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August 2009 Archives

August 31, 2009

American Royalty - OK If You Agree With Me, I Guess

By Armed Liberal at 22:54

(I know Jules Crittendon already has this kind of handled, but I saw this on my newsfeed and couldn't resist).

Sockpuppetmeister Glenn Greenwald (yes, our sins do stick to us) just slammed the hiring of Jenna Bush as a TV personality in a post titled:

It's time to embrace American royalty

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  • Marc Danziger: Silver's post is fascinating, and I'm gonna need a day read more
  • Beard: Incidentally, quite high quality discussion in the comments on that read more
  • Alchemist: Leave it to Nate Silver (Poll statistic Guru) to bring read more

No Peace Without Syria

By Michael Totten at 17:33

"No war without Egypt, no peace without Syria." -- Henry Kissinger

Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, flew to Damascus this weekend to cajole Syria into re-entering peace talks with Israel. He's going to go home disappointed, if not now then later, just as every other Western diplomat before him has failed to put an end to the perpetual Arab-Israeli conflict. Bashar Assad couldn't sign a peace treaty with Israel even if he wanted to -- and he doesn't want to.

Assad and his late father and former president Hafez Assad have justified the dictatorial "emergency rule," on the books since 1963, by pointing to the never-ending war with the state of Israel. Many Syrians have grown weary of this excuse after more than four decades of crisis, but Assad would nevertheless face more pressure to loosen up his Soviet-style system without it.

An official state of war costs Assad very little. His army does not have to fight. His father learned the hard way in 1967 that Israel could beat three Arab armies, including Syria's own, in six days. Assad can only fight Israel through proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah, but that suits him just fine. Gaza and Lebanon absorb Israel's incoming fire when the fighting heats up.

Assad gains a lot, though, by buying himself some legitimacy with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria's fundamentalist Sunnis have long detested his Baath party regime, not only because it's secular and oppressive but also because its leaders are considered heretics. The Assads and most of the Baathist elites belong to the Alawite religious minority, descendants of the followers of Muhammad ibn Nusayr, who took them out of mainstream Twelver Shiite Islam in the 10th century. Their religion has as much in common with Christianity and Gnosticism as it does with Islam, and most Syrians find it both bizarre and offensive that the Alawites are in charge of the country instead of the majority Sunnis.

In 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood took up arms against the regime in the city of Hama. The elder Assad dispatched the Alawite-dominated military and destroyed most of the old city with air strikes, tanks, and artillery. Rifaat Assad, the former president's younger brother, boasted that 38,000 people were killed in a single day. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers tried to rise up again.

In his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman dubbed the senior Assad's rules of engagement "Hama Rules." They are the Syrian stick. The carrot is Assad's steadfast "resistance" against Israel. No Arab government in the world is as stridently anti-Israel, in both action and rhetoric, as Assad's. There is no better way for a detested Alawite regime to curry favor with Sunnis in Syria and the Arab world as a whole than by adopting the anti-Zionist cause as its own.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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August 29, 2009

Heading to D.C.

By Armed Liberal at 23:47
I'm off to DC tonight for much of next week. I've got two draft posts I'll try and get out - one on Afghanistan, and one on Bacevitch - I'm going to try and do a post a week on "The Limits of Power" and deal with it chapter by chapter.
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August 27, 2009

Diversification into Incompetence: The Industrial Peter Principle

By Joe Katzman at 01:39

John Kay, of London's Financial Times, sees a pattern in the financial sector. It's not unique to that sector by any means, but the industry may be more susceptible to it:

"Forty years ago, Dr Lawrence Peter enunciated what he immodestly called the Peter Principle. Individuals would find their level of incompetence. If you were good at doing a job, you would be promoted until you were appointed to a job you weren't good at.

The recent failures of financial institutions suggests an organisational analogue. Financial institutions diversify into their level of incompetence. They extend their scope into activities they understand less until they are tripped up by one they cannot do. It was almost refreshing when the Chelsea Building Society announced large losses because it had been a victim of mortgage fraud. The bank's problems related to its core business. Most financial institutions that have come close to failure have done so as a result of losses in essentially peripheral activities.

The principle of diversification into incompetence applies from the largest financial institution to the smallest..."

Of course, adding more taxpayer bailouts to the system just makes this worse among the largest players. Unsurprisingly, the payouts are large. If Kay is right, they'll also be pretty consistent.

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  • Bobby Bran: In his most recent short-length book, How the Mighty Fall: read more
  • Tom Grey - Liberty Dad: I think the pattern in all "economic science" studies is read more

August 26, 2009

Qaddafi Can Celebrate His Filthy Regime Without Us

By Michael Totten at 18:18

The British government has been roundly criticized for freeing Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan national convicted of murdering 270 people when he blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The Libyan government, meanwhile, has been roundly criticized by even the British for hailing him as a hero when he returned to his homeland. Britain has no leg to stand on, however--not because the government released a convicted terrorist out of "mercy" last week but because it is still considering its plan to dispatch the Duke of York to Libya next week for Moammar Qaddafi's celebration of the 40th anniversary of his seizure of power.

