Monthly Archives: March 2010

Language questions – Interactive edition!

Last night, Mrs. TwShiloh was reading a book (in Swedish) and pointed out that the phrase ‘mumbo jumbo’ was in it and remarked that she didn’t know that the phrase had made it into the Swedish lexicon.

At that point she asked:  “Why are there so many words in the English language for double talk?”  Swedes are apparently such straight talkers they don’t need to distinguish all the various ways one can waste time flapping their gums without saying anything meaningful.

Then I got to thinking about the various terms we use for nonsense talk and wondered about the difference in terms of their meanings and use.  And then it occurred to me that I’d draw upon the wisdom of crowds to help me untangle these difficult questions.  So, in yet another in a fine tradition of TwShiloh polls I call upon the multitudes to let their voices to be heard!

(Lung hu gave me the idea of the poll and then threatened me if I didn’t credit him properly.  Never let it be said I can’t be bullied into compliance.)


Afghanistan beginning or end?

Yesterday I went to see a panel discussion on Afghanistan over at Princeton U.  Here are my notes:

Dramatis Personae

Daoud Yaqub, Visiting Research Scholar Collaborator at LISD/WWS, Princeton University.

Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, Director of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination (LISD).  (As an aside, this has to the the coolest name out there with the added bonus that he comes from an ‘institute’ which means he can say cool things like:  “I’m from the institute.” and “Yes, you should come visit me at the institute.” or “You don’t understand.  I must get back to the institute immediately…I’m Dr. Danspeckgruber!”

Ambassador Robert Finn, Lecturer of Public and International Affairs, Research Associate, LISD and former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan

Lt. Col. Christopher J. Ireland, U.S. Air Force officer with the Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell at the Pentagon

Wolfgang: Where Afghanistan is today: Real change since 2008 – not good.

  1. the end of international involvement is on the horizon (2011/2012)
    1. Dutch gov’t fell b/c question to remain in Afghanistan
    2. ramifications throughout Europe
    3. fatigue – on part of international community and Afghans
  2. Mobilization of region
    1. So much focus on Afpak and we forget Iran/Afghanistan border and tensions there
    2. crisis with Iran or elsewhere (mid-east) risks throwing Afghanistan back into a tidewater
      1. Pakistan could then fill the void left by the international community again like it did in the 1990s
  3. Afghans are aware of Wests pressure for a timeline and are manuevering for post involvement position
  4. role of spoilers
    1. there are plenty of state/non-state actors who would like to discredit international community/U.S.

Finn: Afghanistan is in a rapid state of change and engaged in the first tentative steps towards national reconciliation.

The roots of the mutual distrust between Karzai and the international community go back a long way.

Karzai’s management style is tribal rather than executive – multiple meetings to reach mutual agreement rather than a ‘to do’ list with direct followup – this is one reason for tension.

Karzai in ‘denial’ about the current state of Afghan (I guess that would be another reason for tension between him and the international community)

The international community has undermined Karzai in several ways:

  • IC supported warlords
  • did nothing to stop vote fraud which began months before election
  • hiring away few educated/talented Afghans instead of letting them work for Afghan gov’t

Afghan government is only in charge of 23% of the money spent.  The rest is made up of NGOs (less than 10%) and (most – around 70%) comes from foreign gov’ts and UN.

Much donor money never gets to Afghanistan.  Instead it goes to contractors/think tanks/etc.

Marjah…gov’t in a box hasn’t yet demonstrated ability…will be weeks or months before success can be determined

AF security forces (up to 400,000). Will take years to train…who’s going to pay for them? AF will not be able to generate enough cash to pay for such a large force.

Pledges of support are slow and small. The U.S. Has only given 60% of its pledged support (!)

67% of Pakistanis think Taliban governed AF better than Karzai governmen’t

80% of Pakistanis see U.S. As occupier of AF

While al-Qaeda/Taliban might not be as close as they were…predictions of a big split are more wishful thinking.


McChrystal changed his assessment from serious and deteriorating to just serious which is important since McChrystal chooses his words very carefully…

Popular support for Taliban is at ‘all time low’ (He seemed to indicate that this was synonymous with support for coalition forces that might be true but those two things aren’t necessarily linked.)

