March 31, 2007
Slow Boat to a Real Democratic Republican Russia
Putin's still resisting the call of Caeser. They'd hand it to him on a silver platter. It's downright expected in a Russian political context but he's pulling a Washington in this respect, leaving voluntarily in order to make room for a successor. It's a remarkably healthy data point in a political scene that otherwise seems to be becoming quite bleak. Whatever his successor does (and it'll likely be a stage managed election and a coronation), hopefully he'll follow the same model of two terms and out.
March 28, 2007
Well, That's New
I had my first building evacuation today. It was a fire. I'm safe, nobody was hurt. We all got sent home.
March 27, 2007
Thomas Barnett has his maps, the Functioning Core and the Non-Integrating Gap. It is a map of connectivity and interchange of rulesets. It shows something real, useful, even vital for understanding our world. One of the things that it does not cover as currently developed is the problem of movement between Gap and Core. Why does one country decide to stay in the Gap and another to move to the Core? Why does a country backslide out of the Core (New or Old) and into the Gap?
There must be some mechanism out there but, up to now, I've not seen it described by any of the Core/Gap community. My stab at the problem is that virtue enhances the tendency towards connectivity. Where it is in advance, the chance that a virtuous tyrant (a Kemal Ataturk, for instance) will arise are enhanced. Where it is in decay, demagogues and rogues populate more and more of the high ground of society and people disconnect in horror at association with them. The entire society withdraws into smaller and smaller islands of connectivity until you get to the ultimate disconnection where only ties of blood are left. In pathological cases like N. Korea, sometimes even that fails.
But how does one measure virtue? How do you make its promotion a reality and not like the sick joke in KSA with its muttaween enforcing dress codes. What virtues promote connectivity? Does stoicism, for example? There's a lot of fertile ground here to extend Core/Gap, drilling down into the mechanism of movement.
March 26, 2007
Coming Iranian End Game?
Thomas Barnett calls it just more posturing but I think there's something more to the latest Iranian threats to explicitly embrace "illegal actions" on the NPT front. Since their position is that enrichment to nuclear energy plant grade material is within their NPT rights illegal actions can only mean something else coming out of their mouths. It cannot mean peaceful nuclear development at all.
But we've known that they have some sort of program for some time now so the threat can't be that they'll start researching weapons. Everybody knows that that horse left the barn a long time ago. So what is the threat, really?
I believe that the most likely threat is to make explicit and public what has been known for sure only to those with access to spy networks, that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. This fires the starting gun on all the arab nuclear weapons programs that will inevitably follow such an announcement. It's a painful setback on worldwide proliferation. It requires little effort on Iran's part. It will make the Core's job to bring in the ME much more difficult because the ultimate logic of the NPT's punishment regime is disconnecting. The US will have suffered a major blow in its ability to pace its crises. Worst of all, we'll still have to buy Iranian crude so we can't even disconnect "properly".
But I'm reminded of some conversations I had way back in 1988-1989. Nicolae Ceausescu, feeling the pressure of democratization sweeping E. Europe, started to make cryptic references to a Romanian bomb in a couple of speeches. I had the pleasure of speaking with someone who served in Romania's rocket forces as a draftee who mentioned, rather quietly, that their training covered the full gamut of how to launch their missiles and those missiles had chemical, biological, and nuclear variants as well as conventional warheads that Romania admitted to. It is quite possible that Ceausescu was reaching for the nuclear card in an effort to survive the tide of reform and avoid the hangman.
It didn't work. Instead came the 12/89 "revolution" which was so murky that even today there is a considerable body of opinion inside Romania that it was no revolution but a Soviet engineered coup. I've seen enough odd things in my own exploration of the question that I wouldn't discount it entirely. It wasn't soft kill but it wasn't tanks rolling across the borders. It was a firm kill, KGB style.
Are we getting ready for a replay?
