Friday, 26 July 2013

Nacho Nacho Man

Finally the US has lost one record that it never really wanted ...... that of worlds behemoths, aka 'Fat boys' (and girls).

I was surprised that the winner of this title is actually its southern neighbour, Mexico. The latest figures produced by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, shows that 32.8% of Mexican adults is now classed as obese (or 'ill', as the American Medical Association have now designated obesity). This outweighs the US figure of 31.8% and thus claims the unwanted title.

Mexican Porkers .....

It also has the highest rates of child obesity in the world, a title it took in 2011. All this, despite the fact that nearly half the country being classed as  poor, and with malnourishment in a major health issue. So the other richer half of Mexican soceity are literally eating for two ....

The blame for this is officially placed on the following:
  • The diet of Tortillas, Nachos, Tacos, Beans and Chilli.
  • The rising affluence and more sedentary lifestyles many Mexicans now enjoy.
  • The bad example of large food servings gained from north of the border.
  • And the real killer .... soft drinks. Mexico is the worlds highest consumer of soft drinks per head of population in the world.

So this must make the whole North American Continent officially 'ill or obese' .....

However, as with all these figures, you can read them many ways .... for instance the same UN agency states that the Micronesian island of Nauru has an adult obesity rate of 71.1% - followed closely by other related groups in Polynesia, and New Zealand's Māori's etc.

So in reality, the Mexicans are going to have to really stuff their faces to get to those levels. So lets hear it one more time .....

♪♪ Nacho Nacho Man, I want to be a Nacho Man ♪♪

I Ain't Got Nobody

When Nguyen Quang Hung, a North-Vietnamese soldier was wounded during fighting with the US in 1966, he was lucky enough to be taken prisoner and not left to die in the jungles (like so many others). Unfortunately by the this time he had developed gangrene, and had to have his arm amputated by a US army doctor.

Strangely, the US Army Doctor Sam Axelrad decided not to throw the amputated arm away, and instead had it de-fleshed, the bones sewn back together and in a sort of excarnation, kept the bones for more than 40 years as a reminder of the 'good deed' he had performed by treating an enemy soldier.

But in 2011 he wasn't getting any younger, and decided to track down the ex-Vietcong former owner of the arm, a move, which he later said, would help provide "closure". A local journalist wrote about his mission, and the news eventually spread back to Mr Hung and last month, the doctor finally reunited the arm with the Vietnamese pensioner.  

Doctor Sam Axelrad and Nguyen Quang Hung - Then And Now.

"I'm very happy to see him [Dr Axelrad] again and have that part of my body back after nearly half a century," Mr Hung said."My arm bone is evidence of my contribution to the war. I will keep it in my house... in the glass display cabinet," he said, adding that he hoped the arm would help him claim a veteran's pension, as his army files had been lost. He apparently intends to be buried with his bones.

Dr Axelrad, said he was "unbelievably happy" to be able to return the arm. "When I amputated his arm [in 1966], our medics took the arm, took the flesh off it, put it back together perfectly with wires, and then they gave it to me. When I left the country six months later, I didn't want to throw it away, I put it in my trunk and brought it home, and all these years it has been in my house".

Whilst this might seem like a humerus reunion (sorry, couldn't resist), there was a sad side ... Mr Hung. concluded the tale by saying that he considered himself "very lucky" compared to many of his comrades who died in the war - The Vietnam War, which ended in 1975, killed an estimated 58,000 US soldiers, and three million Vietnamese.

Killer Apes

It seems that not only do we want young men to fight wars, risking injury or death on behalf of politicians, but we want them to be bright as well …… a report just issued has said that we must have ‘clever soldiers’.

The Parliamentary report has criticised the fact that two-fifths (39%) of recruits to the British Army have the reading ability at or below that expected of an 11-year-old, with 38% at this same level of ability in numeracy. It also claimed  that of those groups, many actually had an even lower standard i.e. Just about National Vocational Qualification entry level 2, or put another way, below the standard expected of a seven- or eight-year-old in literacy and numeracy.

While of all of those who joined the Royal Navy or the RAF in 2012, all were above NVQ entry level 2, it found that 3.5% of all army recruits had reading levels at this standard, and 1.7% only had this level of ability in maths.

They then criticised that fact that 28% of army recruits are under the age of 18 when they join, compared with 5% for the Royal Navy and 8% for the RAF, but frankly you would expect a bit better from a Commons Defence Select Committee report with the committee normally chaired by Tory MP’s.

Scholar Soldiers?

The answers to these concerns are self evident if you have an ounce of savvy in your body, but apparently not to a bunch of Members of Parliament in the UK:

Starting with the recruitment age issue:

The army is facing the worst peace time cuts in 50 years …. It’s been forced to lay off thousands of experienced fighting and support soldiers, and is desperately short of soldiers to fight in the several wars the UK has got involved in. The cheapest replacement manpower available is teen males, and therefore the Army is packing the lower ranks with cheaper replacement soldiers, hence the fact that 28% of army recruits are under the age of 18. The answer is simple. Stop and reverse the army cuts to negate the need to take under 18 year olds.

