Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

The Republicans blame Nancy Pelosi for her ill timed and completely vapid speech laying current crisis at the feet of President Bush. The Democrats blame the Republicans for voting nay due to "hurt feelings" in light of an ill timed and vapid speech given by Nancy Pelosi laying the current crisis at the feet of President Bush. The easy conclusion here is that everything is Nancy Pelosi's fault. She should have her head shaved, be bundled up and mailed to a North Korean nunnery.

The reality is (beyond the doubtful existence of North Korean nunneries) that enough of the overdressed cement heads from each side of the aisle eyeballed the looming election, barely more than a month away, and the raucous negativity their constituents rained on this proposal and got cold feet. Democracy in action. Even if it's only every two years right around the 10th and 11th calendar month.

The thing made my teeth hurt. I'm reserving my personal final judgment of Sarah Palin until after the VP debates but thus far I'm less than impressed. The "good guy/bad guy" methodology regarding whether or not the US should second guess Israel seemed to be less about fervent support and more desperation, clinging to a popular right wing talking point in light of her very apparent ignorance of the region, it's players and disputes. The bit on the US economy was a WTF? moment as was the "Putin rears his head" bit. All in all an uncomfortable experience.
Part of the interview below.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Zardari's Vow

Via an interview with Roger Cohen (nod to SWJ:)

"I will fight them because they are a cancer to my society, not because of my wife only, but because they are a cancer, yes, and they did kill the mother of my children, so their way of life is what I want to kill. I will suck the oxygen out of their system so there will be no Talibs."

Give it a read it's an enlightening interview. Zardari comes across adamant about and focused on settling his countries growing insurgency. Of course questions remain about his ability to bring Pakistan's military in line with his governments policies and one wonders how effectively he can reign in the countries intelligence service, ISI. His rhetoric regarding such is certainly bold:
"We've changed a lot of things and a lot more will happen, and anyone not conforming with my government's policy will be thrown out."

Will the US leave off cross border operations that have brought a great deal of political turmoil and allow him a grace period to make his struggle against Taliban militants, "Pakistan's war"? I've long been a proponent of American counter insurgency operations inside Pakistan's lawless tribal regions but perhaps Zardari can focus his people's anger after "Pakistan's 9/11" into a nationalistic anti-terrorism movement and bring them to identify fighting the Taliban as their own struggle and not just that of the US and Afghanistan.

Perhaps a better question would be can the US afford such a grace period? As Adm. Mike Mullen observed earlier this month:
"Frankly, we are running out of time,"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman: 1925-2008

"If you're playing a poker game and you look around the table and and can't tell who the sucker is, it's you."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sarah Palin Meets "Mr. 10%"

The comedy that entailed this meeting, at least as far as the press coverage is concerned, is nothing short of Seth MacFarlane. To wit, via CNN:

On entering a room filled with several Pakistani officials this afternoon, Palin was immediately greeted by Sherry Rehman, the country's Information Minister.

"And how does one keep looking that good when one is that busy?," Rehman asked, drawing friendly laughter from the room when she complimented Palin.

"Oh, thank you," Palin said.

Pakistan's recently-elected president, Asif Ali Zardari, entered the room seconds later. Palin rose to shake his hand, saying she was “honored” to meet him.

Zardari then called her "gorgeous" and said: "Now I know why the whole of America is crazy about you."

"You are so nice," Palin said, smiling. "Thank you."

A handler from Zardari's entourage then told the two politicians to keep shaking hands for the cameras.

"If he's insisting, I might hug," Zardari said. Palin smiled politely.
We have it on good authority that after Palin left the stage, Zardari grinned at the cameras, exclaimed "Giggity!" and executed a pelvic thrust...

Regarding my post on the latest Anonymous operation on trying to inject gas shortage rumors into the mainstream, which mysteriously shut down, I have just found this post on metafilter, which links to gas shortage rumors news reports. Quote:

He said he has no idea about the origin of a rumor that there was going to be no gas in Nashville. One reporter called him, saying she had heard that Nashville would be without gas within the hour, he said.

I wonder if it is the same operation?

The metafilter comments are interesting too.

Update: It appears the operation is still occuring and they are trying to keep it secret. Looks like they may have wiki here. I haven't used the password and login to get into the site (nor am I going to, even though I'd like inside info on it). 

As observed by Half Sigma. The near offhanded nuance it contained was intriguing as Half Sigma's post had nothing to do with Christianity but with Gaian theory or philosophy. To be fair, the quote in it's full context:

Christianity has been disproved by science, thus some new religion is forming to fill in the void. The human brain is very unhappy unless there is something supernatural to worship.

Science can certainly rain doubt on the descriptive history/prophesy that entails the Bible, but how can science disprove faith? I think very much that it cannot. And I think that's the malfunction between atheists and theists (whatever sort they may be.) Atheists seek scientific proof that religion is false and present a remarkable ability to completely miss the point of faith. Science cannot disprove a man's faith anymore than it can disprove a mans favorite color. Science is objective, faith is subjective. The argument is nonsensical.

Cannoneer links to a thorough blog post at the Jawa Report on the link between big PR and the "grassroots" left. 