Pakistan approach to frontier provinces has been a ‘sea change’ over the past year.

Pakistan is considering moving towards common ground with U.S. And internatioanl community on Afghanistan.  (Kind of interesting what that means.  DoD seems to be admitting that Pakistan was NOT on the same page for the first eight years of the conflict.)

The upcoming offensive in Kandahar city will not be a ‘clear, hold, build’….Afghan security will squeeze around city and Afghanistan government will provide services.

From military perspective we’re in the ‘end of the beginning’ rather than ‘beginning of the end’

We haven’t gotten our brain around the issues of reconciliation and reintegration


Afghanistan in the 1990s was not civil war but rather a regional proxy war (?)

Result of communist decade was a legacy of people who have high expectations of government services which is a marked difference from previous Afghan generations.

Afghanistan intelligence services have limited powers of arrest (?) Only for counter narcotics and counter terrorism.  It’s fundamentally different from the intelligence service of the Soviet era.

Made it sound like they’d like to return to 1970s level/style of corruption among civil service

Accountability and transparency needs to occur both in Afghanistan and with the international community.  The current aid system and contracting practice fuels corruption.

The international community hasn’t relied on building indigenous capacity for governance/reconstruction…instead we’ve relied on diaspora and foreign contractors.

Diaspora often has different agenda (more radical/ethnocentric) than local Afghans

Diaspora voice drowns out that of local afghans (since they talk/act/think like Westerners they get most attention)

While Obama’s declaration that the U.S. would be out of Afghanistan in 2011 was primarily geared for a domestic audience it was interpreted differently in the region.  Pakistan could interpret it as a signal that in a short time they’ll be able to go back to their old policy of interference in Afghan affairs.  (Yaqub was interesting to watch here…he initially avoided naming Pakistan directly, preferring to talk about ‘one of Afghanistan’s neighbors’ but he couldn’t restrain himself and tore into Pakistan directly saying that they ‘promote extremism as foreign policy’.  Not that I disagree with that.  I just thought it was interesting to watch.)

And then it kind of ended with Wolfgang saying that he knew (as fact) of at least 2 occasions when special forces had bin Laden’s coordinates (with 90% certainty) and they were given clear orders NOT to act.  He didn’t specify a time period for that and I’m unable to judge his reliability here (plus he has that Austrian accent so it’s possible I misunderstood his context or something) but that was a bit of a bombshell to drop right before serving refreshments…

Springtime=militia season

Ah…Spring.  The chirping of birds returning from their winter roosts…plants starting to grow and blossom and militia weirdos deciding to commemorate Waco, Hitler’s birthday and/or Oklahoma City by trying to start the (pick weird end of world scenario here) Racial Holy WarRapture, or contact the mothership I guess (I hear there aren’t any income taxes on Mars!).

Nine alleged members of a Christian militia group that was girding for battle with the Antichrist were charged Monday with plotting to kill a police officer and slaughter scores more by bombing the funeral — all in hopes of touching off an uprising against the U.S. government.

Here’s a hint…if you think the U.S. is ripe for violent revolution look around you.  If there aren’t any bread riots, WalMart is still open 24 hours a day and you have to invent a secret language to demonstrate how cool you are, you’re probably doomed to failure.

“It was just survival skills,” she said. “That’s what they were learning. And it’s just patriotism. It’s in our Constitution.”

Yeah…the constitution has that whole other section that talks about deadfall traps, building fires with twigs and how skin a bear…

The indictment can be found here.

Probably not a good sign when your name is on a document that includes the phrase ‘…did knowingly conspire to levy war against the United States…’

It looks like they’re going to charge them with a WMD offense because they planned to use explosives.  I’m sure that gets some hefty jail time but I’m not sure it’s right to lump a pipe bomb in with a Sarin gas release (or a nuclear detonation).

Hey!  But at least they made a YouTube video!  You can’t run a successful subversive and secretive revolutionary cell without your own website and video (h/t BoingBoing for the links).