Literacy levels:

These are boys and men who have often failed in the school system for a variety of reasons. They often face three stark choices post educational time:
  1. Life on the dole, fathering multiple children at the expense of the state (and at a cost far greater than that of paying them in the armed forces). 
  2. A life of crime – quick money in drug dealing and petty crime.
  3. Or, make something of themselves and joining the armed forces, where they can develop practical and educational skills that offer them some chance in life post the military.

What exactly does this committee of MP's want? An army of Oxbridge graduates who couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag, while an army of less privileged young men are denied a second chance, and lay indolently on our estates breeding children in-between bouts of petty crime and violence?

I know exactly which of those options are better for our society. So why don’t they? 

Everyone But Themselves

A leaked version of a Pakistani government report has been published on the al-Jazeera News TV station, and its alleged to be a draft version of the secret report, issued by the 'Abbottabad Commission', into the events surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden. What makes it interesting, is how much more revealing it is of the mindset of the pilots in the cockpit of terrorism, than they fully understand.

Firstly its shows that the main aim of the commission was not to really understand why Bin Laden felt able to live safely for years inside Pakistan. Probably because they already know why that was .... i.e. the Inter Services Security (ISI), have been backing the Taliban and Jihadists in Afghanistan for decades, and was helping the 'pin up boy' of the terror movement avoid the US as a bargaining tool.

Waziristan Haveli - Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad

The reports authors even remark themselves that it was "almost unbelievable that over a period of six years the unusual nature of the compound failed to draw the attention of the intelligence services .

How the entire neighbourhood, local officials, police and security and intelligence officials all missed the size, the strange shape, the barbed wire, the lack of cars and visitors etc over a period of nearly six years beggars belief." ...... the answers simple. The ISI knew he was there and were not looking for him.

No, although it makes some reference to how he went unnoticed, the primary reason for the report was to lay the blame on whomever was culpable in the events that led to the US forces successful raid, that in the words of the authors "culminated in the avoidable humiliation of the people of Pakistan".

And that's the key to the commissions brief, the "humiliation of the people of Pakistan" .... and Pakistan's "greatest humiliation" since East Pakistan seceded in 1971. They really are not that bothered about the fact that Bin Laden was living in an army garrison town, undisturbed since 2005, this after entering Pakistan in the spring or summer of 2002. He was even apparently stopped by police in Swat for speeding in 2002 or 2003 - but they 'failed to recognise him'.

It concludes that the failures to find Bin Laden and to to stop the US raid, were "culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government", but although it found nothing to support allegations of complicity in his residence (nor the US raid), it also said it could not rule out "the possibility of some degree of connivance inside or outside the government". So the blame game can be re-opened at any time the ISI need some scapegoats.

Obama Ordered The Raid On The Abbottabad Lair Of Osama bin Laden

Finally it concludes that the killing of Bin Laden by US forces, was a "criminal act of murder", ordered by the US President. It adds that the Navy Seal raid was an "American act of war", and that although the Pakistan air force jets were scrambled to shoot down the US helicopters, it was too late. Oddly it doesn't speculate as to what would have happened if the Pakistan air force jets scrambled, had managed to shoot down the US helicopters .... a lot more than a bit of humiliation for Pakistan I suspect.

As usual the Pakistan establishment and security complex have managed to blame everyone but themselves.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Colouring The Past

I have posted before on the colour of the past. How we are completely wrong to think that the ancient world was a monochrome of white or dark marbles, but in fact was a riot of colours everywhere the ancients looked. Of course bronze was already around .......

Giant Bronze Statue Athena - Acropolis - Pheidias

But recent discoveries have show exactly how much colourising went on - not just of cult images, but of the statues seen daily on the streets and the buildings. There were coloured statues ....

This Goddess Was Originally Painted Like This

These Are The Original Colours Found On This Statue

..... Then there is the fact that they now know what the colours were on the Parthenon .....

How It Would Look On Site
Frontal View
Angled View

The irony is that although the Parthenon is undergoing an extensive makeover and repair, largely funded by and with technical assistance from the European Union, it is not intended to restore it to a pre-1687 state, but rather to simply repair the explosion damage from the Ottoman period. Which will be mitigated as much as possible by restoring the aesthetic integrity, by filling in chipped sections of column drums and lintels, using precisely sculpted marble which will be cemented in place.

New pentelic marble is being used from the original quarry and ultimately, almost all the major missing pieces of marble will have been replaced in the structure, supported as needed by modern materials. While the repairs will initially show as white against the weathered tan of the original surfaces, they will become less prominent as they age.

But crucially, although the restorers know fully well that the building was originally of vivid decoration, they are not prepared to go that far ...... yet. So as discussed before, we are in fact doomed to see the 'ruins' not as they really were when they were completed, but rather at a specific designated time line date of ruination, that current local historians think we should.

Imagine the Great Wall of China being left deliberately as a ruin by the Chinese .... you can't, can you.  

