NATO pullback heightens doubts about Afghan strategy

NATO’s decision to scale back joint operations with Afghan forces may protect the lives of Western troops increasingly targeted by “insider attacks,” but it raises troubling new questions about President Barack Obama’s strategy to stabilize Afghanistan.

After ramping up Afghan security forces at a breakneck rate to allow for a drawdown of Western troops, NATO is coming to grips with a rash of deadly assaults by Afghan recruits who turn their guns on Western allies. Muslim rage over a film insulting the Prophet Mohammad has further stoked the risk.

The White House and NATO leaders have stressed that the suspension of some mentoring operations announced on Tuesday is only a temporary step, limited in scope, that does not alter America’s withdrawal timeline. It applies to front-line missions involving units smaller than an 800-strong battalion, and even then, there will be exceptions…

But James Dubik, a retired lieutenant general who oversaw the training of Iraq’s security forces, warned that the move would undoubtedly act as a drag on training of Afghan forces, an urgently needed step to prepare them for the time when most NATO combat troops have gone home at the end of 2014…

How much of an impact the restrictions have depends on how long the policy is maintained, he said…

Marine General John Allen, who leads NATO forces in Afghanistan, said last month that about a quarter of the attacks can be blamed on the Taliban, both by direct infiltration of Afghan forces and coercion of Afghan troops to attack their NATO counterparts.

Other attacks are attributed to disputes between Afghan troops and their foreign partners, or chalked up to the violence that comes with the trauma of a decade of war.

And who gets the credit for that?

Bush and Cheney invaded. Obama followed the “guidance” of Pentagon types who said they could wind it down quickly and easily. Now, we all get to see how well that is working out.

Obama’s away, so Bo can play — on the bed

While the president’s away from the White House, the first dog will stray — to the bed, first lady Michelle Obama said…Obama told US Weekly said she sometimes lets Bo sleep in the bed “when Barack is gone”

The first lady said she skipped the second grade – and she tried a fried Twinkie while in Iowa…

Obama says she’s an avid sports spectator, “especially when there’s a Kiss-Cam involved!”

The first couple was caught on the Verizon Center Jumbotron in Washington during a pre-Olympic Team USA basketball game in July.

The most important part of the story – in my household – is the part about Bo, of course. 🙂

President of the Dallas Fed says, “Point your finger at Congress!”

The Federal Reserve has done its part to jumpstart the U.S. economy but a lack of action by Congress has prevented a recovery, Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told CNBC.

Speaking just a few days after the central bank took the unprecedented step of declaring an open-ended quantitative easing initiative, Fisher said he objected to the program but understands why the Open Market Committee acted as it did.

“The efficacy of this program is where we disagree. There are costs and benefits. I argue more on the cost side, others argue on the benefits side,” Fisher said on the “Squawk Box” program. “A decision was taken. But instead of hammering the Federal Reserve, point your fingers at Congress…”

Specifically, Fisher said business owners are plagued with questions of “what are my taxes going to be, what kind of spending patterns are going to come out of the federal government, how do I deal with this explosion of regulatory morass that we have come out of Washington?”

With only FOMC member Jeffrey Lacker dissenting, the Fed said it would buy $40 billion per month of mortgage-backed securities in an effort to drive down interest rates on home loans. The stock market reacted positively to the news Thursday and Friday but the momentum has not carried through this week.

Mortgage rates have fallen about a quarter percentage point since the announcement — “pretty much what I expected,” Fisher said — but getting banks to lend money remains a problem…

“I think we’re at stall speed. I think if we didn’t do this we just keep ambling along,” he said. “There are too many people out of work. We have a mandate. We’re following that mandate given to us by the Congress of the United States…”

Though he disagrees with the decision, Lacker said the Fed has filled its role and now needs Congress to do the same.

The government has the ability to incent the private sector through tax and spending programs. Get on with it,” he said. “We’re providing the fuel. It is cheap and abundant. We’ve provided a lot. It happens to be my personal view we’ve provided too much.”

Sex matters – Guys recognize cars and women recognize birds best

Women are better than men at recognizing living things and men are better than women at recognizing vehicles.

That is the unanticipated result of an analysis Vanderbilt psychologists performed on data from a series of visual recognition tasks collected in the process of developing a new standard test for expertise in object recognition.

