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Total number of comments: 34 (since 2013-11-28 15:54:38)

hquain

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  • Mosul w/out Christians for First time in 1,900 Years as Radical Fundamentalists Threaten Minorities
    • Suppose, as seems likely, that the Iraqi army is not any kind of organized military force at all --- just a ghost structure built of corruption and delusion, erected after all the competent (or even semi-competent), experienced people were ejected from the army by the US occupation authorities. Who then is going to unseat ISIS, which gives signs of being organized? Not the ragtag 'militias'. One could even imagine a collapse so thorough as to include Baghdad and the central government, which would certainly earn the name of disaster.

      Two options come to mind, and I'd appreciate comment on their plausibility. One is the Syrian army. This seem quite improbable, giving its current engagement in protecting Assad by destroying much of Syria. The other is the Iranian army. Presumably, a few divisions of actual troops, with actual officers and with air support, could squelch ISIS. This seems politically dodgy on multiple fronts: the Sunni-dominated areas where ISIS has its hold will not welcome them or cooperate; the US and Saudi Arabia would go bonkers. If neither military option is possible, it looks like we're back to disaster as the most likely outcome.

  • Obama Prepares for Drone War in Iraq
    • Obama may not be old enough to remember Vietnam, but isn't that why we have books? There's really no excuse for parrotting 1964 in 2014.

  • Obama's Just Right Foreign Policy
    • It's amazing how even in a reasonable take like this one, there a background presupposition that the US foreign adventures of the postwar era somehow provide a model of strength that should only be regretfully abandoned because the world has now become such a different, multipolar place. The merely factual history of interventions, machinations, coups, wars, and 'intelligence failures' is almost unremittingly dismal. The rational onlooker might say: maybe it's time to try something that could at least have a less direct relationship to disaster.

  • The GOP, Race and Ted Nugent: If you won't Denounce Nazi Insults, What does that Say about You?
    • The upside of the re-emergence of racist talk in American discourse post 2008 is its unashamed explicitness. The foghorn not the dogwhistle is the political instrument of the 21st century.

      "Hitler gave racism a bad name: before Hitler everyone was a racist." So a sardonic friend once remarked. We're now very much post-post-Hitler. This is all part of the Great Transition, getting over the liberal oddities of the period 1930-1980 in US history.

  • Kerry Blasts Climate Denialists, equates Climate Change with Terrorism, WMDs
    • Blast from the past! Looking to the left and looking to the right at the top of your page (2/18/2014), I realize that 2016 will be Kerry vs. Romney. Or at least, they'd like it to be. Very 21st century to circle around tightly, chasing the re-invented tail.

  • Walt Whitman's "Salut au Monde" (Poem of the Day)
    • Thanks! Readers might enjoy the droll take by Borges on something like the same theme in his story "El Aleph." The text can be found on the web.

  • Planet Tahrir: The Coming Mass Demonstrations against Climate Change (Klare)
    • "In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution."

      Why should we imagine that 'mass upheavals' will lead to an unambiguously positive and revolutionary change? A few examples would be comforting. Usually they lead to a state of instability which settles into control by a new elite --- or, often enough, the same old one, invigorated.

  • American Writers are Self-Censoring to Avoid NSA Scrutiny (McCauley)
    • Any ordinary soul who doesn't avoid certain topics and phrases in email is playing a dangerous game. It used to be that 'email is forever and easily replicable' was the chastening constraint. Everybody knows now that at least the NSA and google.com are keeping & mining your text, and they are not your friends.

  • It wasn't Arafat who was Assassinated but the Palestinian People
    • "There will be no Palestine, and the Palestinians are doomed to be a stateless people, a people without the right to have rights."

      As JC has himself established, never more potently than through the maps which show the transformation of a green region into a salting of green dots, this has the status of simple fact. So it's time to recalibrate away from a tone of crypto-optimistic outrage, and simply take it as established: a premise from which conclusions may be coldly drawn.

  • How the US Government Betrayed the Constitution and invented an Imaginary Fascist One
    • There may be a simple dynamic here that, although it subserves fascism in this case, is not of a piece with it. Namely: people can be counted on to use the tools they have in hand, and also (alas) not to spend a lot of time assessing and dealing with the problems that face them. It's technically feasible to gather immense amounts of data, and this gives the appearance of being a vigorous intelligence activity. It's of little interest to the doer whether there's an actual favorable outcome, as long as there's hustle and expenditure, which there is in plenty.

      9/11 happened because the FBI and CIA were not in communication with each other, because the mentally ill Cheney was in charge and in the grips of delusions about the capabilities of non-state actors, and even perhaps because the Republicans made every effort to diminish Clinton's effectiveness in the late 90's. There was plenty of intelligence of exactly the right kind. But post 9/11 a few quiet organizational changes were not going fill the bill. Along the same lines, replacing professional interrogators with bumbling torturers might not seem like the most effective course of action --- but effectiveness was not the top priority.

