Monday, August 30, 2004

Is the War on Terror Unwinnable?

A large group on the left are dismissed for harboring thoughts that the War on Terror is an Unwinnable war-- or at least an Ideological war likely to endure for decades, and similar in kind to the Cold war. It seems that Bush is moderating his hard stance in an attempt to grab undecided voters with this admission:

When asked “Can we win?” the war on terror, Bush said, “I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world.”

Now, this seems like a reasonable statement; though, imagine if it were Howard Dean or John Kerry who made that statement: The press would eat them alive. Not unlike when, after the capture of Saddam Hussein, Dean said that America was not safer. The press had a field day; and, only months later, Najaf, Fallujah, Baghdad and the rest of Iraq lite up in violent anti-occupation clashes. Apparently, it seems, Iraq wasn't safer after Saddam's capture.

So Bush realizes that the War on Terror may be Unwinnable in the near term. Isn't that what everyone else has been saying for the last two years? And were or were they not being labeled unpatriotic for such a statement? Bush shows up to the party late and the media gives him a free ride: Wow!

Supreme Choice

In an Op-ed that appeared in Sunday's New York Times, Dahlia Litwick strikes a cautionary tone about the furtive nature of Supreme Court Justices in the US. Ominously, while the presidential race heats up—possibly the most important one in the last 50 years—people don't know why this election could be the most important. It's not who can bravely prosecute the War on Terror; and it's not necessarily about Iraq. It's about who can appoint the next Supreme Court Justices, and ultimately shape the constitutional course of the United States.

Will Roe v. Wade be struck down? Is privacy a right recognized in the constitution as the Framers intended, or are activist Judges reading it into the constitution? How representative is the Electoral College? Will the Confederacy hold? These and a myriad of other questions are pertinent to the direction of the Republic. Therefore, the candidate that wins this year's presidential election will determine the future of the United States.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Cost of Glory

The first modern Olympics took place in Athens, Greece, in 1896. It was an attempt to restore the legacy of amateur sports and competition given to the world by the Greeks. Only about 300 hundred athletes competed, and the competition lasted for only ten days involving only 13 countries. Athletes that placed first received a crown of olive leaves and a sliver medal; second place athletes received a bronze medal, and nothing was given to third place finishers. Greece walked away with 47 medals, an amazing feat at the time. Today, after two great world wars, the rise and fall of communism, regional and ethnic wars that span the globe, the incredible benefits and challenges of globalization, and the new threat of terrorism, Athens closes the 28th Olympics with 16 medals and a new world.

While others countries walk away from Greece feeling content with their athletes’ performances, Greeks are left to pick up the pieces from an event that will certainly burden their futures. From the jump, difficulties with the construction of venues, coordination of transportation, and, more importantly, the cost of security confronted the Greeks. Security concerns in a post 9/11 world led to abysmal ticket sales, and, as a consequence, poor revenue generation for the city of Athens, and Greece overall.

Not nearly enough restaurants, night clubs, hotels, souvenir shops, and Olympic Venues where filled, as they should have been. People were just fearful of the security situation, despite the fact that Athens poured six times more money into security than Salt Lake did the Olympics prior. In a country of only 11 million people, Greece is on the hook for some 9 billion(US) dollars. This inevitably means higher taxes to the citizens for a long time into the future; generations of Greeks will feel the legacy of these Olympics.

In my mind, the Olympics are, and have been, slowly becoming irrelevant. For the countries that can afford to field a wide array of athletes, they perform nearly uncontested. There are, however, rare moments of glory: when competitors from countries that can’t even afford to send coaches walk away with gold. But generally, as the Papacy is to Roman Catholism, the IOC seems to be the only true winner of the Olympics. A bloated, bureaucratic behemoth, the IOC has turned into a slothful hegemony that searches for the next foolish country it plans to beggar. As per the security threats at Athens, there were some:

Ron Bensimhon of Montreal, Canada, jumped off the 3-meter springboard at the diving venue Aug. 16 wearing a tutu over tights with blue polka dots. His motive remained unclear, but a judge sentenced him to five months in prison for interrupting the games.
He remained free pending an appeal and promised not to do it again.
And on Sunday, a man in a red kilt and green vest grabbed the marathon leader, Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil, and pushed him into the crowd. Police tackled the intruder and a visibly shaken de Lima resumed the race. He later dropped back to win the bronze medal.
``The people from security weren't expecting anything like this,'' de Lima said. ``I can't say anything more than it was a great, big suprise.''

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Connection

The Tectonic Plates seem to be shifting, and these are stories you should keep an eye on-- there is more beneath the headline:

At Knight Ridder: FBI investigating whether Pentagon official spied for Israel

At the New York Times: Pentagon Official Suspected of Giving U.S. Secrets to Israel

At Yglesias: Spies In The Pentagon

At Laura Rozen: The FBI investigation.

