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Merch for war and peace

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- hint: peace comes at a far higher cost ]
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No longer do you need to sit long hours in meditation or travel to Syria and borrow a gun to show your appreciation for peace or jihad. You can now buy a t-shirt for the cool Caliphate [upper panel, below]…

or a comfy chair like the one made for the supercool Dalai Lama [lower panel, above].

And that’s the power of — choose one:

  • (a) symbols in the mind
  • (b) money in the bank
  • Thing is, the t-shirt, showing your relaxed appreciation of jihad, will run you about $10 — but a similarly relaxed appreciation of meditation will cost you $10,000 — war is a thousand times cheaper than peace, give or take.

    **

    Sources:

  • The Wire, Retailers Capitalize on Iraq Crisis With ISIS Merchandise
  • Chicago Tribune, Desire a Dalai Lama chair?
  • Nice irony in that Chicago Tribune headline, no?

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    Human reasons for grief

    Thursday, July 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- Diane Sawyer shows us that human families on opposite sides of a conflict can look much the same at first glance ]
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    It appears that I see things differently.

    As we all know by now, Diane Sawyer made an error recently, attributing scenes of Palestinian suffering in the current Gaza conflict to Israeli suffering under attack by Hamas:

    As I by now, I would like to think, equally well known, Ms Sawyer has now apologized for the mistake — and while partisans have taken the error for propaganda and the apology as a slight correction which will go largely unheard by those who saw the original footage, I take it at face value:

    **

    My own take-away from this double occurrence is somewhat different from what I have found elsewhere.

    The very fact that Palestinian suffering can be so easily mistaken for Israeli suffering from a news room a few thousand miles away suggests to me, more than anything else, that sufering looks like suffering, shock like shock, grief like grief.

    What Ms Swayer shows us, from my POV, is the humanity we share in common.

    **

    To be followed by a second post in series, Israelitarian & Palestinitarian reasons for fury, human reasons for grief

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    Jabhat and IS “caliphate” by the numbers

    Saturday, July 12th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- large numbers don't fit well into small skulls, but we do what we can ]
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    Charles Lister tweeted today:

    The numbers are, for my humble self, staggering.

    And you can’t lose $1.5 billion if you didn’t have $1.5 billion at some point to lose.

    **

    How about the “caliphate”?

    Here’s the Jabhat vs ISIS — now IS, aka the “caliphate” — comparison:

    Among other things, ISIS “made off with £256 million in cash and a large amount of gold bullion from Mosul’s central bank during its takeover of the city” as the Telegraph reported. That’s a half billion dollars, give or take.

    And now IS is presumably “worth” 2 billion. Give or take.

    **

    To put those figures in perspective, let’s compare IS today with AQ in 2001:

    Business Insider calculated bin Laden‘s ROI at the time of his death at 2,514,000 to 1:

    Al-Qaida pulled off the Sept. 11 attacks for approximately $500,000, according to the 9/11 Commission report. By the end of fiscal 2011 the U.S. will have spent $1.3 trillion, or 9% of the national debt, fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq according to the Center for Defense Information. But when it’s all said and done the total cost of the wars will make Bin Laden’s 2,514,000:1 return at the time of his death multiply dramatically. It has been projected by Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and others that the lifetime cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will run to approximately $3 trillion, or over 20% of current federal public debt, when long-term medical care for the wounded and other costs are factored.

    **

    And here’s the current cost comparison with Iraqi losses:

    Okay?

    I have to confess my mind is a little bit numb with the numbers at this point.

    **

    If I had time and talent, I suppose I’d make theis whole thing more comprehensible, at least to people like myself, by treating dollar amounts the way XKCD treats radiation — but I don’t, so here’s my attempt to give a wider overview, sorted in ascending order of magnitude to make it easier for me to notice how $millions become $billions become $trillions.

    **

    Sources:

  • Lister, leaked audio [edited to add: but see comment #1 below]
  • Lister, Golani admits
  • Guardian, $2bn network
  • Telegraph, ISIS’ half-a-billion-dollar heist
  • Business Insider, Bin Laden’s ROI
  • Exec Summary, 9/11 Commission Report [see under "financing"]
  • BasNews, Iraqi costs
  • CIA, GDP Iraq (2013 est)
  • CIA, GDP Syria (2011 est)
  • CIA, GDP USA (2013 est)
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    The Wire, with a hat-tip to John Boyd

    Thursday, July 10th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- with thanks to Netflix and David Simon, and the same with Don Vandergriff, Secretary Gates and Boyd himself ]
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    In the second season of The Wire aka “the Great American Novel for Television“, first episode, Ebb Tide, Detective Roland Pryzbylewski talks about his future in a discussion with his father-in-law, Major Valchek. The conversation goes (emphatically, on the Major’s side) like this:

    Valchek: What do I think? I think you’re gonna take the Sergeant’s Exam next month. And because I have Andy Krawczyk’s ear and because he has City Hall’s ear you’re gonna make Sergeant. Then you’re gonna come out here to the Southeast where, because I’m your father-in-law you’re gonna be assigned a daytime shift in a quiet sector. Then you’re gonna take the Lieutenant’s Exam where you’ll also score high.

