Sketch Of The Dead
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International Relations, Ethnic Conflict, Civil-Military Relations, Academia, Politics in General, Selected Silliness
American authorities had one final chance to intercede. Before a plane can take off for the United States, details on every passenger are forwarded electronically to the Department of Homeland Security. There is also an electronic summary of each passenger’s airline reservation — which in Mr. Abdulmutallab’s case would most likely have included the fact that his ticket had been bought with cash and that he had not checked any bags. (NYT)Hey, before we start patting down every crotch, we might just follow some common sense--cash plus no bags on a flight from Europe? That, by itself, should have been enough. Which raises the question: who was more stupid the terrorists or the American officials? While it is hard to piece together everything beforehand, this was a guy who was "most likely to commit a terrorist act." He sent out all kinds of signals through his behavior and THROUGH HIS TEXT MESSAGES and the AQ of Yemen folks apparently were telling everyone else what was going to happen as well. So, the bad guys were pretty dumb here.
Does this make the Dude the Jeff Spicoli of the 21st century? After all, Jeff said "We need some cool rules ourselves or we would be bogus, too."
One of Mr. Gaughran’s students came up with this summary, and it’s somehow appropriate for an end-of-the-year reckoning: “He doesn’t stand for what everybody thinks he should stand for, but he has his values. He just does it. He lives in a very disjointed society, but he’s gonna take things as they come, he’s gonna care about his friends, he’s gonna go to somebody’s recital, and that’s it. That’s how you respond.”
"Nay! Certainly, we had some serious tragedies around the world from 9/11 to Iraq to the reversals in Afghanistan to the tsunami and Katrina to ponzi schemes, popping bubbles and the Great Recession. Oh, well, it does not look to good. But the 90's had Bosnia, Rwanda, and some other bubbles bursting."And then I realized that the Aughts, in many ways, were a crappy decade, especially ending with such economic difficulties, political morasses (is that the plural of morass?). Too many disasters at the national (eight years of Bush/Cheney) and global levels (multiple wars, failed progress on a variety of fronts).
"We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throoughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other." George C. MarshallWhat a wonderfully emblematic quote from the Army: overwhelming force!! Only now are we realizing that less can be more, at least when it comes to counter-insurgency, but Marshall's quote here does suggest that the Army would have a hard time absorbing this.
A fun piece. Interesting angle taken, as the obvious one would be mine--how would these series play today? Given my past references to the all-time Never-Can-It-Happen-Today Show, Hogan's Herooes, you can guess how I would approach it (perhaps I will ponder this tomorrow during the long drive home). But what is your take?
As I sit watching scenes like this over and over in slow motion, some members of my household complain that I have become unnaturally obsessed with the whole subject. Maybe. But I’m pressing on, determined to learn just how much of my life is based on false pretenses. I am dreading what I am going to find in “My Favorite Martian” and “The Addams Family”; highly skeptical that “The Flying Nun” was either really flying or really a nun.
But there’s one show, at least, that I’m sure won’t let me down: “Mister Ed,” about the talking horse. I know that was real. Heck, you could see his lips move.
The airlines said the new T.S.A. measures required an additional round of searches, including body pat-downs at airport gates overseas.So, TSA is convinced that because this recent attempt happened in the last hour of the flight that this is where the emphasis should be? That a terrorist could not figure out for him or herself where the plane is (going to ban watches next?)? Last hour restrictions? This makes sense if you are worried about driving planes into DC, but why should we expect that terrorists only want to act in the last hour?
International travelers were also told that they could not leave their seats for the last hour of a flight, during which time they also could not use a pillow or blanket. They were also limited to one piece of carry-on baggage, including a purse or briefcase, and that piece had to be stowed in an overhead compartment for the last hour of a flight.
Airlines were ordered to turn off in-flight entertainment systems with maps showing a plane’s location, and pilots and flight crews were told not to make comments about cities or landmarks below the flight path.(NYT)
Representative Linda T. Sánchez, a California Democrat, said it clearly and forcefully into the microphone at a House Judiciary Committee hearing room and onto video clips nationwide. “It sort of reminds me of the tobacco companies pre-1990s,” she said, “when they kept saying no, there is no link between smoking and damage to your health.”
Many others helped dismantle the N.F.L.’s edifice on concussions. But Sánchez’s cigarette remark ultimately burned it to the ground.
Absent political constraints, Obama would probably side with the liberal line on almost every issue. It’s just that he’s more acutely conscious of the limits of his powers and less willing to start fights that he might lose than many supporters would prefer. In this regard, he most resembles Ronald Reagan and Edward Kennedy. Both were highly ideological politicians who trained themselves to work within the system. Both preferred cutting deals to walking away from the negotiating table.Why is it so strange that a progressive might actually be a politician? And try to be a successful one?
