Our secret global war, Marquis de Sade, fake engine noise

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America’s new golden age of black ops: Inside our secret global war abroad

The U.S. has already launched missions in 105 countries in 2015 — approximately 80 percent of 2014’s total.

In the dead of night, they swept in aboard V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.  Landing in a remote region of one of the most volatile countries on the planet, they raided a village and soon found themselves in a life-or-death firefight.  It was the second time in two weeks that elite U.S. Navy SEALs had attempted to rescue American photojournalist Luke Somers.  And it was the second time they failed.

On December 6, 2014, approximately 36 of America’s top commandos, heavily armed, operating with intelligence from satellites, drones, and high-tech eavesdropping, outfitted with night vision goggles, and backed up by elite Yemeni troops, went toe-to-toe with about six militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  When it was over, Somers was dead, along with Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher due to be set free the next day.  Eight civilians were also killed by the commandos, according to local reports.  Most of the militants escaped.

That blood-soaked episode was, depending on your vantage point, an ignominious end to a year that saw U.S. Special Operations forces deployed at near record levels, or an inauspicious beginning to a new year already on track to reach similar heights, if not exceed them.

During the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2014, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to 133 countries — roughly 70% of the nations on the planet — according to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bockholt, a public affairs officer with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).  This capped a three-year span in which the country’s most elite forces were active in more than 150 different countries around the world, conducting missions ranging from kill/capture night raids to training exercises.  And this year could be a record-breaker.  Only a day before the failed raid that ended Luke Somers life — just 66 days into fiscal 2015 — America’s most elite troops had already set foot in 105 nations, approximately 80% of 2014’s total.

Despite its massive scale and scope, this secret global war across much of the planet is unknown to most Americans.  Unlike the December debacle in Yemen, the vast majority of special ops missions remain completely in the shadows, hidden from external oversight or press scrutiny.  In fact, aside from modest amounts of information disclosed through highly-selective coverage by military media, official White House leaksSEALs with something to sell, and a few cherry-picked journalists reporting on cherry-picked opportunities, much of what America’s special operators do is never subjected to meaningful examination, which only increases the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences.

The Golden Age

“The command is at its absolute zenith.  And it is indeed a golden age for special operations.”  Those were the words of Army General Joseph Votel III, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger, as he assumed command of SOCOM last August.

His rhetoric may have been high-flown, but it wasn’t hyperbole.  Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, including their numbers, their budget, their clout in Washington, and their place in the country’s popular imagination.  The command has, for example, more than doubled its personnel from about 33,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 today, including a jump of roughly 8,000during the three-year tenure of recently retired SOCOM chief Admiral William McRaven.

Those numbers, impressive as they are, don’t give a full sense of the nature of the expansion and growing global reach of America’s most elite forces in these years.  For that, a rundown of the acronym-ridden structure of the ever-expanding Special Operations Command is in order.  The list may be mind-numbing, but there is no other way to fully grasp its scope.

The lion’s share of SOCOM’s troops are Rangers, Green Berets, and other soldiers from the Army, followed by Air Force air commandos, SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen and support personnel from the Navy, as well as a smaller contingent of Marines.  But you only get a sense of the expansiveness of the command when you consider the full range of “sub-unified commands” that these special ops troops are divided among: the self-explanatory SOCAFRICA; SOCEUR, the European contingent; SOCKOR, which is devoted strictly to Korea; SOCPAC, which covers the rest of the Asia-Pacific region; SOCSOUTH, which conducts missions in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean; SOCCENT, the sub-unified command of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in the Middle East; SOCNORTH, which is devoted to “homeland defense”; and the globe-trotting Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC — a clandestine sub-command (formerly headed by McRaven and then Votel) made up of personnel from each service branch, including SEALs, Air Force special tactics airmen, and the Army’s Delta Force, that specializes in tracking and killing suspected terrorists.

And don’t think that’s the end of it, either.  As a result of McRaven’s push to create “a Global SOF network of like-minded interagency allies and partners,” Special Operations liaison officers, or SOLOs, are now embeddedin 14 key U.S. embassies to assist in advising the special forces of various allied nations.  Already operating in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Poland, Peru, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, the SOLO program is poised, according to Votel, to expand to 40 countries by 2019.  The command, and especially JSOC, has also forged close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency, among others.