Update: Don't wait for the 'Conventional Media' to crack the names; just check out Rozen. Didn't I pick the right Saturday morning to wake up at 6 am.

Update II: TPM weighs in.

Update III: The Niger uranium incident dovetails into this story. Here's a backgrounder.

Off the AP: Alleged Leak to Israel Probe for a year

And NeedleNose.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Welcome to the Future.

I once remarked to my mother a while back that life is becoming a parody of itself. I tried to explain my theory by drawing on the pervasive and ubiquitous examples in the news. News no longer seems like news but rather entertainment-- maybe it always was and I'm too young to know better. Nonetheless, for me and a large group of my friends our frame of reference is T.V News, Music, or Movies. When I experience a real-life, everyday event, I involuntarily relate it to one of my favorite scene from a movie, or accompany it with the requisite soundtrack in my mind, or imagine it were to make the 6'oclock news.

I'd like to say that this may only be my neurosis, but I'm fairly certain that people everywhere (viz. Western Industrialize Countries saturated with the 24-hour News cycle) experience this same phenomenon.

Yesterday in Toronto there was a hostage situation at Union Station that involved a disgruntled man holding an innocent bystander at gun point. Unfortunately, the incident was resolved with the gun-wielding man finding his ultimate end through the bullet of a police marksman’s rifle. What I found more intriguing, however, were the responses of witnesses to the event. Almost like they were reading from the same script, each witness that was asked for comment by the swarming news teams related the same analogy: "It was like a Movie!" Since none of these people, it is assumed, had ever found themselves in such a frightful situation, their only analogue to the experience was straight from the movies.

Essentially, their reality preceded their experience, a sort of mnemonic reserve of virtual experiences ready to be related to a real life situation. One could suggest that reality doesn’t even feel like reality, but instead like a movie. Or, more clearly, in situations of reality without personal precedent, said reality feels like a movie. But I suspect that before the advent of Radio or Television, the frame of reference was the book. So this could just be a distinction without a difference.

Though to the point I raised earlier, that life is becoming a parody of itself, I should return. I'm picking up on a thesis offered by Marshall McLuhan in From Cliché to Archetype about the way in which old archetypes become new clichés and old clichés become new archetypes—if that makes any sense. One example, probably not the most apt, could deal with what at first was a cliché for good management: Efficiency and profit maximization. Thirty years plus have morphed that once benign cliché into an operating Archetype for any aspiring technocrat. Conversely, an old Archetype, Welfare State, which seems more like a dead metaphor, has evolved over the past 70 years to become a new clichés and a term of derision. Clearly McLuhan can explain it better; and I think I'll let him:

"The function of the … cliché [-probe] is to select for use one item or one feature out of a vast middenheap of … materials. It may be the cue for selection occurs when, from the rationale of a dominant cliché complex, we make a deprecatory adjustment toward the unconscious or the irrational, suppressed by the action of that cliché. … What is common to all these approaches [i.e. constructing cliché-probes] is the awareness the cliché is not necessarily verbal, and that it is also an active, structuring, probing feature of our awareness. It performs multiple functions from release of emotion to retrieval of other clichés from both the conscious and unconscious life."

But wait, where is the parody? Simple: Parody and derision are tools to either invalidate governing archetypes or loosen their hold on our collective consciousness. Groups of individuals, sometimes revolutionaries, actively try to undermine conventional archetypes in an attempt to fashion their ideas, which are at first considered silly clichés, into the archetypes of tomorrow.

Periods of excessive parody, for instance the Surrealist and Dada movements of post WW1 and WW2, not to mention The Theater of the Absurd, reflect the angst riddled individuals attempt to reconcile what appears to be reality with what reason demands. The inability to comprehensively rationalize the world leads to the impression that things are comical, absurd and sheer parody.

Universal human rights turns into universal human suffering; The valour of war, with all its needless bloodshed, turns into the irrelevance of human life; The wonders of technology and the heights of Capitalism turn into the gluttony of instant gratification and the perpetual lust for the material. One is confronted with the task of suspending disbelief in the realities of the world in order to confirm the mythologies that sustain sanity.

Parody, therefore, becomes a release, an arena in which these inconsistencies are laughed at in a form of catharsis. Unable to deal seriously with this psychosis, laughter suffices. But I think that the acceptance of parody as an alternative to action may in some ways ignore an underlining problem: The inability to engage. I contend that a mixture of acceptance and engagement would do one's soul well, and, more importantly, acceptance that all cannot be systematized and rationalized into a universal paradigm, because not doing so would be to grossly disregard one imperative: Human Nature. Yet this is an entirely different argument that would require more investigation.

Now, after that insufferably long post, the link I wanted to refer to: A Washington Post article about Kerry being on The Daily Show. I think The Daily Show is an excellent example of an outlet for Parody as a reflection of tumultuous times. And the popularity of the Daily Show only reinforces the fact that these times, they are a Crazy.