The most interesting thing for me was the written response from the guy -- Mr Winner -- who posted a youtube video critical of Sarah Palin. Here is his response in full: 

September 22, 2008

1:30 pm PDT

Statement of Ethan Winner

The following is in response to questions I have received regarding the post on the Jawa Report website.

I produced and posted on the Internet the video entitled “Sarah Palin: A Heartbeat Away.”

The idea for the video was mine. No one paid me to produce it. The only out-of-pocket cost will be the fee for the voice-over narrator, which I will pay personally when I receive an invoice. Contrary to the allegation in the Jawa Report, the voice-over artist has never done any work for the Obama campaign. I retained her through a talent agency based solely on the quality of her voice.

Neither the Obama campaign nor any independent political action committee has had a connection with the making and/or posting of this video. Just like the thousands of Americans who have posted videos on the Internet regarding the current Presidential campaign, I produced this video as an expression of my right to free speech, which is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

I believe the American people have a right and a need to know information about candidates for political office and their views. I made this video because I think it is important for the public to be aware of the association between Sarah and Todd Palin and the Alaskan Independence Party. The New York Times has reported that the Alaskan Independence Party website describes the party as seeking, in the words of the party, “a range of solutions to the conflicts between federal and local authority,” including “advocacy for state’s rights, through a return to territorial status, all the way to complete independence and nationhood status for Alaska.”

While a number of media outlets have said that reports that Sarah Palin was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party may have been erroneous, her attendance at the party’s 1994 convention, her video speech to the 2008 convention and her husband’s membership in the Alaskan Independence Party have not been called into question.

Some people have asked why I have pulled the video from the Internet. The reason is simple. Following the posting of personal information about me by the Jawa Report, my family began to receive threatening and abusive phone calls and emails.

Typically PR and communication hacks have had training, at sometime, in speech writing and rhetoric. This letter is a good, short example of rhetoric.

Rather than look at the arrangement of this composition like I did in the Machiavelli post, let us narrow the view and look at the persuasive appeals this letter makes. 

Typically rhetoric makes three appeals:

  1. Ethos - appeal to character
  2. Logos - appeal to reason
  3. Pathos - appeal to emotion

They are generally in this order with the meat of the rhetorical piece being the appeal to logos. 

A writer, like Mr. Winner here, will open with an appeal to his character. He is trying to appear credible and remove any prejudices you might have against him. In this case he fully admits to have producing the video. He also then admits to having paid someone to do the voice-over. Honesty like this is disarming. With that out of the way he moves into the main body of a rhetorical work: appeal to reason. 

Look at the way Mr Winner moves from refuting the idea that the Obama campaign has anything to do with his video to two quick fallacies in a row. He makes:

  • An appeal to popular opinion, e.g: "... thousands of Americans who have posted videos."
  • An appeal to authority, e.g.: "... guaranteed by the U.S. constitution." 

The last two paragraphs are more of the same, but much more factually-based argument. The last two paragraphs are interesting as well, as Mr Winner is trying to control the issue. He moves from demonstrative style issue control: blaming Palin, while the audience is expected to praise what Mr Winner has done (and his intended audience isn't readers of Malkin and Jawa report). How would he go about bringing about praise? By also mixing in deliberative style issue control with the demonstrative oratory. This is done by writing about what choices are good for a certain group. Notice on two occasions he says the following:

  • "I believe the American people have a right and a need to know ..."
  • "... I think it is important for the public to ..."

The finish is an appeal to emotion. It hopes to get you emotional about something. Either us versus them. Or to leave you with a 'little something'. In this case he opens up with why he pulled the video (dragging the audience in ...) and KAPOW ... threats to his family. 

Now, maybe the threats really did occur, which in that case I don't agree with; nonetheless, colour me sceptical. 

But as the largest bailout in government history unfolded in almost dizzying waves over recent days, a very different view prevailed at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, an outpost of free-market, anti-government thinking located just a few blocks from the newly aggressive and highly interventionist Department of Treasury in downtown Washington.

"It's a complete disaster," said Yaron Brook, the executive director of the center. "Its a form of national socialism of the financial markets...This is socialism 101."

Recursive meta-blogging here

I hope someone else does a longer response to Zenpundit, so I can update this post with something like "Coming Anarchy on Zenpundit analyzes Barnett on Peters analyzing Putin". 

What would happen if someone released a mass disinformation campaign with forged letters from oil execs and faked screenshots from major news sites with the intent of fooling the US public that there is a major gas shortage?

Wonder no further. 

Members of John Robb's heroes Anonymous have now taken aim at the U.S. economy.  

The wiki for the operation is here. It doesn't appear to have any momentum behind it, yet. The chatter on /b/ doesn't have much to it either. Ironic (intentional?) that the name of the operation is an inside joke about committing suicide.

Past related posts by others and myself: 

Update: Appears at this time that the wiki has been closed down fairly quickly (minutes after posting this). So much for that. The forged letter also had the wrong first name for the CEO of ExxonMobil. 

