Archive for August, 2007
31 Aug 2007

$100 Million For Kitsch

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Reuters:

A diamond-encrusted platinum skull by artist Damien Hirst has been sold to an investment group for the asking price of $100 million, a spokeswoman for Hirst’s London gallery White Cube said on Thursday.

The skull, cast from a 35-year-old 18th century European man but retaining the original teeth, is coated with 8,601 diamonds, including a large pink diamond worth more than four million pounds in the centre of its forehead.

The spokeswoman said she could give no more details of the buyer.

“Damien Hirst has retained a participation in the work — he still owns a share of it — in order that he can oversee a global tour of the work that is currently being planned,” she added.

The skull caused a sensation when it first went on display at an exhibition of new works by Hirst at the White Cube in central London on June 3 — not least because of its price tag.

Some critics dismissed it as tasteless while others saw it as a reflection of celebrity-obsessed culture.

Works by Hirst, who first made his name displaying diced and pickled animals, became the most expensive at auction for a living artist when his “Lullaby Spring” pill cabinet sold at Sotheby’s in London for 9.6 million pounds.

The skull is the most expensive piece to date by Hirst, already a millionaire several times over.

The sale of the skull brings to $350 million the value of works sold from the June exhibition. Generally the gallery takes 30 percent and Hirst 70 percent of the proceeds.

As an indication of the wealth he has amassed since being spotted in 1991 by art collector Charles Saatchi, Hirst, who financed the skull himself, said he couldn’t remember whether it had cost 10 or 15 million pounds to make.

He said from the outset he wanted the work, inspired by similarly bejeweled Aztec skulls, to be on public view.

He rejected suggestions that his works were more a standing joke against the art establishment than real works of art.

But when asked at the time of the exhibition what his next project would be he immediately replied: “Two diamond skeletons shagging — no just kidding.”

slideshow

Successful exercises in this kind of imposture rest upon an art market comprised of persons lacking standards and taste with too much money.

The noisome object pictured above isn’t art. It is simply a grandiose publicity stunt designed to create the opportunity for very large wager. Hirst’s consortium customers are really betting $100 million on the near-future existence of even greater fools than themselves. Personally, I wish there was a financial vehicle one could use to bet against their scheme.

Hat tips to Dominique Poirier and David Ross.

31 Aug 2007

“Stand Aside, This is Ching!”

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Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr., 1888-1945

2007 Admiral Lee Memorial Speech delivered recently to the United States Naval Academy Rifle Team by Floyd Houston, USMC (ret.) at Lee’s graveside.

Please stand at ease…
• “Four years together by the bay,
where Severn joins the tide.
• Then by the service called away
we’re scattered far and wide.
• But still when two or three shall meet
and old tales be retold –
• from low to highest in the Fleet
we’ll pledge the Blue and Gold.”

You all recognize this refrain from our alma matter. In three weeks I’ll be getting together with my classmates to celebrate our 30th. This refrain hits the nail squarely on the head in terms of what will be happening there.

One enduring lesson I’ve learned is that leadership should never be confused with being appointed to any particular position. In my opinion Webster’s incorrectly lists leadership as a noun. It’s not – its really a verb. Leadership is an action involving three parts, each of which we pray our appointed leaders, especially in wartime, are capable. One, Leaders simply do the right thing. Two, they do it for the right reasons. Three, and most importantly, they do it at the right times.

What is the “right thing?” What are the right reasons? How do you tell when it is the right time? With any luck, we’ll cover some of that today.

Our vehicle is an old tale that requires re-telling – honoring the career of a man named Willis Augustus Lee, Jr. Although Lee was a Midshipman one hundred years ago, his exploits still serve as an inspiration. We have a direct connection to him and he to us – through his lifetime of leadership.

Born 11 May 1888, Willis Lee grew up in Owenton, Kentucky and his family was related to the Lees of Virginia. He was appointed to the US Naval Academy in 1904 at the age of 16, and already had a reputation as a good shot at the time he entered the academy. He was a star athlete on the Rifle Team. He prepared himself so thoroughly as an athlete that when given the opportunity to participate in the US National Rifle and Pistol Championships one hundred years ago in 1907, he became the only American ever to win both the US National High Power Rifle and Pistol Championships in the same year and he did it with a borrowed pistol! He did the right thing in preparing himself mentally and physically for high-level competition. He did it for the right reasons – because he was a Naval Academy Team shooter and his individual scores added to or detracted from his team’s performance. His timing was impeccable as he peaked at the National Championships. He also lived a life like most Midshipmen, being noted for drawing cartoons for the LUCKY BAG, getting put on report, and eventually graduating in the middle of his class in June 1908.