Qaddafi was Megrahi's boss when that plane exploded over Lockerbie. The only reason he isn't in jail is that it's as hard to arrest him as it is to arrest Sudan's genocidal Omar Bashir, even after an international warrant has been issued against him. (Bashir, by the way, will be attending Qaddafi's party without fear of capture.)

Britain is "reconsidering" its decision to send a member of its royal family to toast a Stalinist and a terrorist. That's something. But as Gene put it at the British blog Harry's Place, "What's disturbing is not that the plans are being reconsidered, but rather that there were plans in the first place."

The Duke of York's scheduled appearance at Qaddafi's gala is unseemly, but that's "diplomacy" for you. Plenty of diplomats from democratic countries attend events hosted by dictators.

Qaddafi's one-man rule, however, is almost uniquely grotesque. He closely studied Nicolae Ceau┼čescu's vicious regime in Romania and imposed the same system on Libyans after he overthrew King Idris in 1969. His government is so repressive that the Islamic Republic of Iran looks libertarian by comparison. Unlike in Iran and even in Burma, there are no protests against government power in Libya ever. State control over the people is absolute.

Freedom House gives Libya scores of 7 in political rights and civil liberties--the lowest possible scores in each category, with a score of 1 being the highest. Iran, by contrast, scores 6 in each category. Saudi Arabia is slightly less free than Iran, as is Syria, but both are freer than Libya. Only seven countries in the entire world are as miserably oppressive according to Freedom House: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, Burma, Sudan, and North Korea.

I'm one of the very few Americans who has visited Libya since Qaddafi seized power. (Setting foot there was illegal until recently.) And I can attest that it is, indeed, one of the most thoroughly totalitarian countries on the face of the earth.

The place stinks of oppression. You can't escape the state without leaving the country or going off-road and into the desert. Informers and secret police are omnipresent and all but omniscient. Hotel rooms are bugged. No one can travel from one city to another without a thick stack of permits and papers. I saw propaganda posters and billboards literally everywhere, even alongside roads in the wilderness where nobody lived. State propaganda is even carved into the sides of the mountains. Pictures of Qaddafi hang inside every building, and an entire floor of the museum in the capital is dedicated to glorifying him personally. Libya even looks like a communist country, with its Stalinist tower blocks outside Tripoli's old city center and its socialist-realist paintings depicting happy proletarians in their Workers' Paradise.

No one I met would talk about politics if there was the slightest chance anyone might overhear us. Those who did open up when we were safely in private were unanimous in their hatred, fear, and loathing of the regime. And they made sure to tell me that their entire families would be thrown in prison if I repeated what they said to anyone.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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  • Davod: Libya - "I saw propaganda posters and billboards literally everywhere, read more

You Mean Your Appendix Is Useful?

By Joe Katzman at 02:53

Seems that way. If you still have yours.

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  • Joe Katzman: Thanks for the more detailed reference to the argument, Alchemist! read more
  • Alchemist: By the way, if you are interested in understanding the read more
  • lewy14: Next up: Bull tits! read more

Reconciling Evolution and Faith

By Joe Katzman at 02:41

I was amazed. A NY Times guest op-ed that actually acknowledged the need for attitude adjustments on the part of militant atheists like Richard Dawkins, as well as a dishonest creationism that even if true at its core, is not and never can be science (negative hypothesis, anyone?). The reconciliation of religion and science is important on many levels, not least of which is the fact that religious morality and the ethic of science form the twin pillars upon which our civilization rest. I've discussed this before.

Robert Wright of the New America Foundation:

"The "war" between science and religion is notable for the amount of civil disobedience on both sides. Most scientists and most religious believers refuse to be drafted into the fight. Whether out of a live-and-let-live philosophy, or a belief that religion and science are actually compatible, or a heartfelt indifference to the question, they're choosing to sit this one out. Still, the war continues, and it's not just a sideshow. There are intensely motivated and vocal people on both sides making serious and conflicting claims.... William James said that religious belief is "the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto." Science has its own version of the unseen order, the laws of nature. In principle, the two kinds of order can themselves be put into harmony - and in that adjustment, too, may lie a supreme good."

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  • Alchemist: I followed you up to the last paragraph, and then read more
  • mark of fish: Arguing about the existence of God is pointless puffery. I read more
  • Beard: As to terminology, according to the Wikipedia entry on Atheism, read more

CFR on China and Pakistan, 2009

By Joe Katzman at 01:36

Jamal Afridi of the "realist" (read: diplomatic establishment) Council on Foreign Relations pens an analysis of Pakistan's relationship with China.

Will the sharp upturn in relations between the USA and India, begun under President Bush, prompt Pakistan to push for even closer ties with Beijing? Pakistan certainly values its relationship with China, but like most large-small relationships, the value isn't fully reciprocated. After the Uighur protests, China is growing more concerned about Pakistan's locus as a center of gravity for Islamonazis, and worry that more Uighurs could begin finding their way there. So there's a bunch of complicating concerns and interests. Most interesting passage:

"China is well aware of the threat it faces if it becomes too involved in counterterrorism efforts within Pakistan," says Garver, "and that means taking a more cautious and calculated approach--at least publicly--in strengthening Pakistan's secular institutions against the Islamist challenge. This may partly explain why China has been quite comfortable in encouraging the United States to engage more with Pakistan: to take the heat off of China."