What a bunch of maroons…

Still, life in a jar…

Last weekend I was at my mountain redoubt prepping the place for spring…getting rid of leaves that had blown in since the Great Fall Incineration of last year’s leaves…digging up rocks for various walls and borders…and picking up trash that had found its way onto the property.

As I was doing that I came across this glass jar…

Who knows how long it had been buried under the leaf litter but I certainly hadn’t put it there.  Oddly enough, as the jar was intact and the lid was on, as you can see there was some greenery in there.  The lid had rusted to the point that a very small hole had appeared and, I assume, enough flotsam and jetsam had made it’s way through that hole to actually start the process of life.

I was in for an even bigger surprise (Hey, it was a slow day.  Give me a break.) when I opened the lid and found this…

The poor mans eco-sphere.

So not only was there enough in the jar to sustain some puny plant life but there must have been sufficient animal life entering that tiny hole (about the size of the letter ‘O’ printed on your keyboard) to sustain this critter.

It all seems highly improbable to me and so I suspect a secret government experiment of some sort.  Or, perhaps this is what’s left of NASA’s science budget in lieu of their recent budget woes.

Although I will say this.  Despite the apparent lushness of my fortress of solitude it’s a rather ruthless place as far as foreign flora and fauna go.  The soil is such that if new plants do manage to take root amongst the omnipresent slate rocks and poor soil, local weeds, insects and animals will quickly move in and devour them.  It reminds me quite a bit of the Deathworld series by Harry Harrison.  Most flowering or fruiting plants will die of fright at the checkout counter if they catch wind of where they’re intended to be planted.

The only two exceptions to that rule I’ve found so far are deer (which are native but local mismanagement have allowed them to officially reach ‘pestilence of biblical proportion’ stage and so deserve mention here – In fact I’d swear you can hear them whisper “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds” as they munch away.) and red current bushes which actually seem to thrive in these harsh conditions and resist pests.

Music Monday

moe.  Stranger than fiction

Horror in real life…

Have you ever seen Carpenter’s ‘In the Mouth of Madness? (If not, you should but it appears you can watch the whole movie on YouTube if you don’t mind seeing it in 10 minutes bits)’

That’s what came to mind when I saw this two headlines from opposite sides of the globe…

Ax-Toting Man Shot, Killed By Police At California Market


Chainsaw massacre averted in southern Sweden

Yeah…lock you doors….

Monkey on the lam! TSA edition…

Courtesy of BoingBoing the TSA has regulations for ‘service animals’ and how they should be processed for screening at airports.  Hey, that’s cool.  Seeing eye dogs and stuff, right?

Yeah, but who knew there were service monkeys?

What’s the hell is a service monkey?  Didn’t anyone see Conquest of the Planet of the Apes???

Well, anyway here are the rules for monkeys going through airport screening and EVERY ONE of these is pure gold!  Savor them.  Some committee had to write, review and publish them.

  • When a service monkey is being transported in a carrier, the monkey must be removed from the carrier by the handler prior to screening,
  • The service monkey must be controlled by the handler throughout the screening process.
  • The service monkey handler should carry the monkey through the walk through metal detector while the monkey remains on a leash.
  • When the handler and service monkey go through the walk through metal detector and the detector alarms, both the handler and the monkey must undergo additional screening.  (Please don’t tell us that means a full pat down for the monkey. eds)
  • Since service monkeys may likely draw attention, the handler will be escorted to the physical inspection area where a table is available for the monkey to sit on. Only the handler will touch or interact with the service monkey.  (No touch monkey!)
  • Security Officers have been trained to not touch the service monkey during the screening process.
  • Security Officers will conduct a visual inspection on the service monkey and will coach the handler on how to hold the monkey during the visual inspection.  (Look out for those al-Qaeda suicide monkeys!)
  • The inspection process may require that the handler to take off the monkey’s diaper as part of the visual inspection.  (The ultimate test if your pay is adequate for your job responsibilities.  ‘Uh, ma’am.  Could you please remove the monkey’s diaper?  I need to inspect it for explosive material.)