Sanctioning Iran: Cut Off Their Supply of Gasoline

June 30, 2010

Old joke:

Q: How do you know when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is lying?

A: When his lips are moving.

It’s no secret that Iran is engaged in a massive program to produce enriched uranium. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims the uranium is strictly for “peaceful purposes” such as nuclear power reactors and nuclear medicine. Fair enough, except that Iran is enriching uranium far beyond the 3-4% U-235 needed to fuel nuclear reactors. Iran claims the ability to enrich uranium to 20% U-235 and, experts say, once you can enrich uranium to 20% U-235 all it takes is additional time to enrich it to the 90% level required for a nuclear weapon.

Iran, among all countries of the world, probably has the least pressing need for energy alternatives to oil. Iran’s proven reserves of oil are the third largest in the world. Its natural gas reserves are #2. When Ahmadinejad claims his country’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, you know he’s lying.

For obvious reasons, most of the rest of the world are deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and, short of war, are looking for ways quickly to curtail it. Most of the talk centers around ‘sanctions,’ cutting Iran off from trade, travel, finance, and other benefits of the global economy.

The simplest sanction to apply: cut off Iran’s supply of gasoline. Gasoline? Isn’t Iran sitting on an ocean of oil? Yes, but Iran’s refining capacity is far below its domestic demand for gasoline. Iran, while exporting 4 million barrels of oil daily, must import 40% of the gasoline consumed by its citizens. The US is leading an effort to cut off Iran’s supply of gasoline and it appears it is having an impact. French refiner Total SA, for example, announced Monday that it would stop supplying gasoline to Iran. As usual, the French are not doing this out of a spirit of cooperation but rather because Total has key interests in the US and has, no doubt, been told by the Obama administration to play ball or pay the price.

A gasoline shortage in Iran would have a major impact on the stability of the Ahmadinejad government. Iran is not a backward Arab Islamic theocracy. First, Iranians are Persians, not Arabs and second, although Ahmadinejad quotes the Prophet when it suits his purposes, the Iranian government is quite secular. The Muslim clerics get significant press (when it suits Ahmadinejad) but lack the power they have in countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Third, Iran’s population is among the best educated in the Middle East, with a literacy rate of over 80% (including women). Iranians are not the suckers for propaganda and theology that characterize most Middle Easterners.

Green Movement Rally - Tehran

Very much under-reported is Iran’s Green Movement, which is bent on ousting Ahmadinejad and his cronies. The Green Movement is not an environmental cause but rather a continuation of the protests after Iran’s recent questionable re-election of Ahmadinejad. Green was the color of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s Pro-Reform opposition party.

Membership in the Green Movement is not reported, but the Movement has staged rallies attended by over half a million Iranians. About 30 deaths have been reported during Green protests against the Ahmadinejad regime.

Rationing gasoline in an oil-rich country like Iran would have a serious impact on domestic stability. Along with the Green Movement, the rest of Iran is going to be asking Ahmadinejad a pointed question: How is it that we’ve got more oil than almost anyone in the world but we have no gasoline? Why the hell are you building nuclear enrichment facilities when you should be building refineries?

Ahmadinejad has said that Iran will have no trouble meeting domestic needs if there is a gasoline embargo. Again, his lips are moving.


See Ya, Stan

June 29, 2010

Last week, Mr. Obama unceremoniously dismissed Lt Gen Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US military operations in Afghanistan. The reason publicly given was for insubordinate and cheeky remarks made by McChrystal and his inner circle in the presence of Michael Hastings, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine.

Although Hastings’ story, “The Runaway General” does recount some impolitic remarks by McChrystal and his staff regarding various members of the Obama administration, I do not believe they were Mr. Obama’s real reason for dumping McChrystal.

Read “The Runaway General” and you’ll learn that McChrystal is a Pattonesque figure—competent, irreverent, impatient, and most of all, naïve and intolerant of politicians. I believe it was the content of Hastings article, an incisive and pessimistic assessment of our presence and prospects in Afghanistan, that was the real impetus for McChrystal’s firing.

