Groupon Planetary Flying Saucer Cruises

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The Caribbean is dotted with getaway paradises, but the Sun shines on more than Earth. While fixing my Groupon friend’s phone in (CNN) Former Pentagon UFO official: ‘We may not be alone’ and Things to Do on Mars; Your CNN Companion, I found more pictures. She’s been doing this a while.   I’ll dribble out the pics, because I don’t want this to get sensational.

It turns out she took a cruise on the oceans of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, a tropical paradise. She was stressed out, so the crowds and pressure of a Jovian jaunt didn’t suit. A slow paced Enceledalian yacht was just the thing. When it got the minimum of ten, she was picked up by Lyft Zero Gee. The cruise by saucer was pleasant. Everybody goes first class, and there are no add-on charges. Since Martians have X-ray vision, their security lines move.

Her yacht was made of glass. You could see right through the bottom. The gossamer sails billow gently in the tropical methane. Balanced on the mast is her native guide, attired in a traditional pressure suit.

Internet is kind of slow, about 180 minutes for a round trip ping. Her hosts explained that putting a hyperspace link in each yacht is currently too pricey. So why is this jaunt sooo attractive?

People with joint problems love it. The low gees and gentle caress of the compressed methane atmosphere make it like exercising in a pool. And Enceladians have invented more varieties of shuffleboard than you can imagine. With lower gravity, and the viscous atmosphere, the pucks slide yards at the slightest touch. But there’s a big surcharge if you lose one off the boat.

Incurable romantics find the green sun against a sky the color of vintage wine irresistible. Of course, it’s not for everyone.

Whatever floats your boat, right?


(Voyage to a Green Sun. 18×24, oil on canvas.)

UFOs: Let’s Get Serious; Why a Program Goes “Black” Part 2

Let’s look first at the prosaic reasons for a “black” AATIP. Then we’ll get to the interesting stuff. The prosaic reasons fit the category of People Problems. Imagine you are a human resources officer for a company whose employees, besides prospecting for gold in the Australian Outback, are rewarded and fired for telling lies and inventing stories – at different times by different bosses. This is why Close Encounters was such a good movie.

One reason to go black  was to avoid death by laughter in Congress. If it had  survived that trial, AATIP would have been born into the special media circus reserved for the sensational. Quoting the NY Times,

None of the three senators wanted a public debate on the Senate floor about the funding for the program, Mr. Reid said. “This was so-called black money,” he said. “Stevens knows about it, Inouye knows about it. But that was it, and that’s how we wanted it.” Mr. Reid was referring to the Pentagon budget for classified programs.

Ufology has a lousy signal-to-noise ratio, caused by:

  • Limitations of human perception.
  • Mental interpolation.
  • Psychological factors – the Rashomon Effect, and the reverse, “experience copying.”
  • Fraud and manipulation for gain.
  • The desire to be part of something greater than ourselves.

The desire promotes invention,  the messianic quality of UFO belief among the gullible, and  “UFO waves” of mass hysteria. The spectacle fuels  skepticism. Those of the concrete mind have no interest in something remote from their own experience. Somewhere in the middle, the moderately religious try to incorporate Ufology unobtrusively into their world views.

These factors are not reasons for skepticism of the phenomenon itself. But they emphasize the problem of designing a scientific activity that will null them out. Going black is an easy step to knock down the factors down. It doesn’t eliminate them, but sometimes you have to whittle your way to a solution.

Going black removes most of  “experience-copying” from the problem, leaving us to cope  just with analyzing the individual experience. One valid criticism of giving the contract to Robert Bigelow is that he appears to be what Eric Hoffer called a “true believer.” Belief, as opposed to inclination, of any kind that related to a scientific question is incompatible with researching that question . Perhaps Harry Reid felt that, since government projects have been historically driven by debunkers, it was time to give a believer a chance. OK, but once is enough.

Nota bene: To be a skeptic of human behavior is different from skepticism of alien visitations. A good investigator should have no bias on the question.

(NY Times)  Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program quotes James Oberg:

Still, Mr. Oberg said he welcomed research. “There could well be a pearl there,” he said.

