Monthly Archives: April 2013

Friday music

TwShiloh commandment #36…I hereby decree that this is the only version of ‘Call me maybe’ authorized to be played in this part of the solar system.

Kvick Tänkare

While you may think that reading this blog gives you all the 18th century British grenadier goodness you can stand, you really need your very own grenadier.  Fortunately, the people over at Paper Replika have posted plans that let you create your very own.  Looks really cool.

My latest time sink has been  I am absolutely hooked.  My most frequent haunt is a ‘room’ which specializes in rock and heavy metal music.  One of my fellow metalheads recommended the movie Anvil! The Story of Anvil and I heartily pass along that recommendation.  Even if you aren’t a fan of heavy metal music (and Anvil isn’t my particular cup of tea) you should check this out.  It’s all about friends, family and following your dreams.  While it would have been quite easy to make a mocking, real-life Spinal Tap, the movie does a great job of showing the human faces of the band and their families.  Quite possibly the best documentary I’ve seen in a very long time. Really, don’t miss this.

I’m a bit skeptical of the ‘Oh no! China will bury us!’ meme but there are real consequences at the prospect of tens (hundreds?) of millions of people moving from poverty into the middle class.  Some of those we can guess pretty easily like the increase in demand for consumer goods and energy which will make resources scarce and likely accelerate climate change.  Others you might not readily think of.  Take, for example, the boom in hunting mammoth tusks in Siberia to feed the ever increasing demand for ivory in China.

Nearly 90 percent of all mammoth tusks hauled out of Siberia—estimated at more than 60 tons a year, though the actual figure may be higher—end up in China, where legions of the newly rich are entranced by ivory. The spike in demand has worried some scientists, who lament the loss of valuable data; like the trunk of a tree, a tusk contains clues about diet, climate, and the environment. Even Yakutiyans wonder how quickly this nonrenewable resource will be depleted. Millions of mammoth tusks, perhaps more, are still locked in Siberia’s permafrost, but already they’re becoming harder to find.

Probably not a huge deal in the big picture but you never know what this might lead to.

The Swedes continue to astound the world.  Recent low water levels have revealed the wrecks of two 17th century Danish warships.  Pretty amazing when you consider it’s a capital city and the waterways are heavily developed and used.

So, the economy is changing fast…manufacturing jobs are going overseas, technology is making old jobs obsolete, you know the deal.  So, what happens to people lacking education, opportunity for reeducation or other reasons they can’t keep up?  Well, the U.S. government has (unintentionally) created a program to warehouse all these people in poverty.

It’s called disability insurance.  And in addition to poverty wages of about $1,000 a month you also get health insurance.  Since that’s a better deal than most low wage and/or part time jobs out there it basically incentivizes people to stay on the program until they are eligible for social security.  And since ‘disability’ is a subjective evaluation rather than a medical diagnosis, this is a problem that won’t get better on its own.

There’s a whole lot more you should know about our disability system may not do what it was intended to.  Check out this brilliant explainer from NPR.

The Washington Post apparently has an annual peep contest every year.  Check out one of this year’s finalist…Zero Peep Thirty.

The Worldwide Threat Assessment

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has continued the most excellent tradition of releasing an unclassified threat assessment. I can’t describe what a good initiative this is as it is a big step in providing transparency into the thinking of Intelligence Community. While something like this could certainly be manipulated, it is at least one check against the powers that be cherry picking intelligence. By publicly proclaiming their analysis (broadly) to the world, the Intelligence Community have their colors nailed to the mast and face the consequences (good or bad) of their work.

I’m particularly happy with this edition of the assessment for a couple of reasons.

First, the report starts off with a discussion of the cyber threat. I am by no means a tech geek and I agree that there are many serious vulnerabilities to our electronic data and networks but I’ve been concerned by the increasingly hysterically drum beat of talks about cyber ‘Peal Harbors’, 9/11s or Kratatoas. Coupled with the ominous ‘It’s not a matter of if but when…’ statements by very serious people, these predictions would seem like a slam dunk.

So, I was glad to see this:

We judge that there is a remote chance of a major cyber attack against the US critical infrastructure systems during the next two years that would result in long-term, wide-scale disruption of services, such as a regional power outage.

First take away: ‘Chill the fuck out.’