Justices, Justices, Justices

Two interesting Op-eds in the Globe and Mail today expound on the small controversy surrounding the nominations of Supreme Court Justices. Should Canada adopt American style Senate confirmation hearings, where selected nominees are held up for scrutiny in congress? Or, is a system akin to Israel’s advisory body, composed of judges and private citizens, more agreeable with the already consultative role played by Provincial Law Societies? Minister of Justice, Irwin Cotler, on the advice and recommendation of Paul Martin, convened parliamentary hearings today on the suitability of the two nominees that are currently being considered for appointment.

The hearings will allow opposition parties to comment on the suitability of the nominees; however, the two nominees will not be questioned and their confirmation is still the prerogative of the Prime Minister.

Naturally, Conservatives would like to see reform, envisioning a system that would look more like US conformation hearings. They are adamantly opposed to activist Judges expansively interpreting the Charter. Conservatives think,with good reason, that Liberals will put more activist Judges on the bench. I, on the other hand, think that their problem has more to do with what the Charter avails to citizens than to what political, legal philosophy a particular judge abides to. The Charter is intrinsically an instrument that seeks to either protect already established rights or expand--and at the same time anticipate-- species of new rights, with regard to socio-politico-cultural contingencies. So the stolid posturing of Formalists seeking to abridge, at each turn, accommodative readings of the law begins to appear stifling, rather than helpful. But I digress.

When you look at American style confirmation hearings, the partisanship is deadly. Insofar as such a system creates a process of sound, sober deliberation, it also breeds an atmosphere of gotcha hysteria that fatally undermines the intent of the nomination. I do not deny that political ideology essentially underwrites the selection of Justices, and that this enables the executive to articulate its desired political philosophy. But this is a prerogative I would unreservedly agree that a Conservative government exercise.

The argument that the Prime Minister decision is uniformed is a faulty one. To think that only a parliamentary committee should be vested with confirmation powers only raises the question: who recommends nominees? Is it the Premiers in the Provinces? Or aren't they also bound to political interests. How about Provincial Law Societies? Wait, they already make recommendations. The argument can extend itself further, though. But where the argument ends is also where it began: political ideology.

Whether it is the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, the Provinces, or the Law Societies offering recommendations for, and selecting, the nominees, political and legal ideology plays an integral factor in the process. Liberal governments will more often than not select and appoint Judges with a realist, expansive bent; Conservative governments will more often than not select and appoint Judges with a literalist, formal philosophy of the law.

I have not conceived a way where such a system, any system, could safely inoculate itself from political ideology. Moreover, with our fusion of powers, where the executive is the legislative, a parliamentary committee that was tasked to confirm a Justice would invariably be in the majority government’s control. Thus, in the end, political ideology rears its head.

Though, to be fair, grumblings of reform are symptomatic of an electoral impotence of the Conservative party. The Liberals have been in power so long that the make-up of the Supreme Court, much like the Senate, will make it difficult for a future Conservative government to articulate its desired political ideology. This is why calls of electoral reform are heard today: Ontario’s dominance stuns regional representation. But I can imagine that Liberal MLA’s haven’t much of a voice in Alberta, and that the Alberta Appellate and Superior Courts are stacked with Justices who cautiously interpret the law as it is read and was intended to be read.

While I understand that a more deliberative process that includes all of parliament is needed, I still maintain that the Prime Minister’s prerogative to select nominees, with the advice and consent of his Minister of Justice and other relevant bodies, should be respected and protected. What eases the mind, though, is that the Canadian temperament won’t permit any reforms that turn the process into a circus--hopefully.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Olympic Basketball

After losing to Puerto Rico, and then again to Lithuania, The not so Dream team appears to be the presumptive underdog against Spain in today's qauterfinal. Spain is looking strong after going 5-0 in the peliminaries and is favored among most as the team to beat.

The U.S, alternatively, has looked flat and suffered from a lack of consistent perimeter shooting. Eking out paltry wins against Greece and Australia, the U.S's recent 89-53 drubbing of Angola may bode well for their match-up against Spain-- not to mention the emotional motivation of being considered an underdog.

And He Said Onto Ye, Go Forth And Spread Thy Word

Josh Marshall has, I think, the best definition of President Bush:

The same sort of moral cowardice that led him to support the Vietnam war but decide it wasn't for him, run companies into the ground and let others pay the bill, play gutter politics but run for the hills when someone asks him to say it to their face, those are the same qualities that led the president to lie the country into war, fail to prepare for the aftermath and then refuse to take responsibility for any of it when the bill started to come due.

That's the argument John Kerry needs to be making. And he needs to make it right now.

The whole post is infused with a frustration born of a self-imposed restraint, a restraint to be civil and substantively engaging with one's opponent. But as the Swift Boat Vet imbroglio persists, the mainstream liberal blogosphere, usually know to be a tame creature, is starting to sharpen its claws. It's about time.