Lacking a testable hypothesis, AATIP shared this idea: Sifting through enough reports, something will pop out. This is an open ended hypothesis. In statistics, it’s a no-no. But science goes well with with Louis Pasteur: “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”

So we have to prepare. But do we expect a fender to fall off one of these things? Drop some alien poop? We want to recognize something that is familiar but different. But the chance of this is negated, at least to the human observer, by the third of Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws:

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

So the encounter of the human observer with UFO technology, advanced as it might be, is a completely unequal match. Even if a fender falls off, we may not recognize it. The limits of our perception are plays on what we know, such as an unknown material of incredible strength, or little green eggheads, or aerodynamic forces beyond the tolerance of human passengers.  To Donald Rumsfeld (New Yorker) we owe,

There are knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns…I think this construct is just powerful,” Rumsfeld said. “The unknown unknowns, we do not even know we don’t know them.”

What if an alien vehicle were not physically located where it appears to be? If it was a projection through a rent in space time, could we make sense of it by our tools of observation? What if the very fact of witnessing an event  does not fit our conception of logic, which goes back to Aristotle?

This is not an age for either the believer or the skeptic. Throughout the 19th century, ghosts and metaphysics receded from the onslaught of the electric light. By 1878, physicist Philipp von Jolly thought the work of physics was about done. But Max Planck started to show the cracks by 1899. Lately, physics has been making little forays into metaphysics. But the new rooms are draped in ghostly shadow. There is more room than ever for the mysteries of the universe(s).

So where do we go from here? Clark’s Second Law offers an opening:

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Easy to say, hard to do. But DoD and the intelligence community, as a kind of “due diligence”, make forays into the unknown. Once every 30 years or so, they check out anti gravity. Every once in a while, at low or no-budget, they take a stab at ESP. A few years ago, NSA bought a couple of claimed-to-be “quantum computers”, even though nobody knows how or if they work. What if they did or do? It’s too big a gamble to pass up. It’s insurance.

Ditto for AATIP.  But the UFO game is about to change in a big way.  The human observer exits the loop. We are now in the age of sensors.  With removal of the human factor, UFOs  become an engineering problem. New approaches make it possible to tickle Clark’s Second Law.

Next in Part 3: UFOs, sensors, machine vision, hyperspectral, data fusion, and  “Why black?”

If you’re a believer, you’ve probably already clutching  your copy of Alien Autopsy. So you won’t have to step away, here it is.

Or perhaps I should be kind. Whatever floats your boat.





UFOs: Let’s Get Serious; Why a Program Goes “Black” Part 1

Preface: Many readers are doubtless more interested in the tax overhaul than the customary focus of this blog, foreign relations. So it’s as good a time as any to take up a subject considered silly by some.  This is a serious look.  References:

AATIP, (Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program) was canceled in 2012. It has been stated that the activity continues more secretly.  The fate of it resembles that of the program’s historical predecessors, Sign, GrudgeBluebook, etc. The $22M went  to fund the efforts of Harry Reid’s friend, Robert Bigelow. Atypically, Mr. Bigelow seems more interested in spending money on space research than making it. Appearances to the contrary, AATIP was not pork barrel.

But in the five years that it ran, AATIP could not escape the fate of prior investigations, lack of convergence to a conclusion. Since the inception of systematic study in 1947, after 70 years, nothing more is known about UFOs except that there is a residuum of events that have no explanation. The only “advance” that might have occurred is that “whatever it is” defies increasingly sophisticated instrumentation. Quoting Politico,

The former staffer said that eventually, however, even Reid agreed it was not worth continuing.

“After a while the consensus was we really couldn’t find anything of substance,” he recalled. “They produced reams of paperwork. After all of that there was really nothing there that we could find. It all pretty much dissolved from that reason alone—and the interest level was losing steam. We only did it a couple years.”

How does a scientist investigate the unknown? Rene Descartes precedes everyone. But the modern scientific method was devised by Francis Bacon. First comes the hypothesis, an explanation of what’s going on, untested, but with some rational basis. Then comes the experiment, which either supports or negates it. A hypothesis that cannot be proven false is not science. Later, it became accepted to challenge the hypothesis by multiple repetitions, and entirely different experiments, building a consensus view that shields science from individual error.