  • How America's 'Espionage Empire' is Paid for: The 'Black Budget' (Queally)
    • With nothing more than simple competence and functional lines of inter-agency communication, the 9/11 attacks would have been stopped. The most effective countermeasure? -- locking the door to the pilot's cabin. With standard interrogation techniques used by trained interrogators, the network could have been unwound rapidly. With simple, direct tactics, Osama bin Laden would have been caught at Tora Bora. With attention to the obvious, the assault on Irag would have never even been contemplated.

      The $50B/yr --- or make it $75B/yr, all told --- seems like one more chapter in an increasingly intricate history of avoidance.

  • Military-Ruled Egypt Opposes US Strike on Syria
    • Putting aside that fact that no limited, punitive strike has ever punished anyone into good behavior and can only become effective when unlimited, we have to credit Team Obama with reaching an astonishing level of paint-yourself-into-a-public-corner blundering.

      It would be really interesting to know who is generating this kind of 'policy'.

  • Eight things to consider before intervening in Syria (ECFR)
    • Isn't it really a lot simpler than this? If we know one thing about air strikes, it's that it takes a whole lot of them to do serious damage. There's simply no way that Team O's flyswatter-level attack is going to have any military effect.

      So don't do it.

  • Is the US Government the Managing Committee of the Pirate Banks?
    • It doesn't seem completely right to speak of The American President as "captive to powerful interests." That's like saying that the actor playing Hamlet is captive to the script. The actor might have personal 'instincts' in the sense that, were he in a similar situation, he'd do something different. Nothing could be more irrelevant to the job.

      It's increasingly plausible to think of Obama in this way. He gave a stirring performance as The Democratic Candidate back in '08. Elected, he embraced the role of American President with the same level of commitment.

      As a thought experiment, it might be worth while to ponder this question: will the US ever have a progressive president? I'm not seeing how this could realistically come about, given the current machinery and ownership of the state.

  • Police Clear Taksim Square: Turkey's Protests and the Neoliberal Market (Cole interview)
    • We seem to be in a kind of anti-60's. The occupy movement is wiped out in 2 weeks of "uncoordinated" police action, all local authorities using the same federally-supplied equipment and the same tactics(and therefore in no need of coordination). Across the world, longings for democracy, or at least representation, are expressed, crushed or supplanted, and fade. Authoritarian structures refine their techniques, and nobody much cares, as along as trade flourishes. Most curious.

  • Woman in Red (Turkish Police Spray Tear Gas on Modern Young Protester)
    • "Having technically and tactically advanced police serving a conservative government is among the paradoxes against which the young protesters are mobilizing."

      I'm not convinced that this is a paradox, except verbally. 'Conservative' regimes want and need the latest means of projecting force --- ignorance of modern military technology is not one of the virtues of the past that they wish to 'conserve'.

      Perhaps the term 'conservative' ought simply to be retired. It tends to denote little more than an authoritarianism that draws its sustaining myths from a fictionalized past. We have 'leftist' commonly used for their more-or-less opposite numbers who lay claim to an equally fictional and inauthentic future. Maybe we should work to rehabilitate 'rightist' as a term of ordinary discourse.

  • The Conservative Logic of Ferguson's Smears of Gays, Muslims, Obama and Krugman
    • Lost in the '30's tonight? The 20's? Ferguson's line is doubly weird in that it is long absent from the attitudes associated with serious universities, which are by and large islands of anxiety-free diversity.

      I suspect alcohol and the loss of boundaries that comes with too-long adulation: playing out over a substrate of Mitt-like opportunism.

  • WaPo says Gasoline Price Increase Mysterious, Ignores US blockade of Iran Oil!
    • This is a striking insight into a kind of systematic blindness. Do standard outlets ever focus on the broader effects of policies that are deemed intrinsically noble?

      U.S.wars are treated as essentially free. And the massive, absurd reaction to 9/11 cost the U.S. trillions, apparently.

      By contrast, any government steps to sustain a decent society must be viewed first and foremost as expenditures of our vital essence -- money.

      One could imagine that this asymmetry is driven by cynical calculation on somebody's part -- but more likely, as the newspaper level, it's just an ethos.

  • Top Ten Republican Myths on Benghazi that Justify Hillary Clinton's Anger
    • What's interesting, if not new, is how reckless the Rs are in pushing an internal advantage.

      It's hard to construct a rationale for their behavior: 'rationale' in the sense of the word that retains a connection to 'rational' and avoids reference to cynicism, stupidity, and mental illness.

      This is also one more confirmation of the under-noted fact that "all-lies-all-the-time" was not just a campaign strategy.