Those that can carry out those big attacks are going to be nation states and countries (even ones like Iran) are going to be reluctant to do so because a cyber attack today can lead to a physical retaliation tomorrow. Just because we now pay our bills online doesn’t mean the idea of retaliation has gone away.

But, what about those crazy terrorists? They’re already under the gun (so to speak) so threats of retaliation aren’t going to mean much to them, right? Well, true, but there are a couple of reasons why we might not have to worry too much about that. First, most ‘traditional’ terrorists are still thinking in terms of traditional fighting. Taking down a multinational corporation or a power station might be a significant win for these players and a step in their ultimate plans but just about all of them have goals of temporal power and for that you need to get our from behind the keyboard and pick up a gun. That’s the first part…the second is that it doesn’t look like any such groups have the capability to conduct such attacks.

Instead of the risk coming from well planned and executed attacks over the next two years, the assessment says that our vulnerability to less sophisticated attacks having an unexpected result because of particular ‘system configurations and mistakes’. In other words, our crappy system designs might go loopy. Just like the HAL9000 in 2001.

Al-Qaida continues their downward spiral with the various affiliates being either concerned more with local matters (AQIM, AQI, al-Shabaab, etc.) or just suffering from a long string of general ass-kickings (AQ Central). Not much to say there other than to say that my personal opinion is that history is passing them by. They still might be able to launch attacks over the coming years but both as a terrorist organization and a broader movement, they’re starting to look like they’re past their expiration date. The thing to look out for will be those who came to political maturity over the past decade. Just as AQ is really the function of the cohort that came out of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, how will the next generation of…who? Islamic radicals? The global ‘have-nots’? Others communities we aren’t even aware of yet? Anyway, how will these people internalize these events (and then externalize them!)?

My prediction: I suspect we’re in a terrorism ‘lull’ that probably began in 2009 or so and will go on for at least another year or two. Now, a ‘lull’ does NOT mean there won’t be any terrorism activity occurring around the world. I think, instead, that we’ll see a general retreat of international terrorist organizations from targeting the United States. Targeting U.S. interests (like the Benghazi attack which, contrary to Fox News, Sen. McCain, et. al. was NOT a sign of a resurgent al-Qaida) will probably continue but occur in places that lack adequate security (post-revolutionary Libya, Bulgaria, etc.). But attacks like 9/11, or even 7/7 , are going to continue to recede into the realm of hypotheticals dusted off to protect pet funding projects.

I suspect 9/11 will eventually be seen as al-Qaida’s battle of Cannae. A brilliant tactical success but with no real strategic benefits for them. Yes, 9/11 did cause the U.S. to make a number of really, really (really) bad decisions that didn’t do them any favors but they didn’t really translate into any sort of net gain for al-Qaida. Maybe bin Laden’s strategy of using a 50 or 100 year time scale will prove him right but I suspect not. Trying to game the global system decades in advance is virtually impossible (at least now). If we weren’t able to do it when we were the global hegemon how can al-Qaida expect to? Indeed, they had better have a deity on their side as that’s what I think it will take.

I was also pleased to see an acknowledgment of the negative influence of environmental crime around the world:

constitutes a multi-billion dollar industry annually, endangers the environment, and threatens to disrupt the rule of law in important countries around the world. These criminal activities are often part of larger illicit trade networks linking disparate actors-from government and military personnel to members of insurgent groups and translational organized crime organizations.

One reason such crimes are so lucrative is that the enforcement and penalty mechanisms are so lax.

The really frightening part of the assessment is the section titled ‘Natural Resources: Insecurity and Competition’. It presents a bleak picture of the state of food, water and natural resources now in which many stocks are at or near capacity with little margin for unexpected (or, in some cases, expected) shocks to the system. So, who cares if a bunch of peasants in central Africa can’t get wheat? Well, what would you do if all the supermarkets ran out of food? And what if the next town over had full supermarkets but either charged all outsiders a huge markup or just didn’t let outsiders in at all, deciding to save food for their citizens? Things could get ugly really fast. I believe it was Isaac Asimov who said something like ‘No civilization is more than three missed meals from anarchy.’

The other big problem with this issue is that it’s just not a national (or international) priority. In a country where we’re still debating whether global warming is an insidious crypto-Socialist-academic plot to deprive honest, hard-working citizens of the ‘American Dream’, who in the hell is going to get support to try to address the question of food security? You can almost hear the tin foil hat brigade talking about how the market will solve everyone’s problems. Make not mistake, these are big problems that are going to create all sorts of new, more traditional problems before everyone realizes just how bad things are. The fact that us humans just aren’t that good at dealing with threats like this doesn’t fill me with a great deal of optimism.

