Saturday, September 23, 2017

Standing Up For the Flag By Kneeling

I have not commented much here on the whole Kaepernick kneeling story, but Trump's speech tonight compels me.

Which better honors the flag? Protesting the treatment of African-Americans in the US, and, in doing so, risking one's career?  Or grandstanding in front of flags and castigating a football player who has engaged in non-violent dissent? 

Yes, American history is complex, and so when one refers to American values, one can talk about freedom or one can talk about greed and xenophobia.  Pretty sure that the values that are valued are those that focus on the very basics of American democracy--free speech, free press and all that stuff we are proud of and not so much the awful stuff that provokes shame and embarrassment--slavery, internment, etc..  So, when I say that Trump is un-American, I am referring the former stuff and not the latter, but he is reminding me so very much about that ugly side.  He is of that ugly side, through and through.  He is racist, he is xenophobic, he is so very greedy.  He incites hate and violence.  He inspires his team to steal from taxpayers (Tom Price).  The kleptocracy is more than just family business.

So, when players raise their fist on Sunday or kneel or do whatever else, they are being far better Americans than Trump.  I certainly hope there are more protests this week, as Trump's targeting of Kaepernick is once again him using a bullhorn and not a dog whistle.  He dares to "defend the flag" via appeals to white supremacy and why not?  Impunity is his thing.  All we can do is call him on it and protest and rally and vote.

I have no doubt with whom I stand and with whom I'd like to kneel. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Worst Chicken Game: Trump vs Kim Jong Un

My feelings are thus:
Yes.  Yes, we can.

Trump seems determined to start two new ones on top of the several the US is already fighting (yes, way over the war cap).  First, the slightly less* catastrophic conflict would be a war with Iran after tossing out the nuclear deal.  After all, how does one stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons if one does not rely on diplomacy?  This is the war some folks have been seeking for quite some time, and Trump seems determined to start it.  While the Iran deal is not perfect and does not address all other kinds of bad Iranian behavior, thus far, they seem to be playing by the rules.  Which means that Iran is currently not on a path to become .... North Korea.
*  A war with Iran would cost the US trillions of dollars, probably break the US army, and close down the Strait of Hormuz, which, in turn, would lead to oil prices rocketing and, thus, recession, inflation, stagflation, etc.  And that is probably an optimistic evaluation that ignores Iran's ability to escalate elsewhere.
North Korea? Thanks to Trump's threats, Kim Jong Un has written his own letter, a first apparently, that has suggested he might test a nuclear tipped ICBM somewhere in the Pacific.  This would be really, really bad, and that might be my understatement of 2017.  Not only bad for the environment and for whatever ships that might be nearby, but something might go wrong, leading the missile to spread radioactive debris across a hunk of the Pacific and maybe near/over Japan. 

Worse, we are in the most dangerous stage of nuclear development--when one country has some nuclear warheads, some ability to deliver them but no assurance that these systems can survive a first strike.  Which means that North Korea is probably on a hair trigger and will launch on warning.  We know from the recent death of the Soviet official who prevented World War III that warning systems can provoke a response even when one is not needed.  To make matters worse, the President of the US is making North Korea feel as if an attack is imminent.  Use or lose?  That is the question that faces Kim Jong Un today.  He does not have to be irrational to be most concerned about Trump and his threats.  Hopefully, his Chinese friends are telling him that Trump is a paper tiger.  Oh wait, that's not good either. 

Is this the most dangerous moment in the world since the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Maybe not, but we can probably see it from here. We call it tomorrow or next week.  Trump is making this worse and worse because his ego is involved and he does not have the temperament to be President. Profoundly unqualified.  I forget what I said months ago about which war was most likely--Iran or North Korea.  I guess I would prefer the former to the latter, as the former would only push much of the world into recession and kill lots of Americans and Iranians.  The latter would be utterly devastating to Japan, South Korea and North Korea and push the world into a far deeper recession (much of the world's trade goes through the South China Sea). 

So, yeah, I am panicking now.  How are you?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deterrence is Ugly

Sure, Donald Trump is so callous and crass that when he says stuff, it sounds awful BUT extended deterrence (or even regular deterrence) almost always threatens killing lots of civilians.  The whole idea is that if you do x, we will make you pay.  And the "you" in this is not just the leader of country A but all of country A.  Mutual assured destruction?  Kind of sounds like that destroy word Trump used.  So, the speech is not really a break in policy, as awful as it sounded.

