Monthly Archives: October 2013

Flash Point: What Hand Do You Use?

Our wife is an artist – a very good one we might add without bias. Among the devices that she has in her studio is a tube wringer. See picture below.

To understand why an artist would want such a device, consider that a 15ml tube of watercolour paint can cost $10 or more. So as an artist, you want to get every fractional milliliter of paint that you can out of the tube. For the non-artist, they are great for taming that almost empty tube of toothpaste.

To use the device, merely open the end opposite the hinges to allow the end of the tube to be inserted between the fluted rollers, close the device holding it with your left hand and turn the knob with your right hand. The rollers draw the tube in forcing the contents to the top.

So far so good. But when we tried a new tube wringer that our wife had just inherited, the tube kept falling out when we turned the knob. Perhaps we didn’t have it in far enough to start. Nope. Finally we realized that when turning the knob with our right hand – in a natural clock-wise direction – the wringer was actually expelling the tube.  To use it we either had to turn the knob counter-clockwise, an unnatural operation for us, or switch hands, again an unnatural operation. The question remains: has our wife inherited a left-handed tube wringer?

And then, early this morning, lying in bed, we tried an experiment. With our right hand. We made a clockwise twisting motion and a counter-clockwise twisting motion. The mechanics of the hand and wrist give one a larger range of motion in the clockwise direction. Try it (use your right hand unless you prefer to use your other hand).

The rather neat insight is that being a largely right-handed species, we have a natural and logical bias to clockwise motion. This extends particularly to screwing. We make nuts and bolts and screws with right-handed threads, except in exceptional circumstances. And our clocks don’t run backward (right bias, right? Not left, right?).

Whose on first and why do runners in baseball run counterclockwise?

This is one of the great comedy sketches of the Monty Python caliber, if you haven’t seen it.

Socialism: The End of the Welfare State in Europe?

We had read this earlier but when a friend sent it to us we decided to publish it. Stratfor briefly traces the history of the creation of the untenable economic burden of the modern welfare state. The cost of socialism is finally being raised at a high level in at least some parts of Europe, particularly the Netherlands.

How the Nations of the Middle East Have Used Their Independence: Israel, 1948 to the Present

This essay is part two in a new series by Paul Merkley, reprinted by permission of Paul and from The Bayview Review. See the links at the end for direct access to the rest of Paul’s work.

PART TWO: Israel, 1948 to the present

Over the last decade  (as noted in my previous essay) UN bodies concerned with performance of the duties that governments have towards their citizens have noted modest improvements in all corners of the globe –everywhere, that is,  except in the Middle East. It is also significant that in Africa, where overall performance has modestly improved, the exceptions are all Muslim regimes. Only political correctness stands in the way of noting these facts and stating them out loud.

The U.S. Debt Crisis from the Founders’ Perspective

The U.S. Debt Crisis from the Founders’ Perspective

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 – 04:22 Print Text Size


By George Friedman

The U.S. government is paralyzed, and we now face the possibility that the United States will default on its debt. Congress is unable to resolve the issue, and President Obama is as obstinate as the legislators who oppose him. To some extent, our political system is functioning as intended — the Founding Fathers meant for it to be cumbersome. But as they set out to form a more perfect union, they probably did not anticipate the extent to which we have been able to cripple ourselves.

Striving for ineffectiveness seems counterintuitive. But there was a method to the founders’ madness, and we first need to consider their rationale before we apply it to the current dilemma afflicting Washington.

Flash Point: A Note on Tornadoes

We have analyzed several of the myths about so-called ‘global warming’ and now ‘climate change’. One in particular was Flash Point: Hurricanes and Hyperbole. When the topic of tornadoes came up briefly in a recent conversation we thought we might see what the data had to say. Somewhat to our surprise, a cursory search revealed a much more extensive body of information. The site that we would have explored, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) operated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is partially unavailable due tot the US government shutdown..

Central Asia: The Complexities of the Fergana Valley

Central Asia: The Complexities of the Fergana Valley

October 7, 2013
Central Asia: The Complexities of the Fergana Valley


Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a two-part series on the Fergana Valley region of Central Asia, its complex demographics and the history and future of conflicts in the area.

