Monday, December 31

Giza's pyramids will be much better once Chinese engineers modernize them

After nearly succeeding at destroying their own past in the name of modernity, the Chinese are intent on modernizing all of the Silk Route. Some measure of how they're proceeding in this quest is found in a 23-minute SBS documentary made for Australian public TV, posted to YouTube by SBS in 2016; it's titled Bulldozing Tibet's Past?  (I will assume SBS added the question mark in an attempt to avert the wrath of Chinese advisors to Australia's government.) 

To get into the swing of things fast, I suggest you first go to the 10:15 minute mark of the video. There, the documentary explains that in 2010 there was an earthquake in earthquake-prone Qinghai province that killed about 3,000 Tibetans and collapsed or severely damaged numerous if not all houses that Chinese engineers had built for the Tibetan provincials -- who had no say about moving into the houses on account of their ancient Tibetan-built houses were bulldozed. However, the remaining Tibetan-built houses in the province weren't affected at all by the quake. They'd been designed and built to withstand earthquakes. 

I won't resist adding that Chinese rulers didn't think up the idea to pry humanity away from its past. See Nils Gilman's Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War AmericaAnd the Soviets had their own Cold War modernization policy; the big difference is that they modernized on a shoestring budget, whereas the U.S. could spend big money to modernize the world's underdeveloped peoples out of accepting Soviet Communism.  

But it was actually the French who got the modernization ball of yarn rolling. This was during the reign of Louis the Fourteenth if I rightly remember John Batchelor's book discussion about a horrific crime wave that hit Paris. The idea was to modernize a big swath of the cityscape -- replace dark, narrow and winding streets with brightly-lit boulevards laid out with mathematical straightness. This so thieves couldn't jump out at passersby and so assassins couldn't lug suitcases full of poisons through the streets of Paris without being noticed.

The French eventually transferred the urban modernization project to their colonial holdings; they came to see the traditional cityscapes in those lands as a symbol of the devious Oriental Stranger.

But once the whole ball of yarn is untangled we can see that French modernization theorists didn't do anything to colonized peoples that they didn't do to themselves, and their American counterparts didn't do anything to postcolonial peoples that they didn't do to themselves, and so it goes. The difference here is that Americans and the French -- and Saudi Custodians of the Two Holy Mosques, who are busy modernizing the history out of Mecca and Media -- are nowhere near as industrious as the Han Chinese.

In October of this year, Roger Scruton described for readers of the American Conservative magazine How Western Urban Planning Fueled War in the Middle East. But I don't think it's the West that will bulldoze what still stands of humanity's past. If their actions in Tibet are any indication it will be the Chinese, with willing cooperation from elected and unelected governments across the world. 

So I really do hope that you'll visit YouTube and watch the documentary. It isn't only about what the Chinese are doing in Tibet. It's also about all of us, about our acceptance of governments whose top priority is ensuring that the masses don't get the jump on them from the cover of ancient traditions and structures.


Sunday, December 30

Trump explains U.S. will leave Syria as soon as pigs fly

If U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham read DEBKAfile or Pundita he could have learned much earlier that the U.S. military isn't leaving Syria. The Senator, a Trump ally, has been very upset about the announced U.S. pullout from Syria, finally prompting Trump to calm him. 
Sen. Graham says Trump is 'slowing down' Syria withdrawal; December 30, NBC News:
Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters Sunday after a lunch with President Trump that plans to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria are "slowing down in a smart way."
Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said outside the White House that talks about removing military personnel from the country are in a "pause situation."
The senator said Trump told him "some things I didn't know" about his plans in Syria "that make me feel a lot better about where we're headed" in the Middle Eastern country.

"US Vacates First Warehouse in Syria Amid Pullout – Reports"

Now if that's not a hopeful headline from Sputnik I don't know what is, but it does seem the U.S. is making moves to draw down its troop presence in N.E.Syria, at least. However, the reports have to be read against this one, posted today at Iran's state-run FARS: Tens of US Military Trucks Arrive in Bases in Northeastern Syria.
Almost 200 trucks of the US army, carrying arms, ammunition and military hardware have arrived in the coalition-run bases in Northeastern Syria, the militant-affiliated Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Sunday. [...]
I consider the report to be reliable, although the materiel might be a  parting gift for Kurdish forces. I also consider reliable the SOHR report that the U.S. set up a new military base near the town of Hajin in Southeastern Deir Ezzor after the announced U.S. troop withdrawal. Might just be a temporary base to house troops being withdrawn from the N.E., but we'll see. Now to the news about the warehouse:

05:26 - 30.12.2018

MOSCOW (Sputnik) - The United States has cleared the first military warehouse in the northeastern Syrian province of Hasakah, media reported.
Sources told Turkey's state Anadolu news agency that the 4,306-square-foot warehouse on the border with Iraq was vacated on Friday.
The outlet said the warehouse, which contained trucks and Hummer armored vehicles, served as a hub for distributing military aid to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara sees as a terrorist group.
The 50 US troops based around the warehouse had been relocated to Iraq, the publication added, in line with US President Donald Trump’s promise last week to pull all personnel from Syria.