Orwell Envy II

I'm not sure if Hitch intends to come across so flippant when asserting that the foreign policy blunder of Vietnam-- and the experience of (Kerry) having fought in it-- cannot be instructive or useful to contemporary foreign policy issues. A reading of Hitches work over the past year will prove this assertion otherwise.

First, the threat of a Communist Indochina guided American decisions to commit troops to South Vietnam following France's withdrawal in 1954. Second, with the ideological precept that Communism was a total, brutal self-justify contagion, successive American administrations fatefully prosecuted what would become a stalemated war, with no long term strategy achieved. They had committed themselves to an intractable region laden with historical, cultural faults that were unwilling to submit to any plans of foreign, artificial unification.

Yes communism was a horrible and corrupted idea that manifested a grim reality. But this didn't constitute an automatic military engagement with fledging Communist regimes at every turn. While cold wars of ideology, diplomatic sanctions, and strategic maneuvering existed with the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and Cuba, hot wars like the Korean War and the Vietnam War ended inconclusively. Liberal democracy triumphed through tactics of both hot and cold wars; though it seems like a few of the hot wars or proxy wars (Afghanistan) seemed pointless.

This is essentially the point, I think, Hitchen’s implicitly makes: Pointless wars have their root in a weak vision of the Grand-Strategy. With all the political and diplomatic options available to a President in the prosecution of a war on Ideology, military force suffices as a strategy but can't be the be all and end all of The Grand Strategy. Military force cannot be an end in itself. The Vietnam War occurred because of a weak vision of the grand-strategy against international communism; the Iraq war has its parallels.

Today the War on Terror is our War of Ideology against what Hitchen’s aptly terms as Islamo-facism. On one military level it has been confronted but not vigorously and effectively fought: Afghanistan. On another strategic level it was either prosecuted too soon after Afghanistan was, in any way, viable; too poorly planed; and lacking in a vision of grand-strategy: Iraq.

The administration, Don Rumsfeld specifically, knows that it will be a long hard slog, so much so that their announcement of withdrawing troops from South Korea, Japan, Germany, and other location around the world signals their commitment to the ongoing War on terror—though somehow it is more likely that the intention is to have more available and mobile troops to fight hot wars. A grand-strategy is needed to fight an effective war on terror both militarily and ideologically. Weak vision and weak leadership will only lead to bad decisions and infeasible military commitments.

Orwell Envy

Christopher Hitchens is now continually starting to sound like a douchebag:

"In what sense, in other words, does his participation in a shameful war qualify him to be president of the United States? This was a combat of more than 30 years ago, fought with a largely drafted army using indiscriminate tactics and weaponry against a deep-rooted and long-running domestic insurgency. (Agent Orange, for example, was employed to destroy the vegetation in the Mekong Delta and make life easier for the swift boats.) The experience of having fought in such a war is absolutely useless to any American today and has no bearing on any thinkable fight in which the United States could now become engaged.

It's one thing to be a principled contrarian, it's entirely another thing to be a contrarian for the shake of being a contrarian. To be a rootless polemisist: oh what a joy. Hitch is afflicted with an Orwell complex.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Get Down!

You've really got to hand it to the Republican slim machine and its numerous appendages. In the span of only four weeks they've managed to shape the new cycle to theirs and the President's benefit. Only two days after the Democratic convention, with Democrats feeling unified by the self-congratulatory gathering, the media digesting the overarching message presented by the Democrats, a funny thing happened: Terror alerts were issued.

The focus directly, and rightly, shifted to the urgency and credibility of these alerts, and away from John Kerry and the recent Democratic convention. Concerned about possible attacks to the homeland, New York and Washington specifically, the Bush administration moved quickly to notify not only first responders, law enforcement officers and public officials, but also the general public. Asked for further evidence of the imminence of the attacks and the veracity of the evidence that led to the Terror alerts, the administration at first balked.

Just days later it was confirmed that the evidence for the suspected attacks predated 9/11, and that a former Al-Qaeda operative, captured in June, and who was providing actionable intelligence for the fight against international terrorism may have been inadvertently outed by Administration officials.

With the media unable to make heads or tails of the muddled circumstances, coverage began to be overwhelmingly dominated by news of important Al-Qaeda captures on all corners of the globe-- and without relent. It became a consecutive crescendo of rising momentum for Bush's re-elect. Contemporaneously, and not all too coincidentally, a shadowy group of scorned Vietnam veterans began a public relations campaign to discredit Kerry's Vietnam record. It didn't matter that these veterans never actually served with John Kerry, or that most of them didn't even contest his Senatorial Campaign in Massachusetts, or that some even endorsed John Kerry in the same Senatorial Campaign, or that their stories contradicted their own sworn testimony; all of this didn't matter.

