31 March 2010

More Trouble in Russia

More suicide bombings today in Dagestan. I know there were a lot of terrorist attacks in the North Caucuses last year (Foreign Policy puts it at more than 500), but since the attacks today are coming on the heals of a double bombing in Moscow I really do not see how this will not ratchet up pressure on Moscow to do something drastic. Already, people are complaining that Medvedev needs to take a more hard-line against the perpetrators. If Moscow does start taking a more aggresive stance hopefully they will be more competant than the last time.

Looking at this whole situation from a more theoretical position, it seems that separatists in the North Caucuses are trying to incite an overreaction from Russia that will further alienate the local populations and mobilize support for thier movement. This may be why Medvedev is moderating his rhetoric, to avoid railroading Russian policymakers into doing something that will only make things worse. If that is the case, Mr. Putin certainly didn't get the memo.

30 March 2010

North Korean public sentiment

It would be really easy to make too much of this Washington post report about public sentiment in North Korea. The biggest caveat is that it is based on surveys of defectors, not the people who are still living in North Korea. While defectors may be drawn from all strata of North Korean society, by definition it does not include those people who are most attached to the regime.

However, it is striking that even among defectors, the position of the Kim regime is slipping. I don't have time to read the East-West Center report right now, but I plan to do so soon and blog about its contents. I think the ground is finally slipping from beneath the Kim regime. I'm terrified about the results, to be honest, but I'm hoping for positive change. And less starvation.

Question for the blogosphere?

There is a little known IGO known as the Arctic Council, which is pretty unique because it brings in indigenous groups on a level equal to states on decision-making. Every country with territory north of the Arctic Circle is represented, along with self-governing territories (like the Faroes and Greenland) and officially recognized indigenous groups, like the Saami and the Inuit. It's the logical place for all matters arctic. (For the record, any country that is closer to the Arctic Circle than the Equator can have observer status.)

So, why did Canada have a big meeting of just 5 of the countries from the Arctic Council to discuss shipping issues in the region? Sweden, Finland, and Iceland were all excluded on the basis that it was about shipping in the Arctic Ocean and the territorial claims made by the five invited groups, rather than an issue affecting the Arctic region in general.

On the one hand, it strikes me as a bad idea to bypass the one successful forum for these very issues. On the other, I know that I don't know much about the Arctic Council beyond what I've written here. Anyone have any thoughts?

Jesus Deserves Better Than This

Some ultra-right wing, would-be domestic terrorists were arrested in Michigan. Apparently, they were preparing for battle against the Anti-Christ by shooting cops.

29 March 2010

Moscow Bombings

Two suicide bombings hit Moscow on Monday. At least 38 people are dead and one of the bombs went off in the subway station underneath the Federal Security Services building (the Russian intelligence agency and successor of the KGB). Given Russia's interest in regional security and desire for infuence in its near abroad (I don't think they're purchasing amphibious assault ships from France just to look cool), I would not be surprised at all to see more overt military operations in the North Caucuses. There were a lot more suicide attacks last year in Russian than in previous years, but to my knowledge this is the first one in Moscow since 2004. Putin certainly isn't leaving any ambiguity about Russia's actions, saying that the attackers "will be destroyed".

28 March 2010

Too big to govern, ctd.

Apparently, Russian leadership agrees with me on the difficulty of governing a country of Russia's size. Now, they are not giving up any sparsely populated lands, or freeing Chechnya, but Medvedev announced that they are reconfiguring the country's time zones, dropping from 11 to 9 zones, with the possibility of shrinking to 5 eventually.

I'm not sure this will help with the separatist problems, but it might increase efficiency. Hopefully, they do not go too far in this direction (China has issues because it is all on one time zone). I will be interested to see what effects it has.

27 March 2010

"Foodies on Food Stamps"

There's a new fake-outrage on the blogosphere, and that's of hipsters using food stamps to buy gourmet food. The original Salon article explains the idea and mocks (to a degree) those who are doing this, and two responses defending the hipsters are here and here. I'll be the first to say that I think Whole Foods (where some of these people are shopping) is crap, that I think "organic" is a marketing scam, and that extreme hipsters drive me nuts.

And yet, I'm happy about these kids buying what they want with food stamps. I grew up on the kind of food one associates with food stamps and government assistance (often procured from my older half-sister and grandmother, who would trade food stamps or government commodities to my mother for services such as cleaning or helping them move). Guess what? Yes, it sucks. Wonderbread sucks. Commodity cheese and farina suck. They have no taste. They are horrible for your body.

Now, of course, it is easily possible to cook well and cheaply. I personally subsist on lots of eggs and beans, both of which are cheap. But I refuse to fault any young poor person who'd rather eat this:

than the following:

Is there a golden mean to be found? Probably. But, policy makers and opinion makers cannot find that mean. Economists (including Greg Mankiw in his ubiquitous textbook) have long held that policy makers shouldn't force the poor to spend their assistance on what policy makers think is morally appropriate, and instead let them use it in ways that increase their own utility. That may go too far, but I'd prefer it to any form of nanny state control over the poor, particularly over poor people trying to eat well.

