Archive | May 2013

The Long War

Good, informative piece about several US wars and leading up to the current situation: What Do You Call an Endless War? by Andrew Bacevich

For well over a decade now the United States has been “a nation at war.” Does that war have a name? …

Does it matter that ours has become and remains a nameless war? Very much so.

Names bestow meaning. When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about. To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others.

Better Place Not Too Big to Fail

Now that Fisker, Coda and Project Better Place have failed, a lot of people are writing with the perfect clarity of hindsight about why they failed. Of course many people thought Toyota’s Prius would fail, too.

I don’t know much about Fisker or Coda, but with Better Place, it seemed to me that Shai Agassi was trying to build long term infrastructure around the least standard and most rapidly changing aspect of electric vehicles – the batteries.

Exceeding your battery’s range without a long recharge session is the holy grail of electric vehicles. Agassi expected that Better Place’s AutOS-coordinated network of battery swap stations would be as convenient as having a gasoline filling station every few miles – but liquid fuels evolved slowly. What was sold never had to be recycled because it was burned in the engine. No one brought old, used gasoline back to to a filling station. There were only a few grades of gasoline, and all engines were built to use one or more of them. Any entrepreneur could open a filling station and it fit into the network.

With EVs, every maker has their own battery, and they don’t make them easy to remove. Only Renault signed on to meet the BP standard. It would have been a great idea if a majority of EV makers had been on-board – but they weren’t. Even worse, according to Nili Brand, Agassi’s wife, was dealing with Israeli bureaucracy.

Trek vs Wars

With the new Trek film out, I ran across another Star Trek vs Star Wars debate post the other day. Except for a few bad films, I found both franchises entertaining. Trek influenced me more because I started watching when it was first on television, just over a decade before Star Wars hit the silver screen. My siblings and I set up an Enterprise bridge in the barn, with a big black blanket stretched across an upside down mantelpiece as the viewscreen. Star Wars happened when I was already out of college. I appreciated the gritty, dusty aspect and the references to older movies, but I never played Star Wars.

When I was young, I actually believed that our future could resemble the Trek universe. But even though I was just watching a Canadian guy sing A Space Oddity from the International Space Station while DS9 was on Netflix, I no longer feel that we are nearly as close to colonizing space as it seemed in the 1980s. Also as I look at international imperial politics, the various Federation characters look as hopelessly idealistic – as “sweet and cloying” – as aliens Quark and Garak once noted.

In a new post, John Michael Greer just noted:

The imaginary future worlds conjured up by the mythologies of progress and apocalypse, in turn, are pallid reflections of an older and more robust conception, the belief in a heaven of immortal bliss to which the souls of true believers ascend after death. … when the concept of reincarnation came back into circulation in alternative circles in the Western world in the 19th century, … What made it “disgusting” and “repulsive,” … was precisely the suggestion that human souls after death would cycle right back to the same world they had just left and live with the consequences of their own choices.

In that sense, waking up in a Star Trek universe would be like going to a civilized and technological heaven while waking up in a Star Wars universe would be more like being reincarnated into another complicated geopolitical great game, but with cooler weapons.

Is Cycling Just a Craze?

An article in, Cycles of Fashion, compares the 1890s bicycle craze to the current interest in cycling, and wonders if people are once again just riding bikes to look superior to those who don’t.

… the working-class that had been shut out of the earlier “cycling craze,” … used the bicycle mainly as a utilitarian vehicle. … For the middle class, any benefits of the wheel, whether practical or recreational, became outweighed by the social costs of being seen riding one. One ex-rider admitted to the specialty magazine Cycling Age that he had “greatly enjoyed cycling, but that when the bicycle became within the reach of the common folk, or the gentleman of color, he felt that there was a danger of associating himself with a lower caste.”

As the craze disappeared, so did the public interest in all things bicycle. … The push for cycle paths stopped after 1898, which speaks to how willing the middle class was to forgo the pleasure and convenience of cycling for the sake of maintaining their social standing.

