Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Up The Wrong Tree

April 23, 2018

The most powerful man in China is in les Etats Unis this week, and he has come bearing a gift … of sorts.  But while traditional media ‘analysts’ are focusing their attention on weighty policy matters such as global commerce and the AIPAC vendetta against Iran, the material meaning of Macron’s visit has been mostly overlooked.  Perhaps that’s because M. le President‘s real message has flown from Paris in an Airbus cargo hold, disguised by festive trappings of tricolor ribbons.

French President Emmanuel Macron will give his American counterpart an oak sapling to be planted at the White House as a symbol of lasting friendship.  [In an interview with le Reynard], Macron said “During the First World War, during the Second World War, when we were attacked, when our liberty was attacked, thousands of your people came here and died here for my country.  That’s a story of our relationship. That’s why my gift to your president will be an oak taken in a very symbolic place, especially for your Marines in north of France –that together, I mean, we will put in his garden because that for me is a great symbol of this long term relationship.”

The face-value meaning of this statement suggests that Macron is evoking the 1918 WWI battles of Belleau Wood and Château Thierry, in which U.S. Marines of the American Expeditionary Forces assisted French troops in stopping a massive German offensive at the Marne River.  United States forces suffered 9,777 casualties, included 1,811 killed.  Belleau Wood (and nearby Château Thierry) subsequently became known among (some) military historians as the turning point of the war, and American propagandists did nothing to discourage circulation of this view.  Belleau Wood has become a key episode in the lore of the United States Marine Corps (“Retreat?  Hell, we just got here”).

But That Ain’t All

However, peeping through the oak tree’s branches, Lunghu also sees further aspects of this gift:

  • In Greek mythology, the oak is the tree sacred to Zeus, king of the gods.
  • In November 2004, the United States Congress designated the oak as America’s National Tree, and it is also the national tree of England, France, and Germany.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the oak is a nut tree: it produces thousands and thousands of nuts.  Unfortunately, the leaves and acorns of the oak tree are poisonous due to the presence of tannic acid

Furthermore, as every American schoolboy (and girl) knows, when we think of Washington and trees, the oak isn’t what comes to mind.  Especially at this time of year, when the National Cherry Blossom Festival has just concluded its seasonal run in our nation’s capital.  Instead, Americans think of the cherry tree … and the young George Washington … and his shiny new hatchet.  We then contrast the mythic past with the mendacious present.

Thus, Emmanuel Macron has presented us with two trees, both rooted in a distant historical past: a hundred-year oak and a two-hundred-seventy-five-year cherry.  Tied together by a glossy ribbon of bleu-blanc-rouge.

On April 23, Macron will be given a tour of Mount Vernon, the Virginia plantation home of U.S. first President George Washington, where he [and his wife Brigitte] will have a private couples’ dinner [with the Trumps].



Craft Brewery

May 20, 2017

If you’re gonna go on a witch hunt, you obviously don’t want to do a half-assed job: you wanna deploy the finest witch-hunting expertise available.  Which means you gotta go back to the roots, to Africa, where the craft began.

Chief Pembamoyo of the Chewa-speaking people of Vubwi district in Eastern Province has warned his subjects against preventing their children from attending school [so that they can participate in] witchcraft training and practice.  The chief says it is sad to learn that many parents and guardians in his chiefdom are encouraging their children into witchcraft rather than going to school.

Chief Pembamoyo said that he has directed his Indunas (subchiefs) to investigate more such cases and that anyone found lacking will face the wrath of the law.  Induna Chikoka admitted that such cases were on an increase in his area.  He said that last week the Vubwi district traditional court had imposed a fine of two goats on a man whose 10-year-old son confirmed that his father had sent him to witchcraft practice rather than to school.


The phenomenon of witch-hunts in Africa is ancient, but the problem is reportedly on the rise due to urbanization, poverty, social conflict and fragmenting communities.  In Congo, it is estimated that there are 25,000 homeless children living on the streets of Kinshasa.  More than half (60%) were expelled from their homes because of allegations of witchcraft. However, there is often an economic motive behind the claim of sorcery:  in traditional African societies, a suspicion of witchcraft is the only justifiable reason for refusal to shelter a family member, no matter how distant the relation.