Missiles pointing at Taiwan

I have done some significant study of the issue of Chinese missiles pointing at Taiwan, and I cannot understand why China continues to build up more. I'm left inferring that China is worried that behind an impenetrable defense, Taiwan would be likely to declare independence. However, Taiwan's defense has not been impenetrable for awhile, and China has more than enough missiles to at least make a contest of Taiwanese airspace by annihilating much of Taiwan's air defenses.

If China is hoping to actually achieve superiority, though, in order to eventually conquer the island, it is not going to work. This is because Taiwan will respond to all moves by China to increase its threat over Taiwan, such as by buying F-16s as they are currently considering. If China wants Taiwan to buy F-16s, this is the perfect ploy.

Maintaining rough deterrence should be the rational goal of both sides. Sure, Taiwan wants to be independent, and China wants to retake Taiwan, but I can't imagine either considers those goals to worth the costs. With that in mind, why is China needlessly increasing the costs, especially when Taiwan has signaled (through not buying everything America is willing to give it) that it is fine with the level of deterrence China has over it?

26 March 2010


It looks now like it was not actually a North Korean attack, but instead an accident. This is good news, overall, because no one could really stomach a new Korean war.

Since it seems that roughly 40 of South Korea's sailors may have drowned in the accident, I hope they can find what happened and make sure it does not happen again. My thoughts are with their families.

Track of the Day

I've had a not very good day, but this song came on and put a smile on my face. NSFW, because of language, but there you go.

Too blase?

I may have been too blase about the Korean naval skirmish. Right now, the South Korean government has called an emergency meeting of security officials. I still don't expect any major engagements to come out of this, as it would be suicidal for all concerned, but I'm going to be keeping my eyes on it.

Russia: Too big to govern?

There has always been an idea that a country could be too big to effectively govern, particularly if certain parts start finding themselves drawn into other cultural orbits. (This is made explicit in recent Civilization games, for those who are as geeky as me.)

There are a few states in the world today that seem intent on proving this idea. One is China, with its troubles in both Xinjiang and Tibet. However, more immediately, there is Russia. Russia is worried about Vladivostok becoming too Asian, it is dealing with an Islamic insurgency in its southern parts, and now Kaliningrad is protesting as well. Granted, Kaliningrad was always a weird exclave anyway, but with such protests on every side of Russia it strikes me that Russia really is too big, or too diffuse at least, to govern.

Naval attack in Korea

And while that is almost a "dog bites man" story at this point, this one is more serious. A South Korean navy ship is sinking due to a torpedo attack. Apparently there was a fire-fight in South Korean waters with an unidentified North Korean ship, and then the torpedo.

The only significant difference between this and previous incidents is the damage to the South Korean vessel. I have no illusions--both sides will keep this contained, and the undeclared naval skirmishes will continue. I'm curious, though, as to whether it was a lucky hit, or if the DPRK navy is actually getting better.

24 March 2010

Track of the Day

And remember: Gitmo is far worse than Folsom. But, apparently, not as bad as health care reform.

Why I dismiss conservative fears about federal power

Andrew Sullivan posted this as today's "Malkin Award Nominee":

"With politicians now having not only access to our most confidential records, and having the power of granting or withholding medical care needed to sustain ourselves or our loved ones, how many people will be bold enough to criticize our public servants, who will in fact have become our public masters?" -Thomas Sowell, Real Clear Politics.

While it definitely counts as over the top right-wing craziness, it really infuriates me beyond most. This is because, while scare-mongering (and lying) about health care reform, Sowell has no problem advocating for the kind of federal powers that are actually about life and death. For instance, he has defended torture and arbitrary detention, both of which we know have been applied to American citizens.

Gee, which should worry me more? That the government will see that I broke my leg, or that they can torture me and keep me locked away forever?

23 March 2010

Lack of posting

My work schedule has exploded at the same time that I get a sinus infection. Posting will be light from me for the foreseeable future, unless I come across something I really care about. (The "10 books that influenced you" is something I'm interested in, but can't think enough about yet.)

For now, as I'm currently reading about WWII strategy, enjoy this:

Gotta love WWII propaganda...particularly when it's as messed up as this.

22 March 2010

Zhang Yimou

I am a big fan of Zhang Yimou's work, so I'm glad to see him being honored like this. If you haven't seen any of his work, I'd recommend starting with Hero, and then watching To Live (Huozhe). They're both fairly depressing, but in a beautiful way.

Track of the Day

I'm not a health care guy, so I have nothing to add on that front. However, I'm happy as can be that it passed. I've been without health care, and while I was fortunately pretty healthy, it's really scary. So, congratulations to Democrats for getting it done, and thank you.

21 March 2010


So yeah.

