Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Russian bloggers think Moscow bombings were false flag attacks

A couple of days ago I wrote about the bombings in Moscow and my suspicion that the Russian security services themselves were behind the attack. My theory wasn't based on any particular facts about the case itself, but rather the Kremlin's long history of committing false flag attacks in the name of terrorists from Russia's North Caucasus.

No more details about the attack have emerged to support this theory (though I suppose they will in the coming months and years, if not sooner), but apparently the Russian blogosphere shares my sentiments:

It is too early to say who organized this terrorist attack. Russian bloggers discuss mainly two versions: Chechen rebels and the state security services. However weird it may sound, the latter version is at least as popular as the former one.

Naturally, no English-language newspaper or magazine has even raised the possibility. I really wish I could read Russian, so that I could investigate the bloggers' claims and accusations, but as it is I'm stuck reading filtered versions of what actual Russians are thinking.

Edit: The NYT has an angle that I hadn't picked up on – while the small-scale, little-reported but quite frequent bombings in the Caucasus (like the one today in Dagestan) almost always targeted police and government officials, the metro bombings was obviously meant to kill civilians. This is probably the most compelling reason to think that it wasn't committed by an insurgent group – people are much more likely to sympathize with terrorists who attack the government than those who attack ordinary (and relatively poor, if they're using mass transit) people.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cindy McCain was still on drugs during 2008 campaign

Whoa, apparently Cindy McCain was still using painkillers during the 2008 campaign. Quoteth The Exiled in September 2008:

What is it with Cindy McCain’s eyes? Everyone’s noticed that there’s something odd about them. Even Katie Couric was caught in an unplugged moment omigodding about how weirded-out she was by Cindy McCain’s mysterious, odd-looking eyes.

To anyone who has ever enjoyed the opium poppy plant’s many wonderful by-products–Vicodin, Percocet, heroin, morphine, methadone, Codeine cough syrup, or just plain opium to name a few–Cindy McCain’s “weird blue eyes” are about as much of a dead giveaway about her real condition as, say, the folds in Trig Palin’s down-turned eyes are a giveaway about his Down Syndrome.

The clue to solving this mystery lies in Cindy McCain’s pupils, which always, under any light and in every photo, have a “pin-pointed” quality to them. Her tiny pin-point pupils make her eyes seem so freakishly pale and vampiric–which sorta remind one of the eyes that heroin-bard Lou Reed crooned over in his smack-ballad “Pale Blue Eyes.”

34% of all seafood sold in America is counterfeit

The WaPo writes of the apparently common phenomenon of mislabeling food. The anecdotes (and there are many) fall into two categories: fish, and premium foreign foods. Between 1988 and 1997 a study found that 34% of all seafood sold was "mislabeled and sold as a different species." As for the high-priced specialty items, it's things like caviar and honey (like heroin, it's cut with sugar). "Legitimate" manufacturers are, naturally, clamoring for government intervention. The customers and vendors don't seem to notice:

Still, of the hundreds of customers who bought 10 million pounds of mislabeled Vietnamese catfish -- including national chains and top rated restaurants -- only one or two caught the deception, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns, who prosecuted the Fairfax fish importer. "It was the rare exception, not the norm," he said.

Can you tell the difference between Vietnamese and domestic catfish? How about the difference between 100% honey and a 90% honey/10% sugar mixture?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Possible new attack in Moscow Metro

The NYT and Guardian are reporting as breaking news, without details, that an explosion has killed 25 in Moscow's metro. Before I know anything about the incident, I'm going to make a prediction. If the explosion wasn't an accident (a big if, given Russia decrepit infrastructure), then I predict that rather than a genuine act of terror, it was a false flag attack committed by the Russian state itself, designed to give the Kremlin an excuse to crack down on someone, somewhere. I'm basing this on the fact that nearly every single major "terrorist" incident in Russia has turned out to be the work of Russia's own security forces.

Let's not forget that a similar bombing in 1977 was blamed on Armenian separatists, though Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov has argued that it was really a KGB operation to discredit dissidents within the Soviet Union. I have yet to find specific allegations against the state in the case of the 2004 Moscow Metro bombing, but given that such accusations have been levied concerning nearly every other major post-Soviet breakup act of "terrorism," I wouldn't be surprised if some day that one too can be pinned on the state's own secret services.

Stay tuned for more details...