Evangelical pastors are helping to create this new campaign of violence against young Africans. Self-styled pastors and prophets, greedy for cash, teach their parishioners that many problems they are facing —poverty, joblessness, financial crisis, sickness or poor harvest— are all caused by a witch-child hiding in their families. The superstitious parents then try to guess which of their six, seven or eight children is a witch.  The suspected children are forced through torture to confess that they are witches. Those children are severely beaten, cast out of their homes, mutilated or killed. All of this is due to a blend of Christianity and native paganism that has been brought inside the church.


Perhaps the contemporary meaning of this timeless parable will become clearer to you after a suitable period of sober reflection and introspection.  Or maybe not.


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.


Leopard Spotted

January 25, 2016

A few months ago (September 2015) published a brief article by Jonathan Haslam that summarized some basic counterintelligence analysis employed by the KGB back in the day (the 1970’s):

[CIA] officers in the field stationed across the globe under diplomatic and deep cover were readily identified by the KGB.  As a consequence, covert operations had to be aborted as local agents were pinpointed and CIA personnel compromised or, indeed, had their lives thrown into jeopardy. … How could these disasters have happened with such regularity if the agency had not been penetrated by Soviet moles?

[Instead, KGB officer Yuri Trotov‘s method was] a clever combination of insight into human behavior, common sense and strict logic.  Bureaucracies … are fundamentally creatures of habit and, as any analyst knows, the key to breaking the adversary’s [operational security] is to find patterns and repetitions.  From the late 1950s at the Soviet mission in Thailand and later Japan, Trotov first applied his methods to identifying U.S. intelligence officers in the field.  He began systematically combing the KGB archives for consistent patterns observable in the postings of CIA counterparts. What Trotov came up with were 26 unchanging indicators as a model for identifying U.S. intelligence officers overseas.  Why? Because the CIA personnel office in Langley shuffled and dealt overseas postings with as little effort as required.

Some indicators were based on long-standing U.S. government practices established as a result of the ambivalence with which the State Department treated its colleagues in intelligence [who operated under diplomatic cover]. These “structural defects” in the relationship between the United States’ key operational departments responsible for foreign policy [allowed] Trotov to produce telephone book-size volumes listing U.S. intelligence officers for KGB chief Yuri Andropov.


Here are a few of Trotov’s indicators:

  • published biographies of CIA officers contained obvious gaps
  • entry-level pay scale was much higher for a CIA officer than for a State Department Foreign Service Officer (FSO)
  • genuine FSOs had to attend the Institute of Foreign Service for three months before entering the diplomatic service, CIA officers did not
  • after three to four years abroad an FSO could return home, whereas a CIA employee could not
  • when CIA officers returned to the US, they did not normally appear in State Department listings, but when they did, they were classified as research and planning, research and intelligence, consular or chancery for security affairs
  • CIA officers could be relocated within the country to which they were posted, FSOs were not
  • CIA officers usually had more than one working foreign language
  • Their cover was usually as a “political” or “consular” official
  • internal embassy reorganizations usually did not change the rank, office assignments or telephone numbers of CIA personnel
  • CIA agents’ offices were located in restricted zones within the embassy building
  • CIA officers replacing one another [at a foreign station] tended to fill the same post within the embassy hierarchy, drive the same make of vehicle, rent the same apartment, etc.


What & So What

Okay, so the U.S. intelligence community eventually figured out how the Soviets/ Russians and their allies can spot a spook. Surely “we” have made the necessary adjustments, right?  Not exactly.

A while back I saw a article on the website of an overseas newspaper in a certain allied nation.  The article announced the arrival of a new U.S. consul in town, illustrated with the official State Department photo portrait of the diplomat in question (U.S. flag in the background, of course).  A brief biography followed, outlining the FSO’s background, education and career.  If I were Yuri Trotov (I’m not), I’d immediately be paying closer attention to this guy, because several of my indicators were there in plain sight:

  • Graduate of a state university in a state with a significant military presence
  • Therefore … possible childhood experiences living in Europe or Asia as a military dependent (see subsequent career)
  • Travel in {Europe1}, {Europe2} and Canada during university
  • Two-year gap between university graduation and entry into State Department: possible military service … or intell training
  • Speaks {European}, Arabic, {Asian}
  • State Dept. career (moderately scrambled/ altered to protect the officer’s identity from less-imaginative “analysts”):

political officer in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
assistant cultural attaché in {capital, Asian nation}
public diplomacy officer in Baghdad, Iraq
consular official in Islamabad, Pakistan
consul in {city, Europe1}

In assessing these indicators, I would draw the conclusion that this particular “FSO” is likely to be a counterterrorism specialist focused on Islamist militant groups, and that the consular posting to {Europe1} is either (1) an R & R assignment after years of service in dangerous third-world nations, or (2) a counterterrorism liaison slot in a country worried about terrorist attacks from returning ISIS jihadis masquerading as refugees.  Perhaps both.

