Duty-Free Tour

September 29, 2016

America’s first line of defense: the homeless urban Dumpster-diver … and Egyptian tourists.

Lee Parker and Ivan White were out buying beer after watching Sunday football games on television. Parker, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, wanted to celebrate his team’s 2-0 start to the NFL season.  He thought he was just extra lucky when he spotted a backpack on top of a garbage can, steps away from the Elizabeth train station.  “It was a nice one,” he said.

Parker is a 50-year-old lifetime resident of Elizabeth who spends his days not knowing where he’ll sleep at night, and as he emptied the contents of the 30-pound backpack, he knew something wasn’t right.  “It seemed odd,” Parker said. “At first I thought they were decorated candles, but no decorated candles have wires.  When we figured out what it was, Ivan made me aware of what’s been going on in different places,” Parker said. “So right there I knew that this was one of those incidents not to take lightly at all.”

Next stop, Elizabeth Po-leece Department.

Previously …

Surveillance video in New York City showed Ahmad Khan Rahami rolling a suitcase down a Manhattan street, then abandoning it on the sidewalk where an unexploded device was later found.  A few minutes later, two men passed by the luggage and appeared to admire it, police said. They then removed a pressure cooker from the suitcase, left it on the sidewalk and walked away with their new roller-bag. “They were more interested in the bag, not what they were taking out,” NYPD counterterrorism chief Jim Watters said, adding that they were “very, very lucky” the bomb didn’t explode.

ey_turisti

Maybe not quite so lucky after all:

The two men have been identified as Egyptian tourists who have since returned home to Egypt. U.S. investigators have notified Egyptian authorities they want to question the men [as witnesses rather than suspects].  “They’re not in any jeopardy of being arrested,” Watters said last week, “We have no reason to believe they’re connected.”

Yeaaaaah, I have every confidence that NYPD is being totally forthcoming in this matter.  By the time the Egyptian police are done with these poor guys, they’ll be cursing that suitcase as an infernal lure of Satan, fiendishly disguised as a heaven-sent gift from Allah.  On the bright side, at least they’re not Saudis.  But then again, neither was Mohamed Atta.

Worst case scenario:  In Cairo, they run the video … in reverse.  It shows the two men place a pressure cooker device into the suitcase, close it, and push it against a wall.  Then they slowly back away, gesturing and admiring their handiwork.  Cut!  We’ve seen enough: guilty as charged.  Off with their heads!  Pharaonic justice, al-Sissi style.

Life as a homeless guy in Jersey suddenly looks a whole lot better.  Can I get an “Amen?”

 

Switchman Sleepin’

August 16, 2016

Way back in September of last year I made the seemingly rash prediction that “Donald Trump won’t be around at the end” of the 2016 presidential campaign.  Eleven months later, here on August 16th, it looks as though I might be right on track … to be completely wrong.  But wait, there’s more!  Two-and-a-half more months of plot twists and narrative turns still remaining in the cliffhanger screenplay, that is.  Thus it is that hope, which springs eternal in the longshot gambler’s breast, still holds forth the possibility of a scenario rarely seen in the annals of American politics: the reverse bait-and-switch.

The [function] of the bait-and-switch is to encourage [acceptance] of substituted goods, making consumers satisfied with the available stock offered, as an alternative to the disappointment or inconvenience of acquiring no goods at all.  The bait-and-switch ploy exploits the consumer’s perception of partial recovery of the sunk costs expended trying to obtain the bait.

Plug

In customary commercial practice, bait-and-switch operates by advertising an extremely desirable product, available for purchase at an extremely desirable price.  But when the customer becomes ravenously eager to buy, the product is suddenly “out of stock” or otherwise unavailable.  Instead, something “just as good” is offered in its place –of lower quality, higher price, or both.

The reverse bait-and-switch is an inventive wrinkle on the tried-and-true classic formula.  Both versions are undoubtedly inscribed in the 18th c. playbook of the usual suspects, but the reverse variant is deemed effective only when rarely used.  It is best employed only during highly unusual circumstances in conditions of scarcity.  Reverse bait-and-switch holds out an extremely undesirable and unacceptable product as the only product available:  the seller waits until the consumer has become adamant, almost violently irate, in her refusal to purchase the patently inferior product … and then suddenly offers an alternative (“this just in!”).  Low quality, overpriced, something the customer probably wouldn’t consider buying in everyday market conditions  –but marginally more acceptable than the woefully inadequate alternative.