The article is well-written but my reaction is Codswallop. There is certainly a fascination with superlight frames and lycra in the bike sporting community – but that has been true for decades now. There are hipsters riding fixies, but I also see Hispanic laborers riding well-worn mountain bikes – carrying their tools in one hand – to and from work. In fact the diversity of people I see on the bike goes far beyond any sort of fashion craze.

I chalk it up to necessity.

Update 2013/05/31: Streetsblog quotes a study that shows biking is exploding among minorities, as per the graph below:

Mr Hollande’s Resource War

Did you know French troops were fighting in Mali? I didn’t. A 2013/01/11 Washington Post article, France to the rescue of Mali, claimed that Islamist radicals were the aggressors.

Mr. Hollande’s action came in response to an assault by the Islamist fighters on Konna, a town about 375 miles northeast of the capital, Bamako. When the radicals marched into Konna, Mali’s weak military fled.

According to a 2013/01/18 article, Ansar Dine and How Climate Change Contributed to the Algeria-Mali Crisis, by Juan Cole, something was bound to happen there:

The weakness of the Mali government likely is related to the drought years of the past decade, during which hundreds of thousands of Malians were forced to emigrate to other countries and the agricultural productivity and tax base of the more fertile south was devastated. This economic decline at the center made it easier for the rebel Tuareg of the north to declare their Azawad. There are several factions in the north, some of them Berber-nationalist and relatively secular, but the best fighters seem to be Ghali’s Ansar Dine, and their movement south last Thursday helped provoke the French intervention …

A Washington Post summary from yesterday (2013/05/28) hyped up the rhetoric against the rebels:

When radical Islamists stormed into northern Mali last year, they seized the ancient crossroads city of Timbuktu and began to impose their vicious intolerance on people and history. They enforced a strict form of sharia law, hacking off hands and feet for perceived violations of Islam; they burned or destroyed priceless artifacts, including manuscripts dating from when Timbuktu was at the center of Islamic study of science, culture and law.

But in France’s War in Mali, Dissident Voices subtitles it Neo-imperialist Grab Dressed up in “War on Terror” Rhetoric:

… closer examination of background events shows that France sabotaged low-key attempts that were under way to find a political solution in Mali between the French-backed regime in Bamako and the northern separatist rebels. These talks and a ceasefire had opened only weeks before the French military intervention. The collapse of those negotiations paved the way for France to militarize the country – a step that now runs the risk of plunging the impoverished West African territory into years of internecine war. The cynical agenda is to create another failed state that will be more tightly under the political control of France, giving the French government a pretext to return to its former colony and the wider Francophone region. … Earlier this week, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian let the cat out of the bag when he said that the aim was the “total re-conquest” of Mali.

And a guest poster at Cassandra’s Legacy paints this as a thinly-veiled resource war:

In fact before France began its bombings on the 11th of January, both factions had agreed to a cease fire and were negotiating a peace accord. Nonetheless, France pretended to present the internal conflict as a battle for democracy and against Islamic fundamentalism and organized a coalition of African countries as a defense force. … it even managed to secure a UN resolution to justify the intervention. … The fact is that France started to deploy its troops without waiting for anyone else as soon it found itself facing the real possibility that the government of Mali could fall,  and that the Tuareg could come to power.

What is driving France in this manner in Mali?  It is neither petroleum nor gas, primary resources whose potentially exploitable quantities in the country are not significant, and which also easily could be obtained elsewhere. Nor is it the precious metals that the country is rich in. Rather, what is driving France to act at this time is uranium and, moreover, from a double perspective, that is, both short-term and long- term.

In the long term exploiting the uranium mines in Mali will be fundamental to satisfying the Gallic hunger for uranium on which depends its entire industrial model – one of which they are also often proud,  given that they consider the nuclear energy which is produced as indigenous (notwithstanding the fact that the base fuel, uranium, is obtained outside the country).

Who is right? I don’t know, but the only MSM articles that even mentioned uranium were in response to the bombing of a mine in nearby Niger.