The media, in the initial days, virtually accepted without reservation the allegations of these veterans, leaving Kerry on the defensive; where he's been for nearly the whole month of August. A visitor from another world would surely think something was wrong with this John Kerry character. With Kerry's negatives rising among veterans, these attack ads by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth have proven to be extremely effective for the Bush Campaign, despite claiming to have no links to the group and at the same time refusing to disavow the ads-- this isn't a disavowal.

Bush is poised to accept his party's nomination on the heels of a relatively empty month. The Republican National Convention seems have to been preceded with the type of news cycle fitting for the Bush presidency: Flaky on the outside, nothing in the middle: Nothing substantial on the obstinacy of the Defense Department, the CIA and the White House with regard to the proposals of the 9/11 commission, nothing substantial on the political dynamic of the fight for Najaf and its possible undermining of Ayad Allawi's power, nothing substantial on the crisis in Dafur, the instability in Afghanistan, the growing number of complicit actors in the prisoner abuse scandal, on the economy, and on the Bush presidency and his record in general.

It makes sense why the Bush administration would have us mired in the intimate details of how superficial Kerry's Vietnam injuries were, and that he only served four months. It makes sense because anything that really matters to the American people and that is crucially relevant to the campaign hurts Bush: The economy, the War on Terror, and the War in Iraq. Bush loses on every front.

Friday, August 20, 2004

In Bad Taste

When I saw this ad, I was overcome with a feeling of confused disgust. I'm not sure whose idea it was, but it just doesn't seem like it would play well with any demographic. It's an obvious message, and a very tacky delivery method; especially during the Olympics. It's no surprise that the ad has the Iraqis up in arms.

If some contend that the American adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq were principled defenses of the homeland and universal human rights-- Afganistan more likely; Iraq still questionably-- then the insincerity of a tacky political ad about this fact only degrades its reality.

Of course Afghanistan and Iraq can't escape the grasp of political opportunism, though one would hope that at least some things aren't politically distorted.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Policy Review

An interesting essay in the Policy Review by Sebastian Mallaby addresses the fundamental policy considerations surrounding the deregulation debate that has been underway for the past 20 years in Western industrial countries. Striking a cautionary tone, and surveying the lay of the land, Mallaby begins thusly:

If we are lucky, a new consensus may form around a slightly different principle: We will celebrate free competition rather than free markets, and we will recognize that promoting competition may frequently require departure from the principle of laissez-faire. If we are less lucky, we may face a more sweeping backlash against enterprise, with high costs to our prosperity

The incredible gains brought about by the deregulation of formerly governmental run industries—like Airline, Transportation, and Telecommunication—have created competitive markets, and inefficient ones, lower prices, and sometimes, more efficient delivery of services. Yet, at the same time, governmental oversight became lax and instances of corporate malfeasances, network collusion, and price gouging started making the logic of deregulation faulty:

The signs of this watershed are scattered, but they are too numerous to ignore. Abroad, we face a broad disaffection with pro-market reformism, which runs from disappointment at privatization and marketization in Russia to the return of leftist populism in Latin America. Within the United States, market advocates have been on the defensive, arguably, since the summer of 2000, when California’s first electricity blackouts called into question the deregulation of the energy sector. Around the same time, the telecommunications sector began its dramatic meltdown, culminating two years later in the bankruptcies of WorldCom, Global Crossing, and more than 150 less famous participants in the experiment unleashed by the 1996 telecoms deregulation law

… All that’s before you consider the twin shocks of terrorism and the outcry over corporate governance following the bankruptcy of Enron. In the aftermath of September 11, Americans turned instinctively to government for solutions — not just to hunt down al Qaeda but also to create the economic adjustments apparently required by the new circumstances.

Although Mallaby has some broader objections to the anti-market movement’s rhetoric—thinking it may, if not intellectually confronted, push for stifling governmental measures against enterprise—he concedes that reform is needed:

In the face of setbacks for markets, from California’s blackouts to the corporate governance scandals, the case in favor of the market needs to be restated vigorously, but it also needs to be defined more carefully than it has been. Pro-market people need to distinguish between issues and industries where an aggressive deregulatory approach is justified and those where this will only backfire. They need to accept that the right policy is often not deregulation but rather smart regulation and that the goal isn’t to cut the number of government rules but to ensure that rules make sense.

Despite flourishes of vacuousness, for instance, saying that the minimum wage laws are bad, the tenor of his essay is reasonable; though, similarly, it is tendentiously conservative. If there is one point that we’d agree on, this would be it:

If pro-market people can become tomorrow’s pro-competition people, they will be free to choose flexibly between markets and government activism, recognizing each as means to the pro-competition end.