Books read

I finished the Preacher graphic novel (comics!) series. Not as good as Gaiman's Sandman, but still ok and pretty bizarre. Story is centered around a religious conspiracy involving an Irish vampire, an American priest, a female hitman, a spiritual being created from a tryst between a demon and angel, and whole bunch of other characters (and they all walk into a bar ...). Said priest has the spiritual being enter his body that gives him a power called the 'word of god', which enables him to command anyone to do what he wants including ordering one guy to count all the grains of sand on a beach. The preacher spends his time walking around Earth trying to find God, who has given up his position in heaven, so he can use the 'word of god' on God to command him back to his position. It also has a worldwide dominionist conspiracy operating in the background. Bizarre story. 

The Tiger's Way by H. John Poole

Re-read this again after someone who had borrowed it for awhile just returned it. Poole is a little bit out there, especially using dodgy sources to back up his arguments e.g. Ashida Kim and Haha Lung. Basic concept of the book: Using the ideas of Ninjitsu in infantry tactics. Yes. Sounds insane, but he kinda makes it work. Good book, probably will never use any of the stuff in it, as my days sitting in a fighting pit filled with water while slapping my face silly as I miss the mosquitoes, are over. Although it is conceptually useful, especially the stuff on deception (now to actually find a good scholarly historical work on Ninjitsu that isn't filled with hyberbole).  

Books reading

Great history so far. Massive and well sourced.

So far pretty good. Has a chapter on interstellar communications, which is why I picked it up. 

Books I want to read

Spotted this on the Library new books shelf wedged in between "Childhood lava studies: why the adult world ignores the lava they are standing in" and "She-Ra to Zena: Post-Colonialist Feminist Media Studies in Fantasy Antiquity" (don't go looking for those books. I just made them up, but they could be books on the humanities shelf). It has an entire chapter on the Shanxiao, which was mentioned in Poole's book (apparently certain groups of milita/bandits used to pretend they were mountain demons, this meme somehow found its way to Japan and to the Ninja, though Poole doesn't give any sources apart from Mr. Dodgy again). 

The Economics of Time and Ignorance by Gerald O'Driscoll et al.

Time as a non-renewable resource. 

The epistemology of confusion.  Might up the alley of people into Boyd's works. 

Now your turn: read, reading, want to read.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Machiavelli and Realist Rhetoric

Why would Machiavelli, a writer that is now renowned around the world for his realist style, arrange the majority of his works -- including his play -- in the classical rhetorical arrangement of dispositio? [1] 

The culture of Machiavelli's time had a fondness for classical works, many of which praised rhetorical skill. Machiavelli was also a translator of classical texts and fond of rhetoric, especially the works of Cicero. So it could be attributed to the spirit of the times he was in, but it still leaves the question: if he was using rhetoric, who was he trying to convince and what were his aims?

Let's narrow the topic to 'The Prince' [2]. Here you have a book celebrated for 'telling like it is' when it was written with, what appears to be, a two fold aim: (1) Obtaining a political position and; (2) Exhorting the unification of Italy.  

I came to this view via two paths: 

(1) As a fan of the work itself, and also interpretations of the work, such as Kaplan's chapter on Machiavelli in 'Warrior Politics'. There is something attractive about his works. Machiavelli's realist rhetoric seems 'true' and what could be more truthful than what is real?

(2) Lately I've been reading a lot of rhetoric (for rhetoric class of course), particularly classical Greek and Roman rhetoric such as the Sophists and Cicero. 

Combining these two paths and reading other sources have led to a different interpretation of 'The Prince'.

So, what was the context that gave rise to 'The Prince'? Spark notes actually gives a good short overview; but, two points from the spark notes site, that relate to his two fold aim, should be remembered:

(1) "Machiavelli desperately wanted to return to politics. One of his goals in writing The Prince was to win the favor of Lorenzo de’ Medici, then-governor of Florence and the person to whom the book is dedicated; Machiavelli hoped to land an advisory position within the Florentine government."

(2) "The same year that Machiavelli returned to Florence, Italy was invaded by Charles VIII of France—the first of several French invasions that would occur during Machiavelli’s lifetime. These events influenced Machiavelli’s attitudes toward government, forming the backdrop for his later impassioned pleas for Italian unity."

While thousands of words could be written on the rhetorical nature of 'The Prince' I'll narrow the scope again to his letter to Lorenzo de' Medici, which is used as an introduction to the book. I could talk about other rhetorical facets of 'The Prince'. Of the way the first half of the half of the book is pure straight-talking arguments and historical examples, which is the confirmatio. We could also talk about the second half of the book (chapter XV onward) where he shoots down opposing views of Princely qualities and creates his own set of values, which is the refutatio. Or how the last chapter is a classical peroratio (conclusion) where he makes appeals to pathos (emotions) especially the last paragraph with words like love, vengeance, loyalty, tears etc. 

But I'll look at the opening letter to Medici. 

The primary function of an introduction in classical rhetoric is to build ethos, or credibility with the audience. In this case, Machiavelli is trying to build a connection with Medici. 

The very first sentence is an appeal to the cultural memory of a Prince. Namely the experience that Princes have of courtiers offering the 'possessions they value most'. Machiavelli then performs a qualitative stasis shift, a shifting of the 'quality' of the issue, and claims that his gift is different and more valuable: the gift of knowledge won by experience.   

