Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And people wonder why we don't get along

Do you need some Iranian laundry detergent?

I've seen this stuff around the world several times, and always wanted to bring back a box or two or three, but I never seemed to be in a position to put a box of Iranian laundry detergent in my bag.

By the way, you can put it in your hair, too.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thing's I've Et

This list seems to be making the rounds in the UCF via Jeri:

1. Venison
2. Nettle Tea (What? Is this thaumaturgy? I don't drink....poison)
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp (No bottom feeders for me, except farm-raised catfish).
9. Borscht Real BorscCH (Not the Borscht crap that comes in jars from Manischevitz, either. That stuff may have beets in it, but it’s not borshch)
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari (Calamari is not adventurous. Whole, grilled squid on a stick from a Japanese street vendor is adventurous.)
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (Strawberry, dandelion)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese (mmmmm, head cheese)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters (yuck, I don’t care what they’re supposed to do for your wang, they’re snot)
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted Cream tea (I eat cottage cheese, I don't drink it).
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (and vodka watermelon)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (I’ve also drunk liquor with venomous wasps in it, sort of like the worm in tequila)
43. Phaal
44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (flying on company plastic, or rather, someone else’s company plastic – I prefer vodka)
46. Fugu (love, love looove Fugu)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV (Unfiltered, no less. To kill any bugs we mixed it with vodka. Yes, this was in the USSR, why?)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (OK, I just have to comment on this. Humans who wash and cook their food outevolved those who didn’t, over thousands of years. Why TF are these hippy dips regressing? I don’t care how “organic” this stuff is, one mistake in the “factory” and it’s roundworm and maggot city in your small intestine).
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (mmm, mmm chiltins!)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (A deer that someone just hit and wanted to share with us. If you can’t see the blood on the grill of the car that hit it, you are asking for trip to the clinic for a deworming).
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky (I used to live on Pocky during business trips to southern Japan)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers (Rose petal jelly on blini in Russia, geraniums and mums in the ROC)
89. Horse (Cooked horse being passed off for beef in the USSR, and raw horsemeat sushi in Japan)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor (at Café Bofinger, the oldest Brasserie in Paris IIRC)
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (It’s good coffee, but I still really don’t like coffee. If you only have about 4 cups per year, it might as well be the good stuff)
100. Snake
Stinky Tofu
102.Whale sushi
103.Tako Yaki (Or, as I call it, Tako Yucki)

Items I have eaten are bolded, items I would not eat (again) are struck through.

Anyone who has traveled in Asia will bold most of this list. Stinky tofu notwithstanding, I'm not a particularly adventurous eater (well, moderately adventurous), but I do eat what's in front of me out of respect for my hosts. Of the first 100 I have not eaten 8 items. Of those, Bagna Cauda I probably missed because I have only been to Italy in the summer.

Despite being a southerner, gravy fries do not appeal to me (fries should be crispy, not soggy, otherwise eat mashed potatoes), but I might try Poutine next time I'm in Quebec.

I have never been to Africa, and so missed the rose harissa, and not having been to India, I missed the lassi.

I'm not sure what the point was with this particular set. Is it food, or travel?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ivins Case

My partner John left a comment a while back about the Bruce Ivins case, which motivated me to think a little more about it.

Initially my gut reaction, after the case against Dr. Ivins was announced and he committed suicide, was that the mystery was probably solved. It still believe that, mostly.

The more I read, however, the less I know what to believe.

Originally I actually wrote a much longer post on this subject, but as I wrote and researched it, I became less and less confident about anything I read, or thought I knew, or believed.

All I will say is this: I don't think this situation is compeletely resolved, and I suspect we will see bioterrorism again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

TS Fay Menaces FL Keys

I don't really have to make this stuff up:

Storm menaces Florida after deadly Caribbean passage

This story was written by my friend Michael Haskins, who is, among other things, a great mystery writer.

The part he didn't reveal was how the shadowy terrorist group G.R.O.U.T.* unsuccessfully employed their nefarious beer-powered hurricane-diverting machine to destroy the Adios Airways Southern HQ and the Adios Maritime Division Flagship S/V Flying Fish.

* The Group for Really Outrageously Unpleasant Terrorism, or something like that

TS Fay, Update 3, 18 Aug 1200L

Fay made a hard right turn overnight, in front of the high pressure ridge moving eastward in the Gulf, and now has the Adios Airways Southern HQ (formerly Intergalactic HQ) directly in the crosshairs.