Bike Stuff

I’ve been biking assiduously this Spring. To avoid sweat I take light rail to work and ride back – except on casual Friday, when I ride both ways. I ride the light rail and then bike to job sites, stow my bike in a corner and ignore the stares of construction workers in their hardhats while I talk to the supers about issues. It takes less and less effort every day.

With bike-to-work days and the opening of the NYC Citi Bike program, there have been a flurry of pro and con bike articles. Slate offered The Pedestrian–Cyclist Armistice, coming up with five rules each for walkers and cyclists. The rules are aimed at a thoroughly urban city area with crowded subways, heavy foot traffic and lots of cyclists. In Baltimore, we have only a few blocks where this might be the case, not all that many cabs, and lax enforcement against jaywalking.

Like Baltimore’s pedestrians, I follow the Idaho Stop protocol. When I ride in the suburbs, many of the sidewalks are completely empty, while the roads are frankly hazardous – so I often do ride on the sidewalks. We are allowed to bring any bike on light rail, and any folding bike on MARC. I think foldies are the greatest invention for transit commuters.

On the Daily Banter, Ben Cohen trolled with Reasons Why Cyclists Suck:

Cyclists also hate motorists, and make a point of giving drivers dirty looks if they get too close or try to engage them in debate.

From forty years of driving, I’ve noticed that many drivers maintain a perpetual dirty look towards other drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, traffic lights, train crossings – literally anything that gets in their way. Bob Cesca responded well with In Defense of Cyclists.

News comes that petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson, of Top Gear, has actually bought a bicycle – an electric bike, but a bike all the same. Clarkson justifies his purchase by claiming that cycling needs more regular people:

“There’s only one way they can be defeated. And that’s for normal people to start riding bicycles. We need to swell their ranks with moderates, people who ride a bike because they’ve had a drink and because taxis are too expensive. Ordinary people who ride in jeans and T-shirts and with no stupid helmet.”

I tend to wonder who will defeat whom. A lot of ordinary people already ride bikes and don’t like being threatened by drivers. New cyclists will probably feel the same way. In an English town named Poynton, one traffic planner throws drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, even kids playing ball, together on the largely unregulated street and trusts that it will all work itself out. In the US, I fear that we don’t have the patience for that. Personally, I enjoy having a marked bike lane.


While many people were horrified by conspiracy of silence that protected pedocoach Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, organized swimming is rife with cases of male coaches abusing young female swimmers.

Dia Rianda is suing former employer and USA Swimming coach Mark Schubert for wrongful termination. Rianda claims that her well-founded complaints about predatory activity by his close friend, elite coach Bill Jewell of the Golden West Swim Club, caused Schubert to dismiss her instead of investigating Jewell. Rick Curl has been sentenced for a long term abuse (youtube clip) starting when Kelly Currin was only thirteen. I’ve already posted a Cap and Goggles account that it was an open secret among the swim community for years.

I’m not sure where they got it, but Scaqblog has published Currin’s official statement after the recent sentencing of Rick Curl:

The sexual molestation committed by Rick Curl and subsequent payoff to silence me has been called the worst kept secret in the swim world. Yet today it is appalling that a number of people in positions of authority had the opportunity to take action against Rick Curl and each one of them failed miserably. Now that justice has been levied against Rick Curl, it is time to hold accountable USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus and Vice President David Berkoff, as well as former USA Swimming National Team Director and Hall of Fame coach Mark Schubert, for their actions in helping create a culture that protects predator coaches and vilifies young victims who have the courage to come forward.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote very convincingly for The New Yorker about how sexual predators are able to patiently navigate such bureaucracies to find and stalk their victims.

