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Archive for September, 2014

We Thought It Was So Reckless.

“Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant won’t create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won’t restore the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won’t dissuade Saudi Arabia from funding jihadists. It won’t pull Libya back from the brink of anarchy. It won’t end the Syrian civil war. It won’t bring peace and harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won’t persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms in Afghanistan. It won’t end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan. It certainly won’t resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

ISIS, oh ISIS – What drives us to you is what drives us insane: In Reuters, Middle East expert Andrew Bacevich has some serious doubts about a military solution to the newest Big Bad (who, let’s remember, are a threat at all precisely because of all the weapons we’ve already dumped in the area — Gee, it’s almost like our always getting involved makes everything worse.) “Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.”

He’s not alone. While they’ve been highly complicit in the collective freak-out over the past few weeks, the media — as welcome returning blogger Dan Froomkin notes — are starting to get skeptical too. “Allam notes that Yemen and Somalia are hardly examples of success; that the new Iraqi government is hardly ‘inclusive’; that training of Iraqi soldiers hasn’t worked in the past; that in Syria it’s unclear which ‘opposition’ Obama intends to support; and that it may be too late to cut off the flow of fighters and funds.”

Keeping in mind that Obama himself seems to think this is all a terrible idea, let’s recall what we’re really dealing with here, via the very worthwhile “War Nerd,” Gary Brecher: “ISIS, compared to any of the groups on that list, is about as scary as your neighbor’s yappy Shih Tzu: all noise and no teeth. Let’s just sober up, for Christ’s sake, and remember we’re talking about a half-assed Sunni militia that couldn’t face up to Assad’s mediocre Syrian Arab Army and still hasn’t found a way to occupy Sunni Iraqi towns that were outright abandoned by the Army, left totally undefended.”

Along the same lines, see Brecher on ISIS’s initial advance back in June:

“Actually, topography has everything to do with what’s gone well or badly for ISIS. in this latest push. If you know the ethnic makeup of the turf they’ve taken, their ‘shocking gains’ don’t seem so shocking, or impressive. After all, we’re talking about a mobile force — mounted on the beloved Toyota Hilux pickup truck, favorite vehicle of every male in the Middle East — advancing over totally flat, dry ground in pursuit of a totally demoralized opponent. In that situation, any force could take a lot of country very quickly…So this isn’t the second coming of Erwin Rommel by any means. Everything has conspired to push the Sunni advance, from the lousy opponent they’re up against to the terrain, which is a light mechanized commander’s dream.

Flat and dry is how a mechanized force commander wants his ground — and believe me, you haven’t seen flat and dry until you get to Iraq. Once you’re south of the Kurdish mountains, you’re on a dried mudflat…This is, after all, Mesopotamia, a land literally built by the sediment of the Euphrates and Tigris. It’s river mud, but nice and dry because very little rain falls,..On ground like that, any force with good morale and enough fuel could advance as quickly as the Sunni have. It’s the Bonneville Salt Flats of insurgency, the place you go to set new speed records.”

The point being, we have to stop losing our minds and letting a hysterical media and the same gaggle of Neocon pricks who’ve been wrong about everything for two decades get us involved in every opportunity to make war in the Middle East. Are ISIS a bunch of Bad Men? Undoubtedly. But that doesn’t make them an existential threat to the republic. So how about we all take a deep breath before, yet again, expending ever more blood and treasure in the region?

The Last Dog Scout.

“You’d see firefighters sitting there, unanimated, stone-faced, no emotion, and then they’d see a dog and break out into a smile,” Otto recalled. “Those dogs brought the power of hope. They removed the gloom for just an instant — and that was huge because it was a pretty dismal place to be.”

Thirteen years after a dark day, 15-year-old Bretagne, one of the last surviving 9/11 search dogs, returns to Ground Zero. “In the years that followed 9/11, Bretagne and Corliss deployed together to numerous disaster sites, including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ivan. Bretagne retired from formal search work at age 9 — but today, even though she’s roughly 93 in human years, she still loves to work.”

Then It Wouldn’t Be Sky Anymore.

“Someone asked me, ‘Do you think children born after, say, 1994, will ever feel the same things about 9/11 that people born before then feel? More and more, what we “feel” about collective history seems like something manufactured, and kind of pumped into us, rather than a real emotion. It’s all so framed by the sense that reality doesn’t exist any more, or at least not in a way that is alterable or questioning.”

In related news, Michael Stipe of R.E.M. talks about the art of Douglas Coupland and the legacy of 9/11. “Is that who we are now? Blind, unquestioning, warlike? Are we that violent, that childish, that silly, that shallow? Are we that afraid of others? Of ourselves? Of the possibility of genuine change? Are we that easily swayed, that capable of defending ‘American interests’, whatever ‘American interests’ means?

