Friday, March 14, 2014

The Mystery of the Missing Plane

As a man who does not love flying even though I know the statistics say it is very very safe.   Three billion air miles and a minuscule number of deaths speaks volumes.
And yet, on the other wall,  we post the disappearance of  a very expensive aircraft and more than two hundred humans--not passengers--humans. 
Mix in the presence on the flight of young men flying with stolen passports.  Add the sudden silence of the instruments mid-flight and draw a line with radar showing a plane in the same area going off in another direction.
Rumors, assertions and recriminations.  Everywhere.
Malaysian flight MH370 on its way to Beijing disappeared earlier this week.   And no one seemed to have a convincing explanation.   There seemed to be flaws in every hypothesis.  Families whose loved ones were on the plane assembled with pain and outrage and numbness,  hoping that something, anything would break loose and change the story from a mystery to something the mind could grapple with.

I have been thinking about the event and I posit a novel explanation.  It is possible that the plane was taken over,  not to fly it somewhere and crash it,  but to land it and to use the captive passengers and the plane itself to some unknown end.  Could the Uygher separatists in western China want a bargaining chip in their search for independence?  Many of the passengers were Chinese nationals.  Could a criminal cartel want to arrange to ransom the passengers and plane? 

Whatever the explanation,  I hope, for the families of those on the plane,  that an answer is found soon.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Ukraine in March 2014

I don't know where else to write this.  I am no expert,  so my opinion is not important and may not even be close to correct.  However,  I watch what is happening in Ukraine with a sense that the course of events does not require great skill.   The posturing and exclamations in the press about the issue may not reflect reality at all.

A little over a week ago,  the Russian-friendly President of Ukraine,  a despot, though elected,  was 'forced' to flee according to what was in our press--and a Western-friendly government took power after months of protests and disorder.   Yanukovitch disappeared from the stage for the moment,  but was not too much later to reappear claiming he had not 'fled' but had been forced out. 
Russia makes clear that they do not recognize the newly-installed government in Kiev.  The fact that Yanukovitch is waiting in the wings to be reinstalled as the 'legitimate' leader is an option no one in the press seems to be discussing. 
The Russians and Ukraine have existing treaty agreements which already compromise Ukraine's ability to respond with integrity in the Crimea--armed forces of Russia are legitimately stationed in Ukraine by agreement.   While the claim that activating those forces to 'protect' Russian ethnic populations in the Crimea provided a very thin veneer for the military movements,  there was enough of a gloss that it wasn't a pure 'military invasion'.  
YouTube immediately showed videos at checkpoints guarded by paramilitary 'friends of Russian nationals' and in one case, "Cossacks" who all swore they were there to protect the 'peace'.
The Ukrainian army,  lacking allies who would bring to bear military force on their behalf,  is ill-equipped to stop whatever action backed by force that Russia might take.   If the Russians say that they are stepping in to support the restoration of Yanukovitch,  there may be little validity to the action but it has enough of a cloak to keep their action from being laughed out of the court of world opinion.   Other countries have used thin arguments to take strong actions.   Iraq? WMDs?
Underlying this tense chess match is an imponderable.  Ukraine has a shadowy nationalist movement that bears all the trappings of National Socialism, unabashedly.   Part of the Russian rationale for intervention is to stop the resurgent Nazi tide,  a theme not to be taken lightly knowing the price the Russians paid in the war to halt Hitler's ambitions.   And those same insurgent nationalists could easily be the spark that sets a dangerous set of actions rolling down the track.  
Ukrainian military leaders today spoke about possible staged provocations leading to more aggressive Russian moves.   What seems even more likely is that nationalist Ukrainians could provide the motive without the Russians needing to fake an incident.   
At the end of all this evaluation and discourse is the reality that the situation in Ukraine is volatile in ways that we might not easily anticipate.   And could devolve into a crisis,  despite everyone's best intentions,  with deadly consequences.   
The Great War was triggered at the beginning of the 20th century when Europe, wound up to hair trigger sensitivity over possible conflict, suffered the assassination of the leader of one of the rival parties.   As they say,  "All hell broke loose."   Many constraints to that kind of unraveling exist today,  but they are not foolproof.    Missteps can march us to unexpected places.

I hope for the best.

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Sunday, June 02, 2013

Goodbye...until another day.