Kenya's prez strongly denies China will seize port for debt nonpayment

For background see China's African debt-trap: Beijing prepares to seize Kenya's port of Mombasa (Taiwan News, 12/28) and the 12/20 report from the African Stand, China to take over Kenya’s main port over unpaid huge Chinese Loan, which set off an uproar and galvanized Kenya's President to leap into executive action. Now China's SCMP is weighing in, although unfortunately China's foreign ministry wasn't able to reply to the newspaper's faxed requests for comment prior to publication time. 
December 30, 2018 - 5:25 PM
Will China seize prized port if Kenya can’t pay back its belt and road loans?
South China Morning Post
  • Kenyan president strongly denies port at risk of being seized
  • Report again raises questions about the risks for countries borrowing from China for infrastructure projects
The prospect that China might at some point be able to seize Kenya’s prized port of Mombasa has caused public confusion and alarm and again raised questions about the risks of participating in China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has strongly denied a local media report that the East African nation was at risk of having China seize the strategic port in compensation for unpaid debt related to belt and road infrastructure development projects.

According to online news portal African Stand, Kenya may soon have to hand over control of its largest and most developed port, while other assets related to the inland shipment of goods from Mombasa, on the Indian Ocean coast, may also be affected.

The report cited a recently completed audit by Kenya’s auditor-general which indicated China could seize the port if Kenya was unable to repay its debt.
Beijing needs to take belt and road worries of nations on board

Kenyatta described the report as “propaganda” at a roundtable discussion with journalists on Friday, according to Nairobi’s The Star newspaper.

“We are ahead of our payment schedule for the SGR loan and there is no cause for alarm,” he said.

Kenya ranks as Africa’s third most indebted country to China for the period between 2000 to 2017, according to data from the China Africa Research Initiative.

The country’s current debt to China is understood to be about US$9.8 billion, which has funded large chunks of national infrastructure, including a number of highways and the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) which provides a high-speed connection between Mombasa and Nairobi, the country’s capital, to facilitate the import and export of goods.

According to the African Stand report, “the Exim Bank of China would become a principle in the Kenya Port Authority if Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) defaults on its obligations and the China Exim Bank exercises its power over the escrow account security”.

As a condition of the initial funding deal, the Kenyan government agreed that the port of Mombasa, the nation’s most promising, would not enjoy state immunity, allowing Chinese lenders to lawfully seize it if the debt was not repaid.

Global ratings agency Moody’s Investor Service warned in November of the risk that countries participating in belt and road would lose control of valuable assets if they could not repay their debts.

“Countries rich in natural resources, like Angola, Zambia, and Republic of the Congo, or with strategically important infrastructure, like ports or railways such as Kenya, are most vulnerable to the risk of losing control over important assets in negotiations with Chinese creditors,” Moody’s said in a report.
China warned to ‘assess and prevent risks’ when pushing belt and road projects

Despite public outrage and concerns over the Mombasa port, Kenyatta said his government would continue to borrow to develop the country.

“It is not only China that is lending its money to Kenya but also Japan, France, Germany and America,” he said.

“China is not seeking to colonise us but they understand us and our point of need. But as a matter of fact we are ahead of the payment schedule and so Kenyans must ignore any propaganda being peddled. I will continue to borrow to develop.”

China’s Foreign Ministry did not reply to faxed requests by the South China Morning Post for comment in time for publication.

The “Belt and Road Initiative”, proposed by China in 2013, refers to a range of multibillion-dollar transport and power projects that Beijing has used to assert its influence in Asia, Africa and beyond.
Chinese private investment in belt and road projects may be losing steam

China has funded many infrastructure projects in Africa, including the railway connecting Ethiopia and Djibouti, the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR in Kenya and the Maputo-Katembe cross-sea bridge in Mozambique.

However, despite Chinese President Xi Jinping saying the initiative was “an open and inclusive process, and not about creating exclusive circles or a China club”, the belt and road project has been criticised by many as a tool used by Beijing to encourage dependence on China.

In March, then US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said Beijing “uses opaque contracts, predatory loan practices, and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty, denying them their long-term, self-sustaining growth.”

In July 2017 Sri Lanka agreed to lease the Hambantota Port to China Merchant Port Holdings for 99 years for US$1.4 billion to settle unpaid debts to China.

The port, which was built with Chinese money borrowed by Sri Lanka, is now in Chinese hands.



Saturday, December 29

Warming of Earth's surface: Is there a thermal engineer in the house?

A thermal engineer might tell me there are too many variables to be able to answer the question I'm asking, but I'm just looking for a rough estimate, an educated guess. Here's my question:

How much heat is transferred to the ground from human-built structures including artificial landscapes such as cities?

Another way to put the question is to ask what the estimated difference is between the amount of heat generated by the Earth's surface on its own and the amount transferred to the ground by human-built structures.