The Terminal. | And the Bridge.

“It speaks to the paucity of our civic imagination, and the small-mindedness of our politics, that simply to describe a project of such ambition is to invite the knowing smirks and raised eyebrows of those who will immediately recognize it as wholly incompatible with the current political and budgetary environment…At the same time, broader economic forces make Union Station expansion almost inevitable. As Doug Allen, the head of the Virginia’s commuter rail service, put it, ‘The question is how we do it, not whether we do it.'”

In a long and handsomely illustrated piece, WaPo’s Stephen Pearlstein looks into the reimagining of Union Station (or is it Truman Station), in light of both commuter needs and the burgeoning of NoMa, H-St, and the DC downtown in general. “This new Union Station would go well beyond the ambitions of Daniel Burnham’s original Beaux-Arts masterpiece. Its footprint would span 10 square blocks — two blocks east to west, five blocks north to south, from the foot of Capitol Hill to K Street.”

Update: “Make no mistake: Any of the finalists in the competition to design D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park is a winner. This is the savviest proposal for adapting outmoded infrastructure since the High Line. The four teams that made the grade as finalists to design the thing met the challenge.

And while we’re re-envisioning DC, CityLab looks at some intriguing “High Line”-style plans for the 11th Street Bridge. “Maybe the City Council could be convinced of the merits of the Southeast-to-Southwest Streetcar line once D.C. decides on a final design for the edgiest architecture project in the city’s history.”

Life in the Big City.

“His rad book…includes the answers to such burning questions as, how do I hail a cab? What is a bodega? Which way is Uptown?” From a new book by cartoonist Nathan Pyle, Distractify shows off a number of spiffy animated primers on how to live/survive in NYC. Funny because they’re true, and definitely worth a perusal. The one above — a.k.a. the “Reservoir Dogs walk” — is a huge problem in DC also.

Wars without Williams.


As making the rounds of late, the raw C-SPAN feed of the Yavin 4 medal ceremony was a considerably weaker PR hit for the Rebellion, and no mistake. (Chewie in particular comes off much worse — This is like learning of Lincoln’s squeaky voice.)

Also in recent Original Trilogy-related humor, Black C-3PO (BL3PO? Either way, probably still less offensive than Jar Jar et al) and this analysis of the insurgency on Endor’s moon. “The Ewoks are not soldiers, but a tribal insurgency — and a remarkably successful one once they receive the backing of foreign special forces.”

Immeasurable Heaven.

“Discounting cosmic expansion, their map shows flow lines down which galaxies creep under the effect of gravity in their local region…Based on this, the team defines the edge of a supercluster as the boundary at which these flow lines diverge. On one side of the line, galaxies flow towards one gravitational centre; beyond it, they flow towards another. ‘It’s like water dividing at a watershed, where it flows either to the left or right of a height of land,’ says Tully.”

Using an algorithm based on the velocity of redshifting galaxies, a team of University of Hawaii astronomers identify our galaxy’s place in the newly-identified Laniakea supercluster. (Laniakea being Hawaiian for “Immeasurable Heaven.”) Adds Slate‘s Phil Plait: “Laniakea is about 500 million light years across, a staggering size, and contains the mass of 100 quadrillion Suns — 100 million billion times the mass of our star.”

Getting Away With It.

“I have been following the absence of legal prosecutions since 2008, and have posted on that subject more than 500 times. But this isn’t the obsession of one lone crank (i.e., me). Many others in banking, law enforcement and government who aren’t on the payroll of banks have reviewed the events of the financial crisis and have reached the same conclusion — that the law was broken repeatedly by bankers.”

In the wake of a ridiculous apologetic in the NYT — and news that the government now wants to waive sanctions for Credit Suisse — Bloomberg’s Barry Ritholtz re-asks one of the central questions of the financial crisis, and Obama’s response to it: Why have no Banksters gone to jail?

“Political access and lobbying go part way toward explaining the absence of prosecutions and, therefore, the lack of convictions…As we have repeatedly shown, Treasury Department officials, including former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, had convinced prosecutors in the Justice Department of the dangers of prosecuting banks and bankers for the economy.” (Cartoon above via here.)

The Sun Has Come to Earth.

“The new figures for carbon dioxide were particularly surprising, showing the biggest year-over-year increase since detailed records were first compiled in the 1980s, Tarasova said in an interview. The jump of nearly three parts per million over 2012 levels was twice as large as the average increase in carbon levels in recent decades.”

We’re getting warmer: While the world focuses on deleting spam from U2, a new report finds carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere accelerating ever faster. “‘The changes we’re seeing are really drastic,’ Tarasova said. ‘We are seeing the growth rate rising exponentially’…’It means we’re probably getting to the point where we’re looking at the ‘safe zone’ in the rearview mirror, even as we’re stepping on the gas.'”

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