Mon 2 May 2011
I imagine there are some very pointed questions being asked in Pakistan right now.
But hey, it managed to wipe the royal wedding entirely off CNN’s site — that’s success in my book.
Mon 2 May 2011
I imagine there are some very pointed questions being asked in Pakistan right now.
But hey, it managed to wipe the royal wedding entirely off CNN’s site — that’s success in my book.
Thu 11 Nov 2010
God, I really hate articles like this:
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Changes in the global pecking order are coming.
As western nations face stunted economic growth and years of painful budget-slashing ahead, developing nations like China, Brazil, India and Russia are slowly moving up on the world stage.
Look, people, “pecking order” implies that the person with the #1 world GDP “wins” and gets some special benefit because of that ranking. That’s simply not how this works. Do we really need more pointless status contests between nations? The only thing that matters is the absolute numbers, not the relative ones. If China is going up, that is good for everyone. If the US is going down (it isn’t) that is bad for everyone.
The United States is struggling to hit 2.7% growth for the year, while emerging economies, which also include smaller countries mostly in Asia and Latin America, are collectively on track for 7.1% growth for the year.
Jesus, how can you state these numbers without the real figures? Smaller percentages of bigger numbers can be larger in real terms for the citizens of those countries. And, more importantly, you simply can’t make these kind of comparisons and say “well that means the US is screwing up.” Or things like this:
So where did these countries get it right while western superpowers got it so wrong?
God damn. The reason developing economies grow faster than developed economies is because they’re catching up. You can’t compare the two. If you compare two nations with similar conditions, and one’s growth rate is higher, then we can talk. Comparing China and the US on percentage GDP growth is pointless.
And while we’re on the topic of pointless comparisons, there’s no point to comparing GDP without talking per capita, which apparently at least someone the article author interviewed was willing to say:
Even if China does become the world’s largest economy, its population is roughly 4.5 times bigger than that of the U.S., making it difficult for China to catch up to the American standard of living, said Jay Bryson, global economist with Wells Fargo.
This undermines the whole “pecking order” comment — and the entire tone of the article. There is no meaningful information to be gained from knowing who has the highest GDP. It’s pointless, and just talking about it puts it in the frame that somehow China would be “beating us” if they had a higher GDP, as if that would be bad for us.
Higher per capita growth, in any country, is good for every other country. If somehow, every other country got to be higher than us (without US growth being negative), and we were dead last on the rankings — it would still be good for us. In fact, it would be incredibly good — because it would mean that billions of people around the world had exited poverty and would now have immense resources to develop new technologies that we would benefit from, or buy our stuff, or sell us their stuff. To slightly rework a great quote:
There is a single light of [economic progress], and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.
Wed 8 Sep 2010
Mon 2 Aug 2010
If this is for real, I’ll take back 6.4 bad things I’ve said about Obama:
The Obama administration’s planned drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq is proceeding “as promised” and should lead to an end of America’s combat mission there by the end of August, President Barack Obama said Monday.
Plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 50,000 by the end of this month are on schedule
Only 50k by end of August? Damn. Nice.
A full withdrawal of American troops from Iraq is scheduled to occur by the end of next year.
Even so, none of the 6.4 criticisms I take back will be those about Afghanistan:
Obama defended his decision to increase U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan — a decision criticized by some of the more liberal members of his own party. He said the military has now gone on the offensive against extremist elements, and took issue with critics who claim the U.S. end game in Afghanistan remains poorly defined.
Ah well, one outta two ain’t bad.
Fri 9 Jul 2010
What the hell is the point of all this? No offense to the people who are actually in the conflict, but this stuff is pretty peanuts. The one and only one thing that makes this conflict worthy of news attention (and the requisite monitoring of acceptable media opinions) is the fact that the US is involved.
Here are two facts that I think everyone, on every side, can agree on:
All of this points to one question: why the hell are we involved in this? I asked this question 10 and 20 years ago. As a kid, I always heard about the problems in the Middle East and I always asked myself: why would anyone ever want to get involved there? It just seems like sticking your hand in a wasp’s nest. Despite thinking we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq, I think that was more justified than being involved in the Israeli/Palestinian thing, which doesn’t seem to provide any benefit to us at all.
