Archive for February, 2010

Condolencias por mi hermanos y hermanas chileños

February 27, 2010

Signs of Spring

February 21, 2010

Down at the dragon’s mouth, where spume, smoke and steam gush forth with a roar from between her stony fangs, there are already signs of spring.

  • purple crocuses bloom beneath the melting snow
  • gurgling streams emerge from behind the ice’s rim
  • buds and tiny leaf clusters sprout all along the brambly shoots of wild rose bushes beside the water’s edge
  • pioneer mosquitos (one or two) patrol low above the snow, seeking . . . something. . . before their certain doom.

At midday, the temperatures reached into the balmy mid-40’s.   It felt even warmer in the sun.   In two days we’ll have drenching rains that will wash away all but the most prodigious snowbanks.   The soil will freeze again, and it will snow a bit more before winter is done.   But in the blink of an eye, spring will be here.

I’ve been working out on the ergs four times a week, and lifting weights between erg sessions as well.   Even if this doesn’t make me a better rower, I’m already a stronger one.   Occasional stints in the indoor rowing tanks have been enough to reassure me that I haven’t forgotten my bladework and hand technique.   However, I’ve vexed and unsettled the coach by displaying some unorthodox behavior when we drill at legs-only or legs-and-back rowing:  I cock my outside wrist so that my hand rotates downward as the blade leaves the water at the end of each stroke.   (I’ve done this for years.  When we drill on the water early in the morning, it’s too dark for the coach to see me do it.)

This little wrist cock is a “cheat” that I sub-consciously developed over the years to take pressure off my outside hand when releasing the blade at the end of each stroke during legs-only rowing.   It also allows me to get another couple of inches through the water at the end of the stroke, since my inside hand can continue to move with my shoulders toward bow as the outside hand rotates around the oar handle.   Both arms stay straight (as the drill demands), but cocking the outside wrist effectively “shortens” the overall length of the outside arm to match that of the inside arm as the oar shaft pivots around the oarlock.  Sneaky and disturbing (to a coach), but effective during a drill that has never been one of my favorites . . . at any time of year.

Xin Nian Kuai Le!

February 14, 2010

The American gift and floral industry thinks that today is Valentine’s Day.   Two billion other people on the planet know it as New Year’s Day.  In Asia and elsewhere, New Year’s is all about hopes for the future and dreams of things to come.   Same here.   So, in that spirit, WtD presents a brief(?) breakdown of predictions for the Year of the Tiger  –first, those of Sino-cultural prognosticators from the mysterious East, then, those of lunghu hisseff.

Recent wire service reporting by AP and Agence France Presse cited the predictions of five Asian feng-shui masters, mostly from Hong Kong.   Each article named three feng-shui sources, with some crucial overlap:  both outlets consulted Raymond Lo.   Furthermore, Lao Lo’s remarks formed a significant proportion of each article –36% of AP’s 18 paragraphs contained statements attributed to Lo, and an identical proportion of AFP’s 22 paragraphs were also based on his predictions.  Interestingly, Lao Lo’s vision of the future wasn’t entirely consistent across the two articles.


Feng-shui ‘intell assessments’ are based on concepts from Chinese cosmology that date back at least two millennia.   Beyond the basic duality of yin (pr. ‘yean‘) and yang (pr. ‘yahng‘), we have (sorta/kinda organized in concentric circles like a pebble’s ripple on a placid pond) the Five Elements, the Twelve Earthly Branches, and the Twelve Animals of the Chinese zodiac.   Just don’t get me started on the Ten Celestial Stems!   Since a picture is worth 10,000 words, see the illustrations below:

Each of the Five Elements is associated with (linked to, in intell-speak) two or more of the Twelve Earthly Branches.  The ‘water’ element is linked to four Earthly Branches . . . which is only fair, given the importance of water to vegetative growth.

Each of the Twelve Zodiac Animals has a one-to-one relationship with a specific Earthly Branch.  Through the Zodiac-to-Branch relationship, the zodiac animals are fundamentally associated with a particular element.