AATIP lacked a testable hypothesis. Sometimes you can get somewhere just by counting, which is what AATIP did.  If you want to know how common white crows are, you can ask people to report them. But your numbers won’t be accurate, because a white crow is more likely to be reported than a black one. No many how many observations you receive, your numbers will never converge to the right ones.

The Telegraph has an interesting  gallery, 140 years of UFO sightings – Part I. Some are astonishing, others hokey. All the sharable records, then and now, are photographic film, the eye that pointed the camera, and the mental interpretation. But any magician will tell you, seeing is no cause for believing.

For observations of the general public, elements of the below would appear in the checklists of a report:

  • Glowing, the UFO is a light source.
  • The UFO is illuminated like most of the things in the natural world, by reflected light.
  • Light from other objects is focused by the atmosphere to resemble something we are inclined to see, creating an illusion.
  • Lens flare. Light from outside the “field of view” of a camera lens reflects in the lens, creating the appearance of bright objects where none exist. Early photos, before anti reflection lens coatings were developed in the 1930’s, are particularly suspect. Early films, with little exposure latitude, give lens flare a solid appearance.
  • Sensing something beyond the limits of sharp vision, the observer mentally fills in the details.
  • A phenomena that lacks solidity, such as combustion of methane in a swampy area, is interpreted as something solid.
  • Psychological suggestibility.
  • The report was intentional fraud.

The focus of AATIP on military pilots, who are trained observers, and better technical tools of observation, push the noises in the above list way down. But the irrational still occurs, a major part of aircraft accidents, as loss of situational awareness.

Throughout, rumors of secret investigations have been the stuff of conspiracy theories. The myth is of a “black program” complete with captured spacecraft, frozen aliens, and, of course, Area 51 and Wright-Patterson. It’s always been baloney. But this time  (NY Times)  Elizondo asserts the activity continues:

Mr. Elizondo said that the effort continued and that he had a successor, whom he declined to name.

So it’s possible that AATIP has been succeeded by another black activity. This time, the reasons are completely logical, if not mundane, and have nothing to do with conspiracies. We’ll explore them in Part 2.













Things to Do on Mars; Your CNN Companion

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After my friend the Groupon tourist got over the purloining of her memories, she told me more. I thought her Martian getaway would be as interesting as a Podunk, Iowa timeshare. Not!

(CNN) Aliens, flying discs and sightings — oh my! A short history of UFOs in America just scratches the surface. It’s the difference between Chinatown and China. You just have to go there.

The romance of Mars gives up nothing to Mar-a-Lago. Four moonrises a night  evoke that many more romantic sighs. Martian hospitality, since they changed their diets, is unrivaled.

Pictured is the Night Jugglers act of the Imperial Martian Three Orbit Circus. Evanescent, brilliantly glowing, they perform their low-gravity acrobatics only at night, turning at daybreak into little mounds of red dust. You’ve already seen their mascot on the pink hoverboard, but did you know Rover can fly? The “gentleman” on the left is a Martian who spends hours in makeup to look like — one of us.

It’s included in the Groupon package. Bring a warm blanket, an atomic foot warmer, and your breathers. Oxygen is gratis throughout the event.

So next time you pass an old man on the street, pay him a little respect.


(18×24″, oil on canvas.)


(CNN) Former Pentagon UFO official: ‘We may not be alone’

Finally, the Extraterrestrial Smoking Gun. Click to enlarge.)

(CNN) Former Pentagon UFO official: ‘We may not be alone’

Quoting Luis Elizondo, “My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone,” Luis Elizondo said in an interview on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

We’ve waited a long time for this moment, for irrefutable proof of extra terrestrial life. In 1976, NASA images from orbiting probes provoked  speculation of the existence of an ancient civilization on Mars, hundreds of millions of years ago, before the Martian atmosphere dissipated under the attack of the solar wind. Backgrounder at Marsmon.pdf.

The most powerful telescopes have been unable to resolve this question in a manner favorable to Martians. But this bombshell was not obtained through secret technology. It was the carelessness of a Groupon tourist who left her cellphone within reach of my teething puppy. When I tried to salvage the phone, my first step was to back up the images, some of which, she claimed, were “priceless.” In a weak moment, I took a peek, expecting nothing more than baby pictures.