Points_well_taken

 

By now it should be clear where I’m going with this, but to spell it out for the semi-literate, here’s what we might well see in the coming weeks:

  • Republican Party bigwigs/honchos/muckety-mucks will find a way (компромат) to force the Donald to renounce his hard-won GOP nomination and abandon his presidential campaign.
  • Huguenot hireling Paul Manafort will discover he has not been dealt the strong hand (main à fort) that he had thought, and that he’s trying to draw to an inside straight from a stacked deck.
  • A (comparatively) bland and innocuous substitute more-or-less untainted by Trump (Mike Pence, or someone else?) will step (or be thrust) into the breach.
  • Disaffected Republicans will be rallied around their new savior and champion, while disgruntled Trump partisans will grumble “anyone but Hillary” and (mostly) go along with the new program.  After all, they’re followers, not independent thinkers. Just about any fuhrer will do.
  • The Clinton campaign will be completely blindsided by this development, and having geared up to play a “No Trump” bid all the way to November, will flounder in its attempts to respond to the radically altered political environment.  It’s all about the OODA loop.
  • Best of all, I’ll have been proven correct in my offhand 2015 prediction: “Trump won’t be around at the end“.

Stay tuned: I’m guessing that the Koch-Murdoch timetable for action is probably around September 9th.  Nine/Nine, or nein-nein for you Deutsch sprechers.

 

Almost Heaven, West Slovenia

July 29, 2016

Near-term prospects may be improving for Danilo Turk –at least one potential veto voter seems to be hinting at a possible okey-doke:

Russian President Vladimir Putin will be visiting European Union and NATO-member Slovenia this weekend, signaling a bid to maintain ties amid simmering tensions between the Kremlin and the two Western-led blocs.  While in Slovenia –his only third visit to an EU-member country this year– Putin will attend a commemoration of the centenary of a chapel at Kranjska Gora, which was erected in the memory of dozens of Russian World War I prisoners of war who died in an avalanche while building a [road through a] mountain pass in the Julian Alps for the Austrian army.

Kranjska Gora_0

Putin will also unveil a memorial to Russian soldiers who died in World War II at the main cemetery in Ljubljana, and meet Slovenian officials. The memorial is made up of eight pillars symbolizing the eight-year duration of both world wars.  There is a crane atop each of the pillars and the names of 3,000 soldiers are embossed in marble. The memorial has been made by Russian sculptors and financed by Russia.

Russia is Slovenia’s top non-EU trading partner, but the trade between the two has dropped by nearly 30 percent since EU sanctions were imposed [following Russia’s 2014 Ukraine incursion].  Some media reports suggest that the United States had advised Slovenia against inviting Putin given the enduring tensions between Russia and NATO. [However,] Slovenian authorities have been emphasizing the ceremonial nature of Putin’s visit and the absence of formal talks.  Slovenia has supported EU and NATO policies with regard to Russia while also striving to push aside obstacles to relations, which are underpinned not only by trade but in particular by shared Slavic culture.

St_Cyril_chapel

It’s pretty clear that Putin is (and has been) making a blatantly obvious point about the numerous Russian soldiers who have died on European soil during the past 100 years.  This is probably considered diplomatic subtlety by Russian standards of international relations, and people who “share Slavic culture” probably understand the message all too well.

So what might this mean for the Moldovan candidate?  I don’t know.  What does Auntie Sam have to say on this topic?

 

Head Caseworker

July 28, 2016

Back in the day, I and my colleagues used to amuse ourselves and our newly-recruited lunchtime companions with a simple, politically incorrect quiz game that had no hard-and-fast correct answers.  After a short preamble explaining that we the American people have coined numerous verbal expressions to describe (or label) out-group members of society, and noting that each of us often has a slightly different understanding of what these colloquial terms actually mean, we would pose the following short question:

In your opinion, which of these three informal expressions describes someone with the most serious mental illness?

We usually didn’t ask anyone to justify their choice, and on several occasions our respondents suggested that we add the term “head case” to the list –triggering discussion of whether (and in what way) a “head case” might be a more mild or severe form of mental illness than a “wacko” or a “nut job.”  Sometimes, one of the group might seek to illustrate his reasoning by adding a common verbal intensifier to the chosen term, attempting to argue that a “complete fuckin’ wacko” is clearly crazier than the guy who’s merely “looney tunes.”  This would give us the opportunity to demonstrate that you could add “complete(ly) fuckin'” to any of the original expressions to make it seem worse than those that lacked the intensifier.  But when each term is thus modified the effect is cancelled out:  A “complete fuckin’ wacko” is no better –or worse– than a “complete fuckin’ nut job.”

At the time, the main point of this frivolous exercise was to demonstrate that spoken language –especially colloquial speech– becomes an inexact tool for communication when the semantic linkage between concept and word is highly subjective, culturally specific, and somewhat variable.  What you think you said isn’t necessarily what I believe I heard.

 

Pivot to Present … and Future

Why bother to mention any of this?  Because modern-day regime preservation functionaries, their advisers and their media propaganda specialists have lately been uncertain about whether to describe the world’s recent crop of ‘lone wolf’ mass murderers as actual terrorists … or just plain crazy.