Hastings likens our involvement in Afghanistan to our misadventure in Viet Nam: an unwinnable encounter reminiscent of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. The harder we hit, the more stuck we become, the more impossible it becomes to withdraw. The parallels to Viet Nam are more than coincidence:

  • Like Lyndon Johnson, Barak Obama inherited a military mess from a previous administration.
  • Like Johnson, Obama lacks the military savvy to prosecute all-out war.
  • Like Johnson, he also lacks the courage and common sense to get the hell out.
  • Viet Nam was run by a corrupt regime that milked American largesse to the maximum.
  • As in Viet Nam, the top-level men in Afghanistan are lining their own pockets, being careful to stash their money outside the country. They will hang on until either the Taliban or the Americans unseat them and then live out their lives in comfortable exile.
  • As in Viet Nam, the issues in Afghanistan are not freedom, democracy, or economic stability and growth. What is foremost in the minds of the people is getting rid of the “foreign devils,” whoever they might be.
  • The Vietnamese got rid of the French and inherited the Americans. The Americans supported a corrupt, pliable, inefficient puppet government. From the perspective of the average Vietnamese, life under the Americans was about the same as life under the French. Their country was occupied by a foreign army that might never leave.
  • Same in Afghanistan. The Afghanis got rid of the Russians with our help. (We supplied weapons and training to Afghani freedom fighters opposing the Russians. The freedom fighters, now known as the Taliban, ousted the Russians). Then, after 9/11, which had almost nothing to do with the Afghanis themselves, the country inherited American invaders who were looking for a needle in a haystack named bin Laden. We’ve been there ever since.

Afghanistan now has the dubious distinction of being the longest war in American history. Our nation’s only ‘blessing’ in this mess is that we’ve lost 1000 dead vs. 58,000 in Viet Nam.

I defy you to define what a “win” would look like in Afghanistan. Gen McChrystal is gone because his boss couldn’t define a win either.


What’s the Spanish Word for ‘Chutzpah?’

June 23, 2010

In Hebrew, chutzpah is used indignantly, to describe someone who has over-stepped the boundaries of accepted behavior with no shame. Leo Rosten defines the term as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

Wikipedia

Now the Mexican government brings new meaning to chutzpah by filing papers in a US federal court claiming that Arizona’s new immigration law discriminates against Mexicans. (If you’re not up on the Arizona law, see Your Papers, Please, “Discrimination” in Albuquerque, and Making Obama Do His Job).

I don’t argue with their contention that the law discriminates against Mexicans. It’s probably unconstitutional. But it takes genuine chutzpah for the Mexican government to even open its mouth on the subject:

  • I doubt that the Mexican government has any legal standing to challenge the law of a US state.
  • It is no secret that the majority of illegal immigrants to the United States enter through Mexico.
  • The Mexican government has done nothing to discourage its citizens from emigrating illegally to the United States.
  • In fact, the Mexican government has encouraged emigration to the US, whether legal or illegal. The Mexican government has published pamphlets detailing ways in which its citizens can enter the US illegally.
  • The Mexican government does virtually nothing to punish Mexican citizens who attempt to emigrate illegally nor do they do anything to those Mexicans who make a business of assisting illegal emigrants.

Mexico is out of control. It is run by drug lords, a corrupt army, corrupt police forces, and a corrupt government. It hangs like a tick on the underbelly of the US draining our country of resources at every opportunity. Their reaction to the Arizona law is akin to a tick complaining because too many people are using an insect repellent.

In their ‘friend of the court’ brief the Mexican government complained that “Mexican citizens will be afraid to visit Arizona for work or pleasure out of concern that they will be subject to unlawful police scrutiny and detention.”

I may be wrong here but it seems to me that Arizona passed the law precisely because they are tired of Mexican citizens “visiting” Arizona and then hanging around indefinitely.

Cajones is a possible Spanish translation of chutzpah, but it really lacks the richness of the Hebrew word.


More TSA Idiocy

June 22, 2010

Airport security is a stupid idea, it’s a waste of money, and it’s only there for one reason: to make white people feel safe.

George Carlin

I traveled by air recently and got nailed by the TSA for having a 4-0z bottle. Not 4 oz of liquid, but  a 4-oz bottle, in my luggage.

As you know, TSA has embargoed a state of matter: liquids. Not solids or gases, just liquids.

Their logic goes like this. Liquids are somehow more dangerous than solids or gases. TSA decided (with no supporting science) that no more than 100 ml of a liquid (3.4) ounces maybe carried in a single container.

The strange part of my experience is that the liquid was confiscated, not because I had more than 3.4 ounces but because my liquid was in a 4-0z. bottle. Mind you, the bottle was clear and the TSA turkey could see that it was less than half full, but “Rules is rules, Mac. I gotta confiscate it.”

“But the bottle is only half full,” I protested. “The capacity of the bottle is molded right into the plastic: 4 ounces. There can’t be more than two ounces of liquid in there.”