This leaves him walking a fine line. If Obama’s presidency succeeds, it will be a testament to what ideology tempered by institutionalism can accomplish. But his political approach leaves him in constant danger of losing center and left alike — of being dismissed by independents as another tax-and-spender, and disdained by liberals as a sellout.This is the central point--that Obama faces a difficult situation, but what is his choice? He could buck the system entirely, alienate the center, serve as a one-term, ineffectual President?
Between 800 and 1100 this pleiad of Central Asian scientists, artists, and thinkers made their region the intellectual epicenter of the world. Their influence was felt from East Asia and India to Europe and the Middle East.
And glorious it was. It is hard to know where to begin in enumerating the intellectual achievements of Central Asians a millennium ago. In mathematics, it was Central Asians who first accepted irrational numbers, identified the different forms of cubic equations, invented trigonometry, and adapted and disseminated the decimal system and Hindu numerals (called “Arabic” numbers in the West). In astronomy, they estimated the earth’s diameter to a degree of precision unmatched until recent centuries and built several of the largest observatories before modern times, using them to prepare remarkably precise astronomical tables.
In chemistry, Central Asians were the first to reverse reactions, to use crystallization as a means of purification, and to measure specific gravity and use it to group elements in a manner anticipating Dmitri Mendeleev’s periodic table of 1871. They compiled and added to ancient medical knowledge, hugely broadened pharmacology, and passed it all to the West and to India. And in technology, they invented windmills and hydraulic machinery for lifting water that subsequently spread westward to the Middle East and Europe and eastward to China.Anyway, interesting stuff.
If nothing else, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the United States military can oust regimes in weeks if it wants to.Iran is not Iraq, and it is not Afghanistan. And the US ability to conduct regime change in Iran is pretty limited, given its existing commitments in the neighboring countries. And, if Iraq has taught us anything, it is not the first step that is the biggest problem but the next--what to do with a broken country?
(Israel could implicitly threaten nuclear counter-retaliation, but Iran might not perceive that as credible.)Really? Israel would not use nuclear weapons if a WMD was used against it? This is an incredible threat? Why should we believe Kuperman here? What is the logic? Evidence? This major point is a parenthetical expression?
Other Make-Believe Nations, Such as "France," Were Jealous They Did Not Think of This First: Last week the nano-nation called Nauru got $50 million from Moscow for extending diplomatic recognition to Abkhazia, an aspiring mini-country the Russian government wants accepted into the family of nations for political reasons.
This got me thinking: Venture capitalists, found a new nation and charge what the market will bear! Suppose the nation of Stanistan was founded on an outcropping of rock on the Isle of Wight. It could charge other governments to:Reminds me of the reverse--Macedonia recognized Taiwan, which few countries do, and then the People's Republic of China vetoed the next renewal of the mandate of the UN's only successful conflict prevention mission to that point in time.
• Extend diplomatic recognition to disputed political entities in Asia, the Middle East or Belgium. (Free the Walloons!)
• Allow airspace to be violated for illegal covert bombing missions.
• Place flags on unsafe vessels.
• Serve as a way station for "extraordinary rendition." (Of course, this never occurs.)
• Sell its vote in the United Nations.
• Sue Microsoft.
When the two sets were blended, the economists discovered that the subjective judgments closely tracked the objective ones. In other words, people knew what they were talking about when they said if they were happy or not. Americans who described themselves as satisfied tended to live in places where the quality of life was good by most standards — where the sun shone a lot, the air was reasonably clear, housing didn’t leave you busted, traffic wasn’t too fierce and so on.This sounds quite intuitive, but we social scientists often expect perceptions and reality to diverge. To see that the usual things that are supposed to affect our happiness actually seem to do so--well, that does surprise us. Or at least me. And the author of the article.
Top 10 states on the happiness scale are, in descending order, Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, Alabama and Maine.Some surprises there, as per capita income apparently is not related to happiness (Louisanna, Mississippi, Alabama).
More important, might contentment be overrated? Seriously, isn’t restlessness, even outright discontent, often a catalyst for creativity? We’re from the Harry Lime school. If you’ve seen the film classic “The Third Man,” you will remember that character’s admonition: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. “In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”This reeks of rationalization. Does misery love company, though? Apparently.
But some states have tried to blunt motorists’ ability to sue, passing laws protecting contractors from liability if they were following state-approved plans. It is also not uncommon for state highway officials to testify on behalf of contractors in wrongful death lawsuits — or to help them in other ways.