Fail Safe

One of my favorite novels is Fail Safe. A work of political fiction, Fail Safe deals with the strategic maneuverings of Cold War nuclear defense. As a result of human error, US -52 Bombers patrolling the edges of Russian air space receive a coded message instructing them to attack Moscow. Once the Bombers pass the Fail Safe point, now unable to communicate with either the Americans or the Russians, their mission is to drop the payload, an atomic bomb.

The red phones are hot in Moscow and Washington trying to quickly resolve the situation; but, ultimately, the Bombers can't be stopped. It is then agreed that Washington will, in exchange for the imminent Moscow attack, drop a nuclear weapon on New York-- in good faith ( A crazy premise, I know).

So what exactly does this have to do with anything? Well, in an Op-ed in today's New York Times Nicholas D. Kristof speaks to the possibility of a nuclear bomb being detonated in New York city, though not by Americans; but, by terrorist. Take for instance this interesting excerpt:

...on Oct. 11, 2001, exactly a month after 9/11, aides told President Bush that a C.I.A. source code-named Dragonfire had reported that Al Qaeda had obtained a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon and smuggled it into New York City.

The C.I.A. found the report plausible. The weapon had supposedly been stolen from Russia, which indeed has many 10-kiloton weapons. Russia is reported to have lost some of its nuclear materials, and Al Qaeda has mounted a determined effort to get or make such a weapon. And the C.I.A. had picked up Al Qaeda chatter about an "American Hiroshima."

President Bush dispatched nuclear experts to New York to search for the weapon and sent Dick Cheney and other officials out of town to ensure the continuity of government in case a weapon exploded in Washington instead. But to avoid panic, the White House told no one in New York City, not even Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Dragonfire's report was wrong, but similar reports - that Al Qaeda has its hands on a nuclear weapon from the former Soviet Union - have regularly surfaced in the intelligence community, even though such a report has never been confirmed. We do know several troubling things: Al Qaeda negotiated for a $1.5 million purchase of uranium (apparently of South African origin) from a retired Sudanese cabinet minister; its envoys traveled repeatedly to Central Asia to buy weapons-grade nuclear materials; and Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, boasted, "We sent our people to Moscow, to Tashkent, to other Central Asian states, and they negotiated, and we purchased some suitcase [nuclear] bombs."

This is, seriously, some scary stuff. If international terror organizations, with designs of annihilating a major American metropolis, got their hands on nuclear weapons, it difficult to see how the American government would be able to defend Americans against that type of attack.
Some grim estimates see the likelihood of an attack of that scale and magnitude on the near horizon: A 50% chance within in the next 10 years. Steps can be taken to minimize the likelihood of such an attack, however. Counter-proliferation and non-proliferation policy must be indefatigably pursued, and situations like Abdul Qadeer Khan of Pakistan can't happen—period.

Chicken, Beef, or Human Flesh?

This story on freaked me out. A man who accidentally tripped into the Bride at a wedding reception was attacked by the bride’s father and other family members, taken out to a remote area, killed, cooked with coconut leaves and kerosene, and—to stretch this story beyond fiction—taken back to the reception in pieces and fed to the unknowing guests. Note to self: avoid weddings reception in the Philippines

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Some Civility, Please?

Guess who's filing a civil suit against Kobe Bryant? No, not Shaq? And no, not the City of Los Angeles, though in many respects they could prove harm inflicted in a court of law on account of how poorly the Lakers played in the Finals. But seriously, guess who? Yes, Jane Doe, the woman accusing Bryant of sexual assault is now simultaneously pursing a civil suit against him.

Keep in mind that this should not, in any measure, detract from the merit of her claim that she's not in it for financial gain. The woman contends that she has suffered "public scorn, hatred and ridicule" from the ongoing court proceedings. Although to be fair, a number of accidental-- in the loosest sense of the word-- leaks have shamelessly revealed salacious pieces of information that the Judge promised to keep confidential. Because the burden of proof is higher in a criminal case, the prosecution likely advised the accuser that a civil case—with a lower threshold of proof—would be in her best (monetary) interest.

Therefore, because the standard of proof is far lower in a civil case, this veiled threat by the prosecution portends the type of evidence they'll be citing: “The attorneys also accused Bryant of ``attempting to commit similar acts of violent sexual assault on females he has just met,'' but they did not elaborate. So expect everything and the kitchen sinks to be thrown in as evidence displaying Bryant's pattern of aggressive sexual behavior.

Conventional wisdom says Kobe settles out of court, for fear of having a queue of women willing to testify, for the prosecution, on his pattern of aggressive sexual behavior-- immaterial to the case though they may be.

Needless to say, Kobe Bryant’s name will be, for now and evermore, synonymous with rape, whether or not anything actually happened that night. If you don't believe this, I only have one question for you: Does anyone really name their child Orenthal James anymore?


I'd question the methodology of this, but since it reflects beautifully on Canada, I don't think I will. Apparently, in a survey of the best cities to live in, for expatriates, and measured to the relative quality of life and cost of living, five of the top six cities are Canadian.