Ethicists, moral philosophers and others have long consistently raised questions about the morality of nuclear deterrence because it requires holding innocents hostage.  I am not an ethicist or a philospher.  Instead, I focus on what seems to be the least bad alternative, and deterrence when it is successful is better than war.  So, I don't have a problem with Trump saying that the US will use heaps of force if North Korea attacks Japan or South Korea--the whole idea of the "nuclear umbrella" is that the US is potentially threatening utter destruction if someone attacks a country who is under the umbrella.  Who are those allies?  NATO + Japan + South Korea + Australia + New Zealand (maybe, the whole nuke free thing made that less clear).  That's it.  Baltics? Yes.  Sweden? No.  Mexico?  Hmmm... not quite although that kind of falls under the whole Monroe Doctrine of don't mess around with our neighborhood or else.

What is more disturbing about Trump and North Korea is that the US has made the other half of that promise problematic and Trump makes it even more so: that the US will not attack you if you don't attack its allies.  Qaadafi might have something to say about that ....  Talk of North Korean regime change is DANGEROUS because they might feel they are in a "use them or lose them" situation if they think the US is about to disarm North Korea.  Which gets to the McMaster McMess du month: saying that there are military options is reaaaaalllllllllly problematic when North Korea can kill tens of thousands of South Koreans under the best scenario and millions of South Koreans and Japanese and even Americans in the US under the worst scenario.  I would be assuring the North Koreans that the US is not going to attack unless North Korea attacks our allies.  But Trump ain't doing that, the US has a poor record on that score, and Trump cannot make a credible commitment--it is not in his nature.

Alas, deterring North Korea from developing nuclear weapons has proven to be a failure.  But deterring the development of nuclear weapons and deterring their use are two different things.  And, yes, breaking the Iran deal is a poor signal to North Korea if we want to deal with them.

So, yeah, I am worried.  I spent this afternoon giving a talk to a group of Asia-Pacific Ambassadors based in Ottawa.  I think I depressed them.  Damn.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

One Should Not Do TV as a Tweet

Here's me and Colin Robertson on CBC's Power and Politics on Trump and his UN appearance starting at 5:55.  No, I did not have any alcohol... I was just triggered by Colin's reference to Trump as Presidential.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Consequences for Trumpers? Unlikely

Lots of uproar over Sean Spicer appearing at the Emmys.  I am of two minds on this: meh and duh.

Meh?  Because I don't mind comedy making fun of stuff, even recent stuff.  Does this normalize Spicer?  Seems to me he was as much or more the butt of the joke than being in on it.  If anything, it reminds us that he has been a lying sack of lies.  He was asked to lie on cue, and he did.  So what does that say?  I do think the pics of celebrities cozying up next to him is a wee bit more problematic, but I give comedy much license.  "Too soon?" is usually the question for something like this, not so much whether it is right or wrong to have a former administration official involved.  I'd have to check the old SNL of the mid 70s, but I am pretty sure a Watergate figure or two made the program. 

Duh?  The US (and Canadian) media give heaps and heaps of airtime to people who have done reprehensible things in the past, as long as it gives them the chance to fill bandwidth and get higher ratings: Oliver North, Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, and on and on.  Being a failure or being a liar or being a criminal does not disqualify.  I get frustrated by this often, but we should be used it by now. 

A second duh: who has paid a price for bad behavior in past administrations?  No one from the Bush Administration got punished for facilitating/ordering torture.  Only lower level folks and one relatively low ranking general got punished for Abu Ghraib.  Scooter Libby, who got jailed for outing Valerie Plame, had his sentence commuted.  We might as well prepare for Trump pardoning his family and some of his operatives....

Finally, I tend to think the folks who are the spokespeople will get a lighter treatment than those who actually make the decisions and those who implement them.  Could I imagine Jeff Sessions getting similar treatment?  Probably not but maybe.  While one can say that Spicer attempted to give cover to all the awful stuff that Trump did the first several months, he did it so very badly, I am not sure we can say he provided any cover at all.  Again, someone like Sessions or Pruitt or DeVos would not be invited or would have gotten a different reception.  Perhaps the actors recognize and empathize with another actor working from a piss poor script?