It's only reporting 40 kts of wind at Sombrero Reef, however, about 20 miles from the Southern HQ, so it isn't all that threatening. Reports from our agents in the keys describe fairly benign conditions so far.

The National Hurricane Center is calling the initial intensity at 50 knots in the latest discussion. It probably isn't going to get any weaker before it gets to the west coast of Florida, probably around Ft Myers. It will probably intensify, but probably not explosively like we saw from Charlie in 2004.

I wish I were in a position to take some original satellite images of the storm - those are often very illustrative in situations like this - but I'm on the road and can't easily do it.

Also I have no idea what John is talking about :)

Headline Post

You know who you are. :)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

TS Fay, Update 2, 17 Aug 1800L

The track guidance continues to nudge to the west, which probably means a worse storm for somebody on the Gulf Coast.

The NHC has moved the forecast track only slightly farther west, and has it going more or less directly over Key West. They admit that their forecast track is still east of the model guidance, and the situation is a function of a "lurch" the storm made to the west during the day today.

This track has the storm hitting Tampa as a hurricane on Tuesday, and apparently strengthening as it passes Key West.

The current visible satellite shot shows a fairly disorganized system, but one which appears to be gradually recurving in front of the high pressure ridge in the Gulf. Movement of that ridge to the east (which will happen) will tend to sharpen Fay's turn, which is undoubtedly why the NHC has the forecast track as far east as it is.

But it looks like Fay has been trying to tuck under that ridge all along, which is why she has come as far west as she has already.

Overall I think the NHC track is pretty good, with the storm passing just to the west of Key West.

Intensity, however, is kind of a crap shoot. While the storm presents as pretty disorganized right now, and will probably become more disorganized over Cuba, once she gets into the hot Gulf waters she can spin up pretty quick. We'll just have to see.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

TS Fay, Update 1, 16 Aug 2300L

Here's the recent model guidance:

It shows the storm probably tracking a little west of the keys. Also the most recent Hurricane Hunters flight found a somewhat weakened storm following its emergence from the claw of Haiti.

The storm came off of Hispaniola a little south of where I expected, which I think is what shifted the model guidance a little farther west. I wouldn't be surprised to see the track nudge a little farther west over the next 24 hours.

That is, of course, bad for the Gulf Coast. Once in the Gulf, this storm could well intensify significantly.

Back to Hurricane Blogging

TS Fay forecast to make a beeline for the Adios Airways Southern HQ*:

I did not intially take this system seriously, and I did not believe the chances were great that it would come from so far east to strike the Fl. Keys this early in the year.

But Fay has consistently defied expectations so far, and I have been famously wrong about tropical cyclones before (luckily my old blog is gone so I can't link to my old predictions about Wilma).

I do think Fay is likely to get torn apart over Cuba, and will not be a strong hurricane when she emerges off the Cuban north coast, but the water is pretty hot and I could be wrong. Certainly if she goes farther west into the open gulf, a lot more strengthening is likely before a more significant landfall on the Gulf Coast.

I do not think, however, that the water is as hot as in 2004 and 2005 - I'm trying to find good links to the SST data to post as comparison, but as usual NOAA doesn't make it easy to find. As the situation develops maybe I'll find and post the comparative GOES SST graphics.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Forget Yang Pei Yi (楊沛宜) and Lin Miao Ke (林妙可) - well, mostly. Forget the CGI fireworks. Forget that the enormous number of people used in the opening ceremony were from PLA song and dance troupes.

The big scandal of this Olympics isn't even that that China promised to clean up its act (and its air) when the games were awarded, and this is exactly not what we are getting.

The big scandal is that China is showing us just exactly why investment there is still risky; why the "golden opportunity" everyone seems to be thinking lurks in China's market is as frail as a butterfly. The Chinese government still has its fingers in every aspect of society, and that makes the shift from stable to unstable business environment just a power struggle away.

The CCP wanted these games to showcase the "new" China. Instead, they've provided two wonderful examples of why the new China is the old China painted up like a Shanghai warlord's mistress.

Take, for example, the fact that the decision maker for the Lin Miaoke switcheroo was a member of the Politburo:

"The national interest requires that the girl should have good looks and a good grasp of the song and look good on screen," Chen said. "Lin Miaoke was the best in this. And Yang Peiyi's voice was the most outstanding."

During a live rehearsal soon before the ceremony, the Politburo member said Miaoke's voice "must change," Chen said in the radio interview. He didn't name the official.