“These results aren’t definitive, but they are consistent with the following story,” said Isabel Gauthier. “Everyone is born with a general ability to recognize objects and the capability to get really good at it. Nearly everyone becomes expert at recognizing faces, because of their importance for social interactions. Most people also develop expertise for recognizing other types of objects due to their jobs, hobbies or interests. Our culture influences which categories we become interested in, which explains the differences between men and women…”

“Our motivation was to assess the role that expertise plays in object recognition with a new test that includes many different categories, so we weren’t looking for this result,” said Professor of Psychology Isabel Gauthier. She directs the lab where post-doctoral fellow Rankin McGugin conducted the study.

“This isn’t the first time that sex differences have been found in perceptual tasks. For example, previous studies have shown that men have an advantage in mental rotation tasks. In fact, a recent study looking only at car recognition found that men were better than women but attributed this to the male advantage in mental rotation. Our finding that women are better than men at recognizing objects in other categories suggests that this explanation is incorrect…”

It took the multi-category analysis to reveal that face recognition abilities are correlated to the ability to recognize different object categories for men and women. For example, men who are better at recognizing vehicles also tend to be better at recognizing faces, while women who are better at recognizing living things tend to be better at recognizing faces…

I’m left without an opinion. I haven’t spent any time on the topic because in general I’ve had to confront teaching an individual a particular skill, bit of knowledge, technique. My focus has always been on utilizing existing understanding, countering incorrect – orten ideologically-derived – comprehension.

Now, my curiosity is piqued.

Romney tells millionaire donors what he really thinks of ordinary Americans who support President Obama

During a private fundraiser earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a small group of wealthy contributors what he truly thinks of all the voters who support President Barack Obama. He dismissed these Americans as freeloaders who pay no taxes, who don’t assume responsibility for their lives, and who think government should take care of them. Fielding a question from a donor about how he could triumph in November, Romney replied:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.

Romney went on: [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives…

Here is Romney expressing his disdain for Americans who back the president

Romney told the contributors that women are open to supporting me, but that we are having a much harder time with Hispanic voters, and if the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African American voting block has in the past, why, we’re in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation…

To assure the donors that he and his campaign knew what they were doing, Romney boasted about the consultants he had retained, emphasizing that several had worked for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

I have a very good team of extraordinarily experienced, highly successful consultants, a couple of people in particular who have done races around the world. I didn’t realize it. These guys in the US—the Karl Rove equivalents—they do races all over the world: in Armenia, in Africa, in Israel. I mean, they work for Bibi Netanyahu in his race. So they do these races and they see which ads work, and which processes work best, and we have ideas about what we do over the course of the campaign.

You can RTFA for more of the disgusting details. Class warfare is alive and well in the party-formerly-known-as-Republican. It’s always been there and it’s becoming more extreme as the party itself becomes more extreme, dedicated exclusively to corporate power and all that has meant historically.

Romney’s flunkies haven’t been able to deny any of this. It is available on video after all. These aren’t audio recordings. They’re publicly available online. In living color. In 50 shades of greenbacks.

First light for the world’s most powerful digital camera


Click on picture for one of the first photos taken by this camera

Eight billion years ago, rays of light from distant galaxies began their long journey to Earth. That ancient starlight has now found its way to a mountaintop in Chile, where the newly-constructed Dark Energy Camera, the most powerful sky-mapping machine ever created, has captured and recorded it for the first time.

That light may hold within it the answer to one of the biggest mysteries in physics—why the expansion of the universe is speeding up.

Scientists in the international Dark Energy Survey collaboration announced this week that the Dark Energy Camera, the product of eight years of planning and construction by scientists, engineers, and technicians on three continents, has achieved first light…“The achievement of first light through the Dark Energy Camera begins a significant new era in our exploration of the cosmic frontier,” said James Siegrist…“The results of this survey will bring us closer to understanding the mystery of dark energy, and what it means for the universe.”

The Dark Energy Camera was constructed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, and mounted on the Victor M. Blanco telescope at the…Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile…With this device, roughly the size of a phone booth, astronomers and physicists will probe the mystery of dark energy, the force they believe is causing the universe to expand faster and faster…

The Dark Energy Camera is the most powerful survey instrument of its kind, able to see light from over 100,000 galaxies up to 8 billion light years away in each snapshot. The camera’s array of 62 charged-coupled devices has an unprecedented sensitivity to very red light, and along with the Blanco telescope’s large light-gathering mirror (which spans 13 feet across), will allow scientists from around the world to pursue investigations ranging from studies of asteroids in our own Solar System to the understanding of the origins and the fate of the universe.

Another great reason to visit Chile, eh?