Much more at Salon.

Who Was the Marquis de Sade?

Even in the age of Fifty Shades of Grey, the 18th-century libertine is as shocking as ever.

The Count de Sade, the modern descendant of the Marquis de Sade, whose rabid erotic works inspired the term sadism for sexual cruelty, resides in a sunny and strikingly decorated apartment on a quiet residential street on the Right Bank of Paris. After pressing a buzzer neatly labeled “H. de Sade,” I was greeted warmly at the door by Hugues himself, an avuncular 66-year-old with a coiffed shoulder-length mop of hair, wearing a florid Gallic ensemble of blue blazer, red-pinstriped shirt, yellow trousers and bright orange loafers. His elegant wife, Chantal, plied me with coffee and cake, as the count settled on the snow-white sofa, next to a table set out with copies of his ancestor’s novels—including the scabrous 120 Days of Sodom, scribbled by the marquis when he was imprisoned in the Bastille before the revolution. The count says he has never encountered any problems because of the once-reviled Sade name. “Au contraire, people are fascinated to learn that the Marquis de Sade was not a fictional figure.”

Enthusiasm in France for his notorious 18th-century ancestor is now such that the count has begun his own line of luxury goods, Maison de Sade. He started with Sade wine, from the family’s ancestral region of Provence, with the signature of the marquis on the label. He also offers scented candles and soon plans to add tapenade and meats. “It is quite natural,” Hugues explained. “The Marquis de Sade was a great gourmand. He adored fine wine, chocolate, quail, pâté, all the delicacies of Provence.” Hugues said he is now in discussions with Victoria’s Secret for a line of Sade lingerie. “We are in the early stages, but the signs are promising.”

Such marketing would have been unimaginable even a few years ago. The lurid works of Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, who lived from 1740 to 1814 and died in a mental asylum, were banned in France until 1957, and the diabolical aura around his literary output has lifted only gradually. In fact, according to Hugues, his ancestor’s very existence was erased from the Sade family memory. Hugues’ parents had not even heard of him until the late 1940s, when the historian Gilbert Lely turned up on their doorstep at the Condé-en-Brie castle, in the Champagne region east of Paris, looking for documents relating to the author. “For five generations, the marquis’ name was taboo in our family,” Hugues marveled. “It was as if there was an omertà (conspiracy of silence) against him! The family no longer even used the title marquis.”

Read much more HERE.

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PJTV viewer “Digging4Information” asks Andrew Klavan & Bill Whittle about Nazis and Fascists. He asks why both are presented in the media as “right-wing” when both Nazis and Fascists had socialist roots. Klavan and Whittle wonder whether nazism and fascism might be more similar to today’s progressive movement in the Democratic Party than to modern conservatism. Does President Obama have more in common with Mussolini than Thomas Jefferson? Find out.

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America’s best-selling cars and trucks are built on lies: The rise of fake engine noise

Stomp on the gas in a new Ford Mustang or F-150 and you’ll hear a meaty, throaty rumble — the same style of roar that Americans have associated with auto power and performance for decades.

It’s a sham. The engine growl in some of America’s best-selling cars and trucks is actually a finely tuned bit of lip-syncing, boosted through special pipes or digitally faked altogether. And it’s driving car enthusiasts insane.

Fake engine noise has become one of the auto industry’s dirty little secrets, with automakers from BMW to Volkswagen turning to a sound-boosting bag of tricks. Without them, today’s more fuel-efficient engines would sound far quieter and, automakers worry, seemingly less powerful, potentially pushing buyers away.

Softer-sounding engines are actually a positive symbol of just how far engines and gas economy have progressed. But automakers say they resort to artifice because they understand a key car-buyer paradox: Drivers want all the force and fuel savings of a newer, better engine — but the classic sound of an old gas-guzzler.