Russia's thirst for warm water ports is legendary. This is an interest that transcends ideology. The commissars had the fever just as badly as the tsars did. Putin and his crew are no different. A firm kill by the Russians right now would be a masterstroke. The US cannot intervene militarily as they are too busy in Iraq. The Europeans are too weak to do it no matter how militarily idle they are. If Putin can keep Russian involvement as hidden as his predecessors have, he has the best chance in a century to get those warm water ports. The mullah regime certainly has enough skeletons in their closet to justify popular revolution. Some groups have been fighting for quite some time. Russia wouldn't even mind too much if the Azeris, Baluchis, even Arabs peeled off of the core of Persia. Achieving a multi-century goal of Russian leadership is worth some secession movements, especially if the pot is kept stirred. They can be an asset if people can be distracted enough to take their eyes away from the ports prize.
So will Putin go for it? It's tough to tell without a security clearance. From a russian foreign policy perspective though, he'd be a fool not to.
In this scenario, Iran's making noise to scare off the agents it's already quietly caught plotting coups, making an argument that any attempt will cause so much chaos that oil prices will skyrocket, harming the global economy. This will certainly give consuming nation spies from NATO countries pause but where's the down side for major producer Russia?
March 25, 2007
Straying Across the Border
So 15 British sailors and marines have been taken by Iran, probably while in Iraqi waters but the accusation is that they were in Iranian waters. You can read the Now there's a Pajama's Media roundup that is quite good so I won't go into too many details. Border incursions happen. Giving Iran the benefit of the doubt, I wouldn't have any problem whatsoever adopting the Mexican solution of a diplomatic note and a 3 day snit.
But what has been done by Iran goes far beyond that. Some in Tehran are even going so far as to suggest holding espionage trials. In Iran, espionage is a death penalty crime. Fortunately for the captives, such a trial would be a war crime and a casus belli so it is unlikely to be more than talk.
But what to do now? The likely response is to cave in, either publicly or quietly but one does wish that Blair would double down and extend UK participation in Iraq by increasing its territory of responsibility and permitting US forces to have higher concentrations in zones where surge operations are underway. Here's hoping.
March 24, 2007
Most of my time at the computer today is spent catching up on Asterisk developments. In my day job, Avaya maintains the phone switch, an "old reliable" system called Legend (associated with Merlin, Bell, Lucent, and now Avaya). For the recent change on daylight savings time, Avaya was perfectly willing to program the switch for us for a minimum price of $250. I ended up doing it myself and it took me about 15 minutes.
Asterisk, by contrast, is a completely open phone switch. You can see all the source code, you can compile it yourself, you can maintain it yourself. You just have to know what you are doing. The difference is astounding because once you're freed from the limitations of outrageous support fees, the sky's the limit.
All that's really needed to complete the system is to make the interface a great deal less user hostile. User friendly this is not. But there's hope, Asterisk is coming to the Macintosh platform. I expect that by 2008, things will be much better.
March 23, 2007
Dr. Barnett's recent article Unity of effort requires unity of command is very long on indignation, and rightly so. For the US State Department to block the transition of even the rich off of rations is disgraceful. The State Department is a mess. The problem would not be solved by merely creating a new bureaucratic department, even a cabinet level one. That's because, functionally, presidents of both parties have institutionally lost control of the State Department (as well as other pieces of the executive).
Neither Democrat nor Republican presidents have been happy with the compliance of the State Department to their wishes. Whether it's Ambassador Silberman in 1979 or Speaker Gingrich in 2003 the basic fundamental truth has not changed for decades, we the People, through our elected representatives, have only limited control over the State Department. Our voices do not count for much because powerful figures at high levels in these departments are simply impervious to the comings and goings of administrations.
The State Department is not alone in institutionally creating its own priorities and policies. Critics of the CIA on the left have accused it of having its own agenda for decades. Critics on the right sometimes view the ongoing Plame affair as part of a calculated CIA campaign to hobble Bush administration foreign policy. This separation of civil servants from political control essentially creates a mandarinate, a mandarin class and it's a real problem that is showing up in lots of ways.
Barnett wants "unity of effort" (as do we all) and thinks that "unity of command" would provide it. In one sense, the idea's right and the Bush administration is way ahead of him there, but there's a bear trap for Democrats like Barnett. You see, the Bushies call their version, the unitary executive, in other words, taking the Constitution seriously when it says that "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." But unitary executive theory is a lightning rod for criticism from the left, viewed as prelude to dictatorship and other unwholesome things. Get out the asbestos underwear if you're going to propose a unitary executive among liberals.