This doesn't necessarily fly in the face of logic, since prominent international cities like New York, Tokyo, London and Paris are incredibly expensive to live in. And of the 200 cities the list surveyed, New York, Tokyo, London and Paris didn't even make the cut.

So who was number one, you ask? Well, none other than Canada's capital, Ottawa. Which helps me put things into perspective: for the quality of life I'm afforded, maybe the cost of living isn't terribly high; but, then again, perception and reality aren't too often comparable.

The other Canadian cities, in descending order, are Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto in sixth. However one may read into these findings, I think it’s safe to say that Montreal must be the coolest cheapest city in the world—for expatriates, that is.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Quantum Information Systems

I just read a very interesting piece over at on the new science of Quantum Information. What this new science essentially aims to facilitate is the exponential increase in the speed of information processing. Thus, quantum information examines the universe of quantum interactions in order to explain how they relate to classical explanations of thermodynamics and entropy.

Where Classical Physics and Quantum Mechanics have diverged is in their ability to make sense of each other. The perceptibility and predictability of the physical world allows for a somewhat palpable understanding of our physical laws. Though, at a smaller quantum level, the coherence of the physical world becomes highly variable, unquantifiable, and volatile.

Quantum Mechanics has attempted to explain various quantum states, though only in abstracted settings—such as isolated atoms. Although still theoretical, Quantum Information science posits that the ability to control, arrange, and distribute quanta in an information system—or in any system, for that matter—may dramatically increase the speed with which information is processed.

This, to be sure, means the possible creation of incredible super-computers that would be able to do computations far faster than current computers-- so much so, that what may take computers now days and months to compute, would take these super-computers milliseconds. These are the possible operating principles:

1. Identify a physical resource. A familiar classical example is a string of bits. Although bits are often thought of as abstract entities--0's and 1's--all information is inevitably encoded in real physical objects, and thus a string of bits should be regarded as a physical resource.

2. Identify an information-processing task that can be performed using the physical resource of step 1. A classical example is the two-part task of compressing the output from an information source (for example, the text in a book) into a bit string and then decompressing it--that is, recovering the original information from the compressed bit string.

3. Identify a criterion for successful completion of the task of step 2. In our example, the criterion could be that the output from the decompression stage perfectly matches the input to the compression stage.

Another interesting application of the Science of Quantum Mechanics is Error Correction. Telling time is no doubt an imprecise science, given that various distortions of a physical variety perturb the fluidity of our actual measurements. However, there may be an answer to this problem:

Quantum error-correcting codes are a triumph of science. Something that brilliant people thought could not be done--protecting quantum states against the effects of noise--was accomplished using a combination of concepts from information science and basic quantum mechanics.

What Thermodynamics did for the steam engine in the 18th and 19th century, Quantum Mechanics can do for computer systems, information technology, and complex systems in the 21st and 22nd century--and beyond.

Big Get

Rarely do fake-news organizations get the "big get"-- a former President. Fox got Bush 41 and now The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is getting Bill Clinton. Political satire and a Former U.S president makes for good Monday night theater of the absurd.

Al-Sadar at it Again

Aftering being forced into a cease fire back in June, Muqtada al-Sadr is back at it again. Over three hundred militamen have been killed in The last five days of heavy fighting in the city of Najaf. Ayad Allawi visited Najaf on Sunday calling on an end to the fighting between al-Sadr's militants and U.S forces. However, al-Sadr maintained his intransigency:“I will continue fighting,” he told reporters. “I will remain in Najaf city until the last drop of my blood has been spilled.”

Unfortunately, al-Sadr isn't even willing to consider a negotiated settlement, which could become problematic for U.S forces. al-Sadr's men are disproportionately matched against U.S forces, leading to the general perception of a bloodbath in Najaf. In the process, the Holy city of Najaf is being obliterated, spraking discomfort in some elements of the Shiite majority-- this isn't even to speak of the loss of innocent lives.

The effect this is having, an unwelcome one at that, is that U.S forces seem to be stalemated: The more they persue al-Sadr, the more they destroy the city of Najar and embolden sympathetic Shiites. However, al-Sadr is an opportunistic lout only interested in a cynical power grab. That a majority of Shiites find his continual churlishness unproductive to the cause of a stable and prosperous Iraq is not surprising.

Even if U.S forces wanted to extract al-Sadr, it would come at too great a cost. So for now, even though fighting persists, U.S forces will be restrained in the action they take in Najaf--stalemated, for now.