Best or Worst Politicians

The worst and the best US Presidents as calculated by various criteria is not a subject I have dwelled long upon ..... I guess that like most people, I have thought along the lines of, Abraham Lincoln = Good, and George W Bush = Bad. But when you think of it, that's

(a) Rather simplistic and
(b) Inaccurate, depending upon the criteria used.

For example, if the criteria is for 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness' .... then Abraham Lincoln led the US through its bloodiest episode, and it can be argued that had he allowed the South to secede from the Union (which after all, constitutionally they were probably allowed to do), then he would have been fulfilling his constitutional requirements by pursuing Peace, and Prosperity and Liberty. Rather than entering upon a bloody civil war .... it should be remembered that Lincoln did not enter the civil war to defend freeing the slaves (its clear from the records that he would have backed down on that issue), but rather to preserve the Union. The slave issue was only a secondary matter to stopping the secession of the southern states.

President Clinton, who could have been a great, was mired in scandal throughout his terms, and put off decisions that would have prevented later issues for the US abroad (notably in the Middle East). Obama, well he's turned out to be just a smart turn of phrase (in fact a slick willy lawyers glibness), attached to no concrete measures .... a disappointment for all those UK and US  'lefties', who thought that his being 'Black' made him 'different', indeed 'better' somehow, than any 'White' Presidents. So apart from being the first (and maybe only) Black president for a while, he will sink into obscurity. This despite the conspiracy biographers who will no doubt try to portray his failures as the fault of the 'white establishment'.    

President Ronald Reagan  - Best Ever?

In fact now that I think on it ...... there is an argument to be made that good Ol' President Ronnie Reagan was the best in the peace, prosperity and liberty departments. He started the process that helped end the 'Cold War', and eventually led to the break up of the Communist USSR. He had eight years of economic growth (despite, rather than because of 'Reagonomics'), and under him the US public felt powerful and good, with events such as a successful Olympics just boosting that feeling. The dark-side of his years in office only arose after he had gone e.g. The rise of militant Islam stemming from his reckless arming of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the USSR (Bin Laden and countless other jihadist terrorists were 'trained' in that war, with CIA money). The rapid rise in the wealth gap between the rich and poor in the US (and UK), as a result of his 'trickle down' economic 'theories', really only manifested fully under the Bush Administrations. But, crucially at the time of his Presidency, he ticked all the boxes that the US constitution asked of a President.

So what about the UK's Prime Ministers?

Well, as we have no written constitution, we don't actually have any markers to judge against ..... so maybe if we used the US aspirations of 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness' we would be at least comparing like for like.

So, in view of the endless Napoleonic wars the Pitt's (elder and younger) are out. Similarly, while economic growth and empire building worked fantastically under Victorians such as Disraeli and Palmerston, the liberty of the working classes was a bit of problem, with chronic poverty for the poor, and dreadful punishments for those who stepped out of line. Churchill was a late 'Empire man', who cocked up military affairs from the Dardanelles, to Norway over several decades - he also wasn't one for economics and the working mans rights either. Similarly Mrs Thatcher was a like or loathe kind of personality with a strong sense of direction which didn't take everyone with her.

Harold Macmillan - Best Prime Minister?

So I guess, if I had to choose, I would plump for Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. He dealt with a poor hand in a failing British Empire, but had a successful economic policy, with an age of affluence, marked by low unemployment and high (if uneven) growth. He started the decolonisation of southern Africa with his 'winds of change speech', that eventually led to the end of apartheid. He also strengthened the UK's nuclear forces by acquiring Polaris missiles, created 'the special relationship' with the USA, and pioneered the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the United States and the Soviet Union - thus resisting Communism and aiding world peace. Not bad despite the Profumo 'spy' (or not spy in reality) scandals at the end of his term - he retired (medical misdiagnosis), else he may have seem out another couple of terms on office as he was popular across the classes.

'Best Ever' lists are always interesting, if rather like peoples personal music play-lists, and just a reflection of the compilers preferences and prejudices .....

Getting Old Ain't No Picnic

It used to be that there was a difference between the treatment of the elderly in the oriental (and to a lesser extent Asian), cultures and the West. The idea was that in those societies, the elderly were looked after and respected within the family unit, while in the West, the elderly weren't respected, and would end up in old peoples homes.

During the 1980's and 1990's this seemed to hold true .... the West’s families structures appeared to implode, with divorce rates getting ever higher, thus increasing the pressure on the care for the elderly within a 'family' structure.

In the East though, the system looked stable, but in fact undermining these trends, in most oriental countries there has been a dramatic rise in the mortality rates since the 1960's - In China for example life expectancy was just 43 in 1960, but rose to 73 by 2010 and may be around 75 by 2030. In fact in China, the process of population ageing is so fast, that what that took up to a century in the West, will happen in the next 30 years in China.

China also became officially an 'old' country (The UN considers a country to be ageing when 7% of its population is aged 65 or over) while its GDP per capita was less than $1,000 pa. The norm for 'ageing' countries is after their GDP per capita exceeded $10,000 (£6,215) or for median wealth countries, when their income reached $5,000 pa - this means that China couldn't put in place the sort of age support provisions that wealthier countries provide.