All I can say is, Whoa!!! This is BIIGG. I transcribed a bit of audio off the phone:

“Welcome to the Monuments of Mars. I am your Martian tour guide. Follow me on your pink hover boards as we explore the monumental carvings of the ancestors of humankind, first spotted by you Earthlings in 1976. Please stay on the trail, and do not give Rover any occasion to eat you. Beer, wine, spirits, and postcards are for sale in our pressurized yellow tent.”

The rest is garbled. The words sound like, “Duck! A meteor!” But why such secrecy? It appears that Groupon wants to skirt possible travel restrictions by the Trump Administration. Currently, if you want to book a Martian Groupon getaway, it involves a subterfuge.  You book a day trip to one of California’s Channel Islands. A Martian “tic-tac” express picks you up right from the boat.

Once Mars is excluded from travel restrictions, things should open up a bit.

Yeah, she hates me for this.


(12×12″, Golden Molding paste and acrylic on panel.)


Mattis: “North Korea ICBM Not a Threat Right Now” Part 1

The North Korea ICBM threat is not visceral. With two brief exceptions, nuclear conflict has never been felt, but only imagined. Because it remains the subject of nightmarish contemplation, open source offers a meaningful fraction of the material chomped on by DoD and the White House. There is enough that we can imagine ourselves “in the room”, as flies-on-the-wall, as the U.S. response is debated at the highest levels. We begin with the technical in Part 1, and continue  in Part 2 with the political.

(CNN 12/16/17): Mattis says North Korea isn’t capable of striking the US. The CNN video sequence continues with statements by Tillerson and  McMaster. Quoting Mattis,

He added that the United States is still assessing the situation. "We are still examining the forensics, we're still doing the forensics analysis, it takes a while," he said.

A brief description of the forensics. The descending parts of the missile are tracked by radar at low angles relative to the horizon. This is challenging under the best conditions (imagine the haze you always see on the horizon).  Unless the tracking radar happens, by luck, to be near the splashdown point, it must cope with false reflections, atmospheric effects, and ionization.

As the descending parts pass through roughly 300,000 feet, they are enveloped in clouds of ionized, glowing gas, which reflect radar much more strongly than the objects themselves. This always happens, but is magnified if the parts have coatings  that vaporize – a complication.  It becomes difficult or impossible to know how large the objects actually are, and their individual identities frequently become lost. As they pass through 100,00 feet, the glowing cloud dissipates. Falling through dense atmosphere, how fast they fall provides estimates of how dense they are. But at this point, the smaller pieces are frequently lost. It may be impossible to distinguish between an upper rocket stage, and a reentry vehicle, and a fragment.

Air search radars and tracking radars do not provide visual images.  Radio echoes are interpreted by computer to provide user friendly displays. So where does the forensics come in?  Military radars have echo recorders. The U.S. maintains a large library of echo data from various targets. These are used for comparison, but an exact match is not the goal. So a paraphrase of Mattis’s statement could be, We think the business end of the missile fell as a bunch of junk, but we can’t be sure.”

Quoting again, we have an opinion about how useful the missile really is:

"I'm highly suspicious about the capability of the Hwasong-15," retired Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and expert in aerospace and missile defense, said in an email....The red flag for O'Reilly and other missile experts is that the North Koreans keep shooting the missile almost straight up, and not in the parabolic arc of a standard missile trajectory, which is harder to achieve.

O’Reilly is undeniably correct. Imagine throwing a baseball. There are three ways your throw can be off:

  • Velocity.  If you throw straight up, the strength of the throw doesn’t matter; it comes straight down. If you’re trying to hit a patch near the fence, the strength of the throw is half the problem. For an ICBM, this is equivalent to the thrust of the rocket motor, and the exact time of rocket motor cutoff. Both require extreme precision.
  • Vertical angle, (elevation). The straight upwards lob is easy. If you don’t throw it exactly straight up, the error coming down is mild, proportional.  But for a distance throw, the error is much more than proportional. For your ball to land on the patch near the fence, you have to coordinate the strength of your throw with a mentally calculated “keyhole” in mid-air. The ball must pass through the keyhole at the exact speed. This is a two-variable, mental calculation that some athletes can perform with astonishing accuracy.
  • Bearing, compass-point,  or “azimuth” At 6000 miles, a 1 degree error in bearing is 105 miles.