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August 25, 2009

Univ. of Utah: Is Active Broadband Cloaking Possible?

By Joe Katzman at 20:27

Well, this was interesting. Active, broadband, exterior cloaking devices... but not for light:

"University of Utah mathematicians developed a new cloaking method, and it's unlikely to lead to invisibility cloaks like those used by Harry Potter or Romulan spaceships in "Star Trek." Instead, the new method someday might shield submarines from sonar, planes from radar, buildings from earthquakes, and oil rigs and coastal structures from tsunamis.

"We have shown that it is numerically possible to cloak objects of any shape that lie outside the cloaking devices, not just from single-frequency waves, but from actual pulses generated by a multi-frequency source," says Graeme Milton, senior author of the research and a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Utah."

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  • Joe Katzman: Interesting that the same "metamaterials" Grim's roundtable discussed could also read more
  • mark buehner: "University of Utah mathematicians developed a new cloaking method, and read more
  • Grim: We had a roundtable discussion about a year ago with read more

August 24, 2009

Because We Haven't Talked About The 'Armed' Part Lately

By Armed Liberal at 17:26
After we left Bragg, TG wondered about the M4's she'd seen the soldiers carrying.

On the way home, we stopped to visit some friends, one of whom was my old shooting mentor:

TG thought the rifle was pretty neat.

There's an interesting debate to have on gun rights about "assault rifles." On one hand it's naive to state that they don't have tactical advantages over other kinds of rifles - meaning that they are, in fact, more dangerous.

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  • kparker: Mark (#29), Having heard "The Last American in Rwanda" speak, read more
  • Grim: I suspect many of the Inquisitors and witch-hunters had convinced read more
  • mark buehner: "But I don't live in Rwanda, or Sri Lanka, or read more

August 22, 2009

" dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f***in education you coulda got for a dollah fifty in late chahges at the public library"

By Armed Liberal at 00:27

Harvard-educated Matt Yglesias obviously skipped classes on Public Choice (which explains a lot about his views, actually):
At the same time, I've come to be increasingly baffled by the high degree cynicism and immorality displayed in big-time politics. For example, Senators who genuinely do believe that carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to a global climate crisis seem to think nothing of nevertheless taking actions that endanger the welfare of billions of people on the grounds that acting otherwise would be politically problematic in their state. In other words, they don't want to do the right thing because their self-interest points them toward doing something bad. But it's impossible to imagine these same Senators stabbing a homeless person in a dark DC alley to steal his shoes. And what's more, the entire political class would be (rightly!) shocked and appalled by the specter of a Senator murdering someone for personal gain. Yet it's actually taken for granted that "my selfish desires dictate that I do x" constitutes a legitimate reason to do the wrong thing on important legislation.
I just happen to have a copy of James Buchanan's collected works 'Politics as Public Choice' on the shelf...Matt, just click the link and buy the book - it'll open your eyes to all kinds of things.

(h/t Tyler Cowan, who probably has read Buchanan)

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  • bgates: Give me more "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" That's the ">read more
  • Roland Nikles: Wikipedia has a summary of Public Choice Theory that seems ">read more
  • Aog: What I don't understand is how Yglesia can write something ">read more

August 21, 2009

The Three-Body Problem And The Axis of Moderation

By Armed Liberal at 22:28


It's been interesting over the last few weeks, to try and suss out the turbulent political waves and to begin to see some clarity emerging. I'll suggest (shockingly) that what we're seeing reinforces a belief that I've had for quite some time - meaning it's good for me to put it out there to be challenged.

Looking at why Obama seems to be having such a popularity collapse suggests that models of the polity that were bipolar - i.e. D's and R's - probably don't represent reality as models that are tripolar - D's, R's, and I's. And while the I's may be largely ideologically rooted in one side or the other, their "brand attachment" is weak, meaning that they can be flipped easily or else that they aren't necessarily going to come out and vote unless they are engaged.

Both GWB and Obama managed to engage a large group of these I's; in each case for a variety of historical reasons, but also, I'll suggest because they presented as postpartisan - as essentially independent-friendly candidates.

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  • Independent George: This is my problem with the analysis: "What he's figured read more
  • bgates: Trent, it's actually not that unusual for the government to read more
  • bflat879: Some of us believe the reason Obama won was the read more

Armed And Political

By Armed Liberal at 05:03

Commenter Beard reached out and asked me what I thought of the folks who are practicing open carry at healthcare townhalls and other political events these days.

Over the years, my position on gun rights has hardened somewhat; I've moved from "oh, there are a lot of reasonable restrictions..." to "no, there are very few reasonable restrictions."

So looking at the phenomenon as purely a gun rights issue, I think the people are idiots and counterproductive but within their rights. They are idiots and counterproductive because what they intend to do is inflame reaction. We're not talking about someone wearing a gun as a matter of course and showing up at a coffee house somewhere. We're talking about someone (a black someone, by the way) who straps on a holster and handgun and then slings an AR15 shorty over his shoulder - and one with a magazine in it.