Anyhow, I was more offended last night by the playing off of Sterling Brown who was giving a kickass speech while Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon got to have as much time as they wanted.  Is this about race or about movie star bias?  My guess is more the latter than the former, but not a good look.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bad Ideas, Dumb Policies, Horrible Outcomes

As I was biking and listening to a podcast (Pod Saves America), I was struck by the similarity of the #voterfraudfraud stuff and the anti-vax stuff.  The key similarities are:
  • both are based on a false belief.  There is no voter fraud, and vaccines don't cause autism.
  • both advocate solutions that are worse than the "threat."  Essentially using nuclear weapons to deal with minor violations of the law.  The dis-proportionality is so very extreme.
    • #Voterfraudfraud proposes to disenfranchise many people, hundreds of thousands or millions, to deal with the minor risk of some people voting twice or whatever.  
    • Anti-vax movements propose to expose millions to disabling and fatal diseases because of an alleged small risk of autism.  I have previously wondered why having a kid die is better than having a kid be autistic.  
  • both, of course, are reality averse, running against the acreage of reports that demonstrate that the threats are not real and that their preferred solutions are actually far worse than the "threat."
 The big difference is that #voterfraudfraud is partisan--the GOP wants to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters largely because they found that they can't/won't appeal to people of color, poor people, and young people.  Anti-vax?  It seemed like a left-wing, hippie kind of phenomenon, but there are right wing folks who buy it, too.  It is not a Democratic or Republican strategy to gain or deny votes.  Woot?

Both efforts suck, both are hurting people, and hurting American democracy.  One, however, may stack the deck so much that political change will become very difficult. Thanks, Gorsuch. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Panic Du Jour: US Won't Protect Canada?

Today, some Canadian generals talked about the US Ballistic Missile Defence Program, and indicated that since Canada is not involved in it, that the US might not stop missiles headed towards Canada.  Oh my!  So, let me myth bust with a few caveats first:

A) I am not opposed to Canada joining the BMD program. There are good reasons to join--fear of North Korea attacking Calgary is not among them. Better situational awareness, some influence, less antagonizing of the US, and other reasons are better reasons than fear of NK nukes.  The Defence Policy Review should have addressed this head on and did not do so (if I remember correctly).
B)  I don't know much about the history of US-Canadian defence/defense commitments.
C)  I am not an expert on nuclear weapons or defenses.  I am just reasonably well read on that stuff, and have expertise on related stuff (see NATO stuff below).  More importantly, I don't really have anything at stake, unlike various generals....   It maybe that the Canadian generals are not the ones playing us, but rather, it may be the American ones who are apparently saying strange things to the Canadians. 

Ok, let's get to it:
  1. Who is going to attack Canada and not the US?  Folks upset at the maple cartel?  
  2. When ballistic missiles are in the air, those with fingers on the triggers of American defenses will not have hours to make the decision, but a few minutes (missiles from North Korea probably take less than thirty minutes, using the old Soviet ICBM flight time as an amateur guess).  So, are the Americans going to say, hmm, we have missiles inbound from North Korea, but they look like they are headed towards the West Edmonton Mall, so let's not worry about it?  Or will they say, missiles headed in our direction, let's launch our counter-missiles, just in case we are wrong about their final destination?
  3. I used West Edmonton deliberately because any missile headed towards most of Canada's population--within 100 miles of the US border--is going to get an American response.  No American general is going to say, hey, Vancouver, not our problem when Seattle is not far away.  
  4. On the other hand, what about NATO and Article V?  What about it?  There is no automatic invocation of A5 before an attack.  If an attack occurs, NATO reps must meet and agree that an attack has occurred.  This happened after 9/11 but not after a cyber attack on Estonia nor after Syrian artillery hit Turkey.  And note, this is after, not during, not before.  So, not helpful for responding to missiles in the air.  Also, Article V says that once an attack has been recognized, each country responds as each deems necessary.  Not hypothetical at all as we found out when writing our book.
  5. Whatever the legacy of US-Canadian defense agreements, the US will defend Canada.  It is in its own interests to do so.  Indeed, the usual Canadian concern is that the US would be too helpful and violate Canadian sovereignty as the US protects itself.
  6. Oh, one last thing: the idea that Canada is defenseless against nukes?  That has been the case since the Soviet Union developed its own nuclear-tipped ICBMs because.... the US never had an effective system for shooting down missiles.   And, guess what.... it still does not. The US system is unproven.  Indeed, when North Korea launches its tests, the US does not try to shoot them down because it would really suck if the US tried and failed.  Better to be uncertain. 
So, what are these generals doing, scaring Canadians?  I can't help but think of threat inflation.  That the threat is being played up .... because American or Canadian officers want Canada in the ballistic missile program.  While I agree with the ends mostly, I don't agree with the means.

The reality is that there is NOTHING Canada can do about North Korea.  Canada does not trade with North Korea, so sanctions are not applicable.  Canada is not able to bully China into doing anything. If the US can't get that to happen, Canada can't do it.  Canada has no ability to stop missiles from North Korea.  So, yeah, Canada is powerless and vulnerable.  That sucks, but there it is.  Canada can take some solace that North Korea does not give a rat's ass about Canada.  North Korea does not have enough nuclear armed ICBMs to waste any on Canadian cities.  It needs to have one or two so that the US is deterred from regime changing.  Maybe North Korea is aiming to create a stability/instability paradox dynamic where the US and North Korea are deterred at the strategic level, which then allows NK to mess around with South Korea at the conventional level.  That would not be good, but, again, not much Canada can do about that. Indeed, the story for the past twenty years or so is that there is precious little the US can do about North Korea.  If the US can do little, Canada can do even less.  Sorry, but let's be humble about Canadian capabilities (and US BMD capabilities).