But in the short term (perhaps the next year or three) things don’t look too bad, relatively speaking. As the assessment runs down the various regions of the world we continue to see instability (Africa), slides towards authoritarianism (Central Asia), rampant crime (Central/South America) and emerging rivals (China) but none of these things seem ready to drive the international system into crisis. The more I read these things the more I find myself thinking of the later Roman Empire. Not as a direct correlation but rather the sense of the system gradually falling apart while those at the center seem unable to focus on anything except trivial matters. Shocks to the system are dealt with in a temporary and ad hoc manner. Hopefully that impression is just my age and cynicism catching up to me. I suppose we’ll see…

How the mighty have fallen….

Wow…who would have thought it could happen.  I think I’m actually feeling sorry for al-Qaida.  The terrorist masterminds who brought us 9/11 are now reduced to…these:

1)  Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb was flying pretty high a year ago.  They were kicking ass in Mali, portrayed as the next ‘big thing’ in terrorism circles.  They were, as the young people say, ‘the shit’.  And then the French invaded and ruined everything.  So, what’s an ambitious terrorist group to do after suffering several military defeats?

Make a video game, of course.  An incredibly lame video game.  In the game, you play the pilot of a jihadi fighter plane (?!) that fights the French air force.  Does anyone other than me find it ironic that the Jihadi air force is comprised of the Su-47?  I mean…the defenders of the faith flying an aircraft made by godless successors to the Soviet Union?

And at some point does it ever irk these fighters that virtually all the weapons they use are created by people they consider the enemy?  I mean, it’s not like there’s even an authentic jihadi assault rifle that hasn’t been created and sold by infidels.  Don’t games that pretend there’s an Islamic air force just make the true believers feel more inadequate?

2)  Inspire #10:  For awhile, the idea that al-Qaida was producing a slick, English language magazine with instructions for attacks was pretty frightening.  Then, after a few issues, the shine began to wear off.  After al-Awaki and Samir Khan (who were the driving force behind the magazine) were killed by drone in 2011, the quality did a quick nosedive from which is hasn’t recovered.  Now, just pumping something out is seen as a sort of a victory by the al-Qaida types (and the counter terrorism folks who prophet off them) but it’s getting harder and harder to take this stuff seriously.   The latest big al-Qaida tactic that’s going to bring the West to their knees?  Setting cars on fire and causing automobile accidents.  Yeah, knocking down the twin towers didn’t do it but giving me a fender bender in the Whole Foods parking lot is totally going to get us to surrender.

#3 And finally, poor, poor Oman Hammami.  If you don’t feel sorry for this guy, your heart is two sizes too small.  The would be jihadis left sunny California for the badlands of Somalia…Then he got involved in some tribal politics, a death threat from one side, a couple of twitter fights, a $5 million dollar bounty from the U.S. government for his capture and credit for some shitty rap songs.  And this was the guy we were afraid would serve as a beacon for hordes of young American kids to take up the mantel of jihad and run riot.  Meh…not so much.




I’m back

This may not be the best time to make the announcement as you may think it is an elaborate hoax but I’ve decided that I’m going to revive TwShiloh.  So, beginning tomorrow you’ll be seeing new content on a regular basis again.

When I first started this blog I was my primary audience.  I had a bunch of ideas pinging around in my head and I was looking for a way to explore them.  The act of writing them down here gave me that platform and, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure there was anyone else interested.

But, now I want to look outwards a bit more for for TwShiloh 2.0.  So, while I imagine the content here will roughly be the same (discussions on intelligence issues with a smattering of foreign policy, military, history, reenacting, and some randomness through in for good measure) I’d really like to build a bit more of a multi-directional conversation.  So, dear reader, I humbly ask you for some assistance in this endeavor.

  1. If you like what you read here, please spread it around.  Put it on Facebook, twitter, hell, print it off and slide it under the door of your neighbors.
  2. Within the general scope of what I normally write about, let me know what you’d like to see discussed.  Got a question?  Throw it at me!
  3. I can be reached here (in the comments section), on my Twitter feed and by good ol’ email (twshiloh <at> gmail <dot> com).  Don’t be a stranger…
  4. Well, there is no #4 but thanks for reading this far!