Category Archives: general

Germanwings crash: Descent may have been ‘deliberate, suicidal choice’ by pilot, claims experts – The Independent

The descent to destruction of the Germanwings Airbus may have been a deliberate, suicidal choice by the pilot who remained in the cockpit, French aviation experts believe.

They said  that a conscious decision must have been made by the remaining pilot to put the Barcelona-Dusseldorf flight onto a downward 11-minute descent until it collided with a mountain in the French Alps.

Following the revelation that one of the two pilots was locked out of the cockpit , the experts told the French news agency AFP that events pointed to either the suicide or sudden illness of the remaining pilot.

Germanwings crash: Descent may have been ‘deliberate, suicidal choice’ by pilot, claims experts – Europe – World – The Independent

Altar of Jewish Holy Temple Rebuilt – Breaking Israel News

The Temple Institute in Jerusalem has announced that it has finished building an altar suitable for the Temple service. The altar, which took several years to build, can be operational at little more than a moment’s notice, reported Matzav Haruach magazine.

The Temple Institute is committed to preparing all the necessary clothing and tools for the rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In addition, the institute operates an educational center for visitors and a preparatory training program for members of the priestly family who wish to be ready to serve as soon as the Temple is rebuilt.

The altar is a central component to the Biblical sacrificial service. In fact, there were separate altars for the incense and for other sacrifices.

What makes the altar so unique is that it can be disassembled and reassembled easily, allowing it to be transported quickly and efficiently from its current location, on display at the institute, to the Temple Mount when the time comes. It was inaugurated in December 2014 and is now ready for use. With Passover around the corner, and the Passover sacrifice a central component of the traditional celebration, perhaps that time will come soon!

Altar of Jewish Holy Temple Rebuilt – Breaking Israel News

Risk and Robustness: A Conversation with Nassim Nicholas Taleb | IPI Global Observatory

You have identified markers of country fragility like centralization, absence of diversity, debt, and lack of political variability. If you see that there is a highly constrained system, what are the triggers that would make that country explode?

Never predict catalysts. The big mistake that historians make is to confuse catalysts for causes. Let me give you an analogy. You have a bridge that is very fragile. Eventually it is going to collapse. Why should we focus on the car or truck that could make it collapse? It is extremely unwise to try to predict an event. Instead, you should look at the underlying fragility and try to modify it and make it more stable so we don’t have to predict why and when something will collapse. Don’t try to predict when the bridge will collapse, just build a safer bridge.

Why do you say that measuring risk is “predictive and sissy”?

Because measuring risk doesn’t work.

What about stock market analysts and investors?

There is a lot of luck in that business. Don’t be “fooled by randomness” (the title of my first nontechnical book). You can’t measure risk. If you have a million monkeys, at least one of them will be lucky. Collectively, money managers underperform the stock market. Some get lucky—but they only look good in retrospect.

Many of the things that you say are counterintuitive, for example, that volatility is a good thing.

A necessary thing, not a good thing. Any organic system needs a certain amount of volatility to operate, otherwise it becomes constrained. And this can cause a major explosion later.

Isn’t there a threshold where too much volatility becomes dangerous?

No, it’s the exact opposite. Take forest fires. If you leave a forest alone, it will have its own fires. They will come and die down, come and die down, and they will be pretty much harmless. If you repress every forest fire, the first major fire that you cannot control will destroy the whole forest. It’s the same things with states and how they solve their problems. If you have constant volatility and tension, the system can cope. Look at Switzerland—it has constant volatility and tension, but at the lowest possible level. I would rather have a lot of small problems than one large problem.

But surely you should try to avoid having fires.

You don’t avoid having big fires by avoiding small fires. There is a big difference between volatility and risk. Volatility can actually reduce risk. Look at the stock market—there are many small variations, but few crashes. The more you try to compress small variations, the more you can cause a crash. Or if you work in a highly sterile environment, the more likely you are to get sick because your system is overstabilized and not used to dealing with deviation.