Machiavelli also brags about his gift of experience e.g. he has 'very diligently analysed and pondered' and '... over so many years and with so much afflication and peril, have learned and understood'. Bragging about one's personal practical experience (phronesis) is also a form of ethos. It makes Machiavelli sound like an expert on the topic. 
Machiavelli then uses another tekne of ethos building: concessio. He concedes that his is work is 'unworthy' yet goes on to say that Medici will like it anyway. 

An important tactic related to this valuable gift is eunoia, or having Medici's best interests at heart, after all Machiavelli has not "... embellished or crammed this book with rounded periods or big, impressive words, or with any blandishment or superfluous decoration ..."

The most explicit act of rhetoric in the opening letter is near the end. Machiavelli uses chiasmus (a mirrored statement that swaps the subjects) e.g. "... so, to comprehend fully the nature of people, one must be a prince, and to comprehend fully the nature of the princes one must be an ordinary citizen."

So there you have it. The letter to Medici is an opening salvo to the coming rhetorical bombardment. A piece of rhetoric that was apparently ignored by Medici; nonetheless, it was picked up by others. I shall leave you with two random thoughts on the matter. 

Firstly, had Machiavelli's works not been written under the guidance of classical rhetoric would they have been as infamous? This is probably a question for counter-factual historians and might be beyond my own area of interest. I would say the rhetorical style was an important factor in the book gaining ground. There might even be 4GW-slant to his book: a piece of Renaissance agitprop that has had massive influence on politics.  

Secondly, realist-style rhetoric isn't all that it seems. It appears truthful because of its heavy use of plain speaking and lack of adornment (he couldn't be hiding anything right? he's just telling it like it is!). Perhaps, but I give you another modern realist-style speaker to think about, who you might not believe at face value. He has been credited by ex-CIA analyst Michael Scheuer as just telling it like it is: he is Osama bin Laden. Here is a speaker who lists a number of 'facts' about bad America is, yet his speeches and statements are classic Islamic rhetoric aka Ilm al-balagha (transliterated as the 'science of eloquence'). Bin Laden's speeches are carefully crafted with his Muslim audiences cultural memory in mind. From the way bin Laden uses cassette tapes in some of his speeches, to his first post 9/11 letter (notice he never mentioned America or 9/11? Instead he praised rioting Pakistani Muslims. After all, bin Laden only has his audience's best interests at heart ...). 

But I'll leave a bin Laden rhetorical analysis for another time. 


(1) see 'Machiavelli' by Maurizio Viroli, which discusses the rhetorical arrangement of his works. Or this website for a short discussion on the same theme. 

(2) I'm using the Penguin Classics version translated by George Bull. 

Addendum: Inspired by Purpleslog's post on word frequencies in 'The Prince' here

Update: As I have been living under a rock lately I just checked my Google Reader and apparently there have been a number of Machiavelli related blog posts in the last week. Mainly due to this WSJ article (via 3quarks daily) and this New Yorker article (via metafilter). Both appear to be well written and interesting. I also found this article on whether Machiavelli's 'The Prince' is a work of satire or not (via a commentator on metafilter). 

Tzipi Livni has taken on leadership of the embattled Kadima party and, for now, is Israel's Prime minister. Girl Spy has some background on the former Mossad agent.

Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain has envisioned a League of Democracies. Eddie of Hidden Unities has two posts on what will be a four part analysis and discussion of the proposal.

Phil of Pacific Empire discusses the kneejerk reactive policies of New Zealand in light of the death of a police officer. Policy should be well thought out and designed not driven by emotional reaction, however tragic the circumstances might be.

Simply Jews brings us both the latest 9/11 conspiracy nut and an article discussing the tedious mess that Arab intellectuals have become.

The Whited Sepulcher on how to teach creationism. A great quote from the post:

"Evolution is no more atheistic than linguistics and optics are atheistic. It's like saying that gravity is libertarian, or that death is illiterate."
Fabius Maximus disagrees with the latest strategic development in Afghanistan that sees American forces crossing the border into Pakistan's virtually ungoverned western territory. His concern regarding the domestic fallout in Pakistan, especially considering the nascent reign of "Mr. 10%" is warranted. But Pakistan's backbone has long been it's military, so from where I stand the whole "Jihadi's get control of nukes" deal is a bit overstated.
Does FM envision the action as a declaration of war on Pakistan (hence the reference to congressional approval?) Is his skepticism regarding the Taliban being an American enemy born of the supposition that the Taliban, beyond the current theater of war, presents little threat to American security? Or is it a reference to the majority of the Taliban's theocrats not at all wanting OBL's sorry ass in their country despite the assertions of Mullah Omar prior to 9/11? Or is it something else all together?

The commentary was brief and appears to be all but over and so we, perhaps, will never know.

At any rate, good stuff.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This is not the Cold War Redux

As a child this is what the Cold War meant...

More than a week ago Russia sent the nuclear powered cruiser, Peter the Great, to the Caribbean for joint maneuvers with Venezuela's navy. Russia denied any connection between the sudden interest in Venezuelan naval prowess and the arrival of US naval ships delivering aid to Georgia via the Black Sea. Venezuela denied reports of it's "War Canoes" being capsized by the wake of Peter the Great during the operation.

Actually, for his part, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and that oddly misshapen growth atop his shoulders defended the maneuvers with the grace and eloquence we've long come to expect,

"Go ahead and squeal Yankees!"