Edit: Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention that the Metro stop where the explosion occurred is called Lubyanka, and is below Lubyanka Square, which houses the infamous Lubyanka building – a metonym for the Soviet/Russia secret services, and current home of the FSB and the Border Guard. Do they really have to make it so easy?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Overreach of the day

A professor at Tufts has an op-ed in the NYT in which he laments the increasing regimentation and scheduling of children's lives, framing it around the idea that some school districts are looking to hire – *shudders* – "recess coaches." All well and good, until he gets to this part (emphasis mine):

Now that most children no longer participate in this free-form experience — play dates arranged by parents are no substitute — their peer socialization has suffered. One tangible result of this lack of socialization is the increase in bullying, teasing and discrimination that we see in all too many of our schools.

Huh?! First of all, I see no link or evidence presented. But even so, it's at least possible that bullying and teasing are up (though I doubt it) – but discrimination? Seriously? I grew up in the 1990s so hey, what do I know about new-fangled kids these days, but I sort of doubt that there's more racism, homophobia, and anti-semitism on today's playgrounds than, say, oh...any time in the past??

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dissent in North Korea

The Washington Post has an article about dissent in North Korea, and it looks like the trends mirror those in Eastern Europe during the last days of communism:

The survey found that cynicism about the government -- and willingness to crack jokes about its failures -- was higher among refugees who come from elite backgrounds in the government or military. It also found that distaste for the government was strongest among those deeply involved in the markets.

The most striking finding of the survey was the reach of those markets across all strata of North Korean society, with nearly 70 percent of respondents saying that half or more of their income came from private business dealings.

In addition, more than half of refugees who have fled North Korea since 2006 said they listened or watched foreign news reports regularly. North Korea outlaws radios and TVs that can be tuned to foreign stations, but consumer electronics have flooded into the country from China.

"Not only is foreign media becoming more widely available, inhibitions on its consumption are declining as well," the report said, referring to broadcasts from South Korea, China and the United States. "The availability of alternative sources of information undermines the heroic image of a workers' paradise and threatens to unleash the information cascade that can be so destabilizing to authoritarian rule."

The author adds the caveat that the refugees whose opinions are represented in the survey have strong self-selection biases, although he tempers this by saying that most defectors left for economic rather than political reasons, and that "their demographic background roughly mirrors the shape of North Korean society."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Anatomy of a regulatory healthcare smothering

A doctor in NYC has come up with a barebones pseudo-insurance package to reduce health costs:

Hi, America, is it too late to propose a new health care plan? Because Dr. John Muney has an idea. The AMG Medical Group, which he founded last year, offers a $79-a-month buffet of unlimited office visits. [...] For $79 a person, it’s almost unheard of in New York, though AMG’s plan should not be confused with insurance, and it does not cover hospitalization or specialists.

But of course the whole arrangement was a little too convenient for the government:

Such service is unusual enough to have attracted the attention of the New York State Insurance Department, which last year informed AMG that it could not continue to offer the $79 plan. It amounted to unlicensed insurance, the department said, but AMG’s profit margin was too narrow to prepare for unexpected situations (like 500 people showing up at once with the flu). As a compromise, Dr. Muney agreed to charge $33 extra for sick visits.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Adults eating baby food

From the Guardian:

German firm Hipp says one in four consumers now grown-ups who find baby food easier to swallow and digest

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gaza's proliferating tunnels

Foreign Policy has an excellent article about the ubiquitous smuggling tunnels sustaining the Gazan economy. Apparently the smuggling market has become incredibly saturated:

One smuggler, who used to ply his business in the days of the Israeli occupation when a single shipment of weapons could earn him $5,000, bemoaned the fact that there were so many tunnels these days that he barely earned $50 per load. Indeed, some commodities are now actually cheaper than when they were imported from Israel, with the lower cost of goods originating from Egypt offsetting the cost of smuggling them in. On the days when the [Palestinian Authority] pays salaries and Gazans go shopping, some tunnel operators find it more profitable to drive a taxi.

Apparently the banalization of the tunnels has been pretty complete:

This set the stage for a number of fraudulent schemes that came to light last summer, with Gazans of modest means investing in tunnels that turned out not to exist. Tens and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen in this way, and some suggested senior members of Hamas might somehow be implicated. The Hamas government arranged partial compensation of the victims.

For all previous posts on the Gazan smuggling tunnels, check the archive.