Track of the Day

For everyone interested in North Korean propaganda

It's very surreal stuff. Here is a post about North Korean comic books. One great example:

In The Secret of Frequency A, published in 1994, a group of North Korean teenagers save an unnamed African country from a strange plague, says Heinz Insu Fenkl, an expert on North Korean comics at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz.With the help of their professor, the kids foil the plans of imperialist scientists from the US and Japan, who have been developing biological weapons.‘The key scene is when the North Korean scientist finds a way to turn a symbol of Biblical plague, locusts, into fertilizer by making them self-destruct,’ Fenkl says. ‘I found this one especially interesting because it was published in 1994, which would have been during the height of the drought and famine in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].’'

Also, here is the beginning of a documentary following the life of a North Korean family. It's kind of creepy how nonchalant the mental impression is.

Shadow Government still not making sense

Despite being a card-carrying liberal/progressive/whatever, I try hard to find reasonable conservative voices to follow, in order to avoid falling into a complete "echo chamber". For this reason, I've been trying to read Foreign Policy's "Shadow Government." But sometimes it still just doesn't make sense.

Exhibit A today is this post by Daniel Blumenthal. He tries to make the case that Barack Obama is failing at foreign policy, and that it is all due to a "crisis of his own making." However, his whole argument is based on some pretty silly contentions.

First is the idea that it is unprecedented for a President to cancel a trip for a "crisis of his own making." There are two problems with this. The first is that Presidents have done this before, as evidenced by Bush's own cancelling of a trip to Africa to strategize about Saddam Hussein. And, I'm sorry, yes, the entire world knew that to be a crisis of his own making, because Saddam was not threatening anyone at that time. The second problem is the assumption that this is a crisis of Obama's own making. He has been pushing for health insurance reform for a long time, like every other Democratic president going back to Harry Truman, but it was up to Congress to actually pass the damn thing.

Blumenthal backs up his point by stating:
It is one thing for a president to cancel a trip because of a domestic disaster, but Obama himself created this mess. When Obama became president there was a long list of economic and foreign policy challenges to which everyone agreed he had to attend. Instead, he launched the country on a long, divisive, and distracting debate about health care. This choice has real consequences as Indonesians and Australians learn that they are not as important to Obama as is his domestic agenda.
This is pretty well nonsense. Health care reform was one of the most talked about and important issues of the election. It was one of the single largest points of contention between Clinton and Obama; it was one of the largest components of the debates between Obama and McCain. It was actually on the list of economic policy challenges that everyone agreed that Obama had to deal with.

As for how Indonesians and Australians feel, I know that most Australians find it mind-boggling that it is this hard to get anything like this passed.

The other massive issue with his piece is his assumption that Obama has a "leftist agenda", which apparently means anti-trade and anti-security. He cites the idea that the Defense Department wasn't asked to spend money on the stimulus as proof that Obama wants to gut defense spending. Never mind that defense spending was one of the only things left off the table for the spending freeze that Obama announced. I think it has more to do with keeping the defense budget stable, and the fact that defense spending has less of a stimulus effect than just about any other kind.

In short, it's a bit of a stupid screed, being hosted on one of the more prestigious bits of foreign policy cyberspace. It makes me despair of finding honest conservatives grounded in the same world as me to try to follow.

Exoplanets excite me.

There is a chance that scientists have found an earth-like planet, at least in terms of temperature and such. It's considerably bigger (about the size of Jupiter), but it should be terrestrial and not gassy.

I have a not at all rational belief in the idea that one day humanity will colonize the stars, in order to accommodate all the people who keep living because we conquer death. I personally think we should get to cracking at both goals, and so this is an important step forward.

20 March 2010


Comes from Rep. Barney Frank, after getting yelled at and called faggot by some distinguished gentlemen from the Tea Party Movement:

At some point... I'd like to retire. As long as I think it might make some of those people happy, I can never retire. I may have to work forever as long as they're out there.

19 March 2010

March Madness Track of the Day

It's March Madness, and my bracket is already sucking. It would probably help if I actually followed basketball or something.

18 March 2010

General WTF?

Retired General John Sheehan has claimed that the allowing of gays in the Dutch military led to Srebinica, because it reduced the effectiveness of the Dutch military.

The Dutch military has responded by effectively asking what he's smoking.

I'm glad that the pro-discrimination people have decided to take the lack of evidence problem seriously, but seriously? To claim that a group that had horribly restrictive orders from the UN, was badly supplied, and outnumbered at least 2:1 failed in their mission because they had gay people is ludicrous.

17 March 2010

Chinese language

Chinese probably has the least number of loan words of any language I've ever seen. Even modern words like computer (电脑, diannao, electric-brain) and airplane (飞机, feiji) are not loan words, but instead whole new constructions. The only loan words I ever used were 咖啡(kafei) and "inter-wang" (internet, because wang is "net"). I also often saw 卡拉OK (Ka La OK--Karaoke).

This is why it is so bizarre to me that the Chairman of the International Federation of Translators Huang Youyi is worried about China becoming an impure language due to too many English loan words. The article doesn't explain what the damage to China is, though. I would like to see his argument, because I've seen the same thing said by both Japanese and French scholars, without any argument.

This is in direct contrast to the experience of English, which has occupied such a central place (it is often said) because it adopts foreign ideas so readily. We have so many loanwords, from so many languages. (We even have a single loanword from Manchurian.) I'm biased, but I believe Chinese could use some of that same flexibility.