"Is that a 4-ounce bottle in your shaving kit? Whaddaya think I am—stupid?" (Uh.... yeah)

“Sir,” I was informed, “it’s not the amount of liquid, it’s the capacity of the bottle. When the bottle is larger than 3.4 ounces, we can’t estimate the amount of liquid in the bottle”

(I was smart enough to think, but not say, “So  TSA agents are too fucking dumb to divide 4 by 2?”)

Oddly, though, they don’t set a limit on the total amount of liquid you can carry other than to say that all of your 3.4-ounce bottles must fit in a one-quart Ziploc bag. I can jam six 3.4-ounce bottles in a one-quart Ziploc bag. That’s about 20 ounces.

Twenty ounces of a liquid explosive like nitroglycerin could do some serious damage to an aircraft, possibly bring it down. Granted, nitroglycerin is very unstable but we’re talking about suicide bombers here. If the nitro goes off before a suicide bomber gets on an aircraft, well, better luck next time.

Want more bang for your buck with liquid explosives? How about a gallon of nitroglycerin? It’s easy enough for terrorists to get a gallon of nitro on an aircraft. Six guys, each carrying 20 or so ounces of nitroglycerin in their Zip-Locs board flights at different airports. The nitro is packed in various small opaque containers (e.g., shampoo, creme rinse, after-shave, lotion). The six waltz through TSA unsullied and fly to the same destination. All of the nitro is transferred to one guy who catches a connecting flight out of the destination airport, with about a gallon of nitro in his back pack. Nitroglycerin is so unstable that a sharp blow to any one of the three-ounce containers will detonate it. The resulting blast will detonate the rest of the nitro. The effects should be devastating.

George, we miss you.


Alvin Greene is a Retarded Criminal. He’s the Perfect Senate Candidate.

June 15, 2010

Unless you’ve just returned from a voyage to Mars or a hell of a bachelor party, you’ve no doubt heard the saga of Alvin Greene.

Alvin Greene - (photo by Mary Ann Chastain, courtesy AP)

Just in case, a brief recap: Greene, 32, apparently unemployed and recently discharged from the military under “other than honorable conditions,” placed his name on the South Carolina Democratic party ballot as a candidate for the US Senate. To the astonishment of everyone, Greene took 60% of the vote defeating career politician Vic Rawls. Greene claims to have paid the $10,400 filing fee from his own resources. (“I saved for two years”). Greene apparently did no campaigning, produced only a few copies of a black on green (get it?) campaign flyer and spent most of the primary sitting with his infirm father, where they share a house.

Democrat pols are beside themselves, claiming everything from Greene being a Republican Manchurian Candidate to a plant abetted by disgruntled anti-incumbent Democrats.

First, let’s get the joke out of the way: Being a retarded criminal (charges pending for obscenity) in no way disqualifies Greene from running for the Senate. In fact, if he is elected and leaves his home town of Manning SC for Washington, he will raise the aggregate IQ of both cities. There’s nothing in the Constitution to prohibit Greene from taking a seat in the Senate. He needs meet only the requirements of age, citizenship, and residence. In the past the Supreme Court has ruled against the Congress establishing any more rigorous rules for a candidate. Such changes can be made only by an amendment to the Constitution. Absent proof of voting fraud, Greene’s a legitimate candidate, though unlikely to win against incumbent Republican Jim DeMint.

Fox News claims Greene “demonstrated a lack of understanding about key policy issues.” This hardly distinguishes him from most of the people presently seated in either house of Congress. Their lack of understanding of the basic principles of economics and the contents of the US Constitution is appalling.

You’re free to surf the web for conspiracy theories and other skullduggery that might account for Greene’s win. I will posit only one theory which I honestly hope proves to be correct. First, some background:

The majority of votes in US elections are cast on electronic voting equipment. This equipment is grossly substandard by current cryptographic protocols. Housewives with no particular cryptographic skills have hacked local voting machines; professional cryptographers have demonstrated undetectable hacks of entire voting systems. Election commissions know this, politicians know it, and, most of all, manufacturers of voting machines know it but all choose to ignore it. Why?