Its Not All Fun Growing Old In China
This has combined with two events which have altered perceptions of the manner in which the elderly are treated in these different worlds - Japan has been in a recession that has caused much monetary hardship amongst once well off families, and in that same period China has expanded its economy several fold - with millions leaving their home towns and villages to seek work in the factories.

With the impact of of these events, stories of the collapse of the family support mechanisms for many of the elderly in both Japan and China have become increasingly common. With tales of an elderly grandmother who was beaten and forced out of her home in Jiangsu province, after she asked her daughter-in-law for a bowl of rice porridge, shocking the Chinese. Internet forums were then discussing another case a few days later, when in the same province, a family made their 100-year-old matriarch sleep in the same room as a pig.

These, and many other similar stories prompted the Chinese government to pass the 'Elderly Rights Law', which came into affect on the 1st of July 2013.

This law makes it a criminal offence not to visit your elderly parents regularly, care for their "spiritual needs", and to "never neglect or snub elderly people". How all of this will enforced and if it even can be enforced has caused much comment and discussion on the blogosphere, Internet chat-rooms and  Weibo (China's version of Twitter). One factor in the discussion is that in fact, to qualify for a place in a care home you have to have no relatives, so people are either forced to care for the elderly inside the family structure or abandon them. So just 2% of the elderly are cared for in nursing homes .... something the new law makes no effort to address.

Oddly, in a reinforcing legal case, that was surely more than coincidental, within a few days a Chinese court ordered a woman to visit her mother once every two months ....

It may be just a law that points out a social issue, but if it has any real impact, with an estimated 356 million people who will be 60 years or older by 2030, that’s an awful lot of family visits to make.

Detroit's Decaying Majesty

The collapse of the old cities of the Industrial revolution is apparent across the Western world (first in, first out, springs to mind), and nowhere so than the Northern cities of the US - Detroit, and too a lesser extent cities like Chicago, have all suffered from the twin blights of the collapse of traditional manufacturing, and a mass influx of overwhelmingly African-American immigration, that caused 'white flight' from the centre. Most of the wealth and money abandoning the inner city areas of the centre, for suburbs across the 8 Mile Road marker, with the multi million dollar lakeside properties and gated communities.

This latter trend meant that a lot of the knowledge and skills that built the jobs in the first place were gone by the time a new renovation / reinvention was required. Sadly this left the cities to essentially collapse like Stockton in California, with crime spiralling and the funds to tackle the issues dwindling. A spiral that many thought was impossible to halt. Detroit for example, is likely to be declared bankrupt as it owes creditors $15bn (£10bn), which it can't pay.

Detroit in Decline

As an example of the sort of problems some of the USA's post industrial cities face: Between the years 2008 and 2012 in Detroit; The City population fell from 912,062 to 684,799 | Unemployment rose from 15% to 18% | Property tax collection rates fell from 76% to 68.3% | And the budget deficits have risen from $217m pa to $652m pa.

But according to a BBC report, there are signs that as even the Afro-American poor are abandoning whole neighbourhoods, a form of white 'gentrification' is going on, as what used to be called 'Yuppies' (remember them?), but are now described coyly as 'young professionals' (BBC newspeak, meaning white Americans) are moving in and establishing small scale private enterprises in areas such as Corktown. There are movers and shakers, creating venture capital companies and 'Tech' start-up incubators, organising design competitions for vacant lots, property renovators are doing up turn of the century housing to its former glories, and trying to restore some of Detroit's decaying majesty .... a situation that in some districts is sometimes called "ruin porn".

Still the private sector can only do so much, especially with so many pools of basically unemployable populations. As the city's new emergency manager wrote of Detroit's public sector, its "dysfunctional and wasteful after years of budgetary restriction, mismanagement, crippling operational practices and, in some cases, indifference or corruption"..... not a promising soil in which to throw the seed corn of a regrowth.

As others have tried to point out, expanding local councils, public sector employment and municipal contracts, does not rejuvenate a city whose time has passed. This applies as equally to the UK as the USA, and New Labour would be advised to learn the lesson.

We must have private enterprise, less regulation, and less public sector, to restore employment and thus our old industrial cities ....

Rather strangely I had written up this story about Detroit’s attempted regeneration weeks before the news today, that Detroit had declared itself bankrupt, with debts of least $15bn (£10bn). Of course in the US Chapter 9 bankruptcy is a slightly different beast than in the UK, in that essentially it stops debtors making any claims against the municipality using the ploy. In this case it was to stop creditors, including public-sector workers and their pension funds from seizing assets in preference over other creditors, and also it specifically allows the city to renegotiate any 'unsustainable pension or other benefits packages' negotiated in flush times i.e. Union Bust as the lead negotiator for a coalition of 33 unions described the move.

The city had offered 10c in the Dollar as settlement to its creditors, but the unions and pension funds had turned this down, and indeed had been due to go to court to seek an injunction against Detroit filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy so this move by the city was to forestall any injunction. 