Having formerly lived in Kucinich's district, I take great pleasure in despising him. He is a grandstander, who takes grand stands that sound good until you really look into them. For instance, back in '04 when he was running for President he made a lot of hay about a "Department of Peace" that would try to find non-violent ways to end conflicts. This sounds decent, until you realize that all it will do is siphon resources from the Department of State. It also had an overly broad mandate, dealing with both international conflict and domestic violence. It would have been unmanageable.

Even when he supports something I support (like gay marriage or health care reform), he never learned that "the perfect is the enemy of the good.) Well, didn't learn it until now. Apparently, he will vote for the current health care bill. Thank god. Even Mr. UFO can see it now.

(h/t Yglesias.)

Conventional Wisdom

About the worst thing a blogger can be is conventional. If you merely parrot conventional wisdom, there is no reason for anyone to read you.

Therefore, I was happy to see that there was at least one thing in Foreign Policy's recent "Five Ways the Conventional Wisdom is Right" that I (somewhat) disagree with. Yes, Iraq was a mistake, Iran likely wants nukes, Putin is (most likely) still in charge of Russia, and the Middle East peace process will continue for decades, but China is far weaker than the author realizes. The author completely ignores all of the signs of domestic unrest in China, from ethnic minorities, displaced peasants, liberals, and ultranationalists. It also ignores the fact that Chinese military spending is still minuscule compared to the US, or even just US allies.

Russian complicity in North Korean abuses?

I'd like to see some kind of confirmation of this, but Forbes is supposed to be reliable. If North Koreans are (or were) being forced to work in Russia under these gulag conditions, it's a horrible indictment of a country that considers itself part of Europe.

Of course, considering the horrible conditions in North Korea, perhaps its better that the logging camps continue. Apparently, most of those working for little food, in minimal clothing, in the subzero temperatures are (or, were initially) volunteers. I'm sure none of them were properly informed of the choice they were making, but at the same time, it might actually be better than being in North Korea.

Drone pilots

This struck me as an important perspective on war. What was most notable to me is that the guy piloting the drone wishes he was on the ground with the troops, instead of safely home in Nevada. This makes sense, as most military people feel such a kinship that they cannot stand being safe when their "people" are in danger. It would be heightened by being able to (mostly) see those in danger.

I also find the idea of a longer window of opportunity with a drone to be one of those great benefits that gets undersold. The option to wait and act later is extremely powerful.

Track of the Day

16 March 2010

Track of the Day

Good idea from Yanukovych

Victor Yanukovych wants to put it current unaligned status into its law. This is a fabulous idea, as far as stability goes.

In both maps (the above from 2004, the below from 2010), blue denotes Yanukovich and yellow the opposing candidate (Yuschenko in '04, Timonshenko in '10). With very few exceptions, the country shows the same split in both cases, with Yanukovych winning the pro-Russian vote and Yuschenko/Timonshenko winning the pro-Western vote.

This could easily lead to the foreign policy of Ukraine careening back and forth with every single election. Making it policy, instead, to maintain neutrality between NATO and Russia is a great way to keep policy consistent over the long-haul, and is easily in the best interest for Ukraine. However, as I don't believe letting Ukraine into NATO is in our best interest either, it's a win-win.

Unleashing Petraeus?

A while back I made a promise to myself that I would post an entry on this blog at least once a week. I think that was seven weeks ago. So, yeah, I haven’t been as committed as I should be, so I am happy that Frosty, Slim Charles and everyone else is carrying the weight for me. Anyway, I have taken a break from my normally onerous schedule of deviant sex, mind altering drugs, and face melting rock ’n roll (read: graduate school, job searching, and Civilization 3) to comment briefly about an event that happened back in mid-January. Two months ago, a team of senior military officials from CENTCOM briefed Adm. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Arab world increasingly perceived the US as being unable to control Israel, and that Israeli belligerence against the Palestinians was threatening the effectiveness of the US military in the region. Gen. Petraeus went on to request that Gaza and the West Bank be placed in CENTCOM’s area of operations (they are in EUCOM) in order to aid the perception that the US made the connection between the region’s most omnipresent conflict and its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (his request was denied). Later, Adm. Mullen paid a visit to Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi , the Israeli Chief of General Staff, impressing on him that Israel needs to see the Palestinian conflict in a broader context. More recently, the debacle between VP Joe Biden and PM Ben Netanyahu over Israel’s planned expansion into East Jerusalem illustrates the concerns that CENTCOM expressed to Adm. Mullen two months ago.

What I want to comment on very briefly is this notion of the military’s involvement in political affairs. Traditionally, the two have been kept separate: politicians give the military a political objective, the military carries it out to the best of its ability, and then it reports the end results back to the politicians who adjust the political objective accordingly. However, given the nature of post-Cold War conflicts (and by this I mean asymmetric warfare, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies) the political and military aspects of conflicts are so intertwined that the information gap between political leaders and military leaders is causing a lot of problems. Adm. Mullen gave a
speech earlier this month, in which he said that the military shouldn’t do the all the hard post-conflict work unless diplomats and development experts are capable of handling the difficult tasks involved in nation-building. The military recognizes the connection between its actions, the political environment, and the end results that it desires; but the appropriate method of addressing this connection is still very controversial. If Generals get actively involved in regional politics, don’t they start to resemble proconsuls? If they don’t get involved then doesn’t that hinder their ability to accomplish the goals outlined for them by the politicians back home?