  • Because electronic systems give us rapid results. No waiting for two or three weeks like the folks in the third world do. We want our official results within hours after the polls close.
  • Cryptographic systems are almost impossible to implement and secure when they are in the hands of poorly trained and sometimes corrupt personnel.
  • A paper audit trail, the ONLY way to guarantee that the results of electronic voting reasonably reflect the will of the people, is cumbersome and expensive. No one wants to think about dealing with the tons of paper that would be necessary to provide auditable voting. Mind you, electronic systems can be used with reasonable safety but only when there is a paper trail that can be used to verify the electronic results when the validity of a vote is in question.
  • Voting machine manufacturers engage in “security by obscurity” assuring their customers that their systems are safe because how they work is (sshhhh) “secret.” Security by obscurity violates Kerckhoffs’ principle, a 150-year-old fundamental concept in cryptography.
  • One former manufacturer, Diebold, recently sold their electronic voting system to Premier Election Solutions. Diebold insisted that their name be removed from all existing Diebold voting machines. Why? Because they knew their system was crap and, as the largest manufacturer of ATM’s in the country, Diebold did not want their name associated with the inevitable scandals coming in the electronic voting business.

So here’s my theory:  A group of cryptographically savvy hackers, determined to demonstrate the vulnerability of our electronic voting systems, conned Greene into registering as a candidate but doing nothing to garner votes. These hackers then jiggered the South Carolina electronic voting system (12,000 iVotronic machines built by Election Systems and Software of Omaha NE) to give Greene the win. Their purpose in doing this, I hope, is to expose electronic voting systems of all types as a serious hazard to our republic. If you want to prove that these systems can be compromised, what better demonstration than the ‘election’ of Alvin Greene.

Chris Whitmire, South Carolina’s election commissioner says his department “has not detected even a hint of fraud or hacking.” That’s the whole point, Chris. These systems can be taken over by hackers without their leaving any trace that they were there.

If I’m right, someone will step forward (perhaps anonymously) with evidence of massive fraud in the South Carolina Democrat primary. Time will tell; meanwhile, crack open a brew and watch the show.


The World (Yawn) Cup Is Here

June 10, 2010

Friday marks the beginning of the mostly widely-viewed sporting event in the world, the FIFA World Cup. The total television audience for this quadrennial donnybrook should be near a billion. I, along with most other Americans, will not be in the TV audience even though the United States team is among the 32 qualifying teams. Why the lack of interest? Because soccer (known as football outside the United States) is one of the most boring sports on the planet—right down there with the America’s Cup. Here’s my indictment of a game for which the rest of the world holds boundless passion.

Nothing Much Happens in a Soccer Game. Mind you, professional soccer players are among the most-skilled, best-conditioned athletes on the planet. I’ll put them up against the best in almost any American sport when it comes to endurance. But all they do is run around the field, kicking the ball hither and yon. The chance that anyone actually will score is small. Here are the scores for the final matches of the last five World Cups: 1-0, 0-0 (yes, you read that right), 3-0 (wow!), 2-0, 1-1. This is not world-class excitement. This is watching paint dry.

There’s Not Enough Violence on the Field. In the past 25 years over 200 people have died at FIFA-sanctioned matches around the world. These deaths occurred primarily during post-game riots when fans of opposing teams decided to take the contest to a higher level. In the NFL, by comparison, post-game rioting is rare, usually limited to property damage done in the hometown of the Super Bowl winners. Football and hockey fans usually see enough real violence during the game to sate their blood lust. Hockey fans are treated regularly to full-blown fist fights. Almost every play in a football game results in one or two fairly violent hits. Soccer players cannot hit or check one another as can football and hockey players. When a hit does occur on the soccer field it’s usually a minor collision followed by the most pathetic acting this side of David Caruso. You don’t have to have seen many soccer games to have witnessed a player rolling on the ground with his hands clasped around a knee. He’s waiting to see if he can con the referee into yellow-carding his opponent. Fifteen seconds later, the “injured” player is running down the field, apparently none the worse off.

FIFA Doesn’t Even Allow Blood. Under FIFA rules if a player is bleeding, he’s out of the match until the flow is stanched. What are they worried about? Blood-borne pathogens or having their cute little uniforms soiled?

The Referees Have Too Much Influence on the Outcome of a Match. Between calls of ‘offside’ when a goal has been scored and the assessment of penalty kicks, the referees’ decisions often determine the outcome of a match. Many soccer refs have been forced into hiding and retirement due to serious death threats by disgruntled fans. Some hard-core soccer fan can do a detailed analysis but my casual estimate is that about one third of the points scored or denied in a soccer match are the result of referees’ decisions. In games where only 3 or 4 total points are scored, these decisions have a material impact on the outcome. Yes, you can point to MLB and NFL games where a ref’s decision materially affected the outcome of the game but they are the exception. In soccer, it’s the norm. And, by the way, have you ever noticed how long it takes soccer refs to assess a penalty? It’s like they’re waiting to judge the quality of a downed player’s feigned agony before making a call.

