Monday, October 26, 2009

New Feature

Jason writes to commend us for our new feature on Viewpoint. Other keen-eyed readers will note that our tech support has added a nifty innovation to our page. Brother Bill, my technical guru, has inserted a "share this" function at the bottom of each post that will enable readers who are so inclined to share posts in a number of different vehicles with their friends and acquaintances who might be interested in what we talk about on Viewpoint.

I'm excited about the opportunities this gives our readers to expose others to our site, and I encourage you to use it liberally. We like the traffic.


The Enemy in Afghanistan

Strategy Page offers an informative analysis of the nature of the enemy we face in Afghanistan. Contrary to what some might think, it's not just militant insurgents like the Taliban. The greater long term problem is posed by drug gangs:

The enemy in Afghanistan is a many headed beast. American intelligence has compiled a list of nearly 500 Taliban and drug gang leaders. If all these guys were to suddenly disappear, the violence would swiftly change to internal battles within the gangs, as lower level men fought for control of dozens of leaderless Taliban and heroin producing gangs. While you can't destroy the gangs, you can greatly reduce their effectiveness. This is particularly true of the ones that chiefly carry out terror attacks. The drug gangs have the incentive of money, which constantly brings in more ambitious people. This has been the experience in places like Colombia, where the only successful strategy has been to interrupt drug production, and deny the drug gangs actual control of territory. For Islamic terrorists like the Taliban, killing the leadership is the key, because these leaders (who include those with technical skills) are difficult to replace. Thus groups like the Taliban have been destroyed in many other countries in the last two decades. But in Afghanistan, the Taliban are not the main enemy; the drug gangs are. Without the drug money, the Taliban become a troublesome Pushtun faction, not a mercenary military power that seeks to run the entire country again. That's never going to happen, as the non-Pushtun majority would go back to the civil war (that the U.S. intervened in during its late 2001 invasion).

The lower level of foreign troop casualties in Afghanistan is largely due to the lower skill levels among terrorist leaders. Despite much money and effort, the roadside bomb campaign in Afghanistan is not nearly as lethal as the one in Iraq was....But in the long run, foreign governments have a more troublesome problem with Afghanistan, and that's the growing quantity of heroin coming out of there. This is causing more and more grief in the West. Leaving Afghanistan alone means doing nothing about the heroin supply, and this will eventually become politically unacceptable. Most Western politicians are aware of this, even if the media that reports on them is not (or, at least, is not admitting it yet.)

The drug gangs are protected by four large Taliban coalitions....Inside Afghanistan, there are field commanders for the Pakistan based organizations, as well as several drug gangs based in Helmand province (and other parts of southeastern Afghanistan). Helmand has become a difficult area for drug gangs to operate in, and they are trying to establish new operations farther north. But the locals are resisting this. Not because they don't want the cash the drug business can bring, but because they don't want the cheap opium and heroin, which they know, from experience, creates widespread addiction, especially among the young. For these tribal societies, such addiction is a poison that causes severe physical and social damage. While some Pushtuns down south have become addicted to the money and power of heroin, most Afghans want nothing to do with it. That's why most of the heroin production has been concentrated in one province - Helmand.

Russia is very concerned about how things turn out in Afghanistan. That's because Russia has become the main transportation route for Afghan heroin headed for the most lucrative markets in Western Europe and North America. The heroin is cheaper in Russia (because it gets more expensive the farther you have to smuggle it) and there are nearly three million addicts there (out of a global total of 16 million). This is a growing problem for the government, and attempts to seal the Afghan border have failed. The smugglers have a tremendous monetary incentive to get the heroin into Central Asia and thence to Russia. The heroin creates a trail of corruption and addiction as it makes its way across Eurasia. But the largest consumer of heroin, and its raw material, opium, is Iran (which lies astride the lucrative export route to the Persian Gulf). With nearly as many addicts as Russia (and less than half the population), the religious dictatorship in Iran is beside itself over the drug problem (which produces lots of crime and anti-social behavior). Pakistan also has an addict problem but not as bad as in Iran (where there is lots of oil money for drug purchases, and lots of upper class addiction).

Interesting stuff.


More Bad News

The U.K. Daily Express gives us a heads up on a report on a World Health Organization study due out later this year that links cell phone use to brain tumors. We've seen and posted other similar reports and although I don't know what to make of them, it certainly seems that the unanimous verdict has been that excessive use of these devices is not good for your brain's health.

The question I have is if the signal produced by these phones has enough energy to reach a cell phone tower what is it doing to your brain cells as it passes through your skull? Is the signal any more potentially ionizing than normal radio waves? I don't know. Anyway, here's the article:

Long-term mobile phone users could face a higher risk of developing cancer in later life, according to a decade-long study.

The report, to be published later this year, has reportedly found that heavy mobile use is linked to brain tumours.

The survey of 12,800 people in 13 countries has been overseen by the World Health Organisation.

Preliminary results of the inquiry, which is looking at whether mobile phone exposure is linked to three types of brain tumour and a tumour of the salivary gland, have been sent to a scientific journal.

The findings are expected to put pressure on the British Government - which has insisted that mobile phones are safe - to issue stronger warnings to users.

Have a nice day.


Rare Bird

This handsome little sprite is a Black-throated Gray warbler, a bird normally found in the west and southwestern U.S. I've seen them in Arizona but never east of there and in fact, it only occurs in Pennsylvania a few times in any decade. This week, though, a Black-throated Gray turned up near Carlisle, PA and was seen by dozens of observers.

It was a great find and a special treat for those us lucky enough to have the chance to enjoy it.