In short, I see a tradeoff here between military effectiveness and democratic values (namely, an independent, apolitical military). In my own humble, semi-professional opinion, I feel we (the Americans) should ere on the side of democratic values, and take Adm. Mullen’s suggestions seriously and give more resources to the diplomatic organs of our government. What we have here is an agency problem, and we can correct it either by conglomerating the military and political establishments, or by increasing the coordination between them. Coordination is more expensive, but in the long run I think it will be a worthwhile investment.

So, here is my post. I will try to write more often in the future. I thought about writing on some economic issue, but honestly national security is more interesting (read: economics is pretty boring). Still, maybe later in the week I will post some riveting commentary about interest rates, and you all can listen to me rant about how much I dislike John Keynes.


I'm not sure how it's possible, but the special envoy to North Korea for the UN says that human rights there have gotten worse. It might be that all he means by this is that the famine is picking up again, but I'm not sure. (The news report is light on details.) He also wants the UN to do more, but I'm not sure what can actually be done there.


There is something just creepy about this. I commend the protesters spirits and determination, but ... using real blood? Their own blood? (Better than the blood of their enemies, sure.)

It makes me wonder why I feel it's so gross, but I know it can't be sanitary.

Now with video:
I don't have much of an opinion on the actual substance of the protests, because while I supported the Thaksin supporters during the coup, I've since seen how each side in Thailand is now using street protests to try to overturn the results of real elections.


I don't really expect much from Kentucky's legislators anymore. They've proven their ugly bigotry enough times that I can't have much hope anymore. But this is particularly disgusting:

That was passed by the Kentucky House. (You can find the full version here.) The Manhattan Declaration is a pretty extreme religious document blasting homosexuality and abortion. It also takes a strong stance against the murder of both the disabled and elderly, a position no one is currently advocating for. (You can see the whole thing here.)

12 March 2010

Track of the Day

Indonesian stability, take two

The Papua area is getting more violent, apparently, as separatists are coming to see that they have no hope of peaceful independence.

When I was young and naive, I thought that it didn't make sense for any state to try to coerce its parts into staying within that state. In other words, I supported any independence movement around. Bosnia? Sure. Kosovo? Of course. East Timor? Taiwan? Tibet? Chechnya? Abkhazia? Niger Delta? Palestine? Texas? Sure to all of them. Even if a single individual wanted to declare his land a separate country (and was willing to deal with the problems inherent in that), I was ok with it.

I've now seen how difficult such an ideal is in practice. Indonesia, as a state, could well fall apart if too many groups go the way of East Timor. Papua and Aceh both have independence movements. If they succeed, how soon before all that's left of Indonesia is just Java? Unlikely, perhaps, but I better understand now than before the worries of the Indonesian government.

That said, I think the human rights report is correct. The government needs to take measures to work with the separatists, particularly those who are willing to accept autonomy or to put autonomy to a vote. It would be far more successful than attempting to just suppress the sentiment, as it tried in East Timor.

China throwing down the gauntlet

China has demanded the Google continue censoring, or else will shut Google down.

Google might as well give up on this. China will not relent, and Chinese hackers will continue to attack Google. If Google wants out, Google should just leave. I think it'll leave a much bigger mark if Google quits than if it does as China asks.

11 March 2010


This is just too cool. Those who know me know that I'm obsessed with all things Viking related, and apparently a large mass grave of executed Vikings was found in Britain back in June. Geological and radiation analysis just identified the remains.

The most interesting thing is that these Vikings were in Anglo-Saxon England, rather than the Danelaw. It shows even more so that we often forget how easily people moved back and forth in the ancient world.

Defense Secretaries

I can't say I remember that many defense secretaries. The first one I really paid attention to was Donald Rumsfeld in 2001. (To be fair, I'd just entered college in Fall 2000.) So it's not saying much that Gates is the best I've ever known.

However, Spencer Ackerman gives a good argument for it, and I'll buy it.

Track of the Day

People like to make fun of Canadian rap, but I love this one.

Boondoggle ahoy

I was worried when the consensus plan for maintaining air superiority relied on not just scrapping the F-22, but instead buying more of the cheaper F-35 instead. Our F-15s and F-16s are still the best out there, and I want to balance our overall budget. Now, it seems that the F-35 is about to get way more expensive. (For the record, the math here is weird; it says that it's going to get 50% more expensive, but the actual figures given are 90% more expensive.)

When do we just say "screw it" and go back to the beginning?

10 March 2010

Track of the Day

I've recently started listening to psychobilly music, and I like it.

Also, as a bonus (since we didn't have one yesterday), here's what may be the first use of the word "psychobilly".


