Category Archives: Topic

Deenver: An Evaluation

Brian Appleyard’s take midway through the convention (early Wednesday) is amusing and not a little ironic.  The Democrats are squandering their natural advantages in that the media loves that narrative and will continue to run it at every opportunity.

I think this is the story of the Democratic convention: Buchanan’s assessment of Obama’s acceptance speech.  I found it very moving.

If you want to see any of the speeches from the Democratic convention then get it from the DNC—it is in a different class from any other internet video I have seen—the first high fidelity media I have ever seen on the internet.  The whole production is very, very classy.

Gordon Brown’s Uncool Blog

I have had my head in WordPress themes recently and was amused to find that the company that provided the blog for No. 10, New Media Maze, incorporated part of a freely available WordPress theme into the blog they sold to No. 10 for a non-trivial sum.  Everyone agrees that the theme they delivered bears little relationship to the original, but the CSS file still credits the original and the directories used to hold the theme are named after the original.

If you go to the No. 10 blog, view the source, and look at the CSS link, you will see:

http://www.number10.gov.uk/wp-content/themes/networker-10/style.css

and if you inspect this file you will see:

/*
Theme Name: NetWorker
Theme URI: http://www.antbag.com
Description: An adsense ready theme from Antbag.com.
Version: 1.0
Author: Anthony Baggett
Author URI: http://www.antbag.com/
*/

Bearing in mind that the fees that NMM are likely to have charged No. 10 for developing this blog, it is not surprising that the original designer of the theme, Anthony Baggett, is none too happy about receiving no credit, and nothing at all except grief; as you can imagine there has been a back and forth between Anthony and NMM.

Now I have worked in the IP business, and you take extra special care not to get contaminated by IP if you want to sell it on, and NMM look soooooooo contaminated—it is being screamed to the whole internet—and would surely have a really hard time establishing that their work is in no way derivative of Anthony’s.  What really astonishes me is that the agency has no awareness of the first law of holes and is continuing to dig, talking about libelous claims and demanding an apology from Anthony.

Given the horrible mess they have made of this they would really do much better to stop being defensive and think about coming to some agreement with Anthony.  Looking over the email correspondence as listed on the NMM website I am horrified at the way they have handled it.  The fact that the stakes are so high should make them less prickly but they are coming across as more prickly than a prickly thing.  I have not read anything anywhere that is wildly out of line with what all the parties are saying.  NMM started with Anthony’s theme and have produced something which is now quite different.  The minutiae of the exact relationship between the two is hardly the issue; everyone agrees they are substantially different, but it looks so much like a derivative work, and the credit remains in the CSS file, so why no compensation and all these damands for apologies, especially as Anthony appears to have taken great care to stick to the facts of the case on his blog?

Polk on Iran

William R. Polk

William R. Polk

William Polk has a guest piece at Informed Comment warning us about what is likely to happen if we carry down our current track to a war with Iran.  How many M.E. specialists, historians, soldiers, reporters–none of them alarmists or peace-niks–do we have to hear?  This is just what was happening in the run-up to the Iraq war, except the stakes are much, much higher (for us).  It is like we are stumbling along the edge of a precispise with only some aware of what we are doing and praying that we pull away from the edge.  But on we go.

The Russia-Georgian War

1,500 Reported Killed in Georgia Battle

1,500 Reported Killed in Georgia Battle

Robert Farley has some excellent coverage and analysis of the Georgia-Russian war here and then here.

So what gives?  We have an American Ally, being groomed for NATO membership, at war with Russia.  Russia and the USA of course still retain the ability to annihilate humanity if they got sucked into a total war.  And nobody is freaking; the olypics carryon serenely, the UNSC isn’t in session recalled; the duct tape remain on the shelves.