U.S. officials said they are investigating the role mental health issues may have played in the shooting of police in Baton Rouge and Dallas. In both attacks, the shooters had displayed signs of apparent mental illness and extreme views before their rampages. “When someone with mental health issues [finally] snaps, there usually is some external stimulus that also is involved and provides an organizing framework for the violent act,” noted Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA analyst.

[A half dozen American, British and French] counterterrorism officials told Reuters that the assailants in a recent spate of mass killings all had histories of apparent mental illness. They included the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida; the murder of a British parliamentarian in Northern England; the killings of police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas; the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, France; and Friday’s mass shooting at a German shopping mall.  [However,] existing systems for collecting intelligence on extremists are not set up to identify individuals with a history of mental illness who come into contact with people or propaganda that could incite them to engage in violence, the intelligence officials told Reuters.

Okay, so we have an intelligence gap big enough to drive a truck through.  On the bright side, at least the gaps are getting smaller: fifteen years ago you could fly four 747s through the FBI’s blind spots.  Nowadays, something as innocuous as this blog post won’t escape notice and might even trigger (intentional word choice) some petty, spiteful electronic harassment by aggrieved LE personnel or their minions.  But if our most vexing intell vulnerability really is the muttering madman loner, I think I can live with that: the odds are working in my favor (to clarify: as a potential victim, not as a perpetrator).

Unfortunately, the United States is also exposed to a much greater threat of politically-motivated mass violence on a much larger scale than any lone wolf terrorist/madman would be able to manage… and the probable perpetrators are hiding in plain sight.  Last year, Dutch sociologist Avram de Swaan described some of the indicators of incipient organized, large-scale atrocities perpetrated by armed political movements or government regimes:

the foundation for future atrocity is laid when latent social tensions are redefined by political actors to:

  • accentuate social differences and divisions,
  • demarcate boundaries of “compartmentalized” social categories,
  • enact physical/spatial separation of these newly defined social fragments,
  • and accelerate (individual) psychological processes of self-identification, projection, internalization, fervent “othering” (etc.) within increasing numbers of the citizenry.

Do these indicators sound familiar?  Copious open source reporting would seem to suggest so.   And yet this is a threat assessment that regime preservationists wouldn’t touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole. Perhaps because they believe that mass violence of this particular kind will actually preserve their regime rather than threaten it.  Perhaps we’ll see whether this is so.

 

John Hinckley Jr

Pika-Chu

July 19, 2016

Once again, “evidence” that Comrade Bear heeds the message of this blog (in some respects, at least):

The (Chabad Hasidic) Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said in a statement Tuesday that it does not mind people playing “Pokemon Go” near synagogues and other cultural buildings …  as long as it is not disturbing the congregation.  Pokemon has prompted a mixed reaction [in Russian society].  While Russian airports and banks have endorsed the game, the Russian Orthodox Church and some Duma deputies have angrily complained that the Western-developed app [sic] has harmed Russia.

Those Russian nationalists would benefit from a basic geography lesson and a refresher course in late Imperial history:  Nintendo => Japan => East, not West.  Of course, their confused disorientation is entirely understandable … because everyone in Russia is a bit on edge, what with centenary “celebrations” of the October Revolution looming on the horizon.

There’s no actual cause for concern, however, because the next major nation to undergo a genuine social revolution (rather than a mere sham regime change) will have the opportunity to guide the course of world affairs for at least a century.  So rather than fear civic instability, true patriots (of whatever nationality) should embrace the possibility of dramatic change –in the interest of human survival and sustainable ecology.

Pikachu

Back From The Bulrushes

July 13, 2016

Surely I’m not the first to echo the historic words of Moishe the Egyptian from back in the day:

Let my people Go!

 

Go_2

Dee Pelham Blues

July 11, 2016

Stone_free

“The problem is that you have people with great intentions but part of a bad organization that is corrupt.”

— barbershop owner Randall Vaughn

 

And in addition, you also have people with bad intentions who are the reason that an organization/ a society/ a culture is ‘bad’ and corrupt.  Everyone seems to have their own definition of which people are which.

 

Breaking Brad

June 22, 2016

I’ve been watching Copa America 2016 en espagnol.  Not just the USA matches, either.  But what I’ve seen of Team USA’s performances has been rather discouraging.  To my untutored eye, the core of the team’s weakness (but not its only one) is midfielder Michael Bradley.  Too much hesitation in choosing whether to pass or dribble; too many passes directly to an adversary’s boots when teammates are within reach; too many attempts to dribble past a defender with better ball-handling skills than he has, too many clearing kicks that a sprinting winger can’t reach.  At times he almost seemed to be playing (half-heartedly) for the opposing team.  If I were a betting man (I’m not), I’d be wondering who his bookie is.  Why is this guy team captain?  It’s a rhetorical question: I really don’t care enough to know. He’s probably a nice enough guy, but Leo (Durocher) had something to say about that in the context of sport.