  • Alex Jones, Gun control, and White Terrorism
    • Anhistorical wishful thinking. The revolting colonies won with a paid, trained army and a lot of help from foreign professionals, especially the French, whose fleet was not sailed by farmers. Washington was particularly unenthusiastic about guerrilla-type war.

      Militias were notoriously unreliable, not just because they went home to farm but because they tended to flee the battlefield.

  • Republicans Tip world off to covert CIA Role in Libya
    • Too much to hope for, but isn't it about time that the US govt took steps to deal with rightist elements embedded in its political structure that are seeking to undermine it?

      That's how we'd put it if we were looking at another country.

      Whatever the laws are in the letter, it must be the case that the executive branch has the resources to harass these enemies of the state into ineffectiveness. Come on, Dems, let's see some spine --- or at least hints of a nervous system.

  • Romney Jumps the Shark: Libya, Egypt and the Butterfly Effect
    • "In the older model of Newtonian physics, small events have small effects and large events have large effects, so you wouldn’t expect a minor action to produce big changes."

      Newtonian/Modern isn't quite the right distinction here. After all, the weather works on purely Newtonian principles. Newtonian gravitation in the celestial sphere also gives splendid, incomprehensibly complicated effects of the type you allude to when more than 2 bodies are involved. An excellent, accessible reference is Ivar Ekelund, Mathematics and the Unexpected.

  • Tampa Area Republicans terrified of Tea Party, Ryan (Guzzo)
    • What's the support for the demographic & structural claims in this article? Guzzo seems to have his heart in something like the right place, but his methodology appears to involve little more than talking to a very small number of people who view the TP as social inferiors. Unreliable in the best of times, selective interviewing simply has no hope of penetrating, or even factually characterizing, the turbid TP phenomenon.

      This strategy ends up playing to the nostalgic trope of the decent Republican of yesteryear. True, we can't quite remember them having *done* very much that qualifies as decent in all those decades --- but it's comforting to live in a symmetric world where we all share the same "values" and differ politely over details of implementation.

      I was at a suburban pool party at about this time during the last presidential election. A border state -- and not with Mexico or Canada. "He's really an illegal alien, you know" -- this drifts into my hearing from a table of nodding red-faced one- and two-percenters. Not a mullet in sight.

  • Dear Rep. King: Meet a Pregnant Rape Victim
    • Cole has made a connection with a major source of horror that I, at least, haven't seen discussed in the current abortion go-round.

      The only upside to 2012 politics is that the hardcore TP types are giving free public voice to their vileness, as if they were chatting among friends. Even Ryan may no longer be able to hide behind his vague numbers much longer.

      They are rapidly turning the election into a referendum on insanity. One wonders how it will play out.

  • How to Cuddle with an Elephant Seal
    • Best guess: juvenile, female, southern elephant seal.

      Grounds for belief: pictures at Google images + this:

      South Georgia has been a host for six species of seals. Elephant and fur seals are the most common.

      The Antarctic Fur Seal (Arctocephalus gazella) and the Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina) have large breeding populations at South Georgia, whereas the Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) is restricted to a single, small colony.

      Non-breeding Leopard Seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) are recorded year-round, most especially during the winter months and may (rarely) have bred in the area. Crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophagus) and sub-Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus tropicalis) are very occasional visitors.

      link to sgwiki.gs

  • Dear President Obama: On Iran, Listen to the Israelis, not the Likud
    • Might it not be that this isn't primarily a matter of listening, but of political calculation? This could be one key:

      "The Likud actually got fewer seats than its main rival..."

      indicating that Netanyahu is himself not in a stable position and is posturing belligerently because he needs that posture. It's hard to believe that on either the US or Israeli side, the military is really behind the folly of attack. Obama has to thread the election season, which requires appearing security-strong, a status best obtained by bluster and gangland-style hits rather than big, messy, ambiguous bombing assaults. He's also can't be seen playing geek (anymore) to Netanyahu's Zed. So both "allies" --- I almost wrote "sides" --- are perhaps as interested in playing each other for local political advantage as they are in blowing up things in Iran, where the classic boa constrictor style of US-led economic warfare seems to be the actual order of the day.

  • South Carolina & Gingrich, Egypt & the Muslim Brotherhood
    • The uniquely valuable force of your discussion today is its emphasis on 'attribution'. The reality is that we have little or no idea why voters did what they did in either country. A set of stock explanations is pulled off the shelf, with great confidence, every time, making journalists seem like sober-faced socio-political analysts.

      One explanation virtually never considered is that voters are simply going with the perceived flow --- doing what others are doing, just because others are perceived as doing it. In the S.C. case, there's some evidence for this: the NYT all but headlines the fact: "Many Voters Moved to Gingrich With Days, or Moments, Left."