Either way, I wish ya the best of luck.  But in any case, stay out of Russia.




Offensive Lyin’

February 16, 2015

As noted previously, during the Year of the Goat the Grand Duke (Tai Sui) will be presiding over earthly affairs from his cosmic throne in the South-Southwest. He likes things quiet and peaceful (and who doesn’t, after all?), so mere mortals are well advised to avoid disturbing the serene harmony so prized by Tai Sui.

But even after several millennia of object lessons, stupid humans never learn. Here’s a quick look at who’s offending the Grand Duke these days, and why:

Saudi Arabia — Sectarian conflict in Yemen is merely the latest manifestation of blowback from the Cheney-Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Sunnis and Shiites have been skirmishing for centuries in Yemen, in the mountains and on the plains, but this time it’s part of the larger proxy war between Persians and the Sauds. Yemen’s location at the south-southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula means that this noisy, un-civil war is gonna offend Tai Sui in the Year of the Goat. That’s not good news for King Salman.



Russia — Don’t worry about General Winter: Comrade Bear has just a few more days to wrap up his attempted conquest of Debaltseve before all that noise and clamor in the south-southwest of Eurasia disturbs the limited patience of Tai Sui.  It’s probably too late, because the Grand Duke has undoubtedly been getting an earful from his predecessor about the terrible decline of courtesy in the neighborhood. Economic sanctions will be the least of Comrade Bear’s problems if things don’t calm down in a hurry.



Brazil — The party’s almost over, and I’m not talking about carnival in Rio. Through no real fault of its own, Brazil is going to suffer from the uproar to its south-southwest: Cristina Kirchner‘s intriguing media circus will catch the ear of Tai Sui and the consequences won’t be pleasant for Mercosur neighbors. Paraguay may escape unscathed (for once), but Uruguay and Brazil appear to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.



Mexico — First Michoacan, then Guerrero.  President Peña-Nieto may need to follow the example of Comrade Eleven in cleaning the Augean stables of Mexican government.



United States? — So far things are looking pretty good in the south-southwest: Mexican wolves are making a comeback, the clang and clamor of Eagle Ford shale oil drilling rigs is decreasing in the Permian Basin, and a measles outbreak in New Mexico, Arizona and southern California may quiet some of the noisier residents of the region.  But …

Plains All American LP will build two new crude oil pipelines in far West Texas and New Mexico to move Permian Basin production to markets. The company will extend its Avalon pipeline in Loving County 32 miles into Culberson County with a 12-inch line.  Plains All American also will build a 60-mile, 16-inch State Line pipeline to connect Culberson County output to Wink, Texas, along the Texas-New Mexico state line.

Avalon pipeline? Uh oh!  Since “moving earth” and major construction projects in the Grand Duke’s south-southwest realm are surefire ways to irritate the year’s cosmic ruler, this will definitely not turn out well. It’s clear that the U.S. petroleum industry will have to learn its feng shui protocol the hard way.  Which reinsurance provider is currently holding liability policies on Plains All American LP?  Time to double-check your risk management posture!



Israel — Gaza.  Really, need I say more?  Benny Netanyahu will be getting a frigid reception in Washington from everyone except the Republicans on Sheldon Adelson‘s payroll.  In his shame and frustration, he probably won’t be able to resist (once again) turning Gaza rubble into even smaller rubble.  The man suffers from a Masada Complex compounded by chronic funnel vision.  Tai Sui is already annoyed.  It definitely won’t be good for the Jews.



There are probably many other examples around the world where upheaval in the south-southwest during 2015 could lead to retribution from the Grand Duke.  F’rinstance, what does Switzerland mean for Germany this year?  Those listed above are just a few top-of-mind candidates that any feng shui soothsayer would love to point out.  It will be interesting to see what else develops during the Year of the Goat.  Probably a good idea to stay away from SouthbySouthwest this year.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.