But let's say that one can have unity of command without a unitary executive. Let's say that the bear trap is avoidable. How would things look like? You would have a department whose mission would be to go out in Gap countries and provide connectivity so that they would, over the long haul, join the Core. Like every other Cabinet level department, power and prestige would be measured by the same metrics, head count and budget. Graduating a country out of the Gap would reduce head count and force shifts and retraining for staff who specialized in the graduating country. In other words, there would be an career aggrandizing incentive to subtly foul things up, to manage problems instead of solving them.
Effort would be unitary alright. But getting around State is already hard enough, if you're adding to the challenge by the creation of a bureaucratized "DoEE" as well, things might get worse, not better. After all, what are you as a DoEE bureaucrat to do if you shrink the Gap to nonexistence, start over in State or DoD?
Clearly, there will be individuals who will fight the temptation and do their best but systemically this is what is very likely to happen over time as the incentives to fail without appearing to fail lead to career advancement and power for those who are honesty impaired as department bureaucratic power is maximized by their actions.
The civil service system that created the mandarinate is there for a reason. It is a pretty good improvement over the previous spoils system. But we are suffering from the current incarnation's defects and it's costing us more than treasure, it's costing us lives as our transition in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer because of infighting among the mandarinate and between the mandarinate and their putative political masters, us.
March 22, 2007
An Interesting Blog
Dr. Housing Bubble provides a sort of train wreck comic relief look at the Souther California housing bubble. It's too late now but so many low to mid income homeowners could have cashed out, reduced their costs by moving someplace that *wasn't* in a bubble and gotten their families a more decent life outside the difficult suburbs outside Los Angeles.
Dissent in Canadian Medicine
Canada's Medical Association seems to be having a bit of trouble with it's journal (CMAJ). When the majority of your editors have been fired or resigned and the vast majority of your editorial board also tenders their resignations, something's seriously amiss. Unfortunately, like too many things in Canada, it's an undercovered issue.
March 21, 2007
Letter to the Paper LIV
Bjoern Staerk asks What Went Wrong taking Bernard Lewis' book in a different direction. He disclaims a discussion of Lewis but he disclaims too much because one cannot productively discuss the West's own errors without clearly understanding the larger situation in the Islamic world. The paper is very useful as an examination of the pro-war fallen away. Here is my comment.
I have to say that I disagree with the essay and much of the commentary here. For someone who has heard of (and presumably read) Huntington's "What Went Wrong" this is a remarkably unreflective essay. Several hundred years of civilizational decline are to be quickly and easily reversed by the US, how? It is not that the Islamic civilization had its bubble pricked once but again and again and they have fallen further and further behind in a process that started well before 1776 and arguably before 1492 as the Spanish Reconquista was an early harbringer. Either Islam must die or a new Islam must arise. Since they have the nasty habit of killing their reformers, such a change inevitably must be violent and, yes, quite a bit chaotic.
March 20, 2007
Defeating Them Wasn't the Point
Michael Williams' Because We Didn't Defeat Them misses the point by a mile. The Iraqi people were doomed to many years of strife and violence back in the 1950s when the royal family was ousted in 1958. The misalignment between what the people of Iraq wanted and the hard men with guns delivered got worse and worse, culminating in Saddam's Republic of Fear.
Even if we had run as picture perfect a post-invasion as could be managed, we still would have ended up with major troubles because when violent change in politics is all that's been on offer for 45 years and more then you've got a society that's primed and ready for running multiple violent resistence movements. Throw in some not-so-friendly neighbors ready and willing to stoke the fires of violence and you have a nasty time in Iraq for at least a few years.
That isn't to say that we couldn't have run the post-invasion better but I would argue that the invasion itself was run very, very well. We put in the maximum force we could sustain and achieved the Big Bang we needed.