Without much nostalgia,  I've stopped posting to Davidrites.  I have so little free time these days and I have to be choosy about how it gets used.   I enjoyed writing the blog---not many people read it or commented-- but I felt better at having tried to express something I genuinely thought or felt.   But Davidrites was too global and unfocused.   My posts about soccer have migrated over to mysoddenpitch.blogspot.com.   That has been rewarding in that I know I've had a fair number of readers  and even some commentators.  I've been able to write about things that wouldn't have found voice otherwise like the rediscovery of the Cameron Cup.  I also have been posting for my mother on the blog I created for her,  a place to give outlet to her creativity and talent in writing.   I had hoped she might gain enough dexterity with computers that she would take it in hand herself but that hasn't happened so far.   Regardless,  it's been a worthwhile effort.

There may be a new blog in my blood....I do feel compelled to write.   I wake up in the morning with the shape of stories or articles unfolding in my brain.   And at other times as well. Driving to work and realizing I have not bee minding the traffic as I mull over the voice of a characer who's just wandered in.  I am not sure I am obsessed with being read.   I perhaps mostly need to just say what is in my mind.   

If you have been a reader.  Thanks.   And a special shout out to Dustbury in Oklahoma. Perhaps the only other blogger to ever comment on something I posted.   I appreciated reading your blogposts and their humorous take on the surrounding absurdities.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How little debate means

I hate the debate...no ifs buts or ands, I don't find the debates valuable.   On the one hand,  my candidate is going to make statements that cause me to grit my teeth, something I can ill afford as an old person,  and on the other side, the opponent is going to make assertions that are flagrantly untrue,  distorted, or deserve much more scrutiny,  none of which the debate format allows to happen.   As a result,  I can listen to snippets of debates but not an entire session.   Too distressing.

Out of this past week's debate ostensibly on Foreign Affairs,  an arena Americans reportedly don't care about,  I followed my usual pattern.  Listened a little and then turned it off in disgust.  

Two things jumped out at me though.   The first one was President Obama's assertion that we need to be wary of putting weapons into the Syrian morass, no matter how tempting that might be.  He made the statement that we wouldn't want such weapons to fall into the hands of hostile forces.   What was glaringly missing in my view was an historical reference that would provide an object example.   Presidents are supposed to have these things down, I think.   Back when the Soviet puppet state ruled and ruined Afghanistan,  we provided Stinger missiles to the mujahadeen war lords and tipped the balance of power against the Soviets by making their heli transport totally vulnerable.  It didn't happen overnight but that changed the calculation in a cruel and bloody fashion.   The consequence?  We are now in the process of extracating our own forces from an Afghan landscape that evolved in large part because the existing horrors were made worse by our intervention.  Ultimately, our internvention has cost American lives and will continue to do so, not only in combat but in the consequences of disorder, lawlessness,  and opium poppy production.  Which have led to a time and place in which religious fanatics and drug lords rule.

The second statement that smacked me sideways in the debate was Governor Romney's statement that "Syria was an important nation in the Middle East, particularly now.  Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea."  I did a physical double take when I heard that.   The press has been full of news about how Iran is harassing our forces in the Straits of Hormuz and threatening to block them, if need be, with a sunken tanker or some similar ploy.   That kind of posturing would be very hard to achieve if you had to haul your boats overland and launch them at Latakia,  Syria's only major port.   Iran may not have great deep water ports for international shipping or naval facilities.  But they do have maritime access on both the Straits in the south and the Caspian Sea in the north.  The country which is most landlocked is Iraq, and perhaps that's what Governor Romney was channeling.   But of course,  Iraq is unlikely to be helped to maritime access by Syria so it's still a non-starter.   

More than anything else,  I'd expect a credible candidate for President to have a fair grasp of regional geography and to not make assertions about a country deemed by that candidate to be very dangerous that show the candidate is really ignorant about basic facts about the country.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Minimizing Behghazi" the accusation

Ever since the attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya took place opponents of the administration have implied or asserted that the President minimized or hid the possibility that the attack was intentional and not part of a demonstration by outraged local Muslims triggered by the stupid movie trailer insulting Islam on YouTube.  
And I find myself thinking, " hmmmm.  Why would the President do that?".   After all,  one of the strongest rallying points incumbents can claim is the need for the country to 'rally around' because we're under attack.   Instead,  the State Department and the Obama administration made conditional, rational comments coupled with a strong message that whomever was at fault would be chased down and served justice.   The best thing for them to have done in election terms would have been to inflame  public sentiment.   And that's not what happened. They acted like folks who didn't have all the information at their fingertips immediately, folks who aren't on a CSI show where everything is resolved in 42 minutes.   Truly strange.  Their response was pretty darned professional,  acknowledging that they didn't know everything.