Lee was known throughout his life for his self-confidence, his analytical ability, his genuine modesty, for the twinkle in his eye, a wry sense of humor, and his kindness to subordinates. He was never known to brag of his own exploits, although he could have told some amazing sea stories…

For example, in April 1914 the whole world was in turmoil and World War One was about to break out. The Navy and Marine Corps were ordered to occupy Vera Cruz, Mexico to improve the stability of the government. As a Company Commander of the battleship New Hampshire’s landing force, his men took fire. He borrowed a rifle, dialed in his long range zero, assumed a textbook sitting position out in the open, drew fire as was necessary to locate the muzzle flashes from rooftops further inland, and dispatched three of the snipers at long range.
It sort of gives new meaning to a finals competition or a “guts match” doesn’t it?

During the summer of 1920, then LCDR Lee was a member of the U.S. Olympic rifle team that competed in Antwerp, Belgium. He was the high medal winner of those games, taking home five gold medals, one silver medal, and one bronze medal – an accomplishment that made him the Michael Phelps of his time. Being an intense competitor in high-level competition has crossover value as you live out your lives of leadership and service. By that I mean specifically that as pilots, during emergencies, you will react exactly as well as you trained, a “man overboard” on your bridge watch will go as smoothly as you’ve mastered the “man overboard drill”, and ground combat goes exactly as well as you’ve trained. There are no nerves, no second thoughts, it just happens EXACTLY as well as you’ve trained beforehand. All of you will experience this. Most of you will agree with me later. Some of you, the unlucky or the ones who didn’t put in the training will die and worse yet, you will probably take good folks with you.

Olympic fame notwithstanding, Admiral Lee was expected to serve with the fleet and serve he did. He sailed on the cruiser New Orleans, the gunboat Helena, the battleship Idaho twice, and the battleship New Hampshire. He also served on the destroyers O’Brien and Lea, and tender Anteres.

He did shore tours when assigned, even though he preferred sea duty, and met his wife Mabelle of Rock Island, Illinois during one such tour.

He was XO of the tender Bushnell and the battleship Pennsylvania. He commanded the destroyers Lardner and Preston, the cruiser Concord, and was widely regarded as an expert in ship handling, gunnery, and surface tactics. Just prior to the war he was assigned as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Fleet Readiness. In this position he immersed himself in learning and applying radar technology. He would later use that self training in high stakes combat.

Early in World War Two, he commanded Battleship Division 6, with his flag onboard the battleship Washington. He was a senior leader for America’s greatest generation as they left the farms, factories, and schoolhouses of this great nation to go out and save the world.

By mid-November 1942, the situation in the Solomon Islands was critical. The Japanese had swept virtually undefeated across the Pacific. The Americans, who had hastily landed the 1st Marine Division on the strategic Island of Guadalcanal in August, were now down to one aircraft carrier — Enterprise — after the loss of Wasp in September and Hornet in October. Japanese surface units were subjecting the Marines’ on Guadalcanal to heavy bombardments while landing supplies and reinforcements with disturbing regularity. The Japanese, based on their mastery of night surface gunnery and their superb torpedoes, tended to make their moves at night, while Allied planes controlled the local skies during the day. Night naval combat off Guadalcanal was a disaster for the US. Efforts to halt the Tokyo Express cost so many US ships that the offshore waters became known as Iron Bottom Sound. In fact, the very night before Admiral Lee was sent into the breech, two Navy flag officers along with 700 of their men perished in combat there.

The situation boiled to a crisis as Japanese Admiral Kondo led the Tokyo Express with his flag on the battleship Kirishima, escorting a convoy of 8,000 fresh troops with orders to land and wipe out the beleaguered US Marines ashore, sink any remaining American Naval Vessels, bomb the Marine airstrip off the face of the map, and return north by early morning on 15 November. In addition to the battleship Kirishima, he had two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and six destroyers all of whom had steamed and fought and triumphed together as a well-oiled team.

