Phase II trials, etc. Just the work, and the best people in the country to do it – now, and for free.

Follow @greyballoons on Twitter to show your willingness to participate, and spread the word. If the idea catches on (let’s say a minimum of 1000 follows), then perhaps DNI Blair will give his endorsement and a new resource will become available to the hard-working individuals inside the IC that are tasked with the day-to-day challenge of meeting the President’s order to fix what has contributed to this intelligence failure.

I’m not familiar with Carr’s work (which I need to address) but the idea looks interesting.  I especially like two components of his proposal.

  1. (From the FAQ) Anyone can volunteer their services, regardless of their nationality. Collaboration between allies is a key part of combating global threats, so Grey Balloons will be a resource with an international talent base serving the U.S. Intelligence Community.
  2. (From Zero Intelligence Agents) Excuses like, “my skills are not applicable,” are—frankly—not applicable. Everyone has something to contribute.

So, if you’re interested in intelligence work and wanted to or just looking for another outlet to sharpen/refine/use your skills, this might be worth checking out.