Of course in theory there is a downside - the city cant borrow funds from banks etc while in this state, but as in reality it had been unable to borrow money for a while, and was unlikely to have been able to borrow any in the near future, this wipe-out of debts, and 'allow it to reinvent itself without the burden of impossible obligations' i.e. Walk away scot-free is all on the positive side for the city.

However, its bad news for other US municipalities because the cost of borrowing for them is going to shoot through the roof as all US cities are classed as high risk.   

Oddly this news comes just as commercial and residential occupancy in the down-town areas are at record levels, but with the murder rate at a 40-year high (as white flight makes the city ever more Afro-American dominated), and with the number of residents declining by 250,000 between 2000 and 2010, it looks as though there will be even tougher times ahead for the 'Motor City' before it becomes the 'Renaissance City' again. 

Friday, 12 July 2013

Talking To The Dead And Other Interesting Claims

The Daily Mail newspaper in the UK has reportedly had to pay what are described as 'substantial damages plus legal costs' for suggesting that a 'psychic', was 'using an ear piece' to receive instructions from her helpers, and thus conning the paying public. The fact no one can talk to the dead or spirits, and therefore any 'medium / psychic act' claiming to do so is ipso facto a serious fraud and con, at any level of looking at it, seems not to have saved the Daily Mail, because they were unable to prove their allegation that she was using an earpiece, rather than just cold reading the gullible.

Its almost beyond belief in the 21st century, in a modern Western country, that anyone is still allowed to take money off people who are obviously susceptible, by advertising this type of claim, but the fact that a national newspaper is forced to actually pay them damages, for essentially saying that its a fraud (even if they described the wrong fraud method being used) is disgraceful.

Any decent stage magician worth his or her salt can perform a cold reading medium act - in fact many of them are so good at it that they could easily con millions of pounds out of the idiotic, and without a psychic bone in their bodies - I cite for example "The Great Randi" ... Who regularly expose the hucksters of the psychic world.  Another is Derren Brown the UK illusionist, mentalist, trickster, and hypnotist - who has happily exposed how easy it is to perform these 'psychic' acts and get away with it, but with no claim to be actually talking to the dead.

Houdini Says No To Spirits
In fact the great Harry Houdini in his role as President of the Society of American Magicians, presented himself as the scourge of fake magicians and spiritualists, and often exposed them.

Yet a century later and 'There's still a sucker born every minute' to misquote PT Barnum, who is (falsely) credited as having said it .... and these 'psychic' parasites continue to make a living off of the marks ..... We in the West are not so far away from the witch killers of Black Africa or Saudi Arabia.        

Cheesy Stinkers

What’s in a cheese? .... well according to the US food and drug administration, not always cheese. The specialist Mimolette cheese of France, is classified as nothing much more than, and I quote, "it appears to consist in whole or in part of a filthy, putrid or decomposed substance or be otherwise unfit for food".

Mimolette Is A Stinky French Cheese According To USFDA

Mimolette is a cheese traditionally produced around the city of Lille, France, where its also known as 'Boule de Lille'.... its similar to Edam, but coloured orange (Louis XIV had it created to stop the French importing Dutch Edam). The cheese can be served at several stages of its life, where it has different characteristics. When very old Vieille (or extra-vieille), then the greyish crust of the aged Mimolette is as direct result of 'cheese mites' intentionally introduced to add flavour by their action on the surface of the cheese. Its this process that seems to have angered the US authorities.

Cheese Mites - Not Just Mexicans Stopped At US Borders.

So harsh words, but as well as being technically true for these particular versions of the cheese, strangely reminiscent of the term used to describe the French, "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" by Springfield High janitor, 'Grounds keeper Willie' in 'The Simpsons'. There is a similar reference in the Family Guy episode 'Jerome Is the New Black', which had several songs with racially offensive lyrics, performed by the "Rat Pack" singing on a 60's TV show - one of the songs was "Pew, Stinky Frenchman".

The French response has been robust "This is absurd, changing the production process would change the flavour. No one has ever got ill from eating our cheese." .... and in fact 1.5 tonnes of this product were exported to the US before the ban, so someone must have liked it  .... but the French junior minister for food seems to have accepted that the ban will stay in force, and that Mimolette makers would have no choice but to comply if they wanted to export to the US.

"Our only concern is to work with French cheese-makers towards a new production process for aged Mimolette destined for export" ... Little bit of worked need there me thinks.

Oh, and if your interested .... here's the lyrics to the TV show parodied on Family Guy.