See also: How much are oceans warmed by ships, underwater pipelines and cables, and submarines? (December 13, 2018; Pundita)

Societies are now jobocracies, so starvation now stalks the entire human race

From Timothy Spence's EU’s food imports pose ‘tricky balance’ for hungry Africans : 
The south-north food flow has created willing foreign markets for African farmers, while home-grown goods aren’t getting to other Africans who are surviving on international relief aid flown in during food shortages.
Spence's report was published in December 2012, but while the statistics he provides probably need updating; e.g., in 2012 "The EU absorbs about 40% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural exports," the story he tells is right on time. An academic he quoted made an observation that's as true today as it was in 2012:
It is difficult to imagine the sense in the system because when we import, say, green beans from Kenya, we’re taking embedded water [aka 'virtual' water] from a drought-prone country, and then we’re putting into our supermarkets, into our fridges and then we’re throwing it way uneaten.”
Given that this system is now in effect across all heavily populated human societies it's worse than nonsensical. Europe and other regions of the world have been staving off the inevitable consequences of over-urbanization and wasteful farming practices in their own lands by using water and arable land from other regions to feed themselves. And they're doing this without facing the fact that the regions they're using as food suppliers are just as wasteful in their farming practices and fast becoming just as urbanized. 

Before Malthusians say, 'He told you so' -- did he? He could imagine mass starvation, but not what amounts to auto-genocide. The human race is hurtling toward that very fate because the vast majority of us have accepted a way of thinking that is now out of date. Here is the thinking:

Small-scale farmers, who comprise most of the world's farmers, have to produce enough on their farms to be able to afford to buy enough food to feed themselves and their families.

If you tell me I'm describing a crazy situation -- it sounds crazy only because I've clearly articulated it. But that's not how it's described by economists, governments, politicians, professors, or the news media. Instead, they speak of income from farming, they speak of the need to increase food exports and the need for more jobs in countries that need to be able to afford to import more food.

So let people eat jobs.

Doesn't sound nutritious? Then let us update our thinking by first recognizing that the nations that can't feed their own people are always at the mercy of events they can't hope to control. 

From that viewpoint, much of what we've called 'development' during the past century is actually a regression. We've been pedaling backward at a furious pace and calling this modernization. 


Friday, December 28

African regimes discover Beijing is not the World Bank

"Kenya appears to be lining up behind Zambia, which is slated to lose its international airport, as well as its national electricity grid, because of defaults on Chinese loans."

[bursting into laughter] China! The world's friendly neighborhood loan shark! Now watch, those thieving regimes will run crying to the IMF for help. Save us! Save us from the bad Chinese! [wiping tears of laughter] All right, Pundita, control yourself. A big thanks to Drudge Report for scooping up this howler:  

China's African debt-trap: Beijing prepares to seize Kenya's port of Mombasa
Nairobi fails to repay massive debts on shady loan for underperforming railway, Kenyan infrastructure ripe for the taking: reports

December 28, 2018
Taiwan News

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – China may be preparing to seize some major assets in the African nation of Kenya, as a result of debt-trap diplomacy.

African media reports that Kenya may soon be forced to relinquish control of its largest and most lucrative port in Mombasa to Chinese control.

Other assets related to the inland shipment of goods from the port, including the Inland Container Depot in Nairobi, and the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), may also be compromised in the event of a Chinese port takeover.

Kenya has reportedly taken extremely large loans from the Communist government for the development of some major highways, and especially for the SGR, which forms a crucial transport link to and from Nairobi for the import and export of goods through Mombasa.

In November, Moody’s noted that Kenya is at high risk of losing strategic assets because of debts owed to Beijing.

Local media began to express concern that Chinese lenders may be angling to seize assets since it does not appear the Kenyan government will be capable of repaying the loans.

Now, one month later, ahead of the New Year, it’s been reported that the Chinese may be preparing to take over the Mombasa Port infrastructure soon.

The African Stand also seems to suggest that the SGR, which is operated by the Chinese, may have been designed to be a “loss-making venture.”

With a reported loss of KES 10 billion (US$98 million) in its first year of operation, it would be nearly impossible to repay the loans taken for its construction in the time requested. Kenya reportedly accepted loans of KES 500 billion (US$4.9 billion) for the SGR’s construction.

Kenya’s Auditor General reportedly stated that deal has always favored the China Exim Bank, which advanced the loan for the project. Further, Kenya signed on to a deal that requires any arbitration of disputes related to the debt must take place in China.

From the African Stand:

An audit completed last month indicates that Kenya Ports Authority’s (KPA) assets, which include the Mombasa port, could be taken over if the SGR does not generate enough cash to pay off the debts.
“The China Exim Bank would become a principle in (over) KPA if Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) defaults in its obligations and China Exim Bank exercise power over the escrow account security.”
When the Chinese lender granted the loan to the Kenyan government, somehow the KPA signed on as a borrower. Somehow Kenya's government agreed that the port “would not be protected by sovereign immunity since the Government waived the immunity on the Kenya Ports Assets" by virtue of KPA signing on as a borrower, according to the Auditor General.

It is becoming increasingly clear that China’s designs on the nations of Africa are anything but benevolent. Kenya appears to be lining up behind Zambia, which is slated to lose its international airport, as well as its national electricity grid because of defaults on Chinese loans.

African nations must wake up to China’s new form of colonialism, which is chipping away at their critical infrastructure one major asset at a time.


Earth calling Duncan DeAeth: The Chinese never held a gun to any African official's head. 