You wrote in an article in Foreign Affairs, called the “Black Swan of Cairo,” that there is no freedom without noise and no stability without volatility. At the moment, the world seems like a pretty noisy and unstable place. Is that good?

The world is not unstable. …

[Published on September 22, 2014]

Risk and Robustness: A Conversation with Nassim Nicholas Taleb | IPI Global Observatory

Passport King Christian Kalin Helps Nations Sell Citizenship – Bloomberg Business

In 2006, the tiny Caribbean state of St. Kitts and Nevis was in deep trouble. Its sugar plantations had closed a year earlier, gang violence had given it the dubious distinction of having one of the world’s highest murder rates, and only two governments on Earth were more indebted. A three-hour flight south of Miami, the country of 48,000 people was more or less unknown. Certainly, the two specks of volcanic rock in the middle of the West Indies weren’t of much interest to the world’s rich. St. Kitts and Nevis had run a citizenship-by-investment program—had sold passports—since 1984, but it didn’t get much attention and was never a moneymaker.

Then a Swiss lawyer named Christian Kalin showed up.

Just as Kalin put St. Kitts on the map, Bloomberg Markets will report in its April 2015 issue, the reverse is also true. It made his reputation. Before St. Kitts, Kalin’s firm, Henley & Partners, was an obscure wealth management and immigration consultancy, and Kalin was working out of a small branch office in Zurich. Tall, with a runner’s build, Kalin was known as a researcher, he says, not the hard-nosed dealmaker he’s become. His claim to fame was having edited a 766-page guide to doing business in Switzerland, a tome found in every one of the country’s embassies.

Soon, prime ministers from around the world were seeking Kalin’s advice, in the hope he could reproduce the magic of St. Kitts, where he effectively created a resource out of thin air for a nation that had few. Many countries allow wealthy foreigners to buy residency cards through what are called immigrant investor programs, but before the financial crisis, St. Kitts and another Caribbean island called Dominica were the only ones selling citizenship outright. Since then, another five countries have gotten into the game. More are coming.

Passport King Christian Kalin Helps Nations Sell Citizenship – Bloomberg Business

U.S. Should Freeze Assets, Ban Travel of Human-Rights Abusers More Often – Bloomberg Business

Have you ever found yourself walking down a street in New York, Miami, or London and seen someone in designer clothing and expensive jewelry, speaking with a Russian accent, and stepping into a $150,000 car? And have you ever wondered where all their money came from? It may surprise you that some are no more than midlevel Russian government officials whose salaries are less than $20,000 a year. It may also surprise you that some of these elegant-looking people made their money by falsely arresting, torturing, and even killing people.

Since December 2012 the U.S. has attempted to make their lives less comfortable. The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress and signed into law by President Obama, imposes visa sanctions and asset freezes on Russian human-rights abusers. Known as the Magnitsky Act, it represents the first time in almost 40 years that the U.S. has sanctioned Russia for its human-rights record. The European Parliament passed its own version of the Magnitsky Act last spring. Targeting the travel plans and bank accounts of dozens of allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin has unsettled Putin like few other Western policies have. After he assumed the presidency for a second time in 2012, Putin said one of his primary foreign policy objectives was to fight the sanctions. So far the U.S. has sanctioned 34 individuals and created panic among members of Putin’s inner circle as they realize their money is no longer safe in the West.

This raises an obvious question: Why shouldn’t the U.S. do the same thing with an Uzbek, Venezuelan, or Burmese human-rights violator? …

U.S. Should Freeze Assets, Ban Travel of Human-Rights Abusers More Often – Bloomberg Business

The Real History of the Crusades – Crisis Magazine

So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression — an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.

Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity — and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion — has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.

With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt — once the most heavily Christian areas in the world — quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.

That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.