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  • Alchemist: See, now you've drawn me into the tangent and I read more
  • Beard: Grim [#47]: Thanks for pointing me to Firebrand. I just read more
  • bgates: I wish the right had the imagination of the left, read more

Fallujah Memoirs: David Bellavia

By Joe Katzman at 04:07

In November 2004, Winds authored "The Battle of Fallujah: A Comprehensive Briefing (v3.6)" to monitor one of the 2nd Iraq War's decisive battles. Staff Sgt. David Bellavia and the "Ramrods" of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment didn't need to read it. They were there, and among other things, his actions over that period earned him a recommendation for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Not bad for a theater major who joined the army because he was sued by Steven Sondheim.

No, really.

Bellavia's book "House to House" describes his experiences in detail, and Chicago's Pritzker Military Library recently hosted and videotaped a, well... "one man theater show" isn't a bad way to describe it, actually. He has a very sane and real take on a lot of things, and he describes the visceral and mental reality of that combat in a way that isn't going to come across in the award citations.

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Breaking the Greenback's Back: Buffet's Shot Across the Bow

By Joe Katzman at 03:56

Warren Buffet sounded the all-hands alarm in the New York Times today, of all places. While he supported the stimulus, now that the emergency is over he says it's time to get real, or the government will destroy the value of the US dollar:

"An increase in federal debt can be financed in three ways: borrowing from foreigners, borrowing from our own citizens or, through a roundabout process, printing money. Let's look at the prospects for each individually - and in combination..."

If you assume that all $400 billion of America's expected 2009 current account deficit is funneled into purchases of US government debt, and that Americans not only increase their net savings to $500 billion (about 9× 2007 figures) but put all their savings into United States Treasuries... the US Treasury will be obliged to find another $900 billion to finance the remainder of the $1.8 trillion of debt it is issuing. Buffet continues:

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  • mark buehner: Mmmm.... but, all isn't lost. The fundamental strength of our read more
  • Joe Katzman: Weak dollar = more expensive oil. Oil will keep its read more
  • lewy14: The conventional wisdom is that the US economy can't be read more

August 19, 2009

The Pipeline Wars: A Russian View

By Joe Katzman at 19:38

Read my 2002 post "Pipeline Politics: The Caspian Front" for an intro, and "NATO's German/Eastern Question" to understand the limits of American power and influence. Now, RIA Novosti's July 24/09 "Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: A Battle of the Pipelines"...

"The last three weeks have been rich in developments in the unfolding "battle of the pipelines" to supply natural gas to Europe. Russia, the EU and the United States are locked in a tough struggle to secure domination over the natural gas supply lines to Europe from Russia and Central Asia. Why is there such heated competition for building alternative gas pipelines to Europe? What are Russia's objectives in the "battle of the pipelines"? What are the EU and American objectives? Why is the United States trying to play such an active role in decisions that will not in any way affect the energy supplies to the United States?"

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August 16, 2009


By Armed Liberal at 02:57

The buses pulled away for the airfield about 12:30 am Saturday morning.

deploy_busses.JPG Up until then, we'd been scattered in little company-centered groups across Fury Field, a grassy quad in the middle of modern office buildings and barracks, some hiding from the intermittent rain under temporary canopies, some of us just standing in the warm rain. Mostly it was soldiers in ACU's; peering at lists illuminated by red-lensed flashlights, moving huge rucks or duffel bags onto flatbed trucks like ant swarms carrying large crumbs or just sitting alone or with wives and children or girlfriends or the occasional parent.

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  • Maggie45: I just wrote "Biggest Guy" and his family on my read more
  • The Kitchen Dispatch: Not an easy time, and certainly there'll be many a read more
  • tyree: My nephew started with the 82nd decades ago. Now he read more

August 15, 2009

"Swedish lesbians suck sperm banks dry"

By Joe Katzman at 16:12

By any measure, that has to be the headline of the year. Article here.

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August 15, 2009

Hurts So Good: Mmmmm, Lobster

By Joe Katzman at 15:30

Some of you may have seen the stories about Robert Elwood's research, which makes a pretty good case that crabs, lobsters, and prawns can feel pain. Hermit Crabs also remembered it later, and changed their behaviour. That second bit is key, as it takes it out of the realm of a mere reflex response. There go our rationalizations, and even reflex responses may deserve attention:

"It was also thought that since many invertebrates cast off damaged appendages, it was not harmful for humans to remove legs, tails and other body parts from live crustaceans. Another study led by Patterson, however, found that when humans twisted off legs from crabs, the stress response was so profound that some individuals later died or could not regenerate the lost appendages."

The good news is that there is a new alternative to boiling lobsters alive, approved by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals no less, and it has a number of benefits to chefs in the bargain. The "Crustastun" is a shoebox-sized device that uses salt water and electric current. Its approach reduces the cortisols and adrenaline that stress can create in boiled critters, resulting in tenderer and tastier meat. The voltage also kills bacteria, which means the dead crustaceans can safely be stored for up to 48 hours - a bonus for restaurants, which reduce their throw-away losses.

Looks like a win solution all around. Hat tip to inventors Simon and Charlotte Buckhaven.