And of course this is an entirely rational response.  What was entirely irrational was the schemes to expand NATO right up onto the Russian border.  The much commented-on discussion between Fukuyama and Kagan included some revealing exchanges that shed much light on this.  Fukuyama tried to explain the absurdity of the current US position of demanding to have everything from Russia: accepting missile defence in eastern Europe, NATO expansion (while excluding Russia), that Russia sabotage their lucrative relationship with Iran, accepting the NATO settlement on Kosovo, return to internal democratisation, be nice to their West-facing neighbours, and, no doubt the moon on a stick.  Kagan resisted but later on made a revealing comment: that the the hubris didn’t start in 2001, but the Clinton administration (or, I would say, Bush I).  Right!  The neocons could not have been so successful in pushing their agenda, and remain so influential, if they weren’t pushing at an open door.  To some extent we have all become neocons and they are really a pathological examples of a much wider movement based on hubris and delusion: how else to explain HR362 and the absurd Iran policies.

What we are seeing now is a tragic ‘correction’ where the Russians and the Georgians are exposing our priorities for us.

Update: via Robert Farley it seems that the Washington Post doesn’t get it and is still very much in delusional neo-con land.

Update II: guardian.co.uk has some deatailed reports on the war and these reports suggest that the Georgians very much started it.

The Chauffer-Terrorist Fiasco

Commander Huber puts the latest Gitmo trials in prespective at the Pen and Sword.

Ritter: We are at war with Iran

After my previous article on whether we will go to war with Iran, Scott Ritter posts an article at TruthDig to say that we are already at war with Iran.  This is so true.  And it remionds me of why it is so important to read people like Ritter, Hedges and Fisk with an established track record in seeing these things clearly when everyone else is stumbling around.  Check it out.

The Killing Fields of Iraq

Via Juan Cole, we have this video report from the Guardain.  It is heart-breaking.

Fukuyama and Kagan

Blogging heads.tv have a fascinating discussion between Francis Fukuyama and Robert Kagan providing as good a critique of the neoconservative project as you will see.  Robert Kagan is probably one of the smartest neo-cons since Fukuyama departed over the Iraq war but Fukuyama is quietly brilliant and in a different league.  It just leaves my shaking my head in disbelief that someone of this calibre got sucked up in the neoconservative project.  Kagan make sone very revealing comment about the way that good historians will trace the origin of the recent American hubris not to the start of the Bush administration but to ’90s and the Clinton administration (and the first Bush administration).  He is quite right of course, even if the neocons took it to pathological extremes.

Chris Hedges on the Madness

Chris Hedges has an article, A War of Self-Destruction, on the consequences of a war with Iran, and follows a line of thinking very like my own.  While it is clearly an insane proposition, the truth of the matter is that the people making these decisions profit in every way from these wars and they clearly believe their wealth will cushion them from the worst of its impacts—they just don’t fear the consequences of everything going tits up.  While they will surely regret their actions, they are right: their wealth will protect them.

Are they going to start this war?  It remains an abstraction for me.  Each time the lunies have another push at starting a war, they enable the adults to take away more of their toys, and more people stop paying much attention to them.  The more they cry wolf the more they seem to be ignored.

But still HR 362 remains in play and apparently keeps gaining sponsors.  This is of course the US political process doing its dance, but could it end in war?  The chances surely can’t be zero.  But what are they?

We live in interesting times.  Let us pray that they don’t get too interesting.

Fisk on Syria and Iran

The Syrian and Iranian leaders, Bashar al-Assad, left, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Tehran on 3rd August

The Syrian and Iranian leaders, Bashar al-Assad, left, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Tehran on 3rd August

Check out Fisk’s latest article describes the hilarious attempts by Sarkozy and others to detach Syria from Tehran.

Fisk concludes:

In other words, Syria kept its cool. When the US invaded Iraq, the world wondered if its tanks would turn left to Damascus or right to Tehran. In fact, they lie still in the Iraqi desert, where US generals still variously accuse Iran and Syria of encouraging the insurgency against them. If Washington wants to leave Iraq, it can call Damascus for help.

And the real cost? The US will have to restore full relations with Syria. It will have to continue talks with Iran. It will have to thank Iran for its “help” in Iraq – most of the Iraqi government, after all, was nurtured in the Islamic Republic during the Iran-Iraq war in which the US took Saddam’s side. It will have to accept Iran is not making a nuclear bomb. And it will have to prevent Israel staging a bombing spectacular on Iran which will destroy every hope of US mediation. It will also have to produce a just Middle East peace. McCain or Obama, please note.