Unwilling to risk his only remaining carrier, Admiral Halsey, played his last trump card, two fast battleships located 300 miles south of Guadalcanal under Willis Lee. In contrast to Admiral Kondo, Halsey ordered Lee to command a pick-up team, warning him to be ready for a flank-speed run north to Guadalcanal. The brand new fast battleship South Dakota was fresh from the shipyard and not fully prepared. Of the four US destroyers that were selected as escorts for the two battleships, none had ever operated together before as a team. They were chosen simply because they had the most remaining fuel in their tanks. All were of different classes and from different divisions. On the battleship Washington, however, Lee had the advantage of having trained this ship and this crew since the early in the war – just the sort of training top rifle competitors conduct to prepare for high-level competitions – what if’s, tactics, gun drills, aiming practice, new radar-directed firing, and lots of target practice. As Lee’s ships sped through the dark waters of Iron-bottom Sound, his radio operators heard American radio traffic. PT-boats were reporting Lee’s moves in plain English and they swung in to attack– thinking Lee’s ships were more Japanese. Using his Naval Academy nickname to identify himself, he personally radioed to the PT boats and to General Vandegrift ashore, “Stand aside, this is Ching Lee, I’m coming through.”

Just before midnight the actual American and Japanese forces DID engage, destroyers first – and sadly, as is oft the case with pick-up teams, they lacked night training and cohesion. Destroyer Preston sunk quickly at 2336. Destroyer Gwin was hit at about the same time Preston went down. At 2338, the destroyer Walke took a torpedo in her magazine, killing close to a hundred. Another torpedo blasted off the destroyer Benham’s bow. All four of Lee’s destroyers were now out of the fight. He was down to his battleships. Washington found the Japanese destroyer Ayanami and sunk her. Then, at very the height of the pitched fight, the new battleship South Dakota lost electrical power. Inadequate pre-combat engineering training was the likely culprit. None-the-less, radar, fire control, turret motors, ammunition hoists, radios–everything went out. Admiral Lee’s Battleship Washington was now the only intact ship left in the force. In fact, at that moment, Washington was the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet. She was the only barrier between Kondo’s ships and Guadalcanal. If this one ship did not stop 14 Japanese ships right then and there, America might lose the war.

Lee turned Washington so the burning destroyers were between himself and the Japanese, effectively negating the superior Japanese night optics and torpedoes. As he sailed by, they cut free life rafts on Washington’s starboard side – there were literally hundreds of men in the water. Washington crewmen reported hearing cheers from the survivors in the oily water urging Washington forward. At this point Kirishima flashed its spotlight to target the helpless South Dakota and in so doing, revealed herself briefly to the absolute master of guts matches, Willis Lee. The Japanese ship was 8,400 yards away on the starboard beam. Kirishima and Washington exchanged fire. The men who trained and fought under Olympic champion Willis A. Lee later said, “Fire control and battery functioned as smoothly as though she [we] were engaged in a well-rehearsed target practice.” In short order nine 16-inch and forty 5-inch rounds struck Kirishima. The ship sank shortly after. Admiral Kondo, stunned, turned his still superior force around. Lee backed Washington off slightly, hoping to keep Kondo literally in the dark about the fact that only Washington remained. As dawn broke, US aviation wiped out the transports and most of the ground reinforcements. Lee’s audacity and Washington’s performance under his leadership had prevailed against all odds. FDR proclaimed it one of the great naval battles of the war. The truth of the matter was that Lee won that fight during pre-combat training both of himself and of Washington.

For his actions that night, Olympic Champion Willis A. Lee was decorated with this nation’s second highest award for valor – the Navy Cross. Tragically, Admiral Lee died of a heart attack shortly after VJ Day. At his funeral right here on this very spot in 1945, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal called Lee “the savior of Guadalcanal.” How do you learn how to perform leadership under such pressure?

It starts in the crucible of Bancroft Hall. It is hardened in the discipline necessary to make this team, to perform in intercollegiate and national competition. It is flexed in odd places from the bridges of ships to urban combat while young. It is polished in Olympic competition and tested in life and death struggle in positions of great responsibility.

Just like Lee in 1904, you have accepted an appointment in the US Naval Service as a Midshipman. It’s a noun – a name implying leadership. Leadership, as exercised by Willis Lee was a series of actions he executed regularly throughout a long career – doing the right things, for the right reasons, at the right times. When you execute your daily schedule, is leadership an action YOU perform regularly through attention to detail, dedication to your team, through living an honest, decent, and humble life? Or like some, do you glide along pulling your oar only just hard enough to get by? Each of us visualize ourselves like Admiral Lee here with National Championship titles, Olympic medals, and battlefield prowess, but what are you doing every day to prepare yourself for the high stakes competitions which are sure to come? I invite each and every one of you here today to look at this grave, know that you are standing on the shoulders of the giants, and to dedicate yourselves to a life that is worthy of it.