But a wildly inaccurate Hwasong-15 still has some chance at successful delivery of  a nuclear warhead to the vicinity of U.S. population centers. Avoiding re-entry difficulties, a high altitude nuclear detonation would comprise a successful EMP attack.

The above should not be taken as second-guessing Mattis’s statement, which fits the difficult requirement of single-sentence brevity. But we can use it as an opportunity to examine the context of decision making at the highest level. The decision makers are served by pyramids of specialists and their analyses.  But the vast mass of  detail doesn’t survive. it all distills down to:

  • A weapon of poor quality, but not proven to inevitably fail in all modes of use.
  • An adversary who, the intelligence community has concluded, satisfies at least some of the definitions of sanity, but not all of them. Kim Jong-un has an unremitting blood lust.
  • The assumption that the adversary is sane enough to lack confidence in his poor quality weapon, and to understand the consequences to him of use.
  • Clandestine factors. Hinted at, there is no point in guessing. They could provide a pleasant upside, but we are primarily interested in limiting the downside.
  • The risks of doing something.
  • The risks of doing nothing.
  • The domestic political climate.

The first three items result from foreign intelligence. They make an argument against immediate action that can be somewhat negated by reductio-ad-absurdum:

  • As the quality of the ICBM improves, the chance that the Kim Jong-un will use it increases.
  • The endpoint is a weapon that Kim Jong-un can use with confidence.
  • But then he faces massive retaliation. Hence, the quality of the missile is irrelevant.

If you’re in the room, your response might be, “Let’s move on.” In spite of attempts at rationality, only Harry Truman’s sign can deal with it. But you wanted to be in the picture, didn’t you?

To be continued shortly.

In the meantime, can our adversary’s demands be met?

U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem

This blog has a small voice. Readers find it useful on subjects where rationality dominates, and strong opinions have not already been formed. If I have an opinion about the embassy move, it is of no interest to you. If I share my opinion, you are likely to filter future writings as “by that guy who believes that…”  This blog is about analysis, not belief.

So excluding opinion, what can be said about the embassy move that isn’t already obvious? By following an issue over a long period of time, sometimes, using the tools of analysis demonstrated in this blog,  something pops out. But “Who rules Jerusalem?” has been on everybody’s radar since at least 600 B.C.  Nevertheless, perhaps something can be drawn out  about possible near term mechanisms of change.

The individual human may have free will. But groupings of people behave statistically. Groupings that have been intensively studied since 9/11 are the pools of potentially radical youth. Every country has them. The members of these pools combine  tabula rasa minds, not yet filled with attitudes and beliefs that exclude the poison of terror, testosterone, and the youth that makes them generational cannon fodder. In any generation, a certain number of young men end up being born to die, a fate we try to exclude by improving their firmware. Unfortunately, a certain percentage are running version 1.0.

The venerable bell curve predicts so many things, it is likely that if we throw enough young men into the grouping, the bell curve will reveal itself. On one tail of the bell lie committed pacifists. The other tail is made of out-of-the-box terrorists. In between lie the radicalizable. This is an ugly fact of human nature that we want to blame on bad upbringing. But in former times,  cannon fodder actually had a purpose. They died for the survival of their clans, just like the warrior ants seen battling to the death on pavements during warm spring days.

It is reasonable to conclude that the moving of Jerusalem will result in a shift of the parameters of the bell curve, enlarging the groups who make the radical transition all the way to the tip of the bell curve tail, to terror. This has has nothing to do with rational opinion. If individuals have free will, groups behave with something approaching determinism.

But the leaders of the countries of the Middle East are individuals with free will. They’ve seen too much blood to want another war. To these rational minds, the imminent threat is Iran. This is the logical barrier to conflict over Jerusalem.

To stateless extremists, these leaders present an obstacle, but also a mechanism, for actualizing a conflict over Jerusalem. The mechanism is assassination. Three leaders are in particular danger. In order of vulnerability:

Abdullah is the most vulnerable because of

  • Presence of radical elements in  the Jordanian military,  demonstrated at lower echelons, with implications for upper echelons.
  • Proximity of Jordan to the locus of conflict.
  • Heterogeneous population of mixed loyalty.