And it Continues

Martin Rowsons take on Browns Iran abhorrence remarks

Sometimes a picture is really priceless.  The Iranians have repeatedly made clear that they have no intention of attacking Israel, that they anticipate Israel falling apart through its own internal contradictions.  there is not the slightest indication that the Iranians are preparing for any such military intervention or that they would ever be capable of it.  The real point of course is that it is a political attack, and the whole is part of the ‘cold war’ being fought between Iran and Israel, the USA and the industrial nations, a war that the Bush administration decided to fight, and the Israelis appear to be making sure that the Bush administration makes good its promises of taking out Iran after Iraq.

With such confusion and disingenuousness one can only presume that this is political manouevring to prepare for military should it come to that.  Should that come to pass the wealthy people that gave us this mess will not be the ones to pay the price: that will fall to the poor people.

I missed an article by Scott Ritter at TruthDig on the 14th on the consequences of such a war. Elsewhere Gershom Gorenberg picks apart Benny Morris’s Strangeglovian fantasies about Israel using its nuclear wepaons aresenal to settle up with Iran and Commander Huber surveys the inanity of the discorse on the Iraq war.

Jeff and Gershom on Obama

Two of my favourite bloggers—Commander Huber of The Pen and Sword and Gershom Gorenberg of South Jerusalem—have written similar and different articles on Obama’s foreign policy.  The commander analyses the ducking and diving in Obama’s Iran policy from the perspective of the Pentagon while Gorenberg takes the foggy bottom angle of his Israel policy.  They agree on the difficulties he faces (you have to work with the political context you have rather than the the one you would like) and that while some of his tactical manoeuvres may have caused some dismay, it is quite possible (so they argue) to pick out a coherent strategy.  Needless to say we will need more data, but that reading seems defensible to me, and is consistent with his record, such as it is.

I am most curious to know whether Gershom Gorenberg agrees with Comander Huber’s analysis.

Iran again

I have added the following comment on Yglesias’s solution-in-search-of-a-problem article, Exciting New Reasons to Bomb Iran.  As I am in the middle of a blogging drought I thought I would repost it here.

Matt, as often you are so right about this.

As Scott Ritter points out the Iranians have switched from talking down the US/Israeli sabre rattling as bluster to responding in kind and they are doing this to give Mullen and the realists the ammo to argue that there is no way the fallout for an attack on Iran can be restricted without much more serious preparations than those that have already been made and, of course, those preparations can’t be made before January.

Cheney and the neocons have been desperate since 2005 to bring about regime change and they figure that whatever the outside chances bombing is their last best shot. They don’t care about the risks to the Middle East and the American/world economy: that kind of pain will be felt by poor people and foreign suckers.

However the neocons need a plausible rationale to sell to the rest of us. As Matt says they have a solution in search of a problem.

Yglesias on Blogging

Matthew Yglesias, in response to a gripe about blogging and him in particular wrote a ludicrously self-efacing response where he horribly insults his main benefactors in his readers and employers at the Atlantic, and followed it up with another article expressing his regret that he doesn’t have a greater mastery of Middle eastern languages to add depth to his opinions on the matter.

Part of the reason that so many of us like reading Yglesias is that he comes up with this kind of stuff that might not be always comfortable to read but it sure makes you think—the mark of a philosopher, and the real reason for reading good bloggers.

Clearly if you are going to comment on an area, some mastery of it is required, but anyone who seriously believes that a mastery of Persian, Arabic and Hebrew is necessary to comment on US foreign policy in the Middle East is exhibiting worrying signs of narrowness.  Yglesias finishes his second missive on the subject with a beautiful observation about the Pakistani understanding of US culture and language will make them much more effective in manipulating US policy makers than the reverse.  It is this kind of awareness that makes Yglesias’s commentary so valuable.