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August 14, 2009

Don't Tell Me How This Ends

By Michael Totten at 21:05

There's a lot of talk right now among opinion writers and policy analysts about how Iraq may be slouching toward civil war again. It's understandable. Suicide- and car-bomb attacks make headlines every week. After a recent devastating assault on a Shia village, a woman standing amid rubble looked into a television camera and yelled at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: "Look Prime Minister," she shouted, "look Minister of Interior, where's the security you're talking about?"

Iraq is still a violent, dysfunctional mess. It probably will be for a long time. But Iraqis aren't necessarily doomed to suffer another round of internal bloodletting like they did during the middle years of this decade.

In the dangerous security vacuum that followed the demolition of Saddam's regime, Abu Musab al Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) ignited a civil war by unleashing ferocious terror attacks against the country's Shia community. Now that American soldiers have withdrawn from urban areas and created another partial security vacuum, the shattered remnants of AQI are trying to ramp up that effort again. It won't be as easy for AQI now as it was last time.

Iraqis suffered terribly at the hands of militias and death squads before General David Petraeus radically transformed American counterinsurgency with his "surge" strategy. Petraeus succeeded, at least temporarily, thanks to overwhelming cooperation and support from traumatized Iraqis who had a bellyful of politics by bullet and car bomb.

Initially, many Iraqi Sunnis welcomed and sheltered al-Qaeda because of its promise to expel American soldiers and protect the Sunni minority from the Shia majority. In the meantime, three legs of al-Qaeda's support have been sawed off. American soldiers aren't a daily irritant anymore. Maliki's Shia-dominated government smashed the Shia militias. And al-Qaeda proved itself the enemy of even the Sunnis with its barbaric head-chopping behavior.

Terrorist attacks against Shias by AQI won't likely reignite a full-blown sectarian war as long as the Sunnis continue to hold fast against the psychotics in their own community and Maliki's government provides at least basic security on the streets.

Iraq's Sunnis have as much incentive as its Shias to fight the AQI killers among them. They suffered terribly at AQI's hands, after all. Out in Anbar Province, they violently turned against "their own" terrorist army even before the Shias turned against "theirs." And Tariq Alhomayed points out in the Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat that Maliki faces the same pressure to provide security on the streets, especially for his own Shia community, that any Western leader would face under similar circumstances -- he wants to be re-elected.

The uptick in violence following America's partial withdrawal shouldn't shock anyone. If you scale back security on the streets, more violence and crime are inevitable. The same thing would happen in the United States if local police departments purged the better half of their officers. That does not mean, however, that Iraq is doomed to revert to war.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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Departure (or Homecoming Day -365)

By Armed Liberal at 02:22

BID a strong ghost stand at the head
That my Michael may sleep sound,
Nor cry, nor turn in the bed
Till his morning meal come round;
And may departing twilight keep
All dread afar till morning's back.
That his mother may not lack
Her fill of sleep.
Bid the ghost have sword in fist:
Some there are, for I avow
Such devilish things exist,
Who have planned his murder, for they know
Of some most haughty deed or thought
That waits upon his future days,
And would through hatred of the bays
Bring that to nought.
Though You can fashion everything
From nothing every day, and teach
The morning stats to sing,
You have lacked articulate speech
To tell Your simplest want, and known,
Wailing upon a woman's knee,
All of that worst ignominy
Of flesh and bone;
And when through all the town there ran
The servants of Your enemy,
A woman and a man,
Unless the Holy Writings lie,
Hurried through the smooth and rough
And through the fertile and waste,
protecting, till the danger past,
With human love.

- 'A prayer for my son,' by William Butler Yeats

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  • amanda110: Homecoming is coming, I think the best gift is make read more
  • Tim Oren: God speed. Let us know if there's anything we can read more
  • Joe Katzman: Amen. read more

August 13, 2009

Pakistan's Perilous Poll

By Joe Katzman at 02:35

So, Al-Jazeera (yeah, I know) commissions a poll from Gallup in Pakistan. 2,600 people across the political spectrum, in all 4 Pakistani provinces. Might be methodologically flawed for all I know, but doesn't look like it to casual inspection.

And the question is which is the greatest threat to Pakistan - India, the Taliban/Al-Qaeda who are waging an internal civil war in Pakistan, or the USA.

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  • Fred: Tom, the problem with "better functioning justice systems/property rights" and read more
  • Tom Grey - Liberty Dad: The US model of development aid to mostly 'strengthen central read more

Wall Street is Part of the Economic Problem

By Joe Katzman at 00:35

Simon Johnson is right:

"China mostly invests in activities that raise productivity, raising the amount of goods and services that they can produce. This could be manufacturing or infrastructure or various kinds of services. Agriculture lags but continues to get some new investment. And of course they pour money into education. I'm not a fan of the Chinese way of organizing their economy or their society.... But contrast their pattern of investment in recent years with ours. What sector in our economy has expanded more than any other? ....Finance.... What has this really added in terms of productivity?"

He adds:

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  • Tom Grey - Liberty Dad: The cure for Too Big To Fail is, and was, read more
  • lewy14: Joe I'm not in substantial disagreement with respect to the read more
  • Joe Katzman: "...implied social visions seem to be driving much of the read more

August 11, 2009

Where the Middle East Fights its Wars

By Michael Totten at 19:52

Dahiyeh Rubble 2x.JPG


The Middle East is riven with fault lines. Conflicts between Israelis and Arabs, Persians and Israelis, Arabs and Persians, Sunnis and Shias, Islamists and liberals, and democrats and Khomeinists are all stuck in a holding pattern that isn't sustainable. The region is in a deadlock and will likely remain so until something big and probably violent unjams it.