Flatball: An Ultimate Doc

Last night, I watched Flatball on Netflix  Tis a documentary about the history of ultimate, narrated by Alec Baldwin. Overall, it was pretty terrific.  It didn't cover everything, and was a bit too obsessed about New York, New York, but explained the sport without dumbing it down.  It focused perhaps the central concern--what is the spirit of the game--without trivializing it, and, most of all, it showed the passion and joyfullness inherent in the game.  It also showed the athleticism and beauty of the sport pretty well.

The central debate in the movie and in reality has been: the Spirit of the Game.  This centers mostly but not entirely on the fact that ultimate was conceived and largely remains self-refereed.  There are observers for some (most?) of the competitive tourneys, and referees in the professional league.  This move towards having non-players make calls was controversial because the Spirit of the Game, the hippie concept at the start of the sport, remains key--that players should compete but value integrity more than self.  The idea is that players call the fouls honestly, including on themselves, that one players honorably. Over time, competition has been intense enough that rules have changed so that people can't call fouls on themselves to slow the other team.  One of the problems with the doc is that it seemed to buy, at least a bit, the New York, New York sense of the Spirit--compete as hard as you can no matter what.  This is imply wrong.  The Spirit is something more than that--it is about respecting the opponent, not deliberately violating the rules, and so forth.

I did experience New York, New York despite never playing at the highest levels.  In the summer between college and grad school, I played in the NY summer league.  I joined late, so I got placed with a team of 14-15 year olds from Bronx Science or whatever.  So, we were a bad team--I had the most experience, which was not really that much.  NY, NY split up and played on several teams, and I remember one game, where one NY, NY segment was so incredibly obnoxious.  I have played heaps of ultimate over my lifetime, and that one game will always stand out as the most unpleasant.  Because they really had no conception of the Spirit of the Game--they rubbed our inferiority in our faces in a summer league game.  I kind of hated that they told the history of ultimate through the experiences of one of the least spirited, least typical ultimate players and teams, but I am sure it was partly guided by which footage they had.  And it was a compelling story, even if it was the wrong story.

UPDATE:  A friend informed me that the director of the doc was a NYNY player, so now it all makes sense.

Other than that, watching the doc was a thrill--to see the teams I had heard of--the legends--such as Windy City, the Condors, Flying Circus.  To see that I was very much part of the boom.  Ultimate  started in 1968 in NJ and started becoming an inter-college club sport in the mid-70s.  It started at Oberlin in 1976 (so I went back for the 30th anniversary of ultimate there in 2006---twas a great weekend).  It was still a fairly marginal sport until the mid-80s.  At that time, it did start appearing randomly on ESPN, in a Howard Cosell piece, in Sports Illustrated, and the first world tourneys.

It was great to see the evolution that continued throughout the 90s with teams around the world becoming more competitive with the US teams.  I didn't know that Team Canada beat the US men's team a couple of years in a row around 2010-11. It was great to see some folks use ultimate to bring Israelis of all kinds together with Palestinians--that was very, very moving and very much in the Spirit of the Game.

My big quibbles:
  • No mixed (co-ed) ultimate.  Absolutely no discussion, footage or anything, and I think this is one thing that makes ultimate damn near unique.  I would hazard a guess and suggest that most of the city leagues that exist have most of their ultimate in this form, which means much of the ultimate out there is mixed. There are competitive teams all the way up to world competitions.  Are there any other sports where men and women play together?  Seems like much ultimate coverage ignores this key form of it.  Really a lost opportunity.  Also minimal coverage of the women's game--first about 53 minutes into the doc, but nice coverage of the post 3/11 tsunami competition in Japan with Japan upsetting the American team.
  • Also, didn't spend any time on the development of city leagues.  Again, where is ultimate being played these days?  Yes, there are world competitions, but just as soccer is now a thing in the US thanks to youth sports, ultimate is more of a thing thanks to big city leagues.  Would have been nice to know how many schools in US, Canada and elsewhere have teams at the junior high and high school levels.  It is now a component in many gym classes.
  • Oh, Alec, I never stopped wearing bandanas.  I just have many more of them than I used to, and now it is not just for the sweat but also for, alas, sunburn prevention.