Just yesterday Yglesias observed that many commentator’s advocacy of bombing Iran show signs of people with a solution in search of a problem.  I used to work in the tech sector and we learned to recognise this kind of thinking, and Yglesisas is of course dead right.  It is this ability to condense into a short article a critical insight  that makes them so valuable.  Yglesias says that thanks to his shortcommings ‘the overwhelming majority of Americans have never read this blog and never will’ but this is exactly wrong.  It is the chalenging (i.e., worthwhile) aspects of his blog that will act as the barier.  I wish perhaps more of the pundits that populate the mainstream media would read, and, more importantly, understand what he says in his blog.  We would not be in half the mess we are if they did.

What is going on?

Reflecting on my previous article on our seeming determination to smash our economies on the rocks of Iran I thoght of the the Taijitu or yin-yang motif, which I think may summarize the situation.  My understanding is the the motif is intended to symbolise the cyclical waxing and waning of the yin and yang qualities in a given situation.  Notice that when dark yin or light yang are at their maximum, the other is present in the middle, and of course the dominating one must then give way.

This seems to me to symbolise where the industrial powers are today.  Their military-industrial dominance has been derived on the mastery of coal and then oil.  Dominating the oil lies at the heart of the industrial nation’s involvement in the region from the beginning of the oil era at the opening of the 20th century.  It drew the British into the region with their 1914 invasion of Iraq, the carving up of the Arab world after beraking up the Ottoman empire, the overthrowing of Mosadegh and so on.

Of course oil supplies are probably maxing out and can no longer feed the colossal displacement activity that we normally call economic growth.  The underlying source of our power is set to decline.  It is the impotence and frustration that comes from this realistation that may be driving some of the irrational and destructive behaviour.

Iran Insanity Update

I read an account by a member of the paratroop regiment serving in the Falklands conflict.  After the surrender of the Argentine forces some bored members of the regiment were play a game of cricket, with hand grenades and some improvised bat.  The batter would have to hit the grenades into the sea where they could safely explode.

This reminds me of the games that we are playing at the moment with Iran.  Maybe we are all bored and in need of some entertainment–not able to get the kick out of destroying other people’s countries we need to make the game a little more exciting.  Let us hope that we keep on hitting the grenades into the sea.

Many with a good knowledge of what is going on, and a good track record in finding things out, are saying that we are nat making any sense.  Nothing has changed since the Iraq fiasco.  But when the fireworks start this time we are all going to get seriously hurt.  Before we started destroying the Iraqi people and their country they were an industrialized country with cities, hospitals, schools, power grids, water treatment and so on.  We systematically wrecked that so it makes a good study of what could happen in the industrial world if we pull down all those systems.  They, and our economies, are all dependent on oil.

This is why the Iranians have no need for a strategic nuclear deterrent.  They just need control a single narrow shipping lane.  They have always been clear about this, and they have had plenty of time to prepare.

Nothing that we are doing makes any sense at all.  We accuse them of undermining the nuclear weapons proliferation agreements, but it is us that are destroying these agreements.  We accuse them of destabilising the middles east but it is us that are doing so.  We accuse them of supporting terrorism and yet we hear that the Bush administration has asked for $400m from Congress to terrorize Iran and Congress are playing along and considering authorizing a naval blockade of Iran.  And we continue to terrorize and kill people in the region in quite high numbers, far, far higher numbers than the paramilitary groups that we obsess over.

We are nuts.  I don’t know how it is going to play out and it is not worth losing sleep over.  Worrying is a mug’s game.  All I can do is call it as I see it.

For those that are interested, Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter have interviews (Hersh, Ritter) and articles (Hersh, Ritter) spelling out what is going on.  Gordon Prather’s articles on nuclear weapons proliferation are excellent, as are Gareth Porter’s on the wider issues.

The Black Swan: All in the Mind?

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Penguin, 2007.