      The sense of flow, these days, is created not by personal contact but via media coverage. Gingrich surges! -- in media citations, and therefore in the polls, which are dutifully fed-back into yet-more-excited assertions of surging support, which yield yet more go-with-flow supporters, etc.

      Because there is nothing (or very little) in the way of solid support for any candidate, and because the campaign is structured as a sequence of local events with local topics dominant, the feedback bubble pops rather quickly. It seems to me that this gives a pretty good model of the wild fluctuations of the Republican primary season. The voters approach with some sort of generic orientation, and artifactual surges are created by the electoral process itself.

      It's worth noting that the illusion of substance is maintained by the standard polling techniques: these are essentially forced-choice quizzes. The choices are drawn from the motifs of the standard narrative. Not included: 'everybody else seems to be going for him -- or so I hear'.

  • Al-`Awlaqi Should have been Tried in Absentia
    • It seems to me that the procedure followed was significantly worse than 'lawless'. According to widely-published reports, a secret DOJ memo was constructed to justify its legality. What's happened, then, is the substitution of a star-chamber-like action, with full formal trappings, for 'due process'.

      We now apparently have a full-fledged legal mechanism in place, in the hands of whoever controls the executive branch. This is Obama's real contribution: building structure around the Cheney-Bush initiatives, which are therefore 'rogue' no more.

  • Casio Watches an Arresting Offense in Afghanistan: Wikileaks on Guantanamo
  • Afghan Protests against Qur'an-Burning cause Deaths
    • Does this perhaps represent the spread of mass protests, albeit with a violent edge, from the Mid-east proper to Afghanistan?

      If so, we could have the US more-or-less supporting peaceful transitions in Tunisia and Egypt, actively supporting violent transition in Libya, covertly supporting violent suppression in the Saudi area, and itself the object of mass civil pressure in Afghanistan (and therefore itself acting to suppress?). Yikes.

  • Arab League Requests UNSC to Impose No-Fly Zone
    • The military necessity is clearly to neutralize Qaddafi's advantage in machinery -- airplanes, tanks, ships. NFZ is a kind of metaphor for that.

      Don't the members of the Arab League themselves have sufficient forces of the right kind to do something useful on their own hook?

  • The Karzai Problem in Afghanistan: Wikileaks
    • It may be a bit of stretch to look for an over-arching cause structuring US actions at this point. To a large extent, we are enmeshed in a dynamical system, where the current state is calculated from the immediately previous state, rather than from a global goal.

      We are in Afghanistan today because we were there yesterday. It's hard to break the dynamic or even steer it. Global goals appear as post hoc explanations. Lacking a sudden change of phase -- like the one signaled by the arrival of the NVA in Saigon -- we can hope that the energy in the system dissipates through friction of various sorts and the whole thing just winds down. The consequences, of course, will not dissipate in the same way.

  • Blair, Hitchens Debate Religion
    • There are two very distinct questions mingled here -- only one of which has any kind of answer.

      1. Truth. An unassailable argument against religion is that it depends on propositions that are false, meaningless, or incoherent. It's just a bad idea, pure and simple, to give up on rationality and on the only methods we've ever developed that leads us to facts about the world.

      2. Utility. Has the practice of religion had a net positive or a net negative effect? Is it good or bad, better or worse (than what?)? This question is unanswerable because there's no measure that can be applied (piling up anecdotes is not a replacement), and because we're in a forced choice situation where the effects of the choices are unknown and unknowable. Hitchens does no one a favor by fulminating on this almost meaningless question.

  • McChrystal Drama is Sideshow;
    Can Obama define a realistic Goal?
    • Here's a follow-up question: what would a "realistic set of goals" consist of? We can enumerate the possibilities easily enough ourselves... should any at all come to any mind.

      I'd suggest that Afghanistan represents the typical situation in which global 'goals' are generated post hoc to cover for a complex dynamical process that is dominated by a multitude of contending forces and incentives, themselves often quite local in scope if not in impact.

      The military -- one of the actors now and no mere tool -- has set up shop in Pentagonistan, a wealthy country all of its own that overlies the Afghan wretchedness, where new hardware and software is beta-tested in an endless live-fire exercise, where the officer corps gets its promotion-worthy combat cred, where McChrystal Pasha and his like inflate their theories of dominion and control, cushioned by inexhaustible billions. They don't need goals; they have plentiful incentives to stay the course from week to week, month to month, year to year.

      Other networks of advantage, real and imagined, can surely be discerned in the worlds inhabited by each of the parties to the situation, starting with simple inertia (change itself being costly) and branching out in many directions, at many scales.

      The question, then, is what the use would be of declaring a set of goals, even 'realistic' ones, should they exist. Perhaps they could serve temporarily as a force in the local calculus, pushing us to get out sooner rather than later; but we shouldn't think of the situation as one controlled by long-term goals, so that all we have to do is pick the right ones to control it.

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