Thursday, December 27

Al-Jubeir latest victim of "Assad Must Go" curse

10/5/2016: "Assad will be removed", Saudi Arabia's foreign minister tells FRANCE 24

Now if only the Washington Post and New York Times would fall to the curse.  


UAE re-opens embassy in Syria, Israel looking pretty stupid by now

Elijah J. Magnier was the first to predict the return of Assad to the rest of the Arab nations' fold, and did so several months ago; here is his latest on the situation, "BURYING THE AXE OF WAR: THE ARABS WILL RECOGNISE ASSAD, AND ARAB INVESTMENT WILL HELP REBUILD SYRIA," which he posted on December 19. But it's nice to see a British newspaper catching up. 

Wait a minute, I might have been the first to make the prediction. Did I not write more than a year ago that soon they'd all be making up with Assad and kissing each other on the cheeks? Nevermind; Magnier relied on his sources. I relied on human nature. 

UAE re-opens embassy in Syria as Arab leaders begin to welcome Assad back from the cold
By Raf Sanchez 
December 27, 2018
The Telegraph

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has re-opened its embassy in Syria, taking a major public step towards welcoming Bashar al-Assad back into the fold of Arab leaders after years of estrangement.

Syria was suspended from the Arab League shortly after the Syrian war broke out in 2011 and most Arab states closed their embassies in Damascus in protest at Assad’s violent crackdown against the opposition.

However, as it has become increasingly clear that Assad is likely to stay in power and prevail over downtrodden rebel forces, Syria’s Arab neighbours have begun moving to restore diplomatic ties with the former pariah.

The re-opening of the UAE’s embassy in Damascus is the most significant public step so far towards Assad’s rehabilitation in the Arab world. The move is likely to have been coordinated with Saudi Arabia, the UAE’s more powerful neighbour and close ally.

Syria state media reported that Bahrain may re-open its own embassy in Damascus next week.

One complicating factor is the role of Iran, which has strongly supported the Syrian regime throughout the seven-year war but is considered a major enemy by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies.

In a statement, the UAE presented the embassy re-opening as a part of an effort to bring Syria back into the orbit of its fellow Arab states as opposed to its Persian Iranian allies.

The UAE said it was keen to “restore relations between the two brotherly countries to their normal course” and wanted to enhance “the Arab role” in supporting Syria’s independence and sovereignty.

“This move will also prevent the dangers of regional interference in Syrian affairs,” the UAE foreign ministry said, in a veiled reference to Iran’s role in Syria.

The UAE helped finance some anti-Assad rebels in the early stages of the war but played a smaller role than Qatar, Saudi Arabia or Turkey. Much of the Gulf funding for rebel groups has now dried up.

Jalel Harchaoui, a lecturer in geopolitics at Versailles University, said both the UAE and Egypt had grown skeptical about overthrowing Assad because they saw him as a bulwark against their shared Islamist enemies.

“As Assad’s survival in Damascus is now an indisputable fact of life, and as the West’s 2012 bet appears as a miserable failure, the ideological stance of the UAE and Egypt is being largely vindicated. Both states will now lead the campaign in having the rest of the Arab world embrace that reality,” he said.

Omar Bashir, the president of Sudan, this month became the first Arab leader to travel to Damascus since 2011. His visit was hailed by regime media as a sign that Syria was being welcomed back in from the cold.

There also appears to be increasing momentum for Syria to be re-admitted into the Arab League. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian who serves as the League’s secretary general, said earlier this year that Syria’s suspension had been hasty. The next meeting of the Arab League will take place in Tunisia in March.

Syrian state media said earlier this week that Major General Ali Mamlouk, one of Assad’s top security officials, had visited Cairo to discuss terrorism issues with his Egyptian counterparts.

The UAE’s charge d’affaires at the embassy resumed work on Thursday as the UAE’s red, black, and green flag was hoisted for the first time in seven years. Syria regime media showed last-minute construction work to restore the UAE’s state seal on the embassy’s outer wall.

“The UAE expressed its wish that peace, security, and stability would prevail throughout Syria,” the foreign ministry said. 



Are these volcanoes talking to each other, or what?

12/18"Signs that Mount Vesuvius coming back to life"
Recent research shows that “medium scale” eruptions of volcanoes like Vesuvius occur once every four to five centuries. Vesuvius’ most recent medium-scale eruption occurred in 1631 and destroyed a large part of the area around the volcano, leaving thousands dead.
... authorities in Pompeii have discussed a new evacuation plan in case Mount Vesuvius erupts again, the Guardian reports. Under the plan, which was discussed after a recent increase in seismic activity, people living in and around the town on the Italian coast would be evacuated to Sardinia by boat. ...