Just walk away. The shame here isn’t that Thomas or Nasr got fired for saying the wrong thing, god knows I would have fired them both long ago for simply just not being very good, but that the topic they were talking about was considered important enough that anyone cared what their opinions were. Why not ask them about their opinions on Maoists in Nepal? Or (up until recently) the Tamil Tigers? Or FARC? Or the near-civil war in Mexico? Or the Georgian conflict? Or Tibet? Or Taiwan? Hell, there’s a half dozen things happening in China and India alone that involve more people and more land. All of these things seem a hell of a lot more important than what is, objectively speaking, an absolutely tiny territorial (seriously, look at the actual acreage of land that is actually in debate) conflict in a backwater (other than the Heisenberg-esque ability of American involvement to grant subjective importance) part of the world.
I am sure there are lots of stupid things that these two people believe that we could slam them for. I’m not arguing against that. I’m arguing against the concept that it should be a newsworthy (or employment-determining) item what any American thinks about Israel or Palestine.
Just walk away, Uncle Sam. Now, to be fair, I’ve ignored the elephant in the room; which is that to Christian, Muslim and Jewish Americans, this part of the world really does have vast subjective importance. But I don’t think it’s crazy to say we shouldn’t base our international policy on places that were important to our religions centuries ago.
Tue 6 Jul 2010
A few weeks back I thought that Stephen Hawking’s warning about not revealing ourselves to aliens was too late:
if highly infrequent Earth-like planets gave rise to even a few societies that needed a large quantity of those planets to sustain itself, they would already be here, subjugating us, because they would have had millions of years to search them out.
So it’s great to see Seth Shostak saying the same thing:
The earliest episodes of I Love Lucy have washed over 6000 or so star systems, and are reaching new audiences at the rate of one solar system a day. If there are sentient beings out there, the signals will reach them.
Detecting this leakage radiation won’t be that difficult. Its intensity decreases with the square of the distance, but even if the nearest aliens were 1000 light years away, they would still be able to detect it as long as their antenna technology was a century or two ahead of ours.
While I was focusing on “aliens who want Earth-like planets,” Shostak is talking about aliens who would be interested in (hurting) us specifically, which I think is even less likely (as I assume that earth-like-planets are more common than earth-like-planets-with-sentients), but the same logic applies: if humans (or Earth) are things that some malevolent alien force wants to have, there is absolutely nothing we can do to prevent them detecting either our planet or our transmissions.
Thu 17 Jun 2010
At the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in December 1986, reformers, upset by the lack of economic progress after the Vietnam War, replaced the “old guard” with new leadership. The reformers were led by 71 year-old Nguyen Van Linh, who became the party’s new general secretary. Linh was a native of northern Vietnam who had served in the south both during and after the war. In a historic shift, the reformers implemented free-market reforms known as Đổi Mới (renovation), which carefully managed the transition from a command economy to a “socialist-oriented market economy“.
With the authority of the state remaining unchallenged, private ownership of farms and companies engaged in commodity production, deregulation and foreign investment were encouraged while the state maintained control over strategic industries. The economy of Vietnam subsequently achieved rapid growth in agricultural and industrial production, construction and housing, exports and foreign investment.
For those keeping score, the United States left in 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War. That means in only 11 years, a communist state that literally defeated the most powerful capitalist nation on the battlefield… voluntarily turned to free market reforms; even before the collapse of the Soviet Union was apparent. They even managed to defeat the communist Khmer Rouge (though for some moronic reason we apparently supported them?) in the bargain. So, the US lost the war, but instead of a sequence of countries falling to Communism via the Domino theory, the exact opposite happened — Vietnam liberalized economically and even fought wars with two communist countries (China and Cambodia) in the meantime. So is this the reverse domino theory?
Edit: I remember reading that both Vietnam and Cambodia have relatively high approval ratings of the US, but I can’t find where I read that — the only data I can find on global US approval rates is the BBC study, but they didn’t include either country. If anyone knows where to find this, let me know.
Tue 15 Jun 2010
From Johann Hari (via Radley Balko):
Who now defends alcohol prohibition? Is there a single person left? This echoing silence should suggest something to us. Ending drug prohibition seems like a huge heave, just as ending alcohol prohibition did. But when it is gone, when the drug gangs are a bankrupted memory, when drug addicts are treated not as immoral criminals but as ill people needing health care, who will grieve?
By 1926, he [Capone] and his fellow gangsters were making $3.6 billion a year—in 1926 money! To give some perspective, that was more than the entire expenditure of the U.S. government. The criminals could outbid and outgun the state. So they crippled the institutions of a democratic state and ruled, just as drug gangs do today in Mexico, Afghanistan, and ghettos from South Central Los Angeles to the banlieues of Paris. They have been handed a market so massive that they can tool up to intimidate everyone in their area, bribe many police and judges into submission, and achieve such a vast size, the honest police couldn’t even begin to get them all.