A recent border dispute in the Fergana Valley, the core of Central Asia, highlights the growing tensions in the strategic and contested region. Kyrgyz and Uzbek border patrol units were removed from the Ungar-Too area in Kyrgyzstan’s Jalal-Abad region Oct. 2, after a two-week standoff over an alleged Uzbek border incursion into the area. Such incursions, coupled with ethnic tensions and sporadic violence, have become increasingly common in the Fergana Valley region, which is split between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The valley has long been the population and agricultural heartland of Central Asia. It has also been one of the most unstable areas in the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union due to several factors, including diverse and interspersed populations, complex borders, dwindling resources and religious extremism.

The Roots of the Government Shutdown


By George Friedman

In general, Stratfor deals with U.S. domestic politics only to the extent that it affects international affairs. Certainly, this topic has been argued and analyzed extensively. Nevertheless, the shutdown of the American government is a topic that must be understood from our point of view, because it raises the issue of whether the leading global power is involved in a political crisis so profound that it is both losing its internal cohesion and the capacity to govern. If that were so, it would mean the United States would not be able to act in global affairs, and that in turn would mean that the international system would undergo a profound change. I am not interested in the debate over who is right. I am, however, interested in the question of what caused this shutdown, and ultimately what it tells us about the U.S. capacity to act.

That is one reason to address it. A broader reason to address it is to understand why the leading global power has entered a period when rhetoric has turned into increasingly dysfunctional actions. The shutdown of the government has thus far not disrupted American life as a whole, although it has certainly disrupted the lives of some dramatically.

It originated in a political dispute. U.S. President Barack Obama proposed and Congress approved a massive set of changes in U.S. healthcare. These changes were upheld in court after legal challenges. There appears to be significant opposition to this legislation according to polls, but the legislation’s opponents in Congress lack the ability to repeal it and override a presidential veto. Therefore, opponents attached amendments to legislation funding government operations, and basically said that legislation would only be passed if implementation of healthcare reform were blocked or at least delayed. Opponents of healthcare reform had enough power to block legislation on funding the government. Proponents of healthcare reform refused to abandon their commitment for reform, and therefore the legislation to fund the government failed and the government shut down.

China’s Ambitions in Xinjiang and Central Asia: Part 1

China's Ambitions in Central Asia


Editor’s Note: This is a three-part series on China’s evolving strategic interests in Central Asia and in its own far northwest, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Part 1 looks at Xinjiang’s history as a “buffer region” protecting China’s core and linking it to Eurasia. This installment also examines recent efforts by Beijing to adapt the region’s legacies to new uses. Read more in Part 2 and Part 3.

In mid-September Chinese President Xi Jinping rounded out a 10-day tour of Central Asia that included state visits to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek. At each stop, the new president made hearty pledges of financial support and calls for further diplomatic, security and energy cooperation. In Turkmenistan, Xi inaugurated a natural gas field. In Kazakhstan, he agreed to invest $30 billion in energy and transportation projects. In Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, he made similar promises to increase investment and cooperation in the coming years.

U.S. and Iranian Realities

By George Friedman

U.S. President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week in the first such conversation in the 34 years since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The phone call followed tweets and public statements on both sides indicating a willingness to talk. Though far from an accommodation between the two countries, there are reasons to take this opening seriously — not only because it is occurring at such a high level, but also because there is now a geopolitical logic to these moves. Many things could go wrong, and given that this is the Middle East, the odds of failure are high. But Iran is weak and the United States is avoiding conflict, and there are worse bases for a deal.

Iran’s Surge

Though the Iranians are now in a weak strategic position, they had been on the offensive since 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. They welcomed the invasion; Saddam Hussein had been a mortal enemy of Iran ever since the 1980-1989 Iran-Iraq War. The destruction of his regime was satisfying in itself, but it also opened the door to a dramatic shift in Iran’s national security situation.

Iraq was Iran’s primary threat after the collapse of the Soviet Union because it was the only direction from which an attack might come. A pro-Iranian or even neutral Iraq would guarantee Iranian national security. The American invasion created a power vacuum in Iraq that the U.S. Army could not fill. The Iranians anticipated this, supporting pro-Iranian elements among the Shia prior to 2003 and shaping them into significant militias after 2003. With the United States engaged in a war against Sunni insurgents, the Shia, already a majority, moved to fill the void.

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