Thank you.

30 Aug 2007

Some Good News For a Change

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Reuters reports that Americans own more guns.

The United States has 90 guns for every 100 citizens, making it the most heavily armed society in the world, a report released on Tuesday said.

U.S. citizens own 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies.

About 4.5 million of the 8 million new guns manufactured worldwide each year are purchased in the United States, it said.

“There is roughly one firearm for every seven people worldwide. Without the United States, though, this drops to about one firearm per 10 people,” it said.

India had the world’s second-largest civilian gun arsenal, with an estimated 46 million firearms outside law enforcement and the military, though this represented just four guns per 100 people there. China, ranked third with 40 million privately held guns, had 3 firearms per 100 people.

Germany, France, Pakistan, Mexico, Brazil and Russia were next in the ranking of country’s overall civilian gun arsenals.

On a per-capita basis, Yemen had the second most heavily armed citizenry behind the United States, with 61 guns per 100 people, followed by Finland with 56, Switzerland with 46, Iraq with 39 and Serbia with 38.

France, Canada, Sweden, Austria and Germany were next, each with about 30 guns per 100 people, while many poorer countries often associated with violence ranked much lower. Nigeria, for instance, had just one gun per 100 people. …

“Weapons ownership may be correlated with rising levels of wealth, and that means we need to think about future demand in parts of the world where economic growth is giving people larger disposable income,” he told a Geneva news conference.

The report, which relied on government data, surveys and media reports to estimate the size of world arsenals, estimated there were 650 million civilian firearms worldwide, and 225 million held by law enforcement and military forces.

Five years ago, the Small Arms Survey had estimated there were a total of just 640 million firearms globally.

“Civilian holdings of weapons worldwide are much larger than we previously believed,” Krause said, attributing the increase largely to better research and more data on weapon distribution networks.

Only about 12 percent of civilian weapons are thought to be registered with authorities.

My wife and I are certainly doing our part to keep America Number 1.

30 Aug 2007

What Global Warming Consensus?

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DailyTech:

In 2004, history professor Naomi Oreskes performed a survey of research papers on climate change. Examining peer-reviewed papers published on the ISI Web of Science database from 1993 to 2003, she found a majority supported the “consensus view,” defined as humans were having at least some effect on global climate change. Oreskes’ work has been repeatedly cited, but as some of its data is now nearly 15 years old, its conclusions are becoming somewhat dated.

Medical researcher Dr. Klaus-Martin Schulte recently updated this research. Using the same database and search terms as Oreskes, he examined all papers published from 2004 to February 2007. The results have been submitted to the journal Energy and Environment, of which DailyTech has obtained a pre-publication copy. The figures are surprising.

Of 528 total papers on climate change, only 38 (7%) gave an explicit endorsement of the consensus. If one considers “implicit” endorsement (accepting the consensus without explicit statement), the figure rises to 45%. However, while only 32 papers (6%) reject the consensus outright, the largest category (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis. This is no “consensus.”

The figures are even more shocking when one remembers the watered-down definition of consensus here. Not only does it not require supporting that man is the “primary” cause of warming, but it doesn’t require any belief or support for “catastrophic” global warming. In fact of all papers published in this period (2004 to February 2007), only a single one makes any reference to climate change leading to catastrophic results.

30 Aug 2007

Osama-and-Jesus As Art

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In Australia, in 1950, a Jesuit priest, a Roman Catholic lawyer, and a Jewish businessman formed a society which would award an annual prize intended to stimulate the production of “significant works of art with religious content.” They named their society and prize after the visionary English poet William Blake.

The Blake Prize For Religious Art was increased to $15,000 in 2005.

56 annual competitions later, the state of the contemporary arts is such that an artist named Priscilla Bracks submitted a lenticular image, titled Bearded Orientals: Making the Empire Cross, in which a picture of Jesus morphs into an image of Osama bin Laden.

Another artist, Luke Sullivan, submitted a statue of the Virgin Mary wearing a blue burqa, titled The Fourth Secret of Fatima.

Though these particular entries did not win, they were both included in the selection exhibited at the National Art School in Sydney, provoking some not-undeserved indignation on the part of the Australian public, and condemnation by both Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd.