The United States, which had languished around seventh place in my index since 2005, shot up to first place, and not just in the perceptions of one or two countries. For a sample representing some 60 percent of the world's population and 77 percent of its economy, America is suddenly the most admired country on Earth.I have felt far less embarrassed the past year or so to be an American outside of the USA, and I guess there is a basis for this.
"every day siblings teach the necessary, if painful, early lesson that you are not the world's most important person."I guess being the last of four kids has meant that I learned that lesson too well and blog to exaggerate my self-importance. My sister would beg to differ, arguing that I was the star, the attention-getting one. But then again, I replaced her as the baby of the family, so her perspective might be skewed by her failure to prevent my existence.
The good news is that I seeing my in-laws for the holidays so any strife I have just caused will have to wait until the summer vacation.
Breast-feeding is an effective form of birth control, and the longer babies can convince their mothers to keep nursing, the more likely they are to prevent a sibling, a future competitor, from being conceived.
Having siblings gives us early practice in understanding the minds of others. For example, a study titled "Theory of Mind Is Contagious: You Catch It From Your Sibs" found that that having older siblings gave younger children a dramatic jump-start on a crucial human skill: figuring out when they were being deceived. Three- and 4-year-olds with older siblings were much better able than children without them to understand a false story and its implications.Of course, that means I can tease my daughter better. And that makes it all worthwhile.
"It seems hard to believe the C.I.A. can’t infiltrate terrorist networks, given all the Americans who keep popping up as wannabe jihadis."There may be something to this. But then again, maybe not, as wannabe jihadis are not going to be getting access to anyone important, so fake ones are probably not going to, either.
I asked Bob Gates, as we flew over the notorious terrain, if he had any insights into why such a bellicose team as W., Cheney and Rummy flinched at the very moment they could have captured our mortal enemy.And her conclusion is pretty challenging:
Eight years after Tora Bora, the failure there poses the question at the heart, or Achilles’ heel, of President Obama’s strategy: What if victory over Al Qaeda and other terrorists lies in Pakistan, not Afghanistan?I have often been asked this question--why Afghanistan and not Pakistan? Because one is possible and other is not so much. We can send small teams into Pakistan and hope they do not get caught. We cannot send battalions or more without risking war and the destabilization of Pakistan.
"Bosnia is coming ever closer to replacing Albania as the metaphor for international isolation and lack of a perspective as a result of suicidal domestic politics," columnist Ivan Lovrenovic wrote.Not much more needs to be said.
DNC pounces on GOP senatorsDems take less than 24 hours to use vote against military funding to pound GOP senators.
The incident does, however, illustrate one consequence of the collapse of professional journalism. Work formerly done by reporters and producers is now routinely performed by political operatives and amateur ideologues of one stripe or another, whose goal is not to educate the public but to win. This is a trend not likely to change.
I am not surprised to see the number of warheads go down, but am surprised to see the number of launchers to be decreased. This runs contrary, although not terribly so, to the notion that multi-headed missiles are greater threats as first strike weapons. It would seem to be the case that getting down to one warhead per missile would be stabilizing, but I have not studied this arms control stuff in a long time.
The new version of Start would require each side to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to roughly 1,600, down from 2,200, according to a senior American official. It would also force each side to reduce its strategic bombers and land- and sea-based missiles to below 800, down from the old limit of 1,600.
This last point is most interesting--that the Russians see tactical nukes as we used to see them.
Tactical nuclear weapons were developed during the cold war as generally lower-yield, shorter-range explosives that could be used on the battlefield. The United States and its NATO allies relied on them as a deterrent to any invasion of Western Europe by what were presumed to be superior Soviet and Warsaw Pact land forces. But since the demise of the Soviet Union, the thinking has flipped, and Russia today views tactical nuclear weapons as a bulwark against American conventional supremacy.
Imagine the following scenario: the world is in the beginning stages of a pandemic—that a virus that kills people and then turns them into undead (Zombies) has started to spread. Significant international cooperation will be required to contain this crisis.
Given what you have learned about the causes and probabilities of cooperation among countries, is it likely that the countries of the world will be able to cooperate to deal with this crisis? Or will they fail? Why or why not?
If Hanukkah celebrations are indeed a bulwark against Christian religious imperialism, then the most active observers of the "Jewish Christmas" should be those who are vulnerable. The authors of the study (parents all of them) hypothesize that children are most susceptible to Christmas envy, and, indeed, households with children were half as likely to skip Hanukkah candle-lighting as households with no children.Yum. Hypothesis testing warms my social scientist heart.