So, unlike many Americans –who will only root for a winner– I’ll watch the Copa America consolation match for third place.  I want to see whether or not this pattern of behavior will continue to be evident in a match that doesn’t much matter.  Then I might be able to decide whether Bradley is a player whose cognitive processes and athletic skills begin to break down under psychological stress, or whether alternative hypotheses should be considered.  But I might not blog about my conclusions later.

MB_2

Roll Tide Roll

June 5, 2016

An 8th grade teacher in Alabama was recently suspending for asking students to answer some rather unorthodox word problems on a math quiz.  Among them:

“Leroy has 2 ounces of cocaine.  If he sells an eight ball to Antonio for $320 and 2 grams to Juan for $85 per gram, what is the street value of the rest of his hold?”

As far as I’m concerned, any teacher who asks this question OUGHT to be suspended … until s/he completes some remedial education in the field of applied economics.  That’s because besides being racist and overly-simplistic, this particular formulation reflects a grossly incorrect understanding of market realities in the recreational drug industry of Gulf Coast Alabama.  It assumes a market structure in which African-American mid-level dealers (“Leroy“) are supplying retail customer Latinos (“Antonio” and “Juan“) with what is basically a South American agricultural product.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Who’s really furnishing the cocaine supply in Alabama?  Enterprising free-market Mexican entrepreneurs operating as logistics specialists on behalf of Colombian manufacturers.  And who’s buying?  As usual, the 18-to-34-year-old demographic:  white, black, brown and yellow.  In pretty much that order.  So here’s a more realistic phrasing of the math quiz question:

Shramp

“Tyler scored 2 oz of coke from Bubba the shrimper, who brought in a load from the Gulf for Don Arturo. If Tyler sells an eight ball to Bryce for $320 and 2 grams to Muffy for $85 per gram, what is the street value of  everything left besides his head stash?”

And some follow-up questions:

  • How much cash did Tyler have to front Bubba for the 2 oz?
  • Why does Muffy get a better unit price than Bryce? (As if you didn’t know.)
  • Will Tyler, Bryce and Muffy graduate from high school this year?

Breaking_Bad

Making America Great … Again and Again

May 30, 2016

Just exactly when was it that America was great?  What were the salient characteristics of those times, and to what would we be returning?  Was it when …

  • The U.S. Constitution counted ‘Negroes’ as three-fifths of a person for census purposes and congressional apportionment, and entirely as non-persons where civil and human rights were concerned? (18th & 19th c.)
  • The principal occupation of the United States Army was extermination of native American tribes and their culture? (19th c.)
  • American industrial workers were required to work 12-hours shifts six days a week in dangerous, unhealthy and environmentally-destructive sweatshops? (19th c. to 20th c. ‘teens & ’20s)
  • American workers were gunned down in the streets by police and militia when they went on strike against intolerable working conditions? (see above)
  • American women were denied voting rights and were permitted employment only as teachers, nurses, seamstresses, domestic servants, ‘entertainers’ … or prostitutes? (19th & 20th c.)
  • Primeval forests from coast to coast were clearcut to ‘create wealth’ from farmland and lumber? (18th & 19th c.)
  • Rivers flowed with foul, undrinkable water and sometimes caught on fire? (19th & 20th c.)
  • Collusive networks of market arbitragers and speculators could regularly loot the nation’s financial system (with near-total impunity) by orchestrating increasingly complex pump-and-dump asset-inflation schemes that found hordes of newborn suckers every minute? (19th c. to present)
  • The country’s principal financiers and industrialists (Henry Ford, Walter Teague, John D. Rockefeller, Sosthenes Behn, William Davis, etc.) publicly extolled the ideology and civic virtues of Nazi Germany while they made billions of dollars in profits by helping to build up Hitler’s armament industry? (1930’s)
  • The ‘Greatest Generation’ rounded up American citizens of Asian ancestry as enemy aliens, confiscated their property and imprisoned them in remote desert compounds?  While at the same time combatant prisoners-of-war from German and Italian armies “interned” in the southern United States were given a monthly stipend and weekend furloughs in smalltown America? (mid-20th c.)
  • Police and espionage services spied on, imprisoned, and sometimes killed their fellow Americans on the grounds that they were suspected of ‘subversive’ political opinions? (early 20th c. to present)
  • As an instrument of foreign policy, United States diplomats and spies bribed foreign legislatures, rigged elections, organized civil unrest, encouraged coups d’etat, and carried out political assassinations in countries that did not sufficiently accommodate American commercial interests? (20th c. to present)

Such high standards to live up to.  How could America possibly be as great as that once again?

 

Vilnius_2016