12/24: "Mount Etna Just Started Erupting From A New Fissure"

12/27: "Mount Etna volcano triggers 4.8-magnitude earthquake in Sicily"
An overnight earthquake, triggered by Mount Etna's eruption two days ago, caused injuries and damage in Eastern Sicily early Wednesday morning. The volcano has been spewing ash, and lava has flowed down its slopes since it began erupting on Monday. ... Officials said the quake was one of about 1,000 tremors, most of them small, related to Etna's eruption.
"Tremors during eruptions are pretty normal here," Gaetano Maenza told the press. "What is unusual is the level of magnitude triggered by Etna. I have no memory of such intensity. It was scary."
Meanwhile, over in the Ring of Fire:

12/26: "Indonesia tsunami: fresh alert for Anak Krakatau volcano as eruptions continue"
Indonesia has raised the danger alert level for the volcano that sparked the devastating Sunda Strait tsunami, adding to a previous warning that fresh activity at the crater threatened to trigger another deadly wave.
Authorities also widened a no-go zone around Anak Krakatau to 5km (three miles) – up from a previous 2km – and warned shell-shocked residents to stay away from the coast, after more than 400 were killed by Saturday night’s killer wave. ...
 12/27: "Satellite images show collapse of Indonesian island volcano"
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Radar data from satellites, converted into images, shows Indonesia’s Anak Krakatau island volcano is dramatically smaller following a weekend eruption that triggered a deadly tsunami.
Satellite photos aren’t available because of cloud cover but radar images from a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency satellite taken before and after the eruption show the volcano’s southwestern flank has disappeared.
Dave Petley, head of research and innovation at Sheffield University who analyzed similar images from a European Space Agency satellite, said they support the theory that a landslide, most of it undersea, caused the tsunami that killed at least 430 people on Saturday evening. ... 
Takeaway? Humanity shares its existence with a planet that has its own life cycles and problems to deal with. So when push comes to shove, it's humans that have to make adjustments, not Earth. 

One of Earth's problems can be the sun's cycles. These cycles can also be a problem for living creatures. But we can't ring up the sun and ask, 'Say, are you heading into a spotless cycle and if so could you tell us for how long?' 

Now what would happen if a Grand Solar Minimum is in the works? Well much cooler weather in many parts of the world. But if it came on top of a major volcano eruption, the kind that generates so much ash that it cools the planet, this is what's known as a problem. A real problem, not the stuff that clutters the news every day.

We'll just have to see. Meanwhile, we should be making hay while the sun shines. That means dealing with our own biggest problems, which have nothing to do with conflicts between regional peoples that have been going on for decades if not centuries.     


Wednesday, December 26

Israeli missiles almost shot down 2 passenger planes in Syrian airspace. Way to go, Israeli Air Force.

I have bigger fish to fry than talking about Bibi Netanyahu's temper tantrum at Donald Trump. But really, risking scores of civilian lives on Christmas? Yes I know the Orthdox Christmas isn't until January 6 but December 25 is also the date Christmas is celebrated, and the Israelis well know this. 

The Israelis have to stop staging provocations in Syria and they can ditch the yammer about Hezbollah's tunnels. If the IDF is so upset about the tunnels, take their army and invade Lebanon, but stop trying to drag the United States into a war against Lebanon -- or Iran, for that matter. Fight your own battles and keep Americans out of it -- all of it.       

Anyhow, the U.S. defense department and probably Pesident Trump as well is ticked off about the Israeli's Christmas stunt, so they spilled the beans, which DEBKAfile duly reported this morning:
US military sources disclose that the Israeli air offensive on Tuesday night, Dec. 25, was conducted by IAF F-16I fighter jets firing Delilah cruise missiles from Lebanese air space into Syria. Damascus is said to have countered the attack with Russian Pantsir-S2 and S-200 SAM air defense weapons.
These highly credible sources also disclose that the Israeli attack was aimed at Syrian military sites – not Iranian and Hizballah targets as earlier reported in Israel and Damascus.
The Israeli government and military chiefs had apparently decided, say the US sources, to take advantage of the chaos generated by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria and Ankara’s threat of a Turkish army thrust across the Euphrates. Their purpose was to disable Syrian military sites where Iranian and Hizballah combat assets were quartered.
After the F-16 jets failed to connect to their targets, the IDF sent the F-35 stealth planes over in a second wave.

The report continues in great detail but doesn't mention that Netanyahu is very upset that Trump shut him out of discussions about a vaunted drawndown of American troops in Syria prior to announcing the decision. The only national leaders he discussed it with prior to the announcement were Putin and Erdogan, although he gave Netanyahu a five minute head's up about his decision before tweeting his announcement. 