The recent unrest in Jamaica mirrors this: the drug dealers are stronger than the government. This may seem shocking to Americans, but we were in the same situation 70 years ago. What was the solution then? I almost don’t even care about domestic policy any more — the global destabilization that the War on Drugs is creating is incredible.
Mon 14 Jun 2010
xkcd gets on the JFK bandwagon:
The alt text for the comic, which references JFK quotes I’ve previously slandered, is:
Also, if you read his speech at Rice, all his arguments for going to the moon work equally well as arguments for blowing up the moon, sending cloned dinosaurs into space, or constructing a towering penis-shaped obelisk on Mars.
I assume this specifically refers to:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon… (interrupted by applause) we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
As I’ve said before, doing something because it’s difficult is a very noble goal for an individual. It is not noble to say “we are going to do this very difficult and expensive thing, and by ‘we’ I mean you will pay for it and I will sign some papers.”
Wed 9 Jun 2010
Why do people talk about drones as if they’re different than some other method of blowing people up? If we didn’t have the tech for drones, we’d be using helicopters or strike jets. If we’re concerned about collateral damage, the fact that they’re drones don’t matter — they use the same missiles that piloted craft use, with the same accuracy and explosive payload. If it’s the ease of delivery, that’s just a matter of cost — if we didn’t have drones, we’d just use more helos or jets, or waste more fuel flying them over there to drop the same missiles on our targets. If it’s the percentage of drone attacks vs. directly-piloted attacks, we have only to look at the wikileaks helicopter gun camera footage to know that our military is perfectly capable of wiping out civilians with non-drones as well. Why does it matter if the pilot is actually sitting in the cockpit or if he’s in Nevada?
Repeatedly mentioning “drones” as if they were something different is like a crime article that keeps explaining that the guns used in a series of murders were painted blue. I guess it’s certainly one way of looking at it, but I’m not sure it helps understand the situation. Like this paragraph, which ludicrously implies that Pakistanis care about the specific technology used to kill them:
Alston is also urging the Obama administration to disclose the number of civilians killed in the drone strikes. That is a controversial matter among the Pakistani public, less than a tenth of whom support the strikes, because of their perceived high civilian death rate.
“Pakistani citizens went on to complain jealously about US military conduct towards Iraqis: ’Why can’t we get killed by weapons piloted by people who are actually in the cockpit, like those lucky Iraqis?’ one Pakistani said, shortly before stepping on unexploded ordnance from the Russo-Afghani war. ’See, this is exactly what I’m talking about!’”
Are Pakistanis seriously angry about drone strikes themselves? Or are they, perhaps, angry about being blown up, no matter the method?
Related (?): driving, flying, collaborating, fully autonomous drones.
Mon 24 May 2010
Jamaica (link via Microkhan) joins the club of countries destabilized by US drug policy. Well, to be fair, they were already in the club, but now their membership is obvious even to the notoriously dense American media. I’ll just reprint my comment from Microkhan’s site:
It’s bad enough that we have to mess up our country with late night drug raids that kill children, but when we’re actually destabilizing a large number of foreign countries with this moronic policy, you’d think people would start to reconsider.
What is this now? Jamaica, Colombia, Mexico, Afghanistan, all with severe internal control issues directly stemming from US drug policy? If another country were creating this much havoc, we’d have invaded them by now.
Reagan was right. The War on Drugs is a national security issue. But not the way he meant. It becomes even worse when you look at the recent left-wing tilt in South America. People in these countries resent our interference. Take Bolivia, where we spent millions trying to obliterate coca production, which was the livelihood of millions of Bolivians. Is it any surprise that these newly impoverished farmers turned around and elected Evo Morales, who rails against US capitalism? We are creating our own enemies and, ironically, ensuring that they have a steady stream of funding.
This is pure foreign policy incompetence.
Wed 28 Apr 2010
So, my brother-in-law applied to the Department of Defense and State. Since he speaks Chinese and Russian (as well as a few others) I figured he’d be a shoo-in for both. Defense accepted him, but State did not — and why? Apparently he scored too low on the memo-writing portion — in which he had to craft a memo outlining his response to a petty spat between junior State personnel. Hilariously, his language fluency (despite having a number of what State calls “high priority language skills”) was not able to be considered — that would only matter if he got to a later part of the process. So, he’s probably going to Defense — which he concludes will probably be best in the long run, as various sources have warned him that he probably wouldn’t like the politics at State. Which is why they demand such high memo-writing skill, I suppose.
