Archive for January 5th, 2013
It seems to be approaching rapidly. Jeffrey Gettleman reports in the NY Times:
ZAKOUMA NATIONAL PARK, Chad — Just before dawn, the rangers were hunched over in prayer, facing east. They pressed their foreheads into the dry earth and softly whispered Koranic verses, their lips barely moving. A cool wind bit at their faces.
All of a sudden, Djimet Seid, the cook, said he heard “one war whoop — or maybe it was a scream.”
And then: “K-k-k-k-k-k-k,” the angry bark of a Kalashnikov assault rifle, opening up on fully automatic.
In an instant, an entire Chadian squad of rangers was cut down with alarming precision by elephant poachers who were skilled at killing more than just animals. Crouching in the bush, the poachers fired from a triangle of different spots, concealed and deadly accurate.
“If you go look at the infantry books, it’s exactly how you do a first light attack, exactly,” said Rian Labuschagne, a former paratrooper and now the manager of Zakouma National Park in southern Chad. “Our guys didn’t have a chance.”
Out here, among the spent bullet shells and the freshly dug graves, the cost of protecting wildlife is painfully clear. As ivory poaching becomes more militarized, with rebel groups and even government armies slaughtering thousands of elephants across Africa to cash in on record-high ivory prices, a horrible mismatch is shaping up. Wildlife rangers — who tend to be older, maybe a bit slower and incredibly knowledgeable about their environment and the ways of animals, but less so about infantry tactics — are wading into the bush to confront hardened soldiers.
The outcome, too often, is not only firefights and battles, but also coldblooded murder, with dozens of African wildlife rangers killed in recent years, many in revenge-driven ambushes. Ivory poachers, it seems, are becoming increasingly wily and ruthless.
This summer, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a militia of infamous elephant poachers sneaked up to the headquarters of a wildlife reserve and killed 5 people and 14 okapi, a rare animal with a giraffelike neck and zebralike legs. One guard who narrowly escaped said the attackers sliced open the chest of a downed colleague and ate his heart. In Zimbabwe, poachers are spreading deadly poisons on elephant carcasses to kill vultures. By taking out the birds that serve as a natural early warning system that a kill has been made, the poachers make it even more dangerous for rangers because they have no idea when the poachers are around. In Mozambique, the authorities said that poachers have recently begun using land mines.
Kenya, which is considered tame compared with some of these other places, has lost six rangers this year, more than in recent memory. One of them was Florence Hadia Abae, pregnant and the mother of a small boy. In March, she was following the footprints of suspected poachers near Tsavo National Park, a fabled tourist destination, when a poacher popped out of the bush and shot her in the face.
One of her colleagues was killed in the same ambush, shot in the leg, then finished off with a short, brutish stroke of an ax.
“They had no idea what they were walking into,” said Rob Dodson, a British conservationist working near Tsavo.
In the Zakouma attack, which happened about 50 miles outside the park boundaries in September, . . .
An uncomfortable movie to watch because of the US’s own role in Vietnam (and our own successful war to throw out our own colonial rulers and become independent), The Rebel is set at an earlier stage, when French controlled Vietnam as a colony. One can readily see in watching the movie why the Vietnamese rebelled against the French and wanted them out of their country, and it was clearly a mistake—and an unnecessary one—for the US to jump in to follow the path the French had traveled. Lots of talk at the time about dominoes and domino theory (the idea that if Vietnam goes Communist, nation after nation will follow inevitably—note that Vietnam is now Communist and it turns out that nation after nation did not follow) pushed us into it, but it was a conflict we would have been better to pass on.
Still, despite the discomfort, an interesting movie with some very good martial arts sequences.
One great benefit of the three-piece razor is that handles can be swapped among razors and/or purchased separately. I just learned of a new source of separate handles: UFO Razor Handles in Spain. (Their site is bilingual Spanish and English.) They make handles in a variety of designs and sizes, executed in Stainless or Titanium (the Titan series), and the handles are gorgeous. Note that Edwin Jagger now sell their razor head separately, so you could buy a head from EJ, a handle from UFO, and Bob’s your uncle.
A very interesting article in Bloomberg Businessweek by Peter Coy:
Ordinarily we call a deal in which neither side gets what it wants a victory for democracy. Shared sacrifice produces moderation and probity. But any process in which the Speaker of the House tells the Senate Majority Leader “Go f--- yourself,” as John Boehner instructed Harry Reid at the height of fiscal cliff madness, deserves just a bit of examination.
The Jan. 1 deal, which Wall Street cheered, moderates tax increases and spending cuts that would have amounted to more than $600 billion in 2013. It’s worth noting, though, that the fiscal cliff was the mooncalf monster-child of Congress itself. The automatic spending cuts (“sequester”) were invented by an act of Congress a mere 17 months ago after the 2011 debt ceiling showdown. To praise this new deal as an accomplishment is to praise an arsonist for extinguishing his own fire.
Congress voted to permanently preserve the Bush tax cuts for roughly 99 percent of taxpaying households, but the rate increase for the 1 Percent has infuriated antitax purists, who vow to exact more spending cuts in a couple of months, when the U.S. faces the triple threat of a debt ceiling, postponed automatic spending cuts, and expiration of the law that keeps the government funded. The arsonists now have a new box of matches.
Why have Americans been sentenced to this years-long cycle of pettiness, delay, and zero-sum gamesmanship? You could argue it’s a crisis of leadership—that our elected representatives are examples of our worst, most partisan selves. That seems unlikely. Rather, the budget conflict, at its essence, is a clash over something that rarely lends itself to compromise: morality. Budgetary puritans believe, ferociously, that too much government spending is not just inefficient, but self-indulgent. They view the world’s largest economy as an indebted family that needs to get back to basics. “The federal government needs to tighten its belt just like every hardworking American family has had to do during our economic recovery,” Representative Kurt Schrader, a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat from Oregon, said last year.