After the announcement, all other relevant leaders were quickly contacted by the U.S. This was followed by a detailed explanation that the U.S. that would still maintain a presence in Syria after the alleged drawdown. DEBKAfile duly reported on this also. Here is their report, datelined December 22 12:10: The US will still “maintain a presence” after troop pullout from NE Syria:
Following the backlash from President Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from NE Syria, senior administration officials Friday night, Dec. 21 offered Mid East leaders clarifications for allaying their concerns. DEBKAfile’s sources reveal those messages’ high points:
  1. US troops will leave eastern and northern Syria, but America is not deserting this part of the country, said the officials, without revealing the nature of its continuing presence.
  2. The Trump administration has not abandoned the Kurds or “stabbed them in the back” as widely reported, “and the Kurds know this,” it was authoritatively said. And, indeed, despite their loud cries of dismay, not a single Syrian Kurdish militiaman has deserted the lines they hold against ISIS in eastern Syria.
  3. Regarding President Tayyip Erdogan declaration that the Turkish army was about to march on East Euphrates and reach the Kurdish capital of Qamishli, amid fears of a massacre, the US officials advised distinguishing between talk and deeds. They referred to a phone conversation between Presidents Trump and Erdogan on Dec. 14, in which the latter promised his army would not cross the Euphrates. In a speech welcoming the US pullout from Syria on Friday, Erdogan allowed that Turkey would “wait a little longer before launching the operation” and counted on US “logistic support.”
  4. Trump said subsequently that the troop pullout would be phased out within 40-60 days. According to the US officials, a more realistic timeline would be 4 to 6 months. “During that time, Syria is bound to see many developments that may require  Washington to revise its plans.”
  5. The US and Iraq are in advanced negotiations for the deployment to the Iraqi-Syria border of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) – the “Golden Division” – which drove ISIS out of Mosul. It will stand in the path of Iranian and Iraqi Shiite militias crossings into Syria. [Pundita note: Reportedly Iraq has rejected the U.S. request to deploy Iraqi forces in Syria.] 
  6. Part of the ISOF’s deployment will include the western Iraqi province of Anbar. In this regard, the US officials referred to a disclosure by Mohammad al-Dilemi, one of the chiefs of Anbar’s Arab tribes. On Dec. 12, he said that the US army was building a new base on the line dividing Anbar from the next-door province of Nineveh. It would position US troops 30km north of the Euphrates River and near the Syrian border. This new base will provide the Iraqi division with American backup.
  7. The officials from Washington refused to confirm or deny that the Russians were involved in the forthcoming US plans for Syria; nor would they refer to a possible US-Turkish-Russian deal on the subject. They did take note of the strides taken in recent weeks toward repairing Russian-Israeli relations. The US officials pointed out that the transfer of a Russian S-300 air defense missile battalion to Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria brought the Israeli Golan and Galilee Panhandle within their range, but not the Israel Air Force bases in northern and central Israel.
As to whether the U.S. really intends to withdraw 2,000 U.S.troops: the U.S. has many more than that number in Syria; the unofficial count is roughly 4,000. Tthe Israelis know this, as does everyone who reads the Washington Post.  From Liz Sly's December 14 report for the Post, America's Hidden War in Syria; 
... In September, however, the administration switched course, saying the troops will stay in Syria pending an overall settlement to the Syrian war and with a new mission: to act as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence. 
That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.
The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000.
Most are Special Operations forces, and their footprint is light. Their vehicles and convoys rumble by from time to time along the empty desert roads, but it is rare to see U.S. soldiers in towns and cities.
So even if the U.S. withdraws 2,000 troops (or 2,600 according to one news report), this still leaves a a sizeable contingent in Syria. Which, again, the Israelis know.

[shaking her head] Kindergartners with missiles. 


Sunda Strait Tsunami and Paradise Wildfire: Black Swan events almost back to back

But were they actual Black Swan events? A completely unpredictable disaster is more an abstraction than an actuality. There are usually some people who have enough intelligence,  knowledge, and experience to predict events that others can't. But a Black Swan event is a highly improbable one. So generally it's an extraordinary or unprecedented convergence of factors that turn a surprise disaster into one so improbable it's almost impossible to predict.

Such was the case with the tsunami that struck Indonesia on December 22 and the wildfire that struck the town of Paradise in Northern California on November 8, and which became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California's recorded history. In both disasters the basic threat situations -- one a tsunami, the other a wildfire -- were predictable, and so were the individual factors in the incidents. But all the factors coming together at the same time? Nah; improbable to the point of virtually impossible.

So what is the meta-message, if any, to be gleaned from two improbable mass-casualty disasters happening close in time to each other but separated by vast distances and vastly different circumstances?  

This is a very important question to people such as myself, who are always on the lookout for Signs & Portents. After pondering the question for several hours I'll say this to Pundita readers. 

I think we're heading into a time when it's particularly important to work at making it habitual to become highly aware of one's surroundings. Not an easy task; the more settled one's life, the easier it is to take one's surroundings for granted. But if you pretend that you're a professional bodyguard hired to look after yourself and your family, and look at situations you enter from that angle, you'll start seeing things, risks, that you wouldn't ordinarily notice. 

Here I'm reminded of a scene in the 1992 film "The Bodyguard" when bodyguard Frank Farmer has accompanied his client, Rachel Marron, into a clothing boutique. At one point she's in the dressing room and asks him to grab a particular dress from the clothes rack and hand it to her. 

He replies, "I'm here to keep you alive, not help you shop."

The point of the mental exercise isn't to become a professional bodyguard and it's certainly not to aquire ominsicience or clairvoyance. The goal is to learn to pay more attention to your instinct when it's whispering, 'Something's not quite right.'  

As with Rachel, who was darned if she was going to alter her daily routines just because of some stalker, we don't want to listen to the little voice at the back of our mind when we're having a good time or have someplace we need to get to. But if the goal is to live long in your present body, which is how to acquire wisdom that by the way you do take with you in your next appearance in this realm, it can pay off big-time to train yourself to listen more carefully to your instinct.