I had a mixed reaction to this book, spending much of it trying to avoid being suffocated by Taleb’s ego. More serious was the ignoring of Taleb’s bar-room philosophy (see my previous article) as he pontificated on anything that lurched into view on his meander to the meat of the book in part 3 (p. 213). He says that he gets emotional (p. 252) because of the irrationality of those around him in not coming round to he is way of thinking (and he does have a point) but there is nothing rational about being ’emotional’ and the various rage fits he seems to enjoy provoking in others (p. 64) or indulging in himself (p. 128). Interestingly Taleb’s mother elicits the most revealing passage:

I am reminded of a measure my mother concocted, as a joke, when I decided to become a businessman. Being ironic about my (perceived) confidence, though not necessarily unconvinced of my abilities, she found a way for me to make a killing. How? Someone who could figure out how to buy me at the price I am truly worth and sell me at the price I think I am worth would be able to pocket a huge difference. Though I keep trying to convince her of my internal humility and insecurity concealed under a confident exterior; though I keep telling her I am an introspector–she remain skeptical. Introspector shmintrospector, she still jokes at the time of writing that I am still a little ahead of myself.

Why don’t we all listen to our mothers more. As this article is not nearly flattering enough I guess it will never be read but should Taleb ever read these words I really think he should find out just what humility, what its cause are and what it looks like. Humility comes from inner confidence but bluster comes from insecurity. We all have to do battle with our insecurities and arrogant demons but it is going to be much more difficult if these categories are confused.

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The Best Take on Clarkgate

Bryan Appleyard’s recent comments on the importance of literary tone came to mind reading Gail Collin’s article in the NYT today.  I have been reading Collins on and off for a while and not really getting it, until today.  She is writing on the brouha over Clark’s ‘swiftboating’ of McCain and deftly puts it into perspective while also dealing with the McCain campaign package and the way military service has played out in presidential election campaigns.  Obama being the skillful operator has no intention of impaling his candidacy on the issue, knowing that if the past is any guide it won’t do McCain any good—indeed it may be a lethal distraction for the McCain campaign.  They would do better to find something of substance—anything—that is going to appeal to the voters.

This column is really very good.

The Causation Debate

I have been discussing causation over at Crooked Timber and despite a couple of attempts to explain myself I am not being understood. Having chucked a simple textbook example at me folks seem to have just ignored my point which I find interesting. To recap the point at issue is when does a set of correlations become a cause? I have proposed that it becomes a cause when some of those correlations lie in the future, when there are predictions involved and the correlation is surprising—i.e., is the correlation is true it adds to our knowledge of the world (see here; my thinking here has been entirely shaped by the late, great Richard Feynman). So if I claim that when you jump up and down on one leg while picking your noes, your tooth ache will always disappear then you can try it out and see it is it works—see if you observe this correlation the next time you get a tooth ache. If you do (and repeatedly so) then you have some new tentative causal knowledge that will become strengthened as you reliably see the correlation in a variety of circumstances. The textbook example that people have been throwing at me is that if I take causation is correlation too seriously then I will be forced to conclude that cock’s crows cause sun to rise, but this isn’t a problem here. Suns rising after cocks crowing isn’t surprising to me—I am not looking to explain that correlation having a perfectly satisfactory set of causal relationships to explain it (but thanks anyway).

I prodded noen (a commentator of this blog) and noen was good enough take pity on me and explain what nobody had thought worth spelling out to me:

I’m not sure what you’re getting at Chris. Discovering a correlation is an invitation to further study. One shouldn’t leap to conclusions. The problem is that no matter how fine grained our mechanism is there will always be a leap involved. So we are left with observing that B follows A and concluding that A causes B. We call that deduction but there is a gap in our understanding. There always will be.

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The Mac Droids (The Register)

[Part of a series of articles reviewing blogs and websites (here The Register) on my blog-roll; see the about page. ]

With The Register reporting in its usual scurrilous style Microsoft’s ongoing difficulties in killing Windows XP, Bill Gates stepping down as the head of Microsoft and Taleb making an instructive blunder on the Mac-versus-Windows religious wars I thought I would indulge myself in a rare techie post.

It is also part of the review Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan.

Windows 3.0 (1990)

One of the many interesting (and instructive) observations that Taleb made in The Black Swans was the following.

A person can get slightly ahead for entirely random reasons; because we like to imitate one another, we will flock to him. The world of contagion is so underestimated.

As I am writing these lines I am using a Macintosh, by Apple, after years of using Microsoft-based products. The Apple technology is vastly better, yet the inferior software won the day. Why? Luck.

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