Each and every Chinese year is associated with one of the Twelve Animals, in a 12-year cycle that begins/ends with the Rat.  This year the cycle has turned to reach the Tiger, whose basic element is Fire.

Just to make things a bit more mysterious, each 12-animal/year cycle occurs within a repeating 5-phase cycle of the Five Elements.  We are currently operating within the Metal cycle, so this year is under the influence of Metal, Fire and Tiger qualities.  Feng-shui masters cite these influences when making predictions for the coming year.

The Skinny:

(Caveat emptor:  the seers cited below have a mixed track record, to put it mildly.   Don’t make any investments based on their advice unless you can’t resist a good gamble or a bad bet.)

Raymond Lo:   Fire element will stimulate economic activity, but will also increase efforts to help the weak by fighting the strong.   Because of the Metal influence, international conflicts will increase (cites Iran, North Korea and terrorism).  Lo told AFP that this would be “unlikely to result in violence,” but AP quoted him as saying that YoT would be more violent.  YoT will be good for Barack Obama (born in an Earth Ox year) because the Tiger helps the Ox and Metal comes from Earth.  YoT will be bad for Ban Ki-moon and Mahamoud Ahmadinejad (born in Monkey years) because the Tiger is in direct conflict with the Monkey.  The Metal influence will also be bad for Tiger Woods, who was born in a Rabbit year (hooda thunk it?) during a Metal month.  Metal-on-metal isn’t good.

Peter So:   Obama will not do well during YoT, since his basic Earth element needs Water but gets Fire instead.   US-Sino relations will deteriorate further in the second half of YoT.   [And things aren’t starting off too well, either]

Yap Boh Chu:   Fire element associated with the Tiger could mean increased earthquake and volcanic activity.   Metal influence could manifest as an increase in robberies, industrial accidents and car crashes.   The Tiger/Fire combination will mean jittery markets and reactive investors, leading to stock price volatility.   Lao Yap adds the influence of the I Ching thunder trigram to the soothsaying mix, saying that this (with Fire) portends “the arrival of the king”  –a ferocious battle for leadership.  Yap says things will be difficult for Obama: a crucial turning point in his presidency.

Chow Hon-ming:   The Metal element portends more terrorist attacks.  Financial markets will oscillate wildly.

Alion Yeo:   Financial markets will fluctuate (particularly around August), but will trend upward.   Industries connected to metal will benefit:  machinery, banking, mining, tech, and automotive sectors will improve.

The Real Deal:

Here are lunghu’s own predictions, based on factors other than the 5 Elements, 10 Stems, 12 Branches, or 12 Animals.   Some are couched in vague terminology that would do justice to either the Delphic Oracle or Nostradamus, but others are presented in straightforward, accessible language:

  • The marionette will tire of being played, and will attempt to snap his puppetmasters’ (yes, more than one) strings.   More than one will be pulled down from his catwalk perch behind the stage curtain.
  • In the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, the summer months will be unusually hot and dry from June through August.   Near-drought conditions will raise the possibility of water rationing, and electrical outages will occur with increased frequency.   But spring will be mild and pleasant!
  • A devastating earthquake is looming in the Andean region. . . possibly in central Chile.
  • Vladimir Putin’s new Russian-style democracy ‘Reconquista’ will move from the Ukraine toward the Baltic states.   Estonia next?
  • For lunghu personally, a very good year.  On many levels.

Xin nian kuai le!

Not only has the sun set, it’s midnight for the Empire.

February 10, 2010

My previous post on homsec issues recalls to mind an email that was circulating in transatlantic financial circles (the London-NYC axis of weasel) last month.   The authors (purportedly based in London) provide their ‘humorous’ versions of security threat levels in NATO and Anzac countries … as they would exist if based solely on national stereotypes.   Britain, France, Germany and Italy receive the most attention.  Spain and Belgium get superficial treatment.   New Zealand and Australia appear almost as an afterthought.   The USA makes a cameo entrance as a reflexively punitive belligerent.