I know there are people out there who want to tax "unhealthy" foods, like soda and such. And I know there are people out there who are opposed to all forms of new taxes, even if it should have a good effect on the overall population. What I can't understand is how anyone can support the status quo:

Fixing this should be pretty obvious, and yet our dysfunctional system refuses to even touch it. We could save money and help people be healthier.

Religious freaks all over

For all we might worry in the US about theocrats taking over, I've yet to hear an American president claim that God would solve all of the country's worries. Venezuela isn't so lucky. They've had a horrible drought, which is causing the hydroelectric dams (the major source of Venezuelan electricity) to fail. Here's Chavez on that: "But it's going to rain, you'll see, because God is a 'Bolivarian.' God cannot be squalid. Nature is with us."

I believe this man's clowning at the world's expense has pretty much ended.

Tibetan-Uighur Alliance?

The Dalai Lama has come out in support of Uighur autonomy as well, and blasted China for the violence there. I'm not sure that Tibet has the forces to contribute to a Uighur-style insurgency, nor do I believe that the Dalai Lama was advocating that kind of violence.

But, we saw in 2008 that the Tibetans themselves are not opposed to the use of violence. If someone could organize them, China would have a two-front insurgency on its hands. The violence of '08 would be a potent rallying cry too.

The Dalai Lama has also claimed that China is trying to "exterminate Buddhism." This claim is wildly off the mark (the Chinese government actually subsidizes Buddhist temples and monasteries, as long as they toe the Chinese line.) It does, however, give theological cover to any Tibetans who take up arms against China. The Dalai Lama has long held that violence is unacceptable, except to defend Buddhism from existential threat. Now, he normally framed that as to prevent the death of the last Buddhist on earth, but if a Tibetan thinks that without action China will destroy the last bastion of "true" (meaning: Tibetan) Buddhism? I think they have justification now for rising up.

09 March 2010

1 point for both Lindsay Graham and Jeff Sessions

I don't like Graham. I despite Jeff Sessions. However, I will always give credit where it is due, and today it is due to each of them for standing up against Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol and acknowledging that unpopular defendants still need representation. That this is even something to be debated (much like torture) pains me deeply, but at least Graham and Sessions are against this stupid witch hunt against DoJ people doing their jobs, even as the Weekly Standard and NRO continue slandering them.

More on torture

This was unexpected, to me:

The CIA's waterboarding regimen was so excruciating, the memos show, that agency officials found themselves grappling with an unexpected development: detainees simply gave up and tried to let themselves drown. "In our limited experience, extensive sustained use of the waterboard can introduce new risks," the CIA's Office of Medical Services wrote in its 2003 memo. "Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue or psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness."

If the person under interrogation would rather die than continue the interrogation, I think we can call it torture. I've been against this from the beginning, but I'm surprised it was that horrible. It pains me that my country is guilty of this, and still obstructing justice in dealing with it.

08 March 2010

Next generation of Chinese leaders

It really shouldn't shock anyone that the next generation of Chinese leaders will be people who grew up in affluence and plenty, rather than the poverty of the revolutionary and post-revolutionary leaders. I think Matthew Yglesias gets at some of the interesting implications of this, but he does not go nearly far enough.
In policy decisions, the princelings tend to believe the future lies with advancing the interests of the middle class; the tuanpai tend to pay more attention than the princelings to vulnerable groups such as farmers, migrant workers and the urban poor.
The current Chinese regime does not do a very good job of taking care of its poor. They make an attempt, but there is a reason why riots and protests break out so often in China. (Remember: Every year sees 10%+ growth in "incidents of social unrest.") The poor in China lack basic necessities like clean drinking water and safe baby formula.

If the next generation pay even less attention to the poor, the whole country will end up falling down around them. The poor are still the vast majority of the country; without some kind of attempt to spread the wealth China is accumulating, the nation will fall.

Appalled would be a good word...

I guess I should just be happy that the "Patriots for a Moral Utah" are merely planning on exiling all gays, rather than just killing them.

I'm not entirely sure this is even a real group or that any real legislation will be proposed. No one with an ounce of sense would refer to something they were planning as a "final solution" to anything. No real anti-gay group would be offering state-funded transportation out for all homosexuals. (Also, I wonder if that's going to be open-ended...what about all the gay babies that haven't yet been born? Is this going to be an on-going gay entitlement? And will you have to pass a gay test, or could any straight boy who just hates Utah be allowed?) Also, if you read the actual bill, there is no money allocated for doing this, despite it saying that the state would provide transportation. (A link to the original document can be found here.) Also, it's definition of homosexual is extremely broad. Any person who has even kissed someone else of the same-sex counts under this proposed law. European ladies, you'll have to stay out of Utah. It's also blatantly illegal, as it asserts that any protests or rallies to "denounce" the law will be considered illegal conduct.

Most importantly, though, is that it will never pass. There is no evidence that the purported group even exists (a google search only brings up this one press conference), nor have any actual politicians signed on to this. Great publicity stunt, and nothing else.

Track of the Day

Just because.