Because of its extraordinary diversity, almost every major political current in the Middle East echoes in Lebanon. In the past, Arab Nationalism and Palestinian "resistance" blew through the place and left swaths of wreckage before passions cooled. Thanks to Hezbollah, the country is still a front line in the Arab-Israeli conflict -- and that's because the Iranian-backed militia is the tip of the spear in the Persian-Israeli conflict. Lebanon is also where mutually antagonistic Sunnis and Shias are more or less numerically matched and where the Syrian-Iranian axis directly confronts its resilient political opposites. Beirut, like Tehran, is where some of the Middle East's most liberal modernizers face off against committed radicals in thrall to Ayatollah Khomeini's totalitarian vision of Velayat-e Faqih.

A divided country with a weak central government can't indefinitely withstand this kind of pressure any more than geological faults can forever keep still while continental plates slowly but relentlessly collide with each other. And so Lebanon is a place where the Middle East fights itself. It is also where the East meets the West and, at times, where the East fights the West. Everyone with a dog in a Middle East fight has a dog in Lebanon's fights.

Beirut may be the best place of all to observe that part of the world. It has its own local problems, of course, but its most serious local problems are regional problems. The Syrians are there, the Iranians are there, and the Saudis are there. France and the United States sent soldiers there more than once. United Nations peacekeepers have been there since the 1970s. The Israelis barge in and out. Yasser Arafat and the PLO used the country as a terrorist base and set up their own parallel state after their violent eviction from Jordan. When Ariel Sharon drove Arafat and his gang to Tunisia, Hezbollah set up an Iranian-sponsored parallel state in the PLO's place.

I visited Lebanon after wrapping up my last trip to Iraq, and was pleasantly surprised all over again by how much nicer Beirut is than Baghdad despite all its troubles. It's still a mess, of course, but that's because the region it reflects is a mess.

Read the rest at


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August 10, 2009

Washngton Post Offers A Microcosm of What's Wrong in US Economy

By Joe Katzman at 01:12

The Washington Post writes "For Many Americans, Nowhere to Go but Down" - a typical media story about an unemployed family and their travails. Of course, there isn't a single place in this story that might be described as self-reflective, by the family - or by the reporter:

"What if we don't have cash to buy milk, eggs, bread or diapers? What if our unemployment benefits run out? What if we never find jobs?....Scott got a job on a paint crew at an RV plant, and by the end of 2007 his income had climbed to $53,000, more than he had ever earned. After work he was the man at the bar with the thick roll of bills, the man he had always wanted to be, buying round after round for himself and his friends. The man with "the full pocket," as he liked to say. He took his son on a fishing trip. He took his family out to eat and told them to order whatever they wanted."

To add insult to stupidity...

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  • Alchemist: Let me revamp that a little, the median credit card read more
  • Alchemist: I've largely given up bars. Just spent a bunch of read more
  • chuck: I went through a phase of hanging out in bars, read more

AIG House of Cards Coming Down Next?

By Joe Katzman at 00:29

Since the $182 billion bailout, state regulators have said that its core business was sound, and that the problems were confined to a single high-risk unit. Uh, maybe not. David Merkel (CFA) at AlephBlog has been looking at this issue for some time now, and see the full PDF/Excel analysis. He also makes a compelling case that the bailout was unnecessary. Now, the New York Times is taking a harder look at the solvency of AIG's subsidiaries... and seems to be coming to the same conclusions as Merkel's analysis:

"...state regulatory filings offer a different picture. They show that A.I.G.'s individual insurance companies have been doing an unusual volume of business with each other for many years -- investing in each other's stocks; borrowing from each other's investment portfolios; and guaranteeing each other's insurance policies, even when they have lacked the means to make good. Insurance examiners working for the states have occasionally flagged these activities, to little effect. More ominously, many of A.I.G.'s insurance companies have reduced their own exposure by sending their risks to other companies, often under the same A.I.G. umbrella.... But A.I.G.'s companies have reinsured each other to such a large extent, experts say, that now billions of dollars worth of risks may have ended up at related companies that lack the means to cover them."

In other words, they're cooking the books. Legally, but dishonestly. Another player in a game that's harder and harder not to see as rigged. That's bad for capitalism as a whole, and bad for the country.

Maybe it's time to go through all of the "too big to fail" financials, and send them into breakup. When even Forbes Magazine is starting to float this idea, it's time for a serious look.

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  • lewy14: From Aleph: The foreign subsidiaries are foreign, and should not read more
  • mark buehner: "3. Put every financial institution considered "too big to fail" read more
  • Joe Katzman: My preferred reforms to this industry would be 3-fold: 1. read more

August 8, 2009

Have You No Honesty, Sir?