Ms. Bracks was sufficiently intimidated by all the negative reaction that she posted on her web-site a rather disingenuous statement proposing the implausible thesis that her “artwork” is open to all sorts of interpretations (beyond mere blasphemy), and was really intended by herself as a kind of protest against publicizing crime and violence. Right.

Obviously this sort of thing ought to have been excluded from any serious art exhibition, not because it was offensive, but because it was puerile and amounted only to a crude and simplistic expression of a particularly muddle-headed version of the tritest and most banal kind of pseudo-intellectual political posturing.

Reuters

TheAdvertiser


Priscilla Bracks in an earlier, and more complacent, photo

29 Aug 2007

Things Have Gotten Worse

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Lewis Mumford on The Plight of the Prosperous in the New Yorker, March 4, 1950.

I sometimes wonder what self-hypnosis has led the well-to-do citizens of New York, for the last seventy-five years, to accept the quarters that are offered them with the idea that they are doing well by themselves. Apparently those of them who have chosen to remain in New York instead of migrating to the suburbs have forgotten what a proper domestic environment is. Lest someone think that my notions are fancy ones, let me put down what seem to me the minimum requirements for anyone’s living quarters. Whether the structure is a single-family house or a thirty-story building, the first necessity is that every room have light and air. Rooms that are in fairly steady daytime use should be oriented to get the maximum amount of winter sunlight. In this latitude, that means that the major exposure should be a southern one, a fact that Socrates discovered twenty-four hundred years ago. To insure enough light and air, the distance between buildings should increase with their height. Our municipal setback regulations make a hypocritical acknowledgment of this principle, but since they were framed to keep land values high rather than buildings low or widely spaced, they have never come within shooting distance of achieving an ideal. The space between buildings should be dedicated to gardens and lawns, partly for beauty, partly to compensate for our tropical summer heat, partly to purify and sweeten the air. Bedrooms should have cross ventilation, or at least through ventilation, and should never face a street. …

The common row houses, such as those built in the Washington Square district before 1860, met most of these requirements, but the standards have been gradually whittled away…

29 Aug 2007

Did Larry Craig Really Do Anything Meriting Arrest?

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David Kurtz, at leftist Talking Points Memo, quotes a commenter who signs himself LS who doesn’t think so, and I agree.

Look at the police report. Did he directly ask a cop for sex? No. Did he expose himself lewdly (as opposed to exposing himself to use the facilities)? No. Did he do anything that was unambiguously sexual? No.

All he did was tap his foot, reach down (possibly to pick up a piece of TP), wiggle his fingers, and put his bag in front of him when he sat down. Oh, and he waited in front of an occupied stall. Even if he did everything the cop said he did, where was the lewd conduct? No actual sex happened. No actual sex was discussed. And if it wasn’t for the sheer embarrassment of the situation, you’d be writing about the overzealous cop who arrested a sitting US Senator for no apparent reason. …

The issue here is, why is the Minneapolis Airport PD arresting people for such flimsy reasons? Why do judges and prosecutors still accept these cases? Why, in 2007, 43 years after LBJ’s chief of staff, Walter Jenkins, got busted in the men’s room YMCA in DC, have we apparently moved no further in our analysis of these situations?

Where does anyone put his or her suitcase in a public lavatory stall if not in front of the door?

Unless the divider between the stalls featured a hole, I don’t see how any meaningfully lewd act was even possible.

And, like those gay leftwing guys, I too thought the days when cops were busting queers for soliciting sex in public lavatories were ancient history.

29 Aug 2007

The Left Losing the Vietnam War

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Daryl Cagle, MSNBC.com
Daryl Cagle, MSNBC.com

Robert Tracinski argue that comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam are a losing argument for the Left.

America’s defeat in Vietnam, for example, was seemingly a triumph for the anti-war left, which had long proclaimed the war to be unwinnable quagmire. Yet the years following that defeat–the era of American retreat and “national malaise”–proved so traumatic that the American people have never wanted to repeat them. Thus, what the anti-war radicals regarded as a vindication ended up discrediting the left on foreign policy for a generation. You could say that they won the political battle over the war–but they lost the peace.

Today, we may be seeing the final chapter of that process. The left is losing the Vietnam War itself–losing Vietnam, that is, as a rhetorical high ground from which to pillory any advocate of vigorous American military action overseas.

Read the whole thing.

Who knows? Hillary may just be their new Jimmy Carter, too.