Very poetic.

Today Russia affirmed arms deals with both Venezuela and Iran and the headlines are aflame with dire messages and colorful language like "ratchet up" and "missile crisis" and of course, "Cold War."

The Cold War. One imagines a bipolar globe with two superpowers eyeballing each other with their collective allies at their back. A globe neatly divided between the ideology and politics of one side and the same of another. That doesn't sound at all like the current global situation. Quite the contrary, never in my lifetime have the ideologies and economies been so globally non-polar. While the US remains a unipolar power militarily, geo-economic connectivity and the economic rise of the likes of Brazil, India and China have erased the black and white form of global primacy that the Cold War entailed. Not at all the Cold War visage of East vs West.

Indeed, the current situation looks more like the Core vs a Kingpin Gap state and whatever Gap states it can soak up. Russia's powerplay into Georgia was designed to cow it's previous satellite states into falling into it's sphere of influence (and to give the finger to the US and other nations for recognizing Kosovo's independence.) The actual response was immediate blowback. Poland quickly signed on to host elements of the US missile defense system and both Georgia and Ukraine took on even more fervent calls for NATO membership. Russia's kinetic bumbling in Ossetia and Georgia pushed it's former Soviet satellites away from it and further into western ideology.

Russia's friendly relations with both Iran and Venezuela are hardly new. But this reinvigorated and theatric assertion of alliance with the two anti-western regimes, supported nearly entirely by hydrocarbon fueled economies, does not even whisper a coming Cold War as far as I'm concerned. Quite the contrary, it's as much a measure of desperation as Russia, failing to reassert it's primacy in it's own neighborhood, is turning to sycophantic stragglers in an effort to revive it's global presence. A Sad War, perhaps, but not a Cold War.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mexico is Looking More and More Like Iraq

The train of drug violence chugs on:

"The message was clear when two explosions ripped through crowds of Mexican Independence Day revelers: Anyone, anywhere, is fair game when it comes to Mexico's intensifying violence.

What wasn't clear was exactly who threw the two fragmentation grenades at a holiday celebration in the picturesque town of Morelia, killing seven people and injuring more than 100 others.

Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy immediately pointed a finger at the state's warring drug cartels. "Without a doubt, we believe this was done by organized crime," he said, but offered little to back up his claim.

Following an emergency meeting with Godoy, President Felipe Calderon pledged an immediate military response, the federal government's answer to drug violence."

Only I very much doubt a Surge is going to have much of a lasting effect in this case, unless Mexico can sustain martial law indefinitely in certain regions. Unlike Iraq the fuel that fires this violence isn't sectarian, philosophical, ideological or truly political. It's about utilizing the corruption and weakness of the Mexican government and the enabling American legal system to make huge amounts of money. Good luck stopping that with curfews and armed men in the street, President Calderon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The CNAS Sec. State Round Table

Yesterday (Sept. 15) CNAS (Center for a New American Security) hosted a round table discussion made up of 5 former US Secretaries of State:

Colin Powell

Henry Kissinger

Madeline Albright

Warren Christopher

James Baker

The bad news is CNAS' website has no transcript of the discussion. The good news is it will be broadcast on CNN on Sept. 20 at 9:00 pm and Sept. 22 at 2:00 pm. A snippet to illustrate what topics were discussed:

The Secretaries' unique discussion offered valuable insight to the national debate that is underway over the future direction of American global leadership and the role of diplomacy. The Secretaries discussed a broad range of U.S. foreign policy issues and domestic challenges that will confront the next American president including the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, strategic options for dealing with Iran, America's image abroad, global climate change, a resurgent Russia, the rise of India and China, and the U.S. economy. There was consensus among the Secretaries that the United States and the international community must work together to explore new areas of negotiation to confront the complex issues facing us today.

Looking forward to watching this.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Richard Wright: 1943-2008

"Forward he cried from the rear
And the front rank died.
And the general sat and the lines on the map
Moved from side to side." Us and Them

The new Sitemeter's free service was a horrid shadow of its previous self. And so I tossed $6.95 for a month of their "premium" service and have yet to receive the vaunted "confirmation link" that I was promised in my e-mail box, now some 12 odd hours later. Not at all satisfied with the new and not yet improved Sitemeter.

Addendum: Sitemeter, apparently reacting to a less than favorable response to their ill conceived "makeover" has reverted, in a sudden, and still no word about my $6.85, fashion to their previous standard of service.

Photo via the extremely comical Songun Blog

"RUMOURS have swirled that Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s dictator, is gravely ill. The 66-year-old, officials said in Seoul, had suffered a “collapse”. South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, was worried enough to call an emergency meeting with senior aides. An anonymous American intelligence official in Washington might have been at the bedside: Mr Kim, she told reporters, was probably half-paralysed following a stroke. (Mysteriously, South Korean spooks later reported he was recovering from surgery.) On Wednesday September 10th North Korean diplomat denied the claims as “nefarious machinations”, noting that the Western press had a habit of telling lies (unlike the snow-pure Pyongyang Times)."

Via Secrecy News, this fascinating PDF file that compiles public statements and interviews Osama bin Laden gave during that decade. Nearly 300 pages long.