The Offside Rule Sucks. Read the rule. Then ask a random sample of soccer fans to explain it to you. Nobody really quite understands it but the idea of the rule is to prevent a team from stationing a player near the opposing team’s goal in hopes of taking a long pass and scoring a goal. What’s wrong with that? If a coach wants to unbalance his defense by leaving one or two guys near the opponent’s goal, that just increases the chance of a score. The other team can do it, too. Or, they may take advantage of their opponent’s weakened defense and overpower them at the opposite goal. My theory is that the offside rule was thought up by the same folks for whom ‘equal opportunity’ equates to ‘equal outcome.’ Yes, the offside rule is part of a liberal/socialist/communist plot to make sure everything is ‘fair.’ I attended a FIFA game in Rome where the final score was 0-0. The only goal scored during the game was nullified by an offside call. Yawn.

Some of the World’s Most Annoying Fans. Not only are they ready to continue the match in the streets and the pubs if they don’t like the outcome, they show up at the events with those annoying vuvuzelas (air horns). And they blow them constantly throughout the entire game.  Might as well blow them all the time. If they wait until something exciting happens they’d hardly get to use them. (BTW, vuvuzelas produce a B flat tone at 127 db, enough to cause permanent ear damage if you attend enough games). On television the background sound is like that of a swarm of giant hornets buzzing thorough the entire match. Gawd.

So Why Is Soccer So Popular? Because it’s a great game to play, but not to watch. All it takes to put together a soccer game is a ball and a few kids who want to have fun. You can play the game in a street or an alley with no special equipment and have a blast. It’s great exercise and physical size or strength are not major factors. The only sport requiring less of an investment in playing space and equipment is ‘tag.’ If you grew up in the barrio or the streets of Karachi playing the game, it’s only natural that you’ll take an interest in it as an adult. But, really, it’s just not that exciting.

Enjoy the World Cup. I’ll be rearranging my sock drawer (unless Brazil makes the final match. Those Brazilian soccer babes are the best-looking sports fans in the world).


Got (Breast) Milk?

June 9, 2010

OK. I admit I’m behind on this story. It broke while I was on a road trip, examining breasts from the Atlantic to the Rio Grande. By the time I heard about it, the story already had topped two million hits on Google. Still, some things are so ridiculous, so outrageous, they beg repeating. This story is one of them.

Two senior Saudi clerics said that Saudi Arabia’s women should give their breast milk to male colleagues and acquaintances in order to safeguard the Islamic law that forbids mixing between the sexes. The clerics, however, failed to reach an agreement among each other on how the milk should be conveyed.

Times Newsline (New Delhi)

Yes, indeed, Wahhabi Islam, the brand of Magic practiced in Saudi Arabia, prohibits “unlawful mixing” between sexes. This unlawful mixing does not constitute simply sexual relations or dating. It prohibits contact of any kind between men and women who are not related. “Mixing” between related men and women is allowed but the rules about who is “related” and who can mix with whom are too arcane for us infidels to follow.

But two geniuses of Islamic law, Sheikh Al Obeikan and Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, have issued fatwas (legal opinions handed down by Islamic religious leaders) to liberalize the rules on mixing between unrelated members of the opposite sex. How? By having men drink the breast milk of unrelated women. The act of a man consuming the breast milk of a female acquaintance somehow makes the two “related” thereby saving the woman from death by stoning and the man from forfeiting his claim on 72 virgins in the afterlife.

There’s a problem, though. Al Obeikan and Al Huwaini cannot agree on how the breast milk should be “conveyed” to the man.

The man should take the milk, but not directly from the breast of the woman. He should drink it and then becomes a relative of the family, a fact that allows him to come in contact with the women without breaking Islam’s rules about mixing.

Sheikh Al Obeikan
quoted in Gulf News (Dubai)
(Gulf News has since pulled this story from its web site)

Tough Choice

Saudi cleric Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, however, said that women should allow the men to suckle the milk directly from their breast. (Polls show Al Huwaini’s popularity reaching an all-time high, while Al Obeikan  has been forced to take a part-time position in a pork processing facility).

An interesting loophole in all this: Saudi women are not allowed to drive. Their male drivers are exempt from the prohibition of mixing with unrelated women. Muhammad, in his infinite wisdom, was able to foresee 1400 years ago that members of the Saudi royal family would never go for chauffeurs sucking on their wives’ titties.