28 Aug 2007

Space Shuttle Endeavor Photographs

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I have no idea who took these. I received them in an email today. Click on the picture above for larger images.

28 Aug 2007

Some Vietnam War Titles

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Robert D. Kaplan, in the Atlantic, discusses in detail a number of Vietnam War books exemplifying the warrior ethos which are widely admired in professional military circles (just check the prices of those out-of-print Jean Larteguy titles), but which are not nearly as well known by the general public as they deserve to be.

Wikipedia profile quotes David Lipsky saying of Robert D. Kaplan:

Kaplan, over his career, appears to have become someone who is too fond of war.

Andrew J. Bacevich:

If Kaplan is a romantic, he is also a populist and a reactionary.”

Michael Ignatieff:

Mr. Kaplan is the first traveler to take us on a journey to the jagged places where these tectonic plates meet, and his argument–that our future is being shaped far away ‘at the ends of the earth’–makes his travelogue pertinent and compelling reading.”

David Rieff:

This is breathtaking. Here is a serious writer in 2005 admiring the Indian wars, which in their brutality brought about the end of an entire American civilization.”

28 Aug 2007

Six Months in Jail For Lacking Building Permits

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Francisco Linares of Rolling Hills Estates, California will be going to jail for six months. His crime? Getting into an argument with the authorities enforcing the Kafka-esque system of construction permits in his California town over a termite-infested fence on city property.

DailyBreeze:

The 51-year-old bought the nearly 1-acre property in the 4600 block of Palos Verdes Drive North in 1998. After tearing down an adobe house on the site and building a 3,000-square-foot French-style home, he began landscaping.

When Linares asked the city to repair the white three-railed fence behind his house, he was told it was on his property and his responsibility. So he replaced the termite-infested planks. Then the city reversed itself and said Linares had illegally built the fence on city property.

In October 2004, the city charged Linares with three misdemeanors: for not taking down the fence, having a retaining wall built higher than a 2-foot restriction and for erecting stone columns without a neighborhood compatibility analysis. Later inspections found eight other violations, including a lack of permits for plumbing and grading.

“He’s had a couple of years to correct the problems,” said Dean Pucci, a Fullerton attorney contracted as the city’s prosecutor. “His options were to obtain final permits or remove all of these structures built without permits.”

Linares lives in the house with his wife and three daughters. He contends that he didn’t remove the structures because he believed the permits would be approved.

However, Pucci said no permits are pending, since Linares failed to resubmit an application that was deemed incomplete.

At the sentencing, Hamar said his client was a good Christian man who has never committed a crime and who worked diligently – 142 hours – to try to resolve the issues with the city.

And the only reason he was not able to complete the stipulations of the plea agreement, he said, was because of the city’s confusing building codes and negligence in rendering a decision on his permit applications.

“We established that he did everything that was humanly possible to comply. And the un-rebutted evidence is that (the city) hasn’t ruled on the permits.”

28 Aug 2007

Counterterrorism Center Head: Successful Al Qaeda Attack on US Inevitable

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Newsweek interviews National Counterterrorism Center chief Vice Admiral (ret.) John Scott Redd, who says that Al Qaeda has an active plot to hit the West.

Earlier this summer, there was talk that people were picking up chatter that reminded them of the summer before 9/11. The Germans basically said this is like pre-9/11. They said, “We are very worried.” What do you make of this?
We have very strong indicators that Al Qaeda is planning to attack the West and is likely to [try to] attack, and we are pretty sure about that. We know some of the precursors from—

Attack Europe?
Well, they would like to come West, and they would like to come as far West as they can. What we don’t know is…if it’s going to be Mark Hosenball, and he’s coming in on Flight 727 out of Karachi, he’s stopping in Frankfurt, and he’s coming on through with his European Union passport, and he’s coming into New York, and he’s going to do something. I mean, we don’t have that kind of tactical detail. What we do have, though, is a couple of threads that indicate, you know, some very tactical stuff, and that’s what—you know, that’s what you’re seeing bits and pieces of, and I really can’t go much more into it.

But this did not affect our threat level. We didn’t change our code.
We’re pretty high-threat right now. Until you know something that is going to make a difference, you know, you don’t necessarily change the threat level. What that does is really stir a lot of people up and get them ticked off, but it probably doesn’t accomplish very much.