Announcer: From Time-Life Music comes a one-of-a-kind Rat Pack Collection. Their Most Bigoted Songs. All your favourite once acceptable hits like:
"Drunk Old Injun":

Frank: ♪♪ The drunk, old Injun ♪♪

♪♪ Squatting in his teepee ♪♪

♪♪ Firewater keeping him warm ♪♪

Announcer: "Jewish Nose"

Frank: ♪♪ She's got a big beautiful Jewish nose ♪♪

♪♪ And its there two minutes early ♪♪

♪♪ Wherever she goes ♪♪

Announcer: Dean Martin singing: "Chinaman's Chance"

Dean Martin ♪♪ And Mr. Chinaman say ♪♪

♪♪ In his Chinaman way ♪♪

♪♪ A ding-a-ling a ching-a-chong a chinga-chong-chu ♪♪

Announcer: "Pew, Stinky Frenchman"

Frank: ♪♪ Paris is lovely ♪♪

♪♪ And Nice sure is nice ♪♪

♪♪ And Marseille is charming with champagne on ice ♪♪

♪♪ But you, stinky Frenchman ♪♪

♪♪ Haven't a clue ♪♪

♪♪ Pew, stinky Frenchman ♪♪

♪♪ Frog You ♪♪

Announcer: "Hey There, Fruity"

Group: ♪♪ Hey there, Fruity ♪♪

Frank: ♪♪ You can do my hair ♪♪

Group: ♪♪ Hey there, Fruity ♪♪

Sammy: ♪♪ Don't touch me down there ♪♪

Group: ♪♪ Hey there, Fruity ♪♪

Dean: ♪♪ You're gay and I don't approve... ♪♪

Announcer: "And Many More..."

Washing Your Dirty Money

What's a fun loving criminal going to do about getting his money cleaned? The cost of a full blown money laundering operation is both very expensive (at up to 40% of value) and rife with uncertainties and betrayals. Now there have always been ways of means for criminals to turn stolen goods into hard cash .... the good old fashioned 'fence' (or sometime pawn broker), would take stolen items and offer the thief a percentage of the perceived cash value in the hope of later recouping a greater value themselves and thus making their profit on the deal.

Now this was all well and good in the days when stolen silverware was the item - the value obtained by the criminal was determined by how 'hot' the item was, and the end value to the fence. But now days the thief is not going to be moving a couple of hundred pounds worth of items, they are likely to be moving millions of pounds worth of drugs, arms or people trafficking money. They also want it to be moved around the globe - so this places a particular emphasis on speed and reliability.

So what are launderers to do?

Old fashioned approaches still work to some degree.

Buying Gold or Diamonds can move fair amounts but requires an element of smuggling and physical couriers. Which mean its expensive and with an element of risk.

Buying stocks, bearer bonds or shares - they will allow large money moves and internationally but require some element of money laundering before purchase or the services of a 'bent' money broker. Still, it is time tested and once completed can be hard to trace later.

Property - surprisingly large amounts of money can be moved by purchasing properties, but apart from the issue of paying the seller (which can be done fairly easily via capital in kind - drugs, diamonds etc - if the seller has criminal links) - there is the slowness in turning the property into cash that would hinder many criminals. e.g. Russian / Georgian gangsters prefer their wealth in liquid assets, or wearable items.

Bank transfers - most large international banks move millions electronically from offices around the world - this is done to stop all the cash ending up in one spot such as London. Some banks may be willing to facilitate transfers to foreign climes (for a consideration) .... a good few years ago, I heard a story that the London branch of the Bank of Iraq (under Mr Hussein and Sons); one of our then Arab 'allies', would be willing to do this (for a fee). The money would be brought in to the bank as cash. They would put this in to the vault, but add the value to the electronic amount to be transferred that night, and then open an account in the branch overseas, to which the criminal wanted the money (minus the 'commission'). Now how easy this is to arrange, and how often it could be done, I can't say, but its obvious that its probably an occasional activity at best.

Cash / Wire transfer services - these are very popular with Africans - they are supposed to be regulated but hey, this is Somalis or Nigerians. Where there is a will, there is a way, and hundreds of millions leave Europe and the US by this method. Most of this is untracked - however very large amounts, in the millions, would undoubtedly attract unwanted attentions.

So we now move to the Hi-Tech computer savvy methods of choice:

AIPS - The Money Launderers Choice

Anonymous Internet Payment Systems (AIPS): This is a simple system whereby you deposit funds by opening and account with for example a name, e-mail address, and birth date. Essentially the providers were companies like the now defunct 'Liberty Reserve' and the 'Azitos payment system' - there is also another one which is a Moscow-based service called 'WebMoney'. However the criminals (especially Eastern Europeans), liked the 'Liberty Reserve' service for several reasons:

  • It didn't do much checking (if any), and
  • It was based outside of the US or Russia
  • It only charged 1% commission
  • It was essentially anonymous to create and account (an email and user name).
  • Deposits could be made through third-parties using a credit card or bankwire
  • Deposited funds were then "converted" into Liberty Reserve Dollars or Liberty Reserve Euros, which were tied to the value of the US dollar and the euro respectively, or to ounces of gold.
  • No limits were placed on transaction sizes.
  • Transactions were "100% irrevocable" i.e no recalls.

The redemption of the Liberty Reserve Dollars etc was achieved by someone purchasing the virtual money amount from you e.g. Liberty Reserve Euro's, for a fee (standard was 9%), and giving users the cash.