Tellingly, these stereotypes are those of the immediate post-WWII era, and are heavily Anglo-centric in tone.   No BRICs in this wall.   No Dutch, no Scandanavians, no Swiss, no Portuguese, and no Eastern Europeans.   No Japanese or Koreans either.  Certainly, no Africans or Mid-easterners.   If this is the worldview of British bankers, they’re living in a fantasy world, and they’re doomed.   Short the pound sterling, now.


A Sporting Correction/Concession

I’ve briefly adopted the mantle of compassion/other-man’s-shoes in order to acknowledge that the Brit humorists at least deserve credit for knowing the names of nations other than their own, and also for knowing something of those nations’ histories (even if not very much).   I venture to guess at a huge proportion of Americans would lose both legs of that particular parlay bet.

So, which is worse:  a badly distorted understanding of history, or none whatsoever?  Short the dollar, now!

Our Northern Neighbors

It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that some of Britain’s most loyal subjects were also entirely omitted from the catalog of nations listed above.  I refer, of course, to the Canadians.  Scant thanks from the crown for the thousands dead in two World Wars.

To remedy that omission, and since Canada is hosting the 2010 Winter Games, I’ll try to describe their security threat levels in terms that any sportsman can understand, and in a way entirely consistent with my understanding of the appropriate national stereotype:

Risky Business

February 7, 2010

Partial disclosure:  the author has a quarter-century of experience in the oxymoronic domain of law enforcement intelligence.  Which, together with about sixty bucks, will get you a five pound bag of Yauco Selecto.   He specializes in the exformation side of the business.

Dean at Travels with Shiloh has issued a call for commentary on Charles Bellavista’s “Changing Homeland Security:  Twelve Questions From 2009.”   February is the designated month for discussion of Bellavista’s first question:  “Why is it so difficult to make risk-based decisions in homeland security?

Happy to oblige.  First, here’s my reductionist gloss of Bellavista’s thesis on this topic:

The basic risk assessment formula (Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Consequences) is well-known.
BUT. . . .
“The data to make the risk equation work … are practically never available.”
Risk assessment performs a symbolic rather than an instrumental role in homsec (pronounced ‘homesick’) resource allocation decisions.

In my view, this is an exceedingly charitable –but ultimately misguided– analysis of the homsec environment.  Instead, it seems clear to me that risk assessment is in fact an integral part of homsec resource allocation decision-making –it’s just not the kind of risk assessment that Bellavista has in mind.  That’s because the risk being assessed by homsec functionaries is not (solely) the risk of harm to the homeland, but rather (primarily?) the risk to their own careers and reputations.   In this domain, data concerning threat, vulnerability and consequences –if not exactly plentiful– are entirely sufficient for the purposes at hand.  For example:

Threat:    Something catastrophic (or merely bad) could randomly happen on my watch.

VulnerabilitiesI could be the fallguy for someone else’s screw-up (like my boss).

ConsequencesI’d be the focus of scorn, ridicule, opprobrium and vituperation in the media, blogosphere and on Capitol Hill.  Stick a fork in me.

These are the realities of life in the pressure-cooker netherworld of homeland security, where you’re only as good as the last failed terror attempt your agency can claim credit for thwarting.  We might all wish it were otherwise, but CYA is the order of the day in homsec.  It’s the motto inscribed on the reverse side of the DHS seal.

Have a nice day!

A Farce in One Act

February 3, 2010

Dramatis Personae:
hardware shopper
hardware store employee

Scene 1:  [in the nails/screws/bolts aisle]

Me:  [scanning the labels on the slide-out hardware bins]

He:  Can I help you, sir?

Me:  maybe… …I’m looking for setscrews — 8-32 size.  I’m sure they’re in one of these trays here.  [gesture, expansively, to right]

He:  I don’t even know what a setscrew is.

Me:  Then you can’t help me.

He:  [blank look…  …met with a level gaze]

He:  [exit, silently]

Update: Turned out I really needed an M4 (metric) setscrew with .70 thread pitch rather than the 8-32 fractional variety.   I found it.