I'm not at all about watching grisly videos depicting gruesome events of death and carnage. There are websites devoted to such dark and perverted entertainment and that they maintain even a semblance of popularity lends me to wonder if our worlds population of sociopaths is much more inflated than any can effectively measure.

Never the less, some years ago I did watch a video of American hostage Nicholas Berg having his head sawed off like so much livestock to the slaughter. It is as much by this haunting few moments as 9/11 that I identify the message and methods of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

A few years later, upon learning that the man who held the knife that so violently ended Nick Berg's life, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had found his demise, courtesy of the United States Air Force, I allowed myself some small sense of celebration. And when I learned that after the two F-16's had "reached out and touched" him he'd survived long enough to see American soldiers (apparently delivering medical attention no less) and likely realized the source of his doom, I thought along the lines of, "Better than dead, the motherfucker knew who brought it about."

Likely of little comfort to Nick Berg's family but for me a sense of vindication, of vengeance realized. A selfish, if understandable reaction but necessary to illustrate my personal hatred of what Al Qaeda represents. Necessary because sometimes when people read dispassionate analysis or consideration they leap to emotional conclusions. Consider the above a litmus of my own personal views while I cast them aside and look at an issue straight on without the taint of emotion.

Back in 2001 President Bush promised to capture bin Laden "dead or alive." Is Osama bin Laden more valuable dead or alive? What are the pros and cons of each outcome?

The Pros:

The concept of these questions is naturally counter intuitive to most Americans. Bin Laden not only deserves death but in eliminating him the US scores a major victory in the "War on Terror" as they effectively decapitate the leadership of Al Qaeda.
Without bin Laden AQ will continue shatter and become even more fragmented and tactically impotent. Truly AQ's successful attacks since 9/11 have served to illustrate a continuous scaling down in both size and effectiveness. By lopping off their leadership they, like a queen less hive of wasps, will surely scatter to the winds.

Additionally the demise of bin Laden will serve a symbolic victory of western ideals over the anachronistic values and ideals of radical wahhabism. Much as MacArthur "humanized" Emperor Hirohito on board the USS Missouri in the signing of the Potsdam Declaration, the end of bin Laden would serve a message to any and all that hold him a prophet...

The Cons:

... Except that in death Osama bin Laden becomes a martyr and, perhaps, elevates both his own status and the dogma of Al Qaeda to the level of Prophet.

Decapitating the leadership of Al Qaeda may have very different consequences than pounding AQ in Iraq leader, al Zarqawi, out of existance. AQI without Zarqawi combined with collective dissatisfaction within the Sunni tribes served to render AQI impotent and eventually virtually inconsequential.

Assuming that bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri don't travel together (be straight out imbecilic if they did) AQ without bin Laden is still within the reign of al Zawahiri. And Zawahiri is likely AQ's "brain." A former leader of Egypt's Islamic Jihad, he was fingered in the assassination of Eqyptian President Anwar Sadat and served a three year sentence. That sentence left him hell bent in both his message and method of toppling secular Islamic regimes. If Zawahiri entered prison a terrier he came out a frothing pit bull and when the two met in Pakistan in the late 1980's (as the Soviets licked their wounds and pulled their forces from Afghanistan) ideology met method and strategy.

A dead bin Laden also serves a very formidable martyr. Bin Laden's demise will meet out western justice but may well serve a clarion call to many across the Islamic world and the ranks of AQ would likely see an immediate, if short term swell. Even given additional fragmentation (as the organization would likely suffer) operations could resume a higher status of return with a sudden swell in ranks under al Zawahiri.

Prior to his demise, American intelligence will have pin pointed his position. In doing so they maintain the prospect of either killing (or taking) bin Laden or harrying him.

Decapitating AQ through killing bin Laden and even al Zawahiri won't end AQ. Rather it will simply allow a new rank and form to graduate and take on the charge. By locating but not killing or taking bin Laden the US saves itself years of intelligence effort. If we know where bin Laden is we can monitor and perhaps dig our way into his hateful organizations modus.

Which way should we travel?

I found this article on New Zealand's Libertarianz site via Libertarianz members Luke and Phil's excellent, if oft neglected...:), Pacific Empire. The essence is a transitional drug policy that would devolve the War on Drugs to something a bit less fanciful, ridiculous and intrusive. The concept is simple and reasonable enough. Divide narcotics into two seperate categories, those that are less harmful than alcohol and those that are more harmful than alcohol. Then, legalize the former and present much more reasonable penalties for possession, sale and manufacture of the latter. A snippet of Richard Goode's article (but you should certainly read the article in it's full):

Libertarianz transitional drug policy is to legalise all drugs safer than alcohol, but the policy package contains a number of other measures. These include a moratorium on arrest for simple possession (or manufacture or importation for personal use) of any drug, and a downgrading of remaining penalties from the draconian to the merely harsh. (All drugs which remained illegal would be reclassified as Class C. This means, for example, that the maximum sentence for manufacture of methamphetamine would fall from life imprisonment to 8 years imprisonment.)
The natural question is, what drugs should be vetted as safer than alcohol and what drugs not? And who decides and designs the defining system? Another snippet:

Who would decide which drugs are safer than alcohol, and how would they decide? In a widely cited paper published in the Lancet earlier this year, David Nutt and colleagues showed that the UK's classification of illegal recreational drugs into three categories of harm (similar to the ABC classification in our own Misuse of Drugs Act) is only modestly correlated with expert ratings of the drugs' actual harms. They asked experts in psychiatry, pharmacology, and other drug-related specialties to (re-)rate a selection of 20 common recreational drugs on three major dimensions of harm: physical health effects, potential for dependence, and social harms. The experts, who showed reasonable levels of agreement in their ratings, ranked heroin, cocaine and pentobarbital as more harmful overall than alcohol, but ranked MDMA ("ecstasy"), cannabis, LSD, GHB ("fantasy"), methylphenidate (Ritalin®) and khat as less harmful overall. I mention this list for indicative purposes only. How to decide the dimensions of harm which ought to be considered and the relative weighting to be given to scores on those dimensions, and, consequently, the final ranking of drugs on the list according to overall harm is yet to be determined, but the methodology is sound. Ultimately, the decision would be left to the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs. For a change, the EACD would no longer determine how to classify new recreational drugs, but determine instead which existing recreational drugs to declassify.
Not a perfect platform for deciding which drugs are "ok" and which are not, but as is stated, the methodology is a sound start. And such a transitional method would be a sound start to ending the destructive American War on Drugs which has served little to stave off drug use among the American populace, rather has brought states like Mexico and Columbia to the brink of collapse as narco-feudalist drug cartels carve out virtual substates and combat state authorities for control of entire cities.

I envy the Libertarianz for more than their political tenacity. I envy them that should they fail to get such measures onto the national legislative platform they will be set back in combating the "Nanny State," and suffer an affront to their own personal ideologies. Being the political terrier's they are they'll simply remount, revamp and try again, little worse for wear, perhaps more driven than ever.

Contrarily, a continuation of the American nonsensical War on Drugs carries much greater consequence. And those consequences won't be (and very much aren't) conveniently sequestered to the "backwater" Latin states south of our border. They are felt in our own cities now and a continuation of tilting at windmills will bring us much, much worse as the consequences of our blind, "noble" policy bleeds it's way north and galvanizes an already worrisome and violent spawn of the lucrative black market trade in narcotics.

Stop fighting fire with gasoline.

CERN's Large Hadron Collider (photo via Fox)

"A British physicist has claimed he can explain the secrets of the Big Bang Theory, but his controversial experiment has scientists believing he could bring about the end of the world, the U.K.'s Daily Mail reported."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Keith Olbermann: Lord of Vanity

So I watched Thursday nights broadcast of the RNC via MSNBC and was dumbfounded by perhaps the most abject televised display of vanity and self obsession when Keith Olbermann interrupted the analytical/broadcast proceedings to confess his own "apologies" for the RNC's audacious video that dared revisit the tragedy, in "graphic" fashion mind you, of 9/11.

If at this late date, any television network had, of its own accord, shown that much video tape and that much graphic video tape of 9/, we, would be rightly eviscerated at all quarters, perhaps by the Republican Party itself, for exploiting the memories of the dead, and perhaps even for trying to evoke that pain again. If you reacted to that video tape the way I did, I apologize. It is a subject of great pain, for many of us still, and it was probably not appropriate to be shown.

Weak. Keith Olbermann is a pompous, self obsessed, partisan hack who certainly doesn't belong on the same broadcast as Tom Brokaw. There have been many painful events throughout America's history. To talk about and remember them in the fashion that the RNC's video did certainly is not an exploitation.
My only issue with the video that so offended his lordship was the ignorant fashion the Iran hostage crisis was lumped in with al qaeda. Apples and oranges from where I stand. And this tunnel-vision approach is a troubling aspect of a McCain presidency.

Or A Thought Prompt Driven By a Another's Thought Prompt
(FARC Soldiers via BBC)

Wiggin's wonders aloud whether legitimacy is zero sum. That, if in order for one entity gain legitimacy, another must lose legitimacy. He links to John Robb's post here that highlights a Lind quote.

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, states’ economic failure brought governments and even systems of government, including democracy, into question. In both Europe and the United States, Communism and Fascism gained certain popularity because in the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, everyone had a job. But the state itself was not challenged, because there was no alternative to the state.

Now, there is. Intelligent Fourth Generation entities, ranging from some drug gangs through organizations such as Hezbollah, are competing directly with the state for people’s primary loyalty. If those Fourth Generation entities can provide basic services, including food, when the state can no longer do so, they will gain the legitimacy that state is losing. In Fourth Generation war, that is a bigger win than any potential military victory.

This concept of a 4th Generation entity makes sense when considering the parasitic, narco-feudalists affecting the likes of Mexico and Columbia. Keeping the host (the nation) in a state of continued decay is essential for maintaining their cocaine driven baronies.

However, from my perspective, Hezbollah and Hamas are hardly seeking the state of "perpetual 4GW" (or the Robbian Global Guerrilla) rather are endeavoring to usurp the existing political authority and replace it with their own construct. Think of it as a very gradual coup that occurs not from the top down (a la Pervez Musharaff, perhaps) but yanks the bricks from the foundation that supports an existing regime in a very slow and methodical fashion. Very much in line with Robb's "hollowed state" but the goal isn't anarchy but political change.