Yah, I'll bet he declined to name names. But Mr. Chen also let it be known that the decision was not his, keeping an eye on future political developments in case these Olympics are judged to be politically ineffective in a post-hoc analysis. That way of thinking is very, very Communist. I don't see much evidence of a new China there, do you?

The other big scandal is that the Chinese gymnastics team likely has underage athletes. And the best proof that they can come up with that the girls are not underage is this:

However, for true backwards thinking, consider this statement by an unnamed Chinese official, according to Reuters: "(Yang's age) is not an issue at all since the gymnastics team is already staying in the Olympic Village. That indicates all our gymnasts are eligible." That is like saying because you're sitting in a car, you have a drivers' license.

That kind of silly "logic" is uncomfortably familiar to me. When I lived in the USSR, Russian textbooks were littered phrases such as "как известно" - as is (well) known. Phrases like that shut off debate. They squash questions such as "who knows, and how do they know it?". Over 20 years of schooling in that atmosphere, the fuzzy logic, the avoidance of true questioning, the acceptance of blatant untruths results in bureaucrats who act as if they are brain dead, and treat their constituents as if they have the same disease. Underneath, the CCP is no different from the CPSU I dealt with in 1989 (I was employed by Komsomol for a brief period in the summers of 1989 and 1990).

So, now that the world press is digging, we begin to see some evidence that the athletes are underage. Sites such as Digg are full of indignant Chinese speakers surfing the web for evidence. The Chinese government is pulling the offending pages as fast as they find them, but the evidence is catching up with them. Unless there is another gymnast named He Ke Xin (何可欣) on the Chinese team, and this is extremely unlikely*, her birth year is truly 1994.

However, and this is the one bit of silver lining in the whole mess, the Chinese government is pretty backwards (hence the title of this post), and about as web-savvy as Jim's recent troll. Do you think someone ought to let Beijing know that there is such a thing as website caching? Nah.

Long live the Revolution. Spit.

*Unlikely because while Chinese has certain characters that are often used in names, the list of possible characters is much wider than the standard set of English names, and in two character names the parents can mix and match - they don't pick names that other people have had in the family, they pick names with special meaning to them because of the time of birth, their hopes for the kid, etc. For example the "Ke" character (可 : approve; can; may; need (doing); be worth (doing); fit; suit ) is part of the names of both Lin Miao Ke and He Ke Xin in different contexts. That is why, if you know Chinese people, you know very few of them with the same first name, if any.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Some nine guests flew away today. We were 10 for 10 hatching, but one is still with us, as its wings did not fully form.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Saakashvili Wins

Perhaps this is what Saakashvili was hoping for:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a telephone conversation today that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ``must go,'' meaning he should be ousted from office, Khalilzad said.

This is unacceptable, and it makes Saakashvili a hero in Georgia, obviating some of his domestic troubles. I do not think that the US has any choice but to support him now. He needs to be tossed in the trash heap when this is all over, however.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Children of the Mountains are Wild...

So goes the Russian proverb about governing the Caucasus. The entire Caucasus region seems to be one of those areas hell-bent on proving right those of us who believe that not every culture and people is ready for prime-time democracy.

This area (and the proverb) first came to my attention in Russian class back in 1988, reading Pravda articles for second-year Russian reading comprehension tests on the deteriorating situation in Nagorno-Karabakh . This was the first strong indication to me that Soviet control over its own territory might be less iron curtain than rust curtain.

As events rolled on, I was a bit surprised at Shevarnadze’s decision to leave the Russian government to return to his native land. I’m sure the prospect of losing the looming political battles in Moscow had some influence on the decision, but being a giant fish in a little pond probably appealed as well.

At its end, Shevardnadze’s career provided the backdrop for the first of the “color revolutions”, while showing that the Georgians were less inclined than many of their neighbors, including Russia, to accept political corruption. The Rose Revolution brought the young lawyer Mikheil Saakashvili to power on an anti-corruption campaign that has failed to live up to its promises in his second term.

In recent months the always-volatile Saakashvili has been adding anti-Russian vitriol to his campaign to enroll Georgia in NATO. The vitriol stems from a long-standing Russian use of Ossetia as an ally against the Ingusetians and Chechens in the region. In the 20s, North Ossetia was granted Autonomous Republic status, and a South Ossetian region was carved out of the Georgian Republic. Although the moves were probably for reasons of political expediency only, in a state of affairs that is depressingly familiar to historians of the Balkans and Caucasus, ethnic hatreds were stoked by rumors alleging that the Ossetians received favorable treatment due to the remote Ossetian ancestry of Stalin’s father.