The unintended consequences of child labor laws

The German weekly Der Spiegel has a report about the unintended consequences of child labor laws in one Pakistani city known for producing soccer balls. Apparently children were frequently employed in the factories, until child labor "advocates" in the West forced companies like Nike and Adidas to ensure that their suppliers weren't employing children. But what happened to the kids? Surely after they were freed from their toiling in the factories they went to school and now have well-paying office jobs, right?

Parents now send their children to the brickworks and into metalworking companies where no one is worried about corporate image. The families need the money to survive. The local sports companies are aware of what's happened but they want to fulfil the wishes of their Western customers. After all, the people who spend a lot of money on footballs want to do so with a clear conscience. The customer in a sports retail outlet doesn't realize that young girls are now hauling bricks right next door to Danayal, the stitching factory.

"Ten or 12-year-olds were well off here," says one manager who asked not to be named. "They learned a trade here that secured them an income for life. Now we're having trouble finding new stitchers."

Something tells me that making bricks is considerably more difficult and hazardous than sewing soccer balls, and probably pays less. Let's just hope they don't shut down the brick factory, too, or prostitution might be their next job.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Current pope covered for sexually abusive priest decades ago

Whoa, this is a pretty damning indictment of a sitting pope:

In 1980, the future pope reviewed the case of Father Hullermann, who was accused of sexually abusing boys in the Diocese of Essen, including forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex. The future pope approved his transfer to Munich.

It would be one thing if the then Archbishop Ratzinger had totally ignored the allegations – at least then he could say that he didn't believe them. But the fact that he moved to Munich "for therapy" indicates that Ratzinger had at least some inclination that something was amiss.

Wikileaks faces existential meta question...

...and passes with flying colors:

What’s Wikileaks, the net’s foremost document leaking site, supposed to do when a whistle-blower submits a list of email addresses belonging to the site’s confidential donors as a leaked document? [...]

Wikileaks, which has been criticized for lacking discretion in deciding whether to release documents or not, published the email and the donors’ email addresses on Wednesday. The entry noted that the email was submitted "possibly to test the project’s principles of complete impartiality when dealing with whistleblowers."

One notable email address belongs to convicted former hacker Adrian Lamo, who now runs his own security company. In a Twitter post on Saturday, Lamo noted the screw-up, writing "Thanks WikiLeaks, for leaking your donor list.[...] That’s dedication." See more in his comment to this story.

HSR crowding out local transit projects

Yet another way in which Obama's high-speed rail plans are derailing actual progress in getting Americans out of their cars:

BUENA PARK, Calif. — Mayor Art Brown spent years pushing for a commuter train station combined with nearby housing in his community. But as townhouses are being finished around the $14 million Metrolink station, he's facing the prospect that California's high-speed rail line may plow right through his beloved project.

"The only option they presented to us was either losing the condo units or losing our train station," Brown said of an engineering presentation to city leaders last year.

That a successful effort to get car-dependent Californians to embrace mass transit could be derailed by another transportation project may strike some as ironic. But it's also one of the hidden costs — and a potential harbinger of delay — in the ambitious plan that would enable passengers to speed the 430 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco in just 2 1/2 hours.

By the way, the projected cost of a one-way ticket on the high-speed rail line from LA to SF has risen from $55 to $105. Despite the fact that intraurban trips account for the vast majority of transportation use in America, the Obama administration and other politicians prefer to focus on expensive boondoggles like high-speed rail, often at the expense of more mundane, but much more important local projects like these.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Atlantic Yards and ACORN

I've heard a lot of nasty things about the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, where NJ Nets owner Bill Ratner wants to use a combinatino of eminent domain and state giveaways to build a heavily subsidized basketball stadium and 16 mixed use high-rises, but I didn't realize that ACORN was also in on it:

New York, in short, would give Ratner an unfair advantage, and he would return some of the profits reaped from that advantage by creating the “economic benefits” favored by the planning classes. Architecture critics loved Frank Gehry’s design for the arena. Race activist Al Sharpton loved the promise of thousands of minority jobs. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn) loved the prospect of administering the more than 2,000 units of “affordable” housing planned for the development, as well as the $1.5 million in loans and grants that Ratner gave it outright. When the state held public hearings in 2006 to decide whether to approve Atlantic Yards, hundreds of supplicants, hoping for a good job or a cheap apartment, easily drowned out the voices of people like Goldstein, who wanted nothing from the government except the right to keep their homes.