February 17, 2013

There are plenty of astrophysicists who were willing to assure the population of Earth that February 15th’s asteroid visitor WOULD NOT collide with our planet, but there don’t appear to have been any feng shui masters who predicted a Chelyabinsk meteor strike on the same day as the asteroid fly-by  –or on any other day during the Year of the Snake.  That’s disappointing, because the Russian Federation also experienced a strong magnitude 6.6 earthquake in Eastern Siberia (134km WSW of Druzhina) within 24 hours of the Chelyabinsk airburst.  What are the odds?  At least astronomical … perhaps astrological.  And what about those similar –but smaller– meteor sightings in Cuba and California?

looks like a snake ...

looks like a snake …

Where did the world’s feng shui soothsayers  go wrong?  It appears that their customary analysis may have relied too heavily on an examination of the expected interactions between each year’s Stem and Branch (water and fire), while somewhat neglecting lesser (but still significant) aspects influenced by interactions between the 5 Elements and the twelve compass directions.  Here are some examples of what feng shui masters chose to emphasize for 2013:

  • The Snake contains strong fire, the birthplace of yang metal.  The fire energy is rising up and will almost reach its peak in the Snake month (May).
  • The Snake’s powerful fire energy will combine with the Tiger and the Monkey to create a strong fire configuration of “Fire Penalty.” This will trigger fire disasters, explosions and energy problems. The more dangerous months are the months of Tiger (February) and Monkey (August).
  • Famous people encountering the Snake/Tiger/Monkey Fire Penalty in their personal lives include: John Travolta, Madonna, Queen Elizabeth II, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Li Ka Shing,  John Nash, C.Y. Leung and Alan Leong.
  • The Snake (fire) is in conflict with the Pig (water).  Famous people born in the year of the Pig are in clash against the Snake in 2013: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carlos Santana, Hillary Clinton, Kevin Spacey, Winona Ryder, Ricky Martin, Ken Watanabe.
  • People born in year of the Snake are said to be “offending the Grand Duke”:  Bob Dylan, Vivienne Westwood, Ben Stiller, Ben Bernanke, Dimitry Medvedev, Sarah Jessica Parker.
  • Metal is one of the hidden elements inside the Snake. Metal hidden in the Fire Snake signifies nuclear explosion, nuclear disasters or nuclear testing.  This is most likely to occur in the Rooster (September) and Dog (October) months.  {It’s not clear why}
  • Be very careful with stock market investments in May (Snake), August (Monkey) and November (Pig). {Again, no explanation why}
  • The Grand Duke controls big Sha (bad energy). In the year of the Snake the Grand Duke is located in the South-Southeast.  To reduce the impact of big Sha, place round metal objects near the South-Southeast.
  • San Sha (three-killings) arrives at the East.  [From the Chinese perspective], East is Shanghai; further east are Korea and Japan.  It will not be very stable in these areas. There will be water-related incidents or earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear explosions, fire, or gas explosions. There will be disputes or even military confrontations in this region during the Year of the Snake.

These latter two feng shui warnings may very explain why the People’s Republic is currently making such a particular fuss about the maritime boundaries of its sovereign territory.  From the Chinese perspective, South-Southeast is where the Spratly Islands (10°N 114° E) are located.  Directly to the East, the Senkaku/ Diaoyu/ Pinnacle Islands lie north of Taiwan and WSW of Japan.

China appears to be taking measures to mitigate its Da Sha and San Sha risks.  If feng shui masters recommend “placing round metal objects near the South-Southeast,” does this mean that we should expect minefields in the South China Sea?  Technically, those would be spherical metal objects rather than round metal objects, but it’s not clear whether feng shui masters are thinking and speaking in three dimensions or only in two.  The People’s Liberation Army is definitely thinking in at least four dimensions.


Regardless of what happens in China, seekers of sooth would do well to remember that feng shui is always relative to the particular location and environment of the affected individual or nation.  Thus the Da Sha and San Sha risks for the United States in 2013 would be located in Florida (SSE : Da Sha) and the New Jersey / Delmarva region (East : San-Sha ).  And in Russia –as seen from Moscow– Chelyabinsk (SSE) and Druzhina (E) fall within the parameters of  Da Sha / San Sha predictions for YoS.   ‘Metal within fire’ very nicely describes the fiery contrail of a meteoric descent, and ‘fire under water’ is a fair description of the volcanic geology found in Yakutia’s boggy, mountainous permafrost terrain.

Now, let’s see how things work out for Dimitry Medvedev in 2013.  In addition to staying on Comrade Bear‘s good side, he has to worry about “offending the Grand Duke.”