Pope Urban II called upon the knights of Christendom to push back the conquests of Islam at the Council of Clermont in 1095. The response was tremendous. Many thousands of warriors took the vow of the cross and prepared for war. Why did they do it? The answer to that question has been badly misunderstood. In the wake of the Enlightenment, it was usually asserted that Crusaders were merely lacklands and ne’er-do-wells who took advantage of an opportunity to rob and pillage in a faraway land. The Crusaders’ expressed sentiments of piety, self-sacrifice, and love for God were obviously not to be taken seriously. They were only a front for darker designs.

During the past two decades, computer-assisted charter studies have demolished that contrivance. …

The Real History of the Crusades – Crisis Magazine

7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free) – The Washington Post

Since 1985, U.S. college costs have surged by about 500 percent, and tuition fees keep rising. In Germany, they’ve done the opposite.

The country’s universities have been tuition-free since the beginning of October, when Lower Saxony became the last state to scrap the fees. Tuition rates were always low in Germany, but now the German government fully funds the education of its citizens — and even of foreigners.

Explaining the change, Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a senator in the northern city of Hamburg, said tuition fees “discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

What might interest potential university students in the United States is that Germany offers some programs in English — and it’s not the only country. Let’s take a look at the surprising — and very cheap — alternatives to pricey American college degrees.

1. Germany
2. Finland
3. France
4. Sweden
5. Norway
6. Slovenia
7. Brazil

7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free) – The Washington Post

Need a way to get out of America? Then one of these seven countries just might be your ticket.

The Iron Laws of Revolution and the Failure of the Arab Spring | John C. Hulsman Enterprises

You cannot make a revolution with silk gloves.” –Joseph Stalin

“I’m deeply troubled by the undemocratic turn that Egypt’s transition has taken”
–Tweet from former president Jimmy Carter, on the failure of the Arab Spring

In December 1942, the Red Army was finally turning the tables on the Wehrmacht. After a seemingly endless series of debilitating defeats the Soviets brought the German war machine to a halt at Stalingrad, where the Wehrmacht’s notorious Sixth Army found itself surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned. Back in the Kremlin, Stalin was planning the offensive that would put an end to the battle in his namesake city and seal the fate of the German army. He decided that General Konstantin Rokossovsky should lead the operation rather than General Andrey Yeremenko, who had been responsible for the defense of Stalingrad until then. The Soviet dictator could tell, however, that Marshall Georgi Zhukov had his reservations. “Why don’t you say anything?” he asked, to which Zhukov replied: “Yeremenko will be very hurt.” Understandably nonplussed by this sudden display of concern for other people’s emotions from a commander who had never had any qualms about using his men as mere cannon fodder, Stalin shot back: “It’s not a time for feeling hurt. We’re not schoolgirls, we’re Bolsheviks!”

It goes without saying that the man’s crimes were horrendous. His purges and collectivization drives killed untold people, to say nothing of his criminal failure to prepare an adequate defense against the German invasion that everyone except him knew was coming. Millions died under his rule, and his unwillingness to accept that Hitler was about to invade the Soviet Union made life for his people even more of a living hell. Nevertheless, there is a deep truth in his characteristically terse retort to Zhukov’s strangely mawkish objection: schoolgirls don’t make or defend revolutions.

And yet at the height of the Arab Spring, to listen to western journalists (CNN was particularly egregious) hipsters on the internet had invented a new way to rule the world; there was even a trendy slogan bandied about, ‘Revolution 2.0’. Shamefully, much of the western press left their analytical credentials at the door, essentially becoming mere cheerleaders for the students in the streets.

In those heady, irrational days, for our sins both of us were forced to attend foreign policy events where we were breathlessly told in no uncertain terms that the political rules of the road had been entirely upended; history no longer mattered. The telecommunications revolution allowed people to organize so quickly, efficiently, and differently–to share information at the speed of the click of a computer key–that the days of tyrants everywhere were surely numbered. Twitter, Face book, You Tube and the rest had definitively changed the world beyond all recognition. Power was out, communicating was in.