When monsters roam free, we assume that people in positions of authority ought to be able to catch them if only they did their jobs. But that might be wishful thinking. A pedophile … is someone adept not just at preying on children but at confusing, deceiving, and charming the adults responsible for those children …

But that is only part of the problem. I read once that no matter what the initial or stated mission, the primary imperative of most organizations becomes the survival of the organization itself – and personal survival is certainly the primary mission of most employees. When a transgression is discovered, it always matters how much power or influence the offender commands compared to the accuser. If the office boy is goofing off when he should be working, he might be fired. If the office boy reports the boss’s son for goofing off, he will certainly be fired. When the boss is goofing off, it is safer and easier for everyone to look the other way.

McCain in Syria

Over Memorial Day weekend, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) relived past glory by flying a classic A1 bomber under Syrian power lines, interrupting the already sporadic electrical service for millions of ordinary citizens, and crashing into a petroleum storage facility. McCain was unhurt.

McCain, who advocates arming the Syrian opposition, hoped to provide an example of the support the US could be giving to rebel groups within Syria. Not coincidentally, commanders from rebel battalions requested that the US enforce a no-fly zone and asked McCain to fly to Lebanon, headquarters of Hezbollah, which has provided fighters in support of Assad.

According to a Syrian Emergency Task Force spokeswoman, rebel commanders told McCain, “Hezbollah has some really wicked power lines. You gotta try that, man.”

Dunham objects to This Ain’t Girls

After hearing reports that a porn version of HBO’s Girls is being released, Lena Dunham observed, “Why don’t they just make a British version of Downton Abbey? Or a geeky version of The Big Bang Theory?”

“Girls is already a porn version – of all the relationship shows I ever watched. Instead of just kissing and talking about having sex, on Girls we take our clothes off and get down to it. We show you what you’d actually see if you were there; we just leave out the rote sex and clinical closeups of private parts characteristic of a cheap porno. Who wants to see all that?”

Casual Friday

When I woke up the house was cold so I turned up the juice to the E-Cat. That reminded me that I had a stack of dunning notices from LeonardoElectric demanding payment. For a self-sustaining energy source, it sure has jacked up my electrical bills.

I put on my gas mask to take a shower. I wished I could use the gas from the water for basic heat, but it would be illegal to harvest my own fossil fuel and not pay taxes. I dried myself and checked to see whether it was still legal to wear my Dhaka-made shorts and tee shirt. No buildings had collapsed overnight, so I didn’t have to throw them away and buy newer, certified-safe-worker garments – again.

After signing the Monsanto licensing rider, I ate a bowl of genetically-modified corn flakes, genetically-modified soy milk and hybrid bananas. I had to promise to dispose of my bowel movements in special bags to be stored in case they wanted to verify that no actual organic matter was in my system.

I walked outside trying not to look at the hydraulic fracturing rig in the neighbor’s yard. The new Gas Gag bill made it an act of terrorism to notice anything awry at any fossil fuel site. I hoped it wasn’t on fire.

I got in my self-driving Tesla, and focused on my iPad as the EV sideswiped the neighbor’s mailbox and ran over a dog. I managed only a few sessions of Angry Birds before a peremptory voice announced arrival. The door opened, hitting a cyclist, and I got out, but as the car pulled away I realized I wasn’t at the office. I texted my boss. Abercrombie & Fitch must have sent out another shopping virus because half the office had been, accidentally, driven to the mall.

We held an impromptu meeting while we hoped for one of our vehicles to respond and take us to work. I assumed most of our cars were waiting in line at the supercharger station. “Jeez, I never made it to the mall this often when I was telecommuting,” one woman whispered, “too bad it’s illegal now.”

A man dressed in Army-Navy combat gear approached. “Is there a problem, citizens?” he asked. “No, Captain Suburb,” I said, “just another mixup with the cars.” “Do you have your weapons?” Naturally we were all in compliance with the new Must Carry statute – I had a Rick Perry in my pocket, my boss wore a Judge down his pants leg and the women had hot pink Raven Arms .32s – good for at least three shots – in their backpacks.

“Carry On!”, Captain Suburb chirped as his colleague, Lady MallRat, snapped a candid. We gave them a tip, and they scampered away as if they were flying – but they weren’t.