China/US tensions

China is apparently pressuring the US to play nicer. They're upset that we're selling more arms to Taiwan (which the knew we would do) and that Obama met with the Dali Lama (which they knew would happen). China's also upset over Google claiming that the hackers who attacked them were from China, and that SecState Clinton criticized Chinese human rights abuses.

There is nothing remotely new in any of this. I hope China realizes that complaining about these things will get it nowhere.

Reputation and North Korea

It's not news that I (like every other rational person) find North Korea mystifying. I can only assume that it is speaking to a domestic audience when it makes foolish announcements, such as saying that current war games between the US and ROK are the preparations for an invasion. If this was the first time the US and ROK forces had done these war games, then it would be mistaken but understandable. However, these are yearly war games. No one else in the world takes this seriously, and thus it harms the DPRK's own reputation for honesty.

I guess the DPRK is going to (once again) sell its people on the idea that the evil US-ROK military had planned on attacking, but were deterred by the DPRK mobilization.

06 March 2010

Chinese threat, again

I know that it's likely a dead horse by now, but one more for the "China is not a threat" column. For the first time in years, Chinese military growth is comfortably less than double digits. It will only rise 7.5% this year to $78b.

(Remember: US military spending in 2010 will be $636b for DoD alone. In other words, we're still spending 9x China on defense.)

For another way of looking at it, China will be spending 1% of GDP, to the US's 3.5%.

The Results of Foreign Policy Failure: Somalia

The NYT has a really interesting article up today about how the US is providing some support for an upcoming Somali TFG offensive in Mogadishu against Shabab and related groups. However, it makes only passing reference to some of the foreign policy failures of the past two decades such as the invasion in the 90s, the CIA campaign to back warlords against the ICU prior to the Ethiopian invasion, and backing the Ethiopian invasion. Helpfully though, the online article does provide links to some of those old NYT stories. This sort of gives you a clearer understanding of how the current foreign policy problem is a product of past foreign policy mistakes. It's a case study in how not to approach failed states and possible terrorist havens.

05 March 2010

Traveling today

I'll be gone all day, so no real posting. Here's a track of the day for you:

04 March 2010

About time

John Kerry has called for an end to the ban on gay men donating blood. It has long been one of the most ridiculous bits of anti-gay discrimination, right up there with DADT. The original rationale may have had some merit, since AIDS was an overwhelmingly gay disease at the time and there were no methods for detecting it, but today there are more non-gay people with AIDS than gay people, and there are methods for detecting it.

Tangentially, this makes me feel better about the Red Cross. I had long heard of people boycotting the Red Cross because they refused to accept gay blood, and I had not realized that the Red Cross was forbidden by law to accept it. I'm glad to see them also pushing for this.

Track of the Day

I love fantasy, and especially urban fantasy, as much as anyone, but the idea of a Magic: The Gathering movie worries me deeply. I played it often as a teen, and I can't imagine what they are going to do to make it contemporary or even approachable by non-Magic-playing-geeks.

North Korea

1) DailyNK has an interesting breakdown of what went so wrong with the attempt by North Korea to do away with all the black markets, and why it was impossible during that time to get food from the government markets. There are a lot of parts to it, but in general there was no incentive for farmers to sell (as the government price was 1/10th the black market price), no incentive for the government markets to buy and resell (and the buying price was twice the selling price), and no ability to smuggle it in from China (as foreign currency was banned). It's like a trifecta of dumb.

2) North Korea is also apparently making widespread use of DDT and PCBs, the way that Americans did prior to the 60s. I do not know much about PCBs, but I know that DDT is generally restricted to killing mosquitoes that carry malaria. The UN report about this says that the North Koreans are gravely endangering their own health and that of their neighbors with these chemicals.
Both of these news stories have one thing in common. They both show an utter lack of knowledge about modern science (economics and chemistry) that the rest of the world possesses. North Korean isolation is killing them, and they appear to prefer it that way.

03 March 2010

Israeli military reputation

Israel has one of the finest military reputations in the world. Their soldiers are smart, brave, and very very good.

So how the hell did they box this up so badly? Seriously? Someone put the details on Facebook?

This is exactly the kind of thing that will keep US servicepeople from full internet access.

Track of the Day

Gorillaz have a new album out, and I haven't had much chance to listen to it. However, it makes me remember how much I love this track, and so here it is:

All of the actual video versions have embedding disabled, but the video is a large part of the awesomeness. Find it here.

More on Tasers

Apparently, one of my hometown channels is going to be doing a special on the overuse of Tasers by the Louisville Metro Police Department. Here's the teaser:

Sadly, none of this really surprises me any more. When police have gotten away with tasing old ladies and school children, it really does seem like anything will result in a taser use. I don't live in Louisville currently, so I'm going to have to watch this online (hopefully). My fingers are crossed that the powers that be will do something about the situation. (Doubtful.)

(Thanks to my favorite Louisville radical for posting this to Facebook. More info here.)