That Abdullah is alive today is due to an intrusive mukhabarat, not flag waving patriotism.

Prince Salman is vulnerable because the process of transforming Saudi Arabia into a modern state entails intermediate instability.

El-Sisi is vulnerable to the radical tail of the bell curve. Egypt has a complexity of society that facilitates  concealed radical elements. But as the assassination of Anwar Sadat demonstrates, the same complexity provides Egypt with inertial stability against radical change.




Mattis: Yemen Humanitarian to Worsen with Death of Saleh

Reuters: Yemen humanitarian situation likely to worsen with Saleh death: Mattis. Quoting,

(But)one thing I think I can say with a lot of concern and probably likelihood is that the situation for the innocent people there, the humanitarian side, is most likely to (get) worse in the short term,” Mattis said. He did not explain his reasoning.

Mattis likely spared an explanation because there is no compact version suitable for a statement of record. But like many issues involving humans, many related explanations have the virtues of being partly true.  It is possible that, in the interest of efficiency and specialization, Mattis does not involve himself on the microscopic level of knowing who is pointing rifles at who on opposite sides of a rusty chain link fence. But he knows how things go.

It puzzles me a little that with all the resources journalists accumulate, Reuters did not anoint some experts, who could then be asked, in view of their presumed expertise, to provide an expert opinion as to what Mattis is thinking. Is it because:

  • Every reader knows the answer to what Mattis is thinking?
  • Nobody knows the answer?
  • Everybody disagrees about the explanation?
  • Some or everybody agree that the reasons are unknowable?
  • Everybody has their own ideas of why, but are unsure whether their ideas are identical or similar to Mattis’s reasoning?

Suddenly, the question seems very intimidating. Does one has to be an Einstein to know why the fact that Ali Abdullah Saleh got whacked will impede the delivery of aid to Yemen? Certainly not!

First, a warmup. The gang problem in the U.S. offers a strong analogy for closeup study. The chronicle begins with the excellent book, The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld , by Herbert Asbury, an accurate portrayal of how things worked up to about 1915. Then the Italian Mafia, through large scale organization and ethnic specialization, squeezed out the small neighborhood gangs.. In 1957, at the Apalachin meeting, the Italian mafia established a national organization, what Joe Valachi so famously called “a second government.”

It was during this time, up till the Feds broke their back with RICO, that the Mafia successfully and extensively co-existed with legal government. The “families” were like the tribes of Yemen. The Mafia is still around, but the bloody and unstable history of the Italian Mafia, before the law finally gained the upper hand, informs well about Yemen.

We don’t even have to get intellectual and read books, because movies will do. When the leader of a mob family got hit, there was a war, and revenues went down. Then somebody would impose a peace on the survivors. Revenues would go up, somebody would get greedy, and there would be more killing.

In the short term, the aid distribution system in Yemen has been disrupted. The following is one possible situation in Yemen now. Formerly, Saleh’s fighters would take trucks down to the port. Their trucks would be loaded with the understanding that in return, Saleh’s fighters would not shoot at Houthi trucks. Now the Houthis won’t allow what were Saleh’s trucks to be loaded, because (pick one or more):

  • The Houthis don’t know if they are loading the trucks of fighters who will retaliate for the hit on Saleh.
  • The Houthis know that Saleh’s men lack the gumption to shoot at them because they have no leader to order them to shoot.
  • The Houthis will now try to split the tribes formerly allied under Saleh by selective provision or denial.

Feel free to add to the list. The possibilities are endless. The most important aspect is not the precise ground knowledge, but the modes of conflict.

Secretary Mattis shows an awareness that, in conflicts prior to Iraq, was the domain of cultural specialists. Had the establishment been as aware during the attempted reconstruction of Iraq, the current situation in the Middle East would have a different shape. We’ve learned some things.

This is why I wonder at the lack of commentary in the Reuters article.  It leaves an uncolored void in the public record. It risks public forgetting of a lesson learned at great cost.

Just a Reminder – Looking for a Gig (The Challenge of Yemen)

As with Skinner’s Operant Conditioning of Russia, the web counter implies some interest in the challenge of Yemen. I thought of that idea while contemplating rats being tickled — and laughing. I hen began to imagine –  strictly in my imagination –  Sergey Lavrov  laughing.