Certainly this strategy has worked very well for Hamas as they now maintain political control of the West Bank and Hezbollah as they now hold unprecedented and legitimate power (with some help from Israel) within the Lebanese parliament. Both entities achieved this through the above mentioned displacement of loyalty to the state to loyalty to the party through establishment of a grassroots social welfare system that provided where the authorities could or would not.

So the question is, when does a 4GW entity stop being a 4GW entity? Should we consider Hamas and Hezbollah along the same lines of FARC or any Mexican drug cartel? Is 4GW directly defined by a groups modus or it's status?

(Nod to FutureJacked and Glenn Greenwald)

Utilizing a municipal police force to stem political dissent relegates that municipal police to a para-military arm with a method replacing rule of force for the original promise of protection and service. Via the NYTimes:

On Friday night the Ramsey County sheriff's department, accompanied by the St. Paul police, detained people inside a building here that was being used as a headquarters to plan protests.

“They handcuffed all of us,” said Sonia Silbert, 28, from Washington. “They searched everyone.”

People who had been in the building said that officers entered shortly after 8:30 p.m. with a warrant and instructed them to lie on the ground, adding that they had been questioned and photographed before being released.

Jordan Kushner, a member of the National Lawyers Guild, said the two-story brick building had been rented by a nonprofit organization and was being used by several groups planning protests.
I'm not going to suggest (though others might) that the RNC had a direct role in this political crackdown. I will suggest that such unbelievably transparent measures and reason for barging into American citizens homes are nothing more than simple low level tyranny hiding behind benign municipal violations (fire codes and such.) Whether this obvious violation of American ideals is motivated by political measures (I suspect it isn't) or by a want for a convenient path to minimize expense, both fiscally and logistically (I suspect it is) it's a sad prelude to a convention for those that claim the Jeffersonian title, "Republican."

Monday, September 01, 2008

Palin Clears the Air of Conspiracy

via the NYPost

The 17-year-old daughter of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is pregnant, Palin said on Monday in an announcement intended to knock down rumors by liberal bloggers that Palin faked her own pregnancy to cover up for her child.

Bristol Palin, one of Alaska Gov. Palin's five children with her husband, Todd, is about five months pregnant and is going to keep the child and marry the father, the Palins said in a statement released by the campaign of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

For my part I'll apologize for entertaining the conspiracy. It'll be interesting to see whether Kos apologizes.

I don't imagine the revelation will have much of a negative effect on Palin. Oh, she'll get a few bumps and bruises from the evangelical cadre of her base perhaps and the left will murmur about hypocrisy, I suppose. But an unwed, pregnant 17 year old is hardly an earth shattering revelation in today's society for most of us, I shouldn't think.

I don't believe Palin is stupid but cracks in her political savvy are showing very early on. Perhaps Half Sigma is correct, if not in his scathing (but funny, in a wincing fashion) criticism but that McCain should heave her overboard and bring on a more mainstream candidate. Could McCain survive (politically I mean) such an incredible (unprecedented) shift? I suspect not. He'd as much be admitting his lack of judgment and laying his own head on the political ax man's block.

No, I think for better or for worse (and who knows, the masses are fickle and oft unpredictable, Palin could prove a boon for her naivety) McCain's course is chosen and he's going to have to ride it out to November.

I have a request to ask of any and all readers of this meager web site. But first some background:

Kristan Wheaton is an assistant professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst college in Erie, PA. He and some students have a bit of a dilemma. I'll quote him for the sake of simplicity:

The ODNI's Open Source Innovation Challenge set off a brief wave of excitement here at Mercyhurst late last week. There were a lot of pumped up students ready to take on the two challenge questions (Really -- they live for this kind of thing). Then everyone realized that you had to have a registered conference attendee on the team to submit an entry and registration was already closed...

The students set up one team anyway (under the sponsorship of Bob Heibel, our only registered attendee) and have been hard at work on their submission since then. Realizing that there was a ton more good open source info out there than they could possibly get at in a week, and taking full advantage of the rule that sets no size for the teams, the students have adopted an "innovative" approach to the problem: crowdsourcing.

They have asked me to help them get the word out that they are looking for anyone with anything relevant to the Al Qaeda challenge question: "Using the best open sources to inform your answer, is Al Qaeda a cohesive organization with strong and centralized control, intent and direction?"

You can send any info you think might be relevant to, their group account, but they need the info ASAP as they have to submit their final report by 5 SEP 08.

Specifically, they are looking for reliable open source information from any source (academic studies, think tank reports, social network analyses, first hand observation, whatever...) that is relevant to the question of AQ and the level of centralization in its command and control. They have a few specific collection requests as well for anyone out there who might have something or know of something:

So that's the dilemma. Now here's the (predictable enough) request. Help the man and his students out either by posting your own analysis and answer to the posed question or suggesting sources for that analysis. Suggestions, analysis, etc. can be posted here in the commentary, at Kris's blog or sent direct to the e-mail address provided above. Or, best yet, put up a post on your own site. Just make sure to let me know if you do. Also, if you do, make it viral and invite others to do the same.
Thanks in advance!