Its closure has created a dilemma - other 'providers' are slightly more scrupulous in monitoring account activity. They often require nominally more information ('WebMoney' for example require, a name, address, telephone and email address for registration). Unfortunately, they are also much more heavily monitored: Web Money are known to be heavily monitored by the Russian FSB (successors to the KGB) who will act if activities are harming Russia, but are less interested if its western interests that are harmed.

BitCoins - are another widely used virtual currency, which although not as flexible as Liberty Reserve, do offer a semi unregulated method of moving monies - But the biggest 'BitCoin exchange' has already announced that its users must provide identification documents to use the service to withdraw cash, in what appears to be an effort to avoid displeasing US law enforcement agencies. They are likely to become regulated very soon.

So was the closure of Liberty Reserve a blow against money laundering? Well yes, but hardly a killer. As one expert put it "I have no doubt that within twenty-four hours most of them figured out another way of getting money from point A to point B."

Naughty Saudi Royals

Ah those naughty Saudi Princesses ... they just can't help themselves can they?

The latest up before the beak is one Meshael Alayban, who as one of the many wives of Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, qualifies for the title 'Princess', and who was arrested in California on slavery charges.

She is accused of 'employing' a Kenyan woman on a two-year contract with an employment agency, for $1,600 (£1,050) a month, for an eight-hour work day, and a standard five days a week, but then having seized the woman's passport, was reduced the skivvies wages to a mere $220 a month and forced to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Of course as we have seen before, slavery is still practised in Saudi Arabia albeit under the guise of work contracts, and so the little princess would have got away with this at home, but, for reasons that are not transparent, she opted to take her slave with her when she wanted a break from all that old time religion back home, and visited the land of the free (kinda gives you a clue doesn't it?).

Saudi Princess Meshael Alayban Mugshot

The slave made her bid for freedom by flagging down a bus driver and being taken to a police station .... Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas described the accuser's situation as "an example of forced labour - It's been 150 years since the Emancipation of Slavery Proclamation, so slavery has been illegal in the United States and certainly in California all this time. It's disappointing to see it in use here" ... a warrant was issued and an arrest was made.

Of course justice being what it is, she's unlikely to go to jail, but is likely to offer 'compensation' of several million dollars, to settle what she calls a 'a dispute over work hours'. Still, its a stiff price to pay for saving about $3,040.00 per month ($1660 - $220 + $1660 for the additional 8 hours), on a two year contract (always assuming that they would have let her go at the end of the two years). I make that $74,400 'saved' or stolen, versus maybe a $1m or more settlement payment.

Saudi Princess Meshael Alayban Behind Bars

Notice that as per usual the 'Saudi Royalty' wear no head or face covering when outside of Saudi Arabia - there is clearly one set of 'Sharia' rules for women inside Saudi Arabia (with the religious police to enforce them), and another for royalty when abroad. They also misbehave with a reckless abandon that only those robbing their country blind feel happy to do .... think Louis XIV of France, only more tawdry.

Update: Unusually I found out what happened. The Princess was freed after the charges were dropped. There was not evidence to go to trial. Prosecutors in the US state of California said they were unable to corroborate the allegations against Ms Alayban and the Orange County District Attorney moved to dismiss the case. Ms Alayban's lawyers said the maid's claims were all a scam to remain in the US. The maids fate is unknown.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Superman Flys To The Rescue

Anyone who visits this Blog knows that I never turn away from a Superhero story .... there are Ninjas, Darth Vaders, various Spidermen, Ninja Turtles, Self made super heroes, Batman and others ..... but I think I've only had the man of steel once, yes, Superman!

Apparently his alter ego in this instance wasn't mild the mannered Clark Kent, but the more proactive Luke Junior. He was wearing the distinctive blue and red caped outfit, as he took part in a charity fund-raising event outside a shop, when he happened to notice a shop lifter with his swag, running out of the store and being chased by staff.

He rushed across and apprehended the thief and made a citizen’s arrest.

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet - Superman To The rescue

The families in the street cheered his heroics, and while the man was arrested and taken away in handcuffs, the Superman theme music was played in the background over the charity event’s PA system.

"When the adrenaline finally stopped, then I realised I was still dressed as Superman and I've not lived it down since," Mr Junior said.

Turkeys Beak Bared At BBC

In a case of the biter bitten, the BBC, a long time supporter of Turkey being a 'European' and not an 'Asian' country, has found out exactly how 'Democratic Liberal'  Turkey really is, with BBC reporters being attacked as "English Agents" by many Government supporters, such as the Mayor of Istanbul. It must be a shock for an organisation that generally supports getting Turkey into the EU, to find that this supposedly 'democratic, acceptable face of Islam' country, acts rather like the hard-line Syrian or Iranian regimes, when reported upon in a less than wholly fawning manner.

Mayor Ibrahim Melih Gokcek accused BBC Turkish reporter Selin Girit of being an English agent

It has had to admit that "a large number of threatening messages have been sent to one of our reporters" .... and that it was a woman reporter as well. How could a Turkish man treat a woman like this? Is there no end to the slap in the face the BBC has got .... a women reporter being insulted, practically a hanging offence in the PC UK (but luckily its just 'cultural' when its a Muslim man, so no offence eh?).