By Armed Liberal at 22:18

Over at TNR, in an article titled 'Have You No Decency?' Harold Pollack engages in some gratuitous Palin-basing in his commentary on healthcare policy:
Palin and Bachmann remind no one of Hillary Clinton in their success in grasping complex policy issues, or in their desire to do so. It may be too much to expect them to trace the origin and veracity of these talking points.
...but politics ain't beanbag, as they say, and I'm not in the Palin-defending business (or in the business of defending any other public figure).

I am in the trying to get people to be honest and consistent in their arguments business, and so - given that the thrust of his argument is that Palin and Bachmann are being dishonest when they say that one of the consequences of healthcare reform is that:
The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
- he needs to show just a little honesty himself.

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By Armed Liberal at 17:29

Go over to the SEIU blog, and read the post calling for greater civility in the townhall discussions on healthcare. Then scroll right down and read the comments:
SEIU and ACORN are also contributing to the mayhem at these town hall meetings. I can't wait to we have ours here and see how many of you, from out of town are in attendance.

I am a Democrat and worked on the Obama campaign in Hollywood, Florida for 4 months with SEIU. I am not a radical, belong to any radical organization or belong to any Republican organization. I just disagree with it, plain and simple. Not everyone is a radical or a naysayer for disagreeing with this and by labeling people, SEIU is lowering themselves to the level of these radicals and naysayers.

From a former employee of Local 11 (now 32bj), Miami, Florida

Former employee of Florida Public Services Union

Former employee of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida who lost their job fighting to support the janitors and landscapers attempting to organize.
Maybe there's something to this whole 'social media transparency' thing.

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  • Marcus Vitruvius: First, Tim, no one's personally accused you of anything, in read more
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August 7, 2009

POW Closure: Capt. Speicher Found in Iraq

By Joe Katzman at 20:22

Capt. Speicher's F/A-18 Hornet fighter was shot down over Iraq during Operation Desert Storm on Jan 17/91, and was listed as killed. There has been considerable controversy regarding his fate, however, and in January 2001, the Secretary of the Navy took the extremely rare step of changing his status to "missing in action." In 2002, it was changed again, this time to "missing-captured." Many also believe that his aircraft was not shot down by a surface-to-air missile, as claimed at the time, but by an Iraqi fighter that passed American planes who were not allowed to engage it. See also the March 27/01 CIA report.

After Operation Iraqi Freedom, evidence was found that included a flight suit believed to be his, an escape and evade sign located on the desert floor, and what appear to be the initials "MSS" scrawled on a wall of a cell in the Hakmiyah prison in Baghdad. Speicher's name was also found on a document in Iraq, dated January 2003, that had the names of prisoners being held in the country. Despite these efforts and clues, however, Speicher's whereabouts and the exact details of his fate remained unknown until a July 2009 tip from Iraqis led to his burial place:

"One of these Iraqi citizens stated that they were present when Speicher was found dead at the crash site by Bedouins and his remains buried. The Iraqi citizens led U.S. Marines to the site who searched the area.... The recovered remains include bones and multiple skeletal fragments. Positive identification was made by comparing Speicher's dental records with the jawbone recovered at the site. The teeth are a match, both visually and radiographically."

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August 6, 2009

Bernanke, Central Planner Par Excellence

By Joe Katzman at 20:04

Peter Schiff (so A.L. will know what his kids have been reading) goes after Arthur Laffer, Ben Stein (which A.L. will enjoy), and others:

I especially love the laughter of his opponents. Now, the most powerful central planner in the world, displaying the usual track record:

Incidentally, we're supposed to stake America's future on guy #2. Have a nice day.

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  • lewy14: Joe, if you must consort with the Austrians, at least read more
  • mark buehner: "I have no idea what Peter Schiff is talking about." read more

Some Small Good News

By Armed Liberal at 19:21

Just got this message from Soldier's Angels:

Our soldier, Cpt. Michael Valleta just notified me that--- he won the Lexus for a year while he is deployed.


Just wanted to say thanks one last time! I was just notified by Lexus as the winner of the contest! I couldn't have done it without you! Mike-

Here is the info below:

Dear Michael,

Congratulations! You have been selected to receive a prize in the Lexus HS Contest, administered by ePrize.

You have been selected as the winner of the use of a Lexus HS for one (1) calendar year, a voucher good for two (2) nights weekend accommodations at a participating Fairmont Hotel, and a Lexus Hybrid Living gift bag containing Sponsor selected Lexus branded products. Please see the attached Official Rules for further prize details and eligibility requirements. This prize has an approximate retail value of $9600.

Congratulations again and thank you for your continued patronage.

Prize Fulfillment Services

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August 5, 2009

Tip for Beating Jet Lag in 1 Night

By Joe Katzman at 01:19

SciVee had an interesting video from some biology researchers, who think they may have hit on an important key by watching how some animals do it in nature. This article briefly explains the basic science, then offers a video for further viewing. The tip?

bq. "Simply stop eating during the 12-16 hour period before you want to be awake. Once you start eating again, your internal clock will be reset as though it is the start of a new day. Your body will consider the time you break your fast as your new "morning."... If you are travelling from Los Angeles to Tokyo, figure out when breakfast is served in Tokyo, and don't eat for the 12-16 hours before Tokyo's breakfast time."