    Pryzbylewski: I don’t want to make rank. I want to work cases. Good cases.

    Valchek: Roland. Listen to me. You did good with the drug thing. You buckled down, you did the work. And except for that thing with the Grand Jury you helped take some of the stink off yourself. Now if you’ll just shut up and listen to me you might actually have a career in this department.

    **

    That’s pure Boyd, dramatized, if I’m not mistaken. I’d just reread Boyd’s speech in an older post from Don Vandergriff, SecDef talks about Boyd’s “To Be or To Do” speech, and of course I know that speech is a favorite of Scott‘s, so the impact of Det. Pryzbylewski’s predicament was pretty strong.

    John Boyd:

    Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed in another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something- something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?

    There’s a choice, sure. But on another level, is there really any choice?

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    Sir Richard Dearlove speaks — and the caliphate responds?

    Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a nasty piece of news to come across after listening to Dearlove's RUSI speech ]
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    Here is Sir Richard Dearlove, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, speaking on Terrorism and National Security: Proportion or Distortion? at the Royal United Services Institute, yesterday:

    **

    Sir Richard’s thrust was that 9-11 has overshadowed our thinking about intelligence resources, and we (which means the Brits, here, but with wider possible application) should cut back on CT and focus more on Russia, China, and other non-jihad-driven threats. In his view, we have seen CT through the lens of 9-11 as jihadists vs the west, naturally enough, when in facty it is becoming clearer and clearer that the “real” ME issue is the ancient rivalry of Sunni vs Shia.

    However, and notably for my purpose here, he had one qualification to add to that overall assessment:

    In one important respect I need to add a qualification to my argument. I’m surprised that some of the more chilling threats that we did worry about, and should still probably worry about, have not materialized. And I’m of course referring to the possibility of CBRN, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks. A single successful urban attack using any of these methods would probably have far-reaching consequences. It would represent an escalation that could fundamentally change — in the opposite direction from what I’m saying — how we do counterterrorism, and destroy my argument about proportionality.

    However, with the exception of a possible radiological contamination event, I think that this threat is more latent than actual. The technology bottleneck is a narrow one. Chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are largely state developed and controlled, and unless an ISIS-type movement were to rest control on aspects of a state program, we should have the means to exercise surveillance and control of that bottleneck.

    This transcript is partially my own work, partially drawn from JustSecurity.org‘s abridged but helpful version.

    **

    That was yesterday, July 7th 2014.

    Today, an AP bulletin caught my eye:

    Iraq says ‘terrorists’ seize chemical weapons site

    UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Iraq has informed the United Nations that the Islamic State extremist group has taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad where 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin or their remnants were stored along with other chemical warfare agents.

    Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon circulated Tuesday that “terrorist” groups entered the Muthanna site June 11 and seized weapons and equipment from the protection force guarding the facility.

    He singled out the capture of bunkers 13 and 41 in the sprawling complex, which according to a 2004 U.N. report also contained the toxic agent sodium cyanide, which is a precursor for the chemical warfare agent tabun, and artillery shells contaminated with mustard gas.

    For obvious reasons, that had a lot of folk concerned. The current version at the same link begins:

    Iraq: ‘Terrorists’ seize ex-chemical weapons site

    UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The Islamic State extremist group has taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad, where remnants of 2,500 degraded chemical rockets filled decades ago with the deadly nerve agent sarin are stored along with other chemical warfare agents, Iraq said in a letter circulated Tuesday at the United Nations.

    The U.S. government played down the threat from the takeover, saying there are no intact chemical weapons and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to use the material for military purposes.

    Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a letter that “armed terrorist groups” entered the Muthanna site on June 11, detained officers and soldiers from the protection force guarding the facilities and seized their weapons. The following morning, the project manager spotted the looting of some equipment via the camera surveillance system before the “terrorists” disabled it, he said.

    The Islamic State group, which controls parts of Syria, sent its fighters into neighboring Iraq last month and quickly captured a vast stretch of territory straddling the border between the two countries. Last week, its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the land the extremists control.

    Alhakim said as a result of the takeover of Muthanna, Iraq is unable “to fulfil its obligations to destroy chemical weapons” because of the deteriorating security situation. He said it would resume its obligations “as soon as the security situation has improved and control of the facility has been regained.”

    Alhakim singled out the capture of bunkers 13 and 41 in the sprawling complex 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad in the notorious “Sunni Triangle.”

    The last major report by U.N. inspectors on the status of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program was released about a year after the experts left in March 2003. It states that Bunker 13 contained 2,500 sarin-filled 122-mm chemical rockets produced and filled before 1991, and about 180 tons of sodium cyanide, “a very toxic chemical and a precursor for the warfare agent tabun.”

    The U.N. said the bunker was bombed during the first Gulf War in February 1991, which routed Iraq from Kuwait, and the rockets were “partially destroyed or damaged.”

    It said the sarin munitions were “of poor quality” and “would largely be degraded after years of storage under the conditions existing there.” It said the tabun-filled containers were all treated with decontamination solution and likely no longer contain any agent, but “the residue of this decontamination would contain cyanides, which would still be a hazard.”

    CBRN would be the game-changer…

    And I’m not quite sure yet, whether to feel relieved again or not.

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