The economy-as-family metaphor is familiar, emotionally intuitive—and incorrect. It’s a fallacy of composition: . . .
One of the most pressing problems facing the incoming Secretary of Defense is posed by our denouement in Afghanistan. For reasons explained by Paul Sperry in an excellent 30 December op-ed in the New York Post, extricating ourselves from this quagmire is now taking on dangerous overtones, and the need to leave may be approaching at warp speed. The implications for the nature of the American withdrawal may be ominous, but they should not be unexpected. It is now virtually certain that managing a coherent withdrawal will present a major challenge for the incoming defense secretary.
President Obama’s 2009 surge strategy for what he and Democrats liked to portray as the “good war” in Afghanistan was premised upon the assumption that the US could quickly build up and train large Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), including army and police forces. Obama and the Pentagon sold this counterinsurgency strategy to the American people by promising a surge in American forces would quickly weaken the Taliban. The emasculation of the Taliban would permit a rapid expansion of the Afghan security zones controlled by the Kabul government, while the rapid build up of the ANSF would stabilize and grow these zones even further, and thereby set the stage for a quick exit of US combat forces beginning eighteen months from the date of the surge.
Despite its central premise of quickly building up an effective ANSF, the surge-based counterinsurgency plan produced by the Afghan theater commander General Stanley McChrystal did not provide a realistic analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the existing Afghan army and police forces. Yet these forces were the foundation for the both the expansion and the promised sequence of developments that would enable our quick withdrawal.
McChrystal’s grotesque oversight became obvious well before the plan’s approval, when his plan was leaked in the early fall of 2009 (as I explained here). The limitations of this plan were again brought dramatically to the President’s attention by Ambassador Eikenberry in cables that were leaked immediately before the plan’s approval in January 2010 (summarized here). Nevertheless, the President pressed on and approved the fatally flawed plan after an agonizing public debate during the fall and winter of 2009-10.
General McChrystal’s omission was both logically and empirically unforgivable, especially given (1) the contemporaneously emerging awareness of the counterproductive strategic effects of President Bush’s surge in Iraq, (2) the Soviet’s clear failure to build up an effective Afghan army in the 1980s as part of its exit strategy and (3) our own spectacular failure to build up an effective South Vietnamese army (i.e., Vietnamization), which was a central premise of President Nixon’s Vietnam exit strategy.
While hardly unique in its content, Sperry’s op-ed piece provides an excellent summary of how the easily foreseeable consequences of McChrystal’s oversight are now rapidly coming to a head. The problem is not just a strategic one of extracting our forces with dignity; nor is it a political one of fingering who is to blame, although there is plenty of blame to go around. It stems from deep institutional roots that reveal a need for reform in our military bureaucracies and particularly our leadership selection policies.
That is because the next Secretary of Defense must deal with the consequences of a strategic oversight that was made by and approved at the highest professional levels of the American military establishment — a plan which it then imposed on its weak and insecure political leaders. This suggests a question: Will the new defense secretary succumb to business as usual by sweeping the dysfunctional institutional causes of the Afghan debacle under the rug or have the courage and wisdom to use this sorry affair as a reason to clean out the Pentagon’s Augean Stables?
This report in the NY Times today takes a look at McChrystal’s memoir about tensions with the Obama administration.
I realized recently that one pleasure derived from shaving, apart from the sensuous pleasures of warmth, textures, fragrance, touch, sound, and so on, is the pleasure of preparation—not “prep”, as in the shaving step, but the entire ritual in preparing the shaver for the day: getting his appearance, mood, attitude, and spirit ready to walk out the door and encounter the world.
We see this sort of pleasure—in readying oneself—in a variety of contexts, from getting ready for a big event, so that when you leave your apartment/house you feel at the top of your game and looking good. Certainly there’s the pleasure of anticipation of the event, but I’m talking about the pleasures of getting ready, making yourself maximally presentable. Here’s an examle from one particular cultural context:
Another example that captures the repeated ritual aspect better would be preparing for a holiday family dinner: getting out the special plates and silverware and tablecloth, rearranging the room for the expected family, cooking familiar dishes, and finally bringing the feast to the table: a ritual of preparation that provides enjoyment in itself, in part because it is associated with a good time, but also because of the familiarity and the feeling that you’re creating a special setting that is maximally presentable.
The morning shave, rightly conceived and approached, is another “getting-ready” ritual, in which one can derive considerable pleasure in the familiarity of the process, leavened with spontaneities of this particular shave, while centering the spirit to embraced and experience the day ahead.
Today, for example, was a familiar ritual but with new aspects. The Boreal boar brush is new, a freebie included with my most recent order from ShoeboxShaveshop.com. It’s an Italian boar brush, so I expect good things to come, though this is but its first outing. You’ll note a few loose bristles in the photo, and in the course of the shave I did lose some, and probably will for another shave or two, but then it will settle down. I let it soak while I showered, of course.
Musgo Real Orange Amber shaving cream has a very nice fragrance—that’s a good combination, as it turns out. The amber tames the orange and together the two smell quite fine. I smeared a bit on my beard and worked the lather up, taking my time.
The two razors shown are very like the 1940’s Aristocrat, but where it has a section of smooth fluting at top and bottom, these are chequered throughout. The one in rhodium plate (originally nickel plate) is the President; the identical razor in gold plate is called (I believe) the Ambassador (or perhaps the Diplomat—something with an international flair). One held an Astra Superior Platinum blade, one a Swedish Gillette blade, and they both shave quite well. Three passes, alternating razors, and final rinse, dry, and a hearty splash of Musgo Real aftershave: all tuned up and ready for the day.