If you enjoy the writing, the broad assemblage of information, and perhaps  even the humor, I’m looking for a gig.

I am within commuting range of NYC.  Email: contact at this domain name.

Yemen, Saleh (Now Dead), and Civil War, Part 2

We continue from Yemen, Saleh, and Civil War, Part 1.

Edit: When I wrote this last night, Saleh was still alive.  Now watch for the tertiary conflict.

(BBC) Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former leader, killed in Sanaa fighting. I first addressed his endurance as a survivor in (Jul 2014) It’s a People Game.

The peculiar relationships anticipated in Part 1:

  • Saleh, a Shia, (is)was now in conflict with a Shia based “renewal” movement, with little noted about what the Sunni tribes are thinking or doing.
  • In the north, the Sunnis remain underrepresented. Yet such is the tribal sociology that Hadi, a Sunni southerner, could not find the support to repel the Houthi surge.
  • The de facto border closely follows the border prior to unification.
  • The previous reasons for the unification of the north and the south, economic opportunity and pan-Arabism,  are no longer operative or influential.


  • Aden has an indigenous civic and military movement. It does not  want to be part of a unified Yemen. Although this became manifest with the Battle of Aden, the feeling of cultural irritation preceded Saleh’s departure by many years.
  • Taiz, also sophisticated and multicultural, containing disparate elements could be a bloodbath, — or not.
  • Saleh’s record was that of a traditional tribal chieftain: extreme, divisive, intolerant, and  by Western if not tribal standards, corrupt.

So now that Pan-Arabism has so distantly dissipated, Yemen looks less like a nation, and more like the last misbegotten child of the British Empire. Had the British drawn the line of their Aden Protectorate a  little further inland, to include Taiz, the political culture of South Yemen might have survived the 1986 civil war.


  • Ali Abdullah Saleh (is)was not the guy to run this country, if in fact there is a single country to run. He is useful in the short term. He (has) had the personality of a minor satrap, as whom he could continue to exercise his talent for staying alive.
  • Yemen is better off as two countries. In the modern context, this means two regions with separate governments that compete for recognition.
  • Without the benefit of the Saudi microscopic knowledge of Mansour Hadi, and his involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood, he fits the template of a leader of a reconstituted South Yemen.

There are actually three conflicts:

  • Primary. Houthi versus non-Houthi.
  • Secondary. north versus south.
  • Tertiary, potential.  Zaydi versus Sunni in the north. 

Saleh’s political talents may have impeded the natural-for-the-region tertiary conflict. It may occur if his talent for survival wears out. Well, it has. A legacy of my participation in the IARPA Forecasting World Events program is a NY Times photo of Saleh, taped to my basement wall. I guess it’s time to take it down.

With lower population density, absence of the tertiary conflict potential, and the civic, if not national feeling of Aden, the  south has potential for natural stability. This is best actualized by splitting it off.

But how do we keep out the Iranians?  The geography of South Yemen, and common culture, facilitate economic integration with Saudi Arabia. As a model, consider the Red Sea bridge to link the Sinai with Egypt.

A strategy for North Yemen is more difficult and indirect. The tertiary conflict potential is like unexploded ordinance. But effective control of South Yemen, and the waterways adjoining the ports of North Yemen, convert the problem to almost one of internal control. Isolated from Iran, North Yemen may become amenable to variations on the manipulations used so successfully to build the British Empire.

Britain did not conquer the Mughal Empire by primarily military means.  India was won by a combination of economic development, suborning of local rulers, and attractive additions of Western culture to  the indigenous. The one obstacle that did not then exist is cultural militancy on the national scale. That did not occur until the dual creations of Mahatma Gandhi, and JInnah’s Muslim League. 

It remains to be seen whether Saudi Arabia can rescue itself. It it succeeds, then it can surely (?) rescue Yemen.

Saleh, who was significantly responsible for the collapse of Hadi’s government and the preceding years of discord in Yemen, was about to become  a useful, if expendable proxy. Now the Saudi task becomes harder. Watch for the tertiary conflict.

Intel9's world view