Not long after the attack,  a congressional Intelligence Committee hearing was convened.  And that is probably reasonable because the matter was serious and there were concerns being expressed about the security configuration at the Benghazi site.   It is not unusual for congressional hearings on Intelligence matters to be 'closed' hearings in order to allow candor from those summoned to testify and to avoid giving information about our security services away.   Not in this case.   The hearing was public and without too much ado aerial photograghs and testimony revealed top secret security service facilities.   The hearing ended up with many people flustered and did nothing to aid the protection of our diplomatic personnel.

Did President Obama and the inner circle in the White House get calls for more security at the station in Benghazi and heartlessly turn it down?  That's the assertion that's being fronted by many Republicans.    I return to my first question.  Why would a crazed president willing to do anything to be reelected not play the 'we're under attack card'?    And is it credible to think that the President has regular daily knowledge of the status of hundreds of State Dept postings across the world?   How about all the NOAA weather facilities?  Or maybe what's going on in each USAID site?   It's a crazy assertion.   

We got badly burned in Benghazi.  Good men died.   And it was on 9/11 which is not to be discounted.  For me I can't fault the President's response and I think it's a long dry stretch to make the case that he somehow 'conspired' about something related to it.   

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The bad seed: GMO appears to be...a problem.

Corporately engineered seed begins to create frankenweeds and insects. as this Reuters article recaps.  The issue isn't a small one because there are places in the world where whole populations of agrarian people are suffering from kidney failure after years of chemical 'problem-solving' in their fields.   The 'grail' of 'Roundup (c) resistant' plants and their cousins has continuously raised concerns from local communities---genetic hybridization between genetically treated plants and other plants and animals is not farfetched.  In Oregon, organic and other farmers in the Valley have tried, with little success,  to block approval of similar GMO crops such as GMO canola.  

The issue isn't small, simple, or easy to solve.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The concept of collective responsibility

Tonight, on the heels of at least two days of demonstrations at US facilities in various parts of the world, a clear pattern emerges.   Four US diplomatic personnel have died as a result of this pattern.  It's worth noting I think.  In the minds of the people protesting (though perhaps not in the minds of those using them as cover) there is a direct link between government and any act that takes place within the realm of that government.   As an example,  a group of people make a movie which is insulting to someone in a country with a powerful government.  The government does nothing to squelch the movie and is therefore culpable and perhaps complicit in the making of the movie.    Libyan Victims return home

The creation of the sad, mean-spirited and poorly executed trailer about the prophet Mohammed falls into this category.  The truth may be that there is no movie at all, only the sleazy trailer.  Regardless of how awful it is,  it still has the power to create chaos in many places around the world---chaos aimed against US institutions broadly.   A KFC was attacked today--not because of its lack of heart healthy cuisine but because it is American. In the eyes of uneducated, religiously fervent people around the globe,   government always is in control of messages like the sleazy trailer.   They don't have any real life experience of a political landscape in which government power is tempered by individual rights.  So if there is such a movie,  the whole national structure is culpable for allowing it.

If the descriptions from the front lines of these protests are correct,   the majority of those expressing outrage are uneducated people with no ability to go online and fact check nor with any inclination to question those who use the Quran as a tool to control peoples' behavior.   Because those are the leaders they trust.   This is not much different than medieval pogroms by European religious groups because someone spoke from the pulpit and condemned someone else.  

In between the ordinary people who are simply offended, though, the evidence suggests that there are more cynical actors,  people who know the Quran well enough to use it as a flog and whose earthly ambitions are about political power and disorder, not salvation.

The people who make movies guaranteed to inflame violence are matched by the people who make such movies and similar media the fuel for crusades to crush the infidel.  Both groups use ordinary people whose honest beliefs are susceptible to being manipulated.   I blame both kinds of manipulators for deaths this past week, deaths marching back through millenia.  In our response,  we need to look for those who want to use circumstance to create chaos.  We must not be confused by the images in the headlines. 

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