“Enhanced” engine songs have become the signature of eerily quiet electrics such as the Toyota Prius. But the fakery is increasingly finding its way into beefy trucks and muscle cars, long revered for their iconic growl.

For the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost, Ford sound engineers and developers worked on an “Active Noise Control” system that amplifies the engine’s purr through the car speakers. Afterward, the automaker surveyed members of Mustang fan clubs on which processed “sound concepts” they most enjoyed.

Ford said in a statement that the vintage V-8 engine boom “has long been considered the mating call of Mustang,” but added that the newly processed pony-car sound is “athletic and youthful,” “a more refined growl” with “a low-frequency sense of powerfulness.”

Among purists, the trickery has inspired an identity crisis and cut to the heart of American auto legend. The “aural experience” of a car, they argue, is an intangible that’s just as priceless as what’s revving under the hood.

“For a car guy, it’s literally music to hear that thing rumble,” said Mike Rhynard, 41, a past president and 33-year member of the Denver Mustang Club. He has swayed between love and hate of the snarl-boosting sound tube in his 2012 Mustang GT, but when it comes to computerized noise, he’s unequivocal: “It’s a mind-trick. It’s something it’s not. And no one wants to be deceived.”

That type of ire has made the auto industry shy about discussing its sound technology. Several attempts to speak with Ford’s sound engineers about the new F-150, a six-cylinder model of America’s best-selling truck that plays a muscular engine note through the speakers, were quietly rebuffed.

Car companies are increasingly wary of alerting buyers that they might not be hearing the real thing, and many automakers have worked with audio and software engineers to make their cars’ synthesized engine melody more realistic.

Volkswagen uses what’s called a “Soundaktor,” a special speaker that looks like a hockey puck and plays sound files in cars such as the GTI and Beetle Turbo. Lexus worked with sound technicians at Yamaha to more loudly amplify the noise of its LFA supercar toward the driver seat.

Some, including Porsche with its “sound symposer,” have used noise-boosting tubes to crank up the engine sound inside the cabin. Others have gone further into digital territory: BMW plays a recording of its motors through the car stereos, a sample of which changes depending on the engine’s load and power.

Orchestrated engine noise has become a necessity for electric cars, which run so quietly that they can provide a dangerous surprise for inattentive pedestrians and the blind. Federal safety officials expect to finalize rules later this year requiring all hybrid and electric cars to play fake engine sounds to alert passersby, a change that experts estimate could prevent thousands of pedestrian and cyclist injuries.

With traditional engines, some boosters have even celebrated artificial noise as a little added luxury. Without it, drivers would hear an unsettling silence or only the kinds of road racket they would rather ignore, like bumps in the pavement or the whine of the wind.

Yet even drivers who appreciate the accompaniment have questioned the mission. A SlashGear reviewer who otherwise enjoyed the new F-150 said the engine sound was piped in “arguably pointlessly.”

Which raises a more existential question: Does it matter if the sound is fake? A driver who didn’t know the difference might enjoy the thrum and thunder of it nonetheless. Is taking the best part of an eight-cylinder rev and cloaking a better engine with it really, for carmakers, so wrong?

Not everyone is so diplomatic. Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, says automakers should stop the lies and get real with drivers.

“If you’re going to do that stuff, do that stuff. Own it. Tell customers: If you want a V-8 rumble, you’ve gotta buy a V-8 that costs more, gets worse gas mileage and hurts the Earth,” Brauer said. “You’re fabricating the car’s sexiness. You’re fabricating performance elements of the car that don’t actually exist. That just feels deceptive to me.”

Found HERE.

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Art Bust Yields Thousands of Ancient Artifacts

Italian and Swiss police have recovered more than 5,000 artifacts—worth over $57 million—as the result of a recent art trafficking bust of five art warehouses in Basel, Switzerland. The artifacts, dating from the 8th century BCE to the 3rd century CE, include Greek and Roman vases, statues, and frescoesoriginally uncovered in secret archaeological digs on Italian islands like Sardinia and Sicily. The raid led to the arrest of a married couple accused of selling the pieces—labeled with bogus origins—to collectors and museums in the US, England, Germany, Japan, and Australia.

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