I still believe that we're planting liberty trees in Iraq, and over the long haul that's going to remake the region. But had we flattened them down as Michael Williams advocates, we'd have ended up with another FRG, practically useless for the next stage of the fight. These Iraqis have shed their own blood, and will win their own freedom, and for their own reasons will spread liberty to their neighbors. In the process they will begin to reverse several centuries of Islamic civilizational decline and provide a way out of the toxic mess that Islam has put the Middle East into.
At the beginning of the conflict, I marked a free ME and Islam pulling out of its death spiral down as worth 10K dead americans. Compared to the alternatives, it's a small price to pay. I still believe so. But being more savage in the invasion wouldn't have helped us get where we need to go. It would have changed the post invasion narrative for the worse.
March 19, 2007
I do believe that the only way the US will suffer defeat is if it picks up and goes home before securing victory. If I'm right, the job of shoring up the patience, combatting the lies of our enemies and the cowardice of too many of our friends is the critical point at which the wars for Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the wider war will be won or lost. Here is a grand entry, a strong effort on that front.
Four years in. An inch of time. Four years in and the foolish and credulous among us yearn to get out. Their feelings require it. The power of their Holy Gospel of "Imagine" compels them. Their overflowing pools of compassion for the enslavers of women, the killers of homosexuals, the beheaders of reporters, and the incinerators of men and women working quietly at their desks, rise and flood their minds until their eyes flow with crocodile tears while their mouths emit slogans made of cardboard. They believe the world is run on wishes and that they will always have three more.
That's got to smart.
March 18, 2007
In the recent Parker decision, vindicating gun rights in DC, one of the plaintiff's attorneys is named Alan Gura. Gura, in Romanian (and possibly other latin languages) means mouth. So any Romanian legal commentary would read plaintiffs statements coming from "Alan the Mouth". Worth a chuckle.
March 17, 2007
Nothing partisan in a US political sense, just a little ditty done up in a webcomic:
relevant part of the storyline starts here.
March 16, 2007
Miller's Trench Guns
United States v Miller is a fascinating law. It's a case where the defendants were missing, their lawyer never argued the case at all, and the US Supreme Court got the facts wrong, and it's controlling law today.
The decision itself is short enough and relies on the fact that shotguns are not used in combat, are thus not suitable weapons for a militia, and thus are not protected by the 2nd amendment. But combat shotguns do exist, they existed and were issued to US forces prior to the decision (significantly in WW I), and the Supreme Court just got its facts wrong. That virtually no lower court has had the guts to say so in 200 subsequent cases is a pretty damning indictment of the english precedent system of justice at least as far as 2nd amendment law goes.
HT to Matthew Yglesias whose foolish article on rewriting the US Constitution nonetheless got me off my but and writing today.
March 15, 2007
How to Approach Governance
As long as I'm writing short points for the politicians, here's another
I believe that the private sector innovates and grows up much faster than the government sector. That means that even where some government action might have made perfect sense a decade or a century ago, the private sector often will have come up with answers in the meantime that are better, more efficient, and less expensive. Government should not just continue doing things just based on inertia but be periodically challenged as to why not a better way.
A Thermostat Manifesto
I provide, free of charge (and worth every penny), the following policy manifesto for anybody looking to gain office:
We believe that humanity has gained the ability to influence the world's climate and we hold that we should find out what the best temperature is, and invest in finding out how to move the planet's temperature to that happy state so future generations can be secure from the threat of natural and artificial climate disaster. When the economic benefits are calculated to be greater than the cost of imposing a better climate on the world, we support collective action to fund and implement the change for the entire world's benefit.
There, something that is positive, relatively short, and entirely sidesteps the anthropogenic global warming debate. I can't believe I'm the only person who has thought of the topic in these terms but I haven't seen anybode else ever say such a thing.
It's been awhile
For the few, the proud, those who still occasionally check in on this humble outpost, I have not died. I have, instead, been intellectually hibernating, Real Life (TM) having recently taken me by the neck and shaken, quite firmly.
In any case, I'm back. Let's see how long I can stay this time.
A product of BruceR and Jantar Mantar Communications, and affiliated contributors. Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's half-informed viewpoint on the world.