In terror news that has nothing to do with the US

I'm glad to see India making progress against the Maoists. I know enough to be somewhat skeptical of any such headlines (how many "top Taliban" or "top AQ" leaders has the US taken out?), but it's still a good thing. Moreover, I'm glad he was arrested and will be tried, rather than just killed. Two things:

1) He was an engineer.

2) Despite being the mastermind of the worst attacks in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Despite this, he is going to be tried and treated like the criminal he is. Good for India.

02 March 2010

No idea is truly new

Once again, people are talking about asking China to help with securing Afghanistan. I've covered this topic before, at my old blog (which was ported to this one).

China has a large interest particularly in killing the Uyghur terrorists who train there. If this is why the US took out a Uyghur leader in Pakistan, and it ends up bringing in China on our terms, then bully for us and hooray. China has a lot to offer, in terms of money and men.

However, if China instead seeks a completely free hand, it should not be accepted. Chinese counterinsurgency tends to be "kill, kill, kill" without any subtlety, and in fact has likely made the Uyghur insurgency far worse than it would have been on its own.

We should keep them out of Afghanistan until the leaders have read "Accidental Guerrilla."

Track of the Day

For anyone feeling down about health care (or anything else for that matter):

North Korean bravado

Once upon a time, I thought that North Korea really had goals it was trying to achieve through negotiations. Not anymore. The US and South Korea have extended every possible hand, but North Korea just continues to dig in deeper. The recent in-depth studies of North Korean propaganda also show us the world's premier fascist state, unrivaled in the modern world in xenophobia.

Uygher Terrorist leader dead

Apparently, the US used a drone strike to kill one of the leaders of a Uyghur separatist/terrorist group a few weeks ago.

While I have no fuzzy feelings for terrorists, and am generally ok with the (limited, targeted, careful) use of drones, I was feeling pretty confused by this one. Was this guy somehow supplying AQ and the Taliban? Was he recruiting Uyghurs to join them?

Apparently, he was the leader of "Al-Qaeda in China". A group with a track record of zero and not remotely dedicated to the destruction of US interests.

There is nothing to state why he, above various real Taliban/AQ figures, should be a target. The Chinese government has long wanted him dead, but that shouldn't be enough reason for the US to go after him. Every drone strike is expensive, not in dollars, but in goodwill and on-ground assistance.

This leads to more questions. Did Pakistan want him dead? China has been pressuring Pakistan to deal with him, apparently. Was this part of some kind of deal with China? Or just a gesture of faith and solidarity? I would really like the reasoning behind this particular strike.

01 March 2010

New bombers for Russia?

Is this such a good idea for Russia? Bombers are the most obsolete part of the "nuclear triad", and tomorrow's wars will not be fought with them. Even if I am wrong on this count, it is pretty obvious that manned aircraft are also pretty obsolete.

I figure this is probably all about resurgent Russian pride, but shouldn't you be more proud of items that actually help your overall security?

Track of the Day

Ignore the actual video (I couldn't find anything like an official video), and just let the song wash over you. I've never actually been to Los Angeles, but I'd like to some day.


I'm sure we all have parts of the world that we have a soft spot for, despite having no good reason. One such place for me has long been the Baltics, for being the first to throw off the Soviet Union and for being the best run post-Soviet states.

Therefore, it makes me very sad to see Lithuania pass an ugly anti-gay bill. I know squat about it, except that it criminalizes even teaching kids about homosexuality. It's not Uganda bad, but it's still terrible, and I hope that the EU forces Lithuania to revoke it.

Panchen Lama

China is trying to elevate the status of its pet lama, the government-supported Panchen Lama.

For a quick background, the Panchen Lama is right behind the Dalai Lama in terms of holiness and importance. In fact, the Panchen Lama is thought to be the incarnation of one of the most important buddhas, Amitabha, and is the one responsible for finding the most recent incarnation of the Dalai Lama when the last incarnation dies. Reciprocally, the Dalai Lama is tasked with finding the new Panchen Lama when the previous one dies.

Therefore, under tradition, the last "real" Panchen Lama is dead or in a prison somewhere, after the Chinese government took him into "protective custody" while it set up its own Panchen Lama instead.

The child in prison

The "real" Panchen Lama has been missing for about 15 years. Originally, the Chinese government said they wanted to protect him from "separatist forces" that would try to use him. However, he's turning 20 this year, and yet there has been almost no word about him since he was taken 15 years ago.

All of this background is to show my amazement that the Chinese government is trying to give "their" Panchen Lama any extra publicity. For, after kidnapping this child, the Chinese government selected the son of two party members to be the Panchen Lama.

China's choice

Now, they are elevating him to a top government board. I don't think anything could be designed to further delegitimize either China or its choice for Panchen Lama. Nearly every Tibetan separatist group smolders over the abduction of the Dalai Lama's choice, and there are almost no Tibetan Buddhists who accept China's choice. (In fact, China's choice lives in Beijing most of the time for this very reason.) I know that China is hoping for the day the Dalai Lama dies, and hopes everyone will accept their Panchen's claim to picking the next one (and with it the end of the symbol of Tibetan autonomy), but I highly doubt this is going to work.