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  • mark buehner: Bloody marys. What's the problem? read more
  • Umbriel: My own solution for the lesser lag of trips from read more

August 4, 2009

The World in a Mustard Seed: Climate Change & Evolution

By Joe Katzman at 23:40

Yale Environment 360 blog has a piece about evolution and global warming. Which actually starts from a grounded base of science, rather than politics.

"When a severe drought struck southern California, Weis realized that he could use the extra bucket of seeds for an experiment. In 2004 he and his colleagues collected more field mustard seeds from the same sites that Sim had visited seven years earlier. They thawed out some of the 1997 seeds and then reared both sets of plants under identical conditions. The newer plants grew to smaller sizes, produced fewer flowers, and, most dramatically, produced those flowers eight days earlier in the spring. The changing climate had, in other words, driven the field mustard plants to evolve over just a few years. "It was serendipity that we had the seeds lying around," says Weis."

SoCal has had drought cycles before, of course, but the point that some plants and animals can select/adapt rather quickly to changes in their environment seems to be a replicable result. If so, it's likely to take a good chunk (but not all) of the edge off of biodiversity impacts, if global temperatures do warm appreciably due to solar fluctuation, carbon effects. or whatever. We'll see. I especially liked this bit, which is apparently something many genebanks already do on a less systematic basis:

"Weis is now laying the groundwork for that research with something he and his colleagues call the Resurrection Initiative. They are starting to gather seeds and put them in storage. "Fifty years from now, botanists can draw out ancestors from this seed bank and do much more sophisticated experiments on a much bigger scale," says Weis. "It will answer some very nitty-gritty details about the evolutionary process itself. We want to take the serendipity out of it."

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August 3, 2009

Hamas Pretends Resistance is Futile

By Michael Totten at 17:52

Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshal told the Wall Street Journal that he’s finally willing to accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We along with other Palestinian factions in consensus agreed upon accepting a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines,” he said. “This is our program. This is a position we stand by and respect.”

Meshal needs to do a lot more than make the right kind of noises to the Wall Street Journal before any of us begin to take what he said seriously.

Yasser Arafat was famous for saying one thing to Westerners in English and something else entirely to Palestinians in Arabic. He spoke so convincingly like a peacemaker to Israelis, Americans, and Europeans that he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Yet while smiling for the cameras during sham negotiations with U.S. President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, his own newspapers and schools incited the Palestinian people to murder and war. Not until hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed by suicide bombers during the Second Intifada did most in Israel and the United States understand what Arafat was up to.

It won’t be so easy for Hamas to pull off a similar stunt, and not only because Americans and Israelis — especially Israelis — have heard this rhetoric before and are accordingly skeptical. We also have outfits like the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) providing us with translations of what is written and said every day in the Arabic media. If MEMRI were as well known among journalists and policymakers in the 1990s as it is now, the violent collapse of the Oslo peace process might have come as less of a shock — and might therefore have been less deadly.

Even if Meshal were serious, accepting a Palestinian state along 1967 borders is a start, but it’s only half of what’s necessary. Hamas must also accept an Israeli state on the other side of the Green Line. And Hamas must accept that the Israeli state have a Jewish majority. Israel will no more transform itself into an Arab country by allowing every Palestinian in the Diaspora to settle there than Hamas will allow all the Jews in the world to relocate to the West Bank and Gaza.

In any case, if you want to know what Middle Eastern political leaders really think, pay more attention to what they do than to what they say. Even what they say in Arabic means less than what they actually do. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for instance, flattered the Iranian government with all sorts of friendly gestures and promises while sending Iraqi soldiers into battle alongside Americans to crush Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Sadr City and Basra. It’s theoretically possible (though highly improbable) that Hamas might at some point continue paying lip service to the cause of “resistance” when speaking to a regional audience while working to convince Palestinians that the perpetual war has been a disaster.

The rockets out of Gaza have stopped, at least for now. That’s something. It’s not as significant as Maliki’s fighting Iranian-backed militias alongside Americans, but it’s something.

Assuming Meshal doesn’t instantly and publicly reverse himself, what Hamas-run schools, newspapers, and television programs say should settle any lingering doubts. Will Palestinian children still be told they will one day “liberate” Tel Aviv, Haifa, and all Jerusalem? Or will the cause be properly narrowed to the West Bank and Gaza? If the Palestinian public — and especially Palestinian children — doesn’t get the message that Hamas is finally willing to accept a two-state solution, what Meshal just said to a Wall Street Journal reporter doesn’t mean anything.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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August 1, 2009

Job Hunting Advice From the Armed Liberal

By Armed Liberal at 00:01

So I'm on a number of email lists, which I consider to be communities - meaning there's some form of mutual obligation. So when someone from one of my lists reaches out to me, I tend to try and help.

It doesn't always work out so well....

And it's oddly connected to Joe's previous post...

We start the discussion on Facebook, move to email, and back to Facebook:
Ms. X July 9 at 2:31pm I guess I don't even know what you do. You travel a lot. Something like a project manager for big important projects, yeah that explains it.

Anyway, as you know, I've been looking for a job back in low cal So Cal. My industry is melting like the wicked witch after Dorothy doused her. My career went like this: public accounting > construction (job cost) accounting > accounting software development/programming > accounting software consultant (implementations for the construction industry)

[long discussion clipped ]

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