It's been noted repeatedly in news reports that there was no warning of the tsunami. True, from all I've read of the reports. But there was something strange, which I didn't know about until just before I posted my last write-up on the disaster. The volcano suddenly stopped spewing not long before the tsunami struck. The strange part was that after it went silent, some kind of dark cloud enveloped the entire volcano, completely blotting out the view of it from the moonlit shore of the Sunda Strait. 

And yes, there is a photograph, taken by the same observant volcano watcher who noticed and photographed the strange color of the sea water after the tsunami.  (See my post.)

So if you're if picnicking on the shore in the Ring of Fire and practicing situational awareness and notice something strange about the volcano in the near distance, that's the cue to grab the picnic blanket and say to the family, 'We're outta here. Now.' 

And don't spend time wondering, 'Now what could that dark cloud mean?' Again, we're not trying for omniscience, just to stay a few seconds ahead of anything ranging from a serious problem to a mass-casualty event.

Clear?  Practice. Like getting better at anything else -- it takes practice. Practice situational awareness and listening more to the voice at the back of all the chatter in your mind. Practice.  

Indonesia tsunami worse than early indications

The big surprise for me in the following AP report was the large reach of the tsunami; early reports had suggested, at least to me, that the impact was pretty much confined to one shoreline area, in Sumur, but that turned out not to be the case; the tsunami was also hitting shores that were "hours away" from Sumur. 

So I think we can assume the death toll, which has spiked in the past 24 hours to 429, will rise even higher as authorities get into all the affected areas -- a slow-going operation once they procure enough heavy equipment for removing debris blocking roads.

Regarding the height of the waves, which had generally been cited as between about a half a meter to two meters, some survivors swore that they were at least 3 meters high; from this short video that AP took of damage in one area, it looks to my eyes as if they were right. 

That's a lot of water displacement from a chunk or chunks of volcano wall splashing into the sea. But the displacement happened so fast, and so near to shore, it was only 24 minutes until the waves hit shore. 

I'll also mention from an earlier report I posted that there wasn't one big wave -- it was a series of four waves, according to a Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteer.  

The most unsettling part is that the sea gave no warning -- no sudden receding of waters to indicate a tsunami was on the way, as happens when one is caused by an earthquake.

As to whether the change in color of the sea might have given some warning, well, the video of that strange whitish color was taken on the morning after the tsunami hit. So we don't know how long it was before the sea color reflected gunk or "steam-rich magma/lava-water interactionfrom the flaming, disintegrating volcano chunk(s). But one survivor told AP that there was nothing strange about the sea before the tsunami hit -- it was just a full moon shining on calm waters. 

Did the moonlight mask a sudden chalkiness of the water's color? Don't know but even so, I'm not sure that even volcanologists would have immediately put two and two together: 'Oh look, the sea's turned white; run for your lives.'  I don't think so. But now they would know -- provided the Indonesian news media has picked up on that video footage.  If not for the eagle eye of a Sputnik editor scouring Twitterf, I wouldn't have known about the footage.  

In any case, residents and tourists near the volcano sure enough need to stay away from shore until that force of nature settles down. Barring that, be fit enough to run inland very fast on hearing the first scream.

As to whether you could hope to out-drive the wave -- read one survivor's experience with that attempt, as she told it to the AP reporter. I guess it's a judgment call but the seconds you take to get into the car can mean the difference between life and death. And again, this wasn't one wave; if you thought you were okay after the first one passed, there were more on the way. 

In addition, it's not necessarily the inbound wave that's the worst, it can be the sucking motion as the wave recedes. One man couldn't get over the power of the outbound wave; as he clung to a post for dear life while a wave pulled toward the sea he thought, "So this is a tsunami?"  Guess so.

One more point before I turn over the floor to AP; this from the amateur volcano observer who filmed the strange color of the water:
Øystein L. Andersen‏ - December 23, posted to his Twitter page (two-part thread):
1. #Krakatau volcano: First of these photos, taken at 19:12 local [Indonesia] time yesterday, shows the volcano erupting lava continuously. Second photo, taken at 21:26 local time -- only minutes before the #Tsunami went ashore in front of me in West Java.
2. I remember being surprised that activity had totally ceased, and Anak-krakatau wasn't even visible at all. No eruption sounds were heard. Then a few minutes passed, and the Tsunami arrived.
What obscured the suddenly banked volcano? Looks like it could be smoke, dust. Had big chunks of the mountain fallen inside the volcano, smothering the fireworks, while the rest of the chunks slid into the sea? No idea, but the point is that all seemed quiet with that volcano. Then -- BAM!  Shock waves hitting shore.

[shaking her head] 

Indonesia Tsunami Deaths Hit 429, Survivors Remain Jittery
December 25, 2018 - last updated 5:21 PM ET
The Associated Press

SUMUR, Indonesia (AP) Panicked residents, police and soldiers in this remote fishing village clobbered by a devastating weekend tsunami ran to higher ground Tuesday, shouting “Water is coming! Water is coming!” and reciting verses from the Quran as emergency messages were broadcast over mosque speakers.

It proved to be a false alarm, but a similar frenzy broke out in Tanjung Lesung, another tsunami-stricken area located hours away, as survivors of the disaster remained traumatized by a tragedy that killed more than 420 people and left thousands homeless.