Of course, it's possible that people with kids may use just about anything as an excuse to have a party—birthdays, Valentine's Day, Halloween. So the authors compare Hanukkah with Passover, the springtime festival when Jewish parents face more modest competition from the Easter Bunny. It turns out that having children has no effect on the likelihood of attending a Seder, the traditional meal eaten on the first two nights of Passover. So it seems it is competition from Christmas, not just the presence of children, that makes families more likely to celebrate Hanukkah. (The authors parse the data in a number of other ways to further validate their Christmas hypothesis.)
For it turns out that Hanukkah is a festival built upon a mound of suppressed memories and censored texts, a putative celebration of light that in fact commemorates a Jewish civil war.
Today, the Maccabean memory has been resurrected in the modern state of Israel in the image of Jew as warrior, and Hanukkah is celebrated by many as a military holiday, the vestige of an ancient Independence Day. But I propose that on Hanukkah, we ought to consider whether an ethnic group that wishes to survive must turn itself into a nation-state.A question as relevant for Quebec as it is for the Jews?
The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as "six to eight black men." I asked several Dutch people to narrow it down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always "six to eight," which seems strange, seeing as they've had hundreds of years to get a decent count.
The six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid-fifties, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just good friends. I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility. They have such violence in Holland, but rather than duking it out among themselves, Santa and his former slaves decided to take it out on the public. In the early years, if a child was naughty, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would beat him with what Oscar described as "the small branch of a tree."
In the years before central heating, Dutch children would leave their shoes by the fireplace, the promise being that unless they planned to beat you, kick you, or stuff you into a sack, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would fill your clogs with presents. Aside from the threats of violence and kidnapping, it's not much different from hanging your stockings from the mantel.
Kaplan’s real and growingly evident problem is not his Parkinson’s grip on history, or that he is a bonehead or a warmonger, but rather that he is an incompetent thinker and a miserable writer.One of my proudest duties on the Joint Staff was re-writing the reading list of the Central and East European Division, removing Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts. Tom Bissell takes Kaplan to task and deservedly so. Kaplan, along with Huntingon, proved that bad ideas spread further than good ones and can do a whole lot of damage.
He writes that Samarkand is a “would-be Bangkok,” with its “army of whores.” I asked a friend who lived in Samarkand for years if that description at all rang true to him. My friend was still laughing when I hung up the phone.Another delightfully nasty quote:
Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote that war is the extension of politics by other means. Bush and Kaplan, on the other hand, appear to advocate war as cultural politics by other means. This has resulted in a collision of second-rate minds with third-rate policies. While one man attempts to make the world as simple as he is able to comprehend it, the other whispers in his various adjutants’ ears that they are on the side of History itself.Yet another:
Kaplan’s take on Taras Bulba is so absurd it is amazing that when his introduction arrived at the Modern Library’s offices, the pages were not locked in a lead-walled time capsule.And on Balkan Ghosts, a book I reluctantly read, knowing it was going to be bad:
In Kaplan’s telling, Balkan mass-murder was inevitable and unsurprising, given the region’s history. One wonders why, then, those who were slaughtered didn’t see it coming and get out. “Nevertheless,” Kaplan writes in Balkan Ghosts’s new foreword, “nothing I write should be taken as a justification, however mild, for the war crimes committed by ethnic Serb troops in Bosnia, which I heartily condemn.” Here is a writer reassuring us that he does not think genocide is justifiable, and that he condemns it. Any book written in a way to require such a statement is on thin moral ice.
It takes a special kind of man to waltz into a foreign city, tar the entire populace as recessive Nazis, and then refer to them as animals.And finally, the devastating assessment:
When he reaches Greece, where he lived for several years, Kaplan chides scholars for ignoring “the most recent 2,000 years of Greek history . . . in favor of an idealized version of ancient Greece, a civilization that had already died before Jesus’ birth.” But this is precisely Kaplan’s technique in looking upon the rest of the world: Find one epoch, fixate upon it, project outward in the most intellectually irresponsible method imaginable.Ok, one more:
Or it may indicate Robert D. Kaplan’s racism as he thoughtlessly compares perspiring black Americans to barbarians.Ok, yet one more:
Imperial Grunts .... is not merely an account of twenty-first-century soldiering; it is also Kaplan’s attempt to define, defend, and justify American “imperialism.” On this point Grunts is a thesaurus of incoherencies.Ok, yet one more still:
Kaplan is equally coldhearted about civilians’ lives. When a Marine kills an Iraqi civilian, Kaplan writes, “I felt bad for the marine who had fired the shot—any civilian would have felt bad for him, if he or she had experienced the complexity and confusion of this urban battle space.” As for the dead Iraqi—tough luck, Ali. Next time don’t be so pretentious.The summary of the review:
Kaplan is worse than a bad writer or thinker. He is a dangerous writer made ever more dangerous by the fact that he is taken seriously. Even his most hostile reviews have treated him as though his arguments are still within the pale.