And you don’t as of today see any particular reduction in that threat?
It’s still there. It’s very serious, you know, and we’re watching it. We’re learning more all the time, but it’s still a very serious threat.

Last thing: Are we winning or losing the war on terrorism?
This is a long war. People say, “What is this like?” I say it’s like the cold war in only two respects. Number one, there is a strong ideological content to it. Number two, it is going to be a long war. I’ll be dead before this one is over. We will probably lose a battle or two along the way. We have to prepare for that. Statistically, you can’t bat 1.000 forever, but we haven’t been hit for six years, [which is] no accident.

I will tell you this: We are better prepared today for the war on terror than at any time in our history. We have done an incredible amount of things since 9/11, across the board. Intelligence is better. They are sharing it better. We are taking the terrorists down. We are working with the allies very carefully. We are doing the strategic operational planning, going after every element in the terrorist life cycle. So we have come a long way. But these guys are smart. They are determined. They are patient. So over time we are going to lose a battle or two. We are going to get hit again, you know, but you’ve got to have the stick-to-itiveness or persistence to outlast it.

27 Aug 2007

Hunting Bin Laden

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Newsweek‘s hunt for Bin Laden article has some interesting accounts attributing his success at escaping justice to excesses of official caution (Hey! the press might criticize them) and bureaucratic paralysis.

As recalled by Gary Berntsen, the CIA officer in charge of the covert team working with the Northern Alliance, code-named Jawbreaker, the military refused his pleas for 800 Army Rangers to cut off bin Laden’s escape. Maj. Gen. Dell Dailey, the Special Ops commander sent out by Central Command, told Berntsen he was doing an “excellent job,” but that putting in ground troops might offend America’s Afghan allies. “I don’t give a damn about offending our allies!” Berntsen yelled, according to his 2005 book, “Jawbreaker.” “I only care about eliminating Al Qaeda and delivering bin Laden’s head in a box!” (Dailey, now the State Department’s counterterror chief, told NEWSWEEK that he did not want to discuss the incident, except to say that Berntsen’s story is “unsubstantiated.”)

Berntsen went to Crumpton, his boss at the CIA, who described to NEWSWEEK his frantic efforts to appeal to higher authority. Crumpton called CENTCOM’s commander, Gen. Tommy Franks. It would take “weeks” to mobilize a force, Franks responded, and the harsh, snowy terrain was too difficult and the odds of getting bin Laden not worth the risk. Frustrated, Crumpton went to the White House and rolled out maps of the Pakistani-Afghan border on a small conference table. President Bush wanted to know if the Pakistanis could sweep up Al Qaeda on the other side. “No, sir,” Crumpton responded. (Vice President Dick Cheney did not say a word, Crumpton recalled.) The meeting was inconclusive. Franks, who declined to comment, has written in his memoirs that he decided, along with Rumsfeld, that to send troops into the mountains would risk repeating the mistake of the Soviets, who were trapped and routed by jihadist guerrilla fighters in the 1980…

Whenever (Special Forces Operations Sergeant Adam Rice) and his men moved within five kilometers of the safe house, he says, they had to file a request form known as a 5-W, spelling out the who, what, when, where and why of the mission. Permission from headquarters took hours, and if shooting might be involved, it was often denied. To go beyond five kilometers required a CONOP (for “concept of operations”) that was much more elaborate and required approval from two layers in the field, and finally the Joint Special Operations Task Force at Baghram air base near Kabul. To get into a fire fight, the permission of a three-star general was necessary. “That process could take days,” Rice recalled to NEWSWEEK. He often typed forms while sitting on a 55-gallon drum his men had cut in half to make a toilet seat. “We’d be typing in 130-degree heat while we’re crapping away with bacillary dysentery and sometimes the brass at Kandahar or Baghram would kick back and tell you the spelling was incorrect, that you weren’t using the tab to delimit the form correctly.”

But Rice made his request anyway. Days passed with no word. The window closed; the target—whether Mullah Omar or not—moved on. Rice blames risk aversion in career officers, whose promotions require spotless (“zero defect”) records—no mistakes, no bad luck, no “flaps.” The cautious mind-set changed for a time after 9/11, but quickly settled back in. High-tech communication serves to clog, rather than speed the process. With worldwide satellite communications, high-level commanders back at the base or in Washington can second-guess even minor decisions.

Read the whole thing.

27 Aug 2007

Miss South Carolina Answers a Question

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0:48 video

With just a little bit of polish, this girl could have a successful career in politics.

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