Now, perhaps if State employees all had such amazing command of foreign languages that they could afford to be picky about which applicants also had good memo-writing skills, I’d understand. But, uh, yeah — not so much:
Substandard skills were found in people holding 31 percent of the approximately 3,600 jobs that require a certain level of language proficiency, known as language-designated positions, up from 29 percent in 2005. In critically important regions such as the Near East and South and Central Asia, that number rises to 40 percent.
Deficiencies in what GAO calls “supercritical” languages, such as Arabic and Chinese, were 39 percent.
Gosh, if only a qualified Chinese-speaking applicant had recently applied. Oh, right. What really confuses me is the priority — language skills are only examined after meeting a certain set of criteria. It seems like if you ever use the term “supercritical” to describe a certain skill that your employees might have, you might maybe want to put that on your front line of requirements for applicants. Now the GAO report doesn’t say — but maybe “memo-writing” is” super-duper-critical!”
Mon 12 Apr 2010
… hero of a nation of amnesiacs. I must have missed the meeting where everyone decided that he wasn’t a crazy neo-con any more. Or maybe this is a different guy with the same name, whose wikipedia page doesn’t include this information:
Frum’s book An End to Evil was co-written with Richard Perle. It provided a defense of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and advocated regime change in Iran and Syria. Furthermore, it called for a tougher policy with North Korea, as well as advocating a tougher U.S. stance against Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations in order to “win the war on terror” (from the book’s subtitle).
That must be the case, because no one who wrote that could possibly be considered a rational political thinker in the year 2010. Or maybe he got rehabilitated right along with the Iraq war, which all sane Americans agree is now a glorious Victory.
Fri 12 Mar 2010
Iraq: Mission Really Accomplished! Greenwald, Doherty (2007!), Hastings. I don’t agree with everything they say, but the general gist is right: everyone thought Iraq was a disaster until it wasn’t politically beneficial to think it was a disaster, and now it’s a Victory.
This confirms two general theories of mine: that Americans really are pro-war on average, but can be convinced to go against them to buttress political motives. I think the general idea is that Americans didn’t like the Iraq war, and so came to dislike Bush — but in my opinion it’s more descriptive to say they came to dislike Bush and so also came to dislike the Iraq war. Especially when you compare favorable opinions on nearly every previous war (very high) with the average favorable opinion for the average president; which is something approaching 50/50 — under 50% in Bush’s case, if you happen to remember the 2000 election. No doubt some people disliked the war, then Bush, but general public opinion (pre September 11th) was much more positive for war in general than for Bush.
Second; that Bush II is going to undergo a (undeserved) rehabilitation, like Truman — to whom Bush was fond of comparing himself. If I had to guess, I’d say that in 40 years or so, Bush will be seen in the same tough-talkin’, hard-decision makin’ light as Truman, and just as positively — like nearly ever other wartime president. Even though, of course, both Truman and Bush had low approval ratings when they left office.
I’ll admit my own biases: if this propaganda shift to Iraq as “Victory at Last” provides cover for Obama to remove our troops because we’ve “won,” I’ll gladly cheerleader it all you want.
Sun 7 Feb 2010
So the only difference between world opinion almost universally condemning the US president for conducting two wars in different countries and multiple nations having musicals celebrating him is…:
BERLIN – A musical about Germany this weekend, including love songs by the president to his wife Michelle and duets with .‘s “Yes we can” premieres in
Two other musicals about the president were performed in other countries last year: “Obama On My Mind” in London and “Obama: The Musical” in Nairobi, Kenya.
… what exactly? I absolutely do not get the world’s approval of Barack Obama. It’s almost like they like him because he’s a charismatic leader, and don’t actually care about the fact that he’s continuing the foreign policy of his hated predecessor almost to the letter. This is extremely worrisome — because the message it sends to our voters and our leaders is that all we have to do is elect a charismatic leader and we can get away with anything.
What if Barack Obama’s political career had started 8 years earlier, and he had been president instead of Bush? It’s possible world opinion would have turned on him, and it’s certainly a more damning act to start two wars rather than simply continue them — but if world opinion were truly against the actions themselves and not the person who started them, one would think that you’d have to be pretty upset with Obama for not even reducing the conflicts.