Just a few years on, surveying the ruins of the Arab Spring in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and especially Syria, these callow utopian claims look more than a little silly. But beneath this colossal analytical failure a far more important point needs making. There are iron laws governing revolutionary outcomes, outputs that have been tested and proven by history. The place to start is with Stalin’s quotation—people living alone in their basements with their parents are unlikely to be latter day Robespierres, Castros, Lenins, or Maos. But if it is easy (and necessary) to mock the ridiculous pretensions to world-historical change CNN and the others made in the first flush of the Arab Spring, it is far more important to look at what actually makes for successful revolutions, in order to underline the real reasons for the failure of Revolution 2.0.

The First Law: Organize (And not online)

The Iron Laws of Revolution and the Failure of the Arab Spring | John C. Hulsman Enterprises

Nasrallah confirms Hezbollah, Iran bolstering presence along Golan border – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

Hezbollah on Friday confirmed Israeli suspicions that it was establishing a greater military presence near the Syrian-Israeli frontier on the Golan Heights.

Nasrallah’s remarks reaffirmed the Hezbollah-Iranian effort to solidify another front in the struggle against its nemesis, Israel.

“They killed us in broad daylight, we kill them in broad daylight,” he said. “They hit two of our vehicles, we hit two of their vehicles.”

“We do not want a war but we are not afraid of it and we must distinguish between the two and the Israelis must also understand this very well,” he said.

He said the group had been ready for all possibilities ahead of the retaliatory attack, one of the most serious clashes since the two sides fought a war in 2006. They have appeared to back away from further escalation since the incident.

Nasrallah confirms Hezbollah, Iran bolstering presence along Golan border – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

carolinglick | Iran — Unafraid and Undeterred

The fact that the men were willing to risk exposure by traveling together along the border with Israel indicates how critical the front is for the regime in Tehran. It also indicates that in all likelihood, they were planning an imminent attack against Israel.

According to Ehud Yaari, Channel 2’s Arab Affairs commentator, Iran and Hezbollah seek to widen Hezbollah’s front against Israel from Lebanon to Syria. They wish to establish missile bases on the northern Hermon, and are expanding Hezbollah’s strategic depth from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to the outskirts of Damascus.

The fact that they are in control over large swathes of the border area and are willing to risk exposure in order to ready the front for operations exposes Iran’s strategic goal of encircling Israel on the ground and the risks it is willing to take to achieve that goal.

But Iran’s willingness to expose its forces and Hezbollah forces also indicates something else. It indicates that they believe that there is a force deterring Israel from attacking them.

From the Golan Heights to Gaza, from Yemen and Iraq to Latin America to Nantanz and Arak, Iran is boldly advancing its nuclear and imperialist agenda. As Charles Krauthammer noted last Friday, the nations of the Middle East allied with the US are sounding the alarm.

carolinglick | Iran — Unafraid and Undeterred

“The fact that the men were willing to risk exposure by traveling together along the border with Israel indicates how critical the front is for the regime in Tehran. It also indicates that in all likelihood, they were planning an imminent attack against Israel.”

If Hezbollah and Iranian leaders were already planning some kind of escalation against Israel, then wouldn’t that threat only be delayed at this point? In other worlds, they’ll be back.

Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says – NYTimes.com

A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.

Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says – NYTimes.com

So we are looking at some kind of a collapse of ocean life. It is possible to avert the collapse, but how likely is that? How likely is it for countries around the world to make major changes in how they affect the ocean? I have my doubts about that. I think current trends will mostly continue as world population increases. That will put even more stress on the oceans of the world. What about another major oil spill like the BP Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010?

“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.”

I’m all for not dumping acid into the ocean, but of course one of them has to jump on the climate change bandwagon: “Ultimately, Dr. Palumbi warned, slowing extinctions in the oceans will mean cutting back on carbon emissions, not just adapting to them.”