This is a regime that declares reporters for western news organisations as 'agents' of the West (of which it also claims it's a part - they don't do irony), and that the demonstrators were working for 'foreign powers' (aka Israel),  and that the protesters had been manipulated by "terrorists" ..... The freedom loving mayor of Istanbul has also threatened to sue everyone who criticised him on twitter by using the #hashtag "Melih Gokcek is a provocateur" ... he has followed this up with a statement that it was "unacceptable that Turkey is targeted by the BBC" - that's the spirit of democratic cut'n'thrust for you.

Note the emotive and violent terms used by the Turkish government in the last few weeks : 'terrorist', 'targeted', 'agent', 'final warning', 'armed forces ..... to establish peace' . Just the sort of language Tony Blair would never have used, but that would could happily spout forth from the mouth of President Assad.

You should always be careful who you cuddle up to as 'friends', and Britain and the BBC are far too ready to apologise for regimes that are not sharing any of our values, when they should be openly condemning them.

One Is A Lonely Number

A wild female asparagus was discovered in Portland, Dorset, in 1997 .... this Dorset asparagus was thought to be anything between 70 and 100 years old .... but as the endangered wild asparagus is found at only 28 locations across the country, her nearest male plant (needed for successful pollination), was a male variety in Cornwall.

This male plant was very carefully moved to Dorset in 2006, and then pollination was engineered as they rubbed its pollen on the female’s stigmas.

Wild Asparagus Colony

Finally, this year they have found that eleven of the offspring have not only grown, but the seven males and four females have now flowered for the first time, meaning they can reproduce and now instead of one, there is now a small colony.

A little story I know, but just occasionally here at PC Towers, we like to post a story that's just a little bit righteous, and makes us feel good. Maybe there is just a little bit of hope for the world. 

We Are Getting In Bed With Shaitans Children

In Syria we in the non Muslim world are being invited to get in to bed with the Syrian Sunni rebels ..... who could also be rightfully considered to be Shaitan's children.

How else can you explain the murder in Syria, of a fourteen year old boy, an event which sadly is not normally newsworthy at the moment, but the fact that he was killed by the rebels, and that those rebels did so under 'Sharia Law', tells you a lot about the sort of people Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barak Obama are being urged to support and arm.

The boy had been asked to give someone a free coffee - "Not even if the Prophet himself returns" he had jokingly replied. Three of the rebels armed gunmen heard him say this, they dragged him to a car and took him away, and then subjected him to a terrible beating. Half-an-hour later they returned him, badly beaten, and dumped his unconscious form onto the road by his coffee cart. But not content with this savagery, they then summoned passers-by with the shout of "Oh People of Aleppo. Oh people of Shaar. Whoever insults the Prophet will be killed according to Sharia"  ... they then shot him three times (at least once in the face), and kicked his body. When his mother tried to intervene they shouted that "He is not a Muslim - leave!"

On top of the wanton murder of children, the animals of Jabhat al-Nusra are also waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Christians. Last week they purportedly filmed the murder of a Catholic priest, Father Murad. The first film put out, showed a man said to be the priest, hands bound, while one of the butchers used a kitchen knife to hack his head off. The spectators allegedly 'cheered', and were seen taking souvenir photos of the body ..... however later reports suggest that this was a black propaganda video, intended to shock Christians even more than the usual daily attacks, and that in fact the priest had been executed in a monastery while trying to protect nuns from assault.

Prime Minister David Cameron, and President Obama, publicly support aiding these rebel monsters.

Syrian Rebels - Democrats or Jihadists?

The usual suspects for this animal behaviour include (but there are numerous other groups):
  • The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ( the main group linked to al-Qaeda)
  • Jabhat al-Nusra aka 'The Nusra Front', the biggest Islamist organisation fighting the regime.

As usual they have all backtracked once the film was posted on the web, and condemned the killing - but rather oddly as this was a rebel area, the local Islamic 'scholar' (how that term makes me laugh), said the killers were not rebels, but members of the regime militia, "shabiha" (armed pro Baathist supporters), trying to ferment trouble between Jihadi's and other fighters (although he couldn't explain what they were doing in a rebel area, and why they were able to walk about freely) ..... they just don't know the meaning of the telling truth in that part of the world.

The young liberal, democratic demonstrators who have instigated the uprisings in every Arab Muslim country so far, have soon been swept aside by the tidal forces of the armed Islamists and their illiterate peasant supporters, and its the Jihadists who have already achieved power in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, where the populations are facing the same options as those in Iran when the Shah fell - none. Theocracies like Iran will soon be the only landscape that stares out from all the Arab world ..... what a bleak region that will be.     

In the meantime, the Sharia courts (aka a bunch of thugs with little education and a Kalashnikov), are dispensing 'justice' in the usual Taliban style - whippings, or death. One of these death dealers was interviewed and said that "Full punishments will be enforced as soon as the regime falls and an Islamic State is declared." .... there's something for the faithful to look forward too.

We reap what we sow by supporting these groups, and one day we will find them on our doorsteps, knives in hand.


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