Meanwhile, Christmas celebrations were replaced by somber prayers, as church leaders called on Christians across Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, to pray for tsunami victims.

Unlike other tsunamis that have hit disaster-prone Indonesia following large earthquakes, Saturday’s big waves blasted ashore at night without warning. The eruption of Anak Krakatau, or Child of Krakatoa, a volcano in the Sunda Strait, is believed to have created a landslide on the volcano’s slope, displacing a large volume of water that slammed into the islands of Java and Sumatra.

People in Sumur village, which has been slow to receive aid due to roads being cut off, remained stunned by how quickly the tsunami hit. The beach, located just a few kilometers from the tourist island of Umang near Java’s western tip, is popular for snorkeling and other water activities. The tsunami decimated the area, ripping houses from their foundations and bulldozing concrete buildings.

Scientists have said the tsunami’s waves were recorded in several places at about 1 meter (3.3 feet) high, but residents of Sumur insisted they towered more than 3 meters (10 feet) there. They said a soaring white wall of water roared toward them at high speeds, ripping trees out of the ground by their roots.

“There was no sign of a tsunami when we were at the beach. The sea didn’t recede,” said Tati Hayati, a housewife, who was enjoying a pleasant evening with 10 other people when the disaster hit. “It was calm and bright with the full moon.”

When she spotted high, fast-moving waves launching toward the shore, she ran to her car and managed to get inside. But she couldn't outrun it. She said the car was struck by three waves, breaking out the back window and filling the vehicle with gushing water.

"We were locked inside. The car was swaying in the waves and we thought we would all die," Hayati said. "We almost could not breathe and I almost gave up when I groped the key in the water and managed to open the door, and the water began to recede. We got out of the car and ran to safety."

The disaster was compounded because it occurred over a busy holiday weekend before Christmas when many people had fled crowded cities such as Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, to relax at popular beach areas.

Pastor Markus Taekz said Tuesday that his Rahmat Pentecostal Church in the hard-hit area of Carita did not celebrate Christmas with joyous songs this year. Instead, only about 100 people showed up for the service, which usually brings in double that number. Many congregation members had already left the area for locations away from the disaster zone.

"This is an unusual situation because we have a very bad disaster that killed hundreds of our sisters and brothers in Banten," Taekz said, referring to the province on Java island. "So our celebration is full of grief."

The death toll climbed to 429 on Tuesday, with more than 1,400 people injured and at least 128 missing, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia’s Disaster Mitigation Agency.

He said more than 16,000 people were displaced and that there was an urgent need for heavy equipment in the Sumur subdistrict near Ujung Kulon National Park to help get aid flowing and reach people who may be injured or trapped.

Military troops, government personnel, and volunteers continued searching along debris-strewn beaches. Yellow, orange and black body bags were laid out where victims were found, and weeping relatives identified the dead. Many searched for missing loved ones at hospital morgues.

The lead singer of the Indonesian pop band Seventeen located the body of his dead wife after posting emotional posts on social media, vowing that he would not leave her. The group was performing at a beach hotel when the tsunami was captured on video smashing into their stage, killing several band members and crew.

Anak Krakatau is a volcanic island that formed in the early part of the 20th century near the site of the cataclysmic 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, which killed more than 30,000 people and hurled so much ash that it turned day to night in the area and reduced global temperatures.

The head of Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, Dwikorita Karnawati, said Saturday’s tsunami was likely caused by Anak Krakatau’s volcanic activity and so could not have been picked up by sensors, which monitor conventional earthquakes responsible for more than 90 percent of Indonesia’s tsunamis.

She said the tsunami was probably caused by the collapse of a big section of the volcano’s slope. Anak Krakatau has been erupting since June and did so again 24 minutes before the tsunami, according to the geophysics agency. Other scientists have said an underwater landslide may also have contributed to the disaster.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and home to 260 million people, lies along the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

In September, thousands were believed killed by a quake and tsunami that hit Indonesia’s Sulawesi island. A quake on the island of Lombok killed 505 people in August.

Saturday’s disaster came ahead of the anniversary of the massive Asian tsunami that hit Dec. 26, 2004, after a magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra island spawned huge waves. The giant wall of water killed some 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.



Monday, December 24

A Thai bureaucrat decided to practice what he preached about farming

Sowing the seeds of self-reliance
1 Dec 2018 By PHUSADEE ARUNMASBangkok Post
Wiwat Salyakamthorn, aka Ajarn Yak, made his name over the decades preaching to farmers the sufficiency philosophy conceived and developed by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej [Rama IX] to sustain Thailand's agricultural sector.
Mr Wiwat, who comes from a farming family in Chachoengsao province, has worked at the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board for 16 years, advising farmers on how to practise self-reliance. Examples include using eco-friendly homemade fertilisers and growing mixed crops to manage risks from unpredictable weather.
But only a few farmers listened to what he talked about, with some even snubbing him with a sarcastic remark that he could say whatever he wanted because he worked at the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board.
Even worse, some shot back that if sufficiency was as good as he said it was, why didn't he do it himself? ...
What Mr Wiwat finally did in response to the question is an interesting and instructive story.