Despite this alleged preferential treatment, Stalin was content to allow South Ossetia to stay under the control of the Georgians. However, in the post-USSR world, Russia has seen South Ossetia as an outpost into the increasingly unfriendly territory to its south, especially as a lever to keep Georgia from leaning farther West. In fact, Russia has issued Russian passports to a majority of the 70,000 people living in the republic, and its “peacekeeping” troops regularly supply intelligence and arms to Eduard Kokoity’s separatist regime.

Into this background comes the Russian maneuverings around Chechnya and the American hunger for airbases close enough to strike at Iran and Afghanistan. Saakashvili has been, with the backing of new member Estonia, petitioning for membership in NATO. NATO has wisely taken a slower approach than the Georgians would like.

Yesterday, August 7, Saakashvili sent his troops against Tskhinvali, capital of South Ossetia, in a move that brought Russian “peacekeepers” under fire as well. The response in the Russian press was predictable: “Georgia is de-facto waging war on Russian Peacekeepers”. Russian Ministry of Defense response was also predictable, and armored. Russian Tanks are now defending Russian interests in South Ossetia, and Russian planes have attacked Georgian targets. The latest from Russia is that hundreds of “volunteers” from North Ossetia are pouring into the disputed territory, giving Moscow plausible deniability if her puppets push the conflict past any ceasefires brokered by the EU or NATO.

It is hard to pick sides, either from a moral or realpolitik standpoint. The Georgian leadership is a mess, the Russians are playing on ethnic hatreds to secure more influence in the region. If Saakashvili had counted on NATO or US support due to Georgia's perceived status as an indispensable ally in the GWOT, he was sadly mistaken. Georgia is far too unstable an ally in which to pour resources. And even if Georgia wins, the territory of Ossetia holds few resources while administering the region will be an economic drain. I have no idea how long the fighting will continue, but this seems for certain to have scuttled Georgia’s bid for NATO membership. One wonders what hubris or miscalculation led Saakashvili to fire upon Tskhinvali yesterday.

One final note. As I pointed out in my post on Kosovo, the US jumping on the bandwagon of recognition was probably a bad idea:

The "Kosovo factor" also matters.

Even before the Serbian province unilaterally declared independence, there was a strong body of thought in the Russian political and diplomatic worlds, that believed Russian recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence would be morally and politically justified.

This has become much stronger since many Western countries ignored furious Russian objections and recognised Kosovo's independence.

X-posted at the Chicagoboyz

For Nathan

Domino's Scientists Test Limits Of What Humans Will Eat

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mysterious Submarine Cable Cuts

Earlier this year there was a lot of news about a coincidental series of submarine cable cuts affecting internet and telecommunications in the middle east. Eventually there were 6 or 7 cuts, mostly affecting the same two major Europe-to-Asia cables, from the last week in January to the last week in February 2008.

At the time I expected that gradually good explanations for the various events would emerge, and to a certain extent, some explanations did emerge. But the story disappeared pretty quickly and good explanations never really materialized. The various explanations that did emerge were mostly subsequently debunked or disproven.

So the question is whether it really was a coincidence that the same two cables suffered approximately 6 cuts (the story gets muddled after the 5th event), or whether the events had some deeper, more sinister signficance.

If they did, the events have great significance for the future. Although cutting submarine cables as a method of facilitating intelligence collection is not new, our fragile, global information economy is pretty new. If someone felt like it, they could cause major havoc by deliberately severing submarine cables. Those cables are pretty vulnerable to someone dragging an anchor along the sea floor specifically for that purpose.

It would be interesting to know whether this has really happened, or whether the six related cable cuts earlier this year were just coincidental, but I'm not sure we ever will.

That situation gets to the heart of conspiracy theories - the notion that there are mysterious forces at work just beyond our comprehension or understanding. This feeling engenders both fascination and foreboding.

But just because you are paranoid doesn't mean there aren't some people out to get you. Certainly some conspiracies are real, while many, perhaps most, are not.

People tend to fall into one of two categories - Mulder or Scully (speaking of which, maybe I'll review the new X-Files movie...) Either, in general, they want to believe, or they tend to debunk. But those black-and-white categories don't apply very neatly to a very gray world.

But if there's someone out there who cuts submarine cables for their own purposes, it's probably going to happen again, and probably more in the future.


Seriously want.

From the Coalition.