Now, maybe this is still some honeymoon period and opinion will change when we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2012 or 2016. But he’s been in office for a year now — a relatively large percentage of the total time we’ve been at war. At the risk of continuing this lame fake naivete even further, I guess I always assumed that the reason people around the world disliked Bush was because of what he did. Turns out quite a few have no problem with it, so long as a friendly face is the one continuing the policies.
I certainly have a lot of disagreements with the recently deceased Howard Zinn, but one thing he could be relied upon was to criticize the aggressive foreign policy of presidents, no matter the party:
Fri 11 Dec 2009
If there is not the war, you don’t get the great general; if there is not a great occasion, you don’t get a great statesman; if Lincoln had lived in a time of peace, no one would have known his name.
- Theodore Roosevelt, on why presidential “greatness” rankings correlate so well with the number of Americans killed during that president’s administration.
Thu 10 Dec 2009
Okay, in light of the previous post’s topic, I want to ask some questions.
First of all, all the anti-war people who voted for Obama — when are you going to admit you were duped? I’ll admit to certain feelings of betrayal as well: I thought that at the very least, on foreign policy, he would spin down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Second, for all the people who talk about his eloquence and sensitivity (of which I’ll admit to greatly appreciating with respect to recent other presidents), how the hell do you reconcile that with the concept of giving an acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in which you defend the necessary nature of war? I mean, absent any context, yes, it is a perfectly acceptable debate point to present — but this, and I’m not sure I’ve repeated this enough, was the acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.
For example, perhaps you believe that sometimes it is right to strike a woman — such as if she attacks you with a knife in a dark alley. But as true as that single statement might be, out of context, perhaps it would not be a good time to bring it up, say, when you are receiving an award granted by an organization fighting to end domestic abuse.
“Thank you all for this great honor, in the spirit of protecting women against the horrors of abuse. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to talk about some times when it’s okay to punch a lady.”
If you do mention something like that, it makes the audience wonder: “huh, why is he saying this now? Why would he bring that up unless he has doubts about the spirit of the award we are giving him?” Well, in Obama’s case, that might be exactly the reason. Surely he must realize the hilarity of escalating an 8 year long war a few days before accepting the Nobel Peace prize. Even on the mind of the President, long immune to this sort of cognitive dissonance, that has to make an impression.
Finally, for everyone who basically accepts the premises of the political left, what the heck do you see in this guy? Corporate bailouts? War escalation? Blatant neo-con principles of “war to make the world freer”? Mandates to buy the products of evil greedy insurance companies? No removal of don’t-ask-don’t-tell? Support for the Defense of Marriage Amendment? No major changes to indefinite detention? No major changes to the Patriot Act? What are you people getting out of this? The only thing I’ve seen so far is healthcare reform, and that’s not going so well either. Do you think he’s going to commit to something major at Copenhagen? Don’t bet on it.
I’m certainly not on the left, but I agree with them about the badness of many of these things. So I’m just as disappointed that he’s failing at fixing them. But then, I didn’t vote for him…
Thu 10 Dec 2009
Okay fine, this one wasn’t from the past, but it was too good to pass up:
Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms,” he said. “The service of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.”
Waging war is not a way of imposing the will of the United States on the world, he said, but a way of seeking a better future for its people.
“The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace,” he said.
… Barack Obama, noted neo-conservative-nobel-peace-prize-winner??? I suppose you can debate whether or not this is “horrible,” since nearly everyone would agree that war is okay, say, to defend your country. But Obama’s examples indicate he is explictly not talking about defensive wars:
Force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, Obama said, because inaction can tear at the world’s conscience and lead to more costly intervention later.
I love how he implies that intervention is inevitable, and the question is merely “when” we should intervene.
Also, the subtle slight to our participation in WW1 certainly points to the fact that he’s aware that sending our troops into that war only enabled the Allies to impose crushing penalties on Germany, and we all know where that led.
I know foreign policy isn’t everything, but didn’t we elect this guy so he wouldn’t say all the stupid things George Bush was saying?
Mon 5 Oct 2009
A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots.
A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver
… the hell?
Mon 17 Aug 2009
Most Americans are familiar with the idea of “every time you buy gas, you’re sending money to Saudi Arabia!” Those who are familiar with the Cleveland Clinic are aware of a reverse situation: where oil-rich Saudi (and similar individuals from other countries in the region) sheikhs come to America for expensive medical (especially cardiac) procedures, (and are overcharged, and pay in cash) which subsidize the care given to poor Americans. The practice has become so lucrative for the Clinic that they decided to open a branch in Dubai.
Does this have an impact on the healthcare debate? I don’t know. But it’s interesting.