Sunday, August 08, 2004


Over at Majikthise, in response to Kevin Drum and Philosoraptor's anger over a few liberals criticizing the administration's terror alert, an excellent point is made:

I disagree that liberals acted irresponsibly. There were good reasons to question the sincerity of the terror alert. First, the evidence they presented was weak. When challenged they fleshed it out, still falling short of a rationale for a upping the terror threat. Criticizing a terror threat has both risks and benefits. Liberals know that if they don't criticize suspicious terror threats, the Bush administration will be tempted to politicize future alerts. A loyal but vigorous opposition imposes costs on the terror threat, deterring the administration from issuing dubious threats in the future. By contrast, liberal self-censorship would give the Republicans a unfair advantage in a brutal election year. This administration hasn't earned the benefit of the doubt. When their claims don't stand up to scrutiny, we have an obligation to say so. The public has a right to know when large segments of the population have ceased to believe the most solemn pronouncements of the Commander in Chief. If we all conceal our doubts for some greater good, we will perpetuate the false impressionthat we trust Bush and perpetuate the myth that he can still govern effectively. This administration has so thoroughly betrayed our trust by politicizing everything from pre-war intelligence to AIDS prevention that it can no longer exact our trust. It has undermined its own efficacy and it is our duty to say so.

The Epistemology of Rape

Majikthise makes some cogent points about the epistemology of rape, though, there is one I have a hard time understanding. First, I can't see how the defendant’s inference of the sexual promiscuity/history of an accuser matters at the time of said act. The defendant certainly doesn’t have access to the accuser’s sexual history right up before or during the act—if we’re talking about acquaintance rape—so the inference made doesn’t matter much. The problem arises when conflicting stories about the sexual act pit the word of the accuser against that of the defendant.

The defender justifies his act by saying, in effect, “the impression I received that night from the accuser lead me to infer that she was interested in a sexual engagement” (consent). Why is there a need for true justified belief in this situation? And can that ever be possible? The accuser can rightly counter that no such inference could have been drawn from her actions that night and that the sexual engagement was unwanted (no consent).

Since the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt, the prosecution must prove that not only was the defendant’s inference of consent erroneous, but that also the defendant had willful intent to rape the accuser. This is where physical evidence becomes determinative of intent (most of the time) and consent (sometimes).

For example, Kobe Bryant’s accuser had sexual engagements with two other men 42 hours after her encounter with Bryant, and before a thorough sexual examination. Therefore, any harm during 42 to 72 hours after her sexual encounter with Kobe becomes difficult to attribute to Kobe alone, since the sexual exam was done after all these sexual encounters. The prosecution will not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the accuser’s claim that the sex was not consensual because the physical evidence is inconclusive.

This is not to say that the accuser’s allegations are false, just that, considering the indeterminacy of the physical evidence, and the inability to definitively know what happened that night, the jury would be inclined to acquit Bryant. That is one reason why the accuser is dropping the case.

The Bourne Supremacy

I just finished watching the The Bourne Supremacy and all I have to say is: Wow. Even having not seen the first one, The Bourne Identity, this didn't detract in any way from the qaulity of Supremacy. The movie, based on Robert Ludlow's Bourne series, catchs up with Jason Bourne in India, where he's trying to piece together his mysterious past. The drama begins when Bourne's fringerprints are found at a murder/heist in Berlin, involving the death of a CIA agent. With this lead, the CIA begins searching for Bourne, who, ironically, also starts searching for CIA agents he thinks have found him out. It turns out, however, that a nefarious character planted Bourne's fingerprints at the crime scene. But, no matter, Bourne is out for revenge and he will not be stoped.

Before giving away too much, I should note that the plausiblity of the CIA being duped by false evidence may have, in the past, been a tough line to swallow. Though in light of recent world events, the story line tended to jive with conventional wisdom. It wasn't too strenuous an exercise in suspension of disbelief.

Strong points of the movie were its cast, photography, musical arrangement and tempo. The one weak point, for me, at least, was it concluded rather abruptly: I wanted more movie! And, unless Ludlow is busying himself writing a third installment to the series, this appears to be the last one. But I guess there's always 24.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Strange Days

Over at Majikthise, via MSNBC, we learn why no one believed chicken little when he bemoaned the falling of the sky. Apparently the Orange Alert was preceded by no credible evidence, or at least any recent intelligence, so the administration, after being understandably pressured to show stronger justification for the Alert, outed a double agent. The double agent was Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaida member captured in July by Pakistani intelligence and now working with US intelligence to infiltrate al-Qaida. It is not yet know how the New York Times acquired Khan's name by Monday, however; but the Bush administration confirmed Khan's identity with other news organizations.
So it appears that after the terror alert issued Sunday by the Department of Homeland Security, The New York Times publish Khan's name--information they likely acquired eariler since Khan was caputered in July-- assuming that he may have been the reason for the Terror Alert. What the Times hadn't know was that Khan had been working as a double agent for US intelligence, and that they had just comprimised him.
The Times operated under the assumption, rightly, that the terror alert was credible, and that Khan was likely the source. This begs the question: Why would the Admistration comprimse its own source? Simple answer: they didn't intend to. They possibly weren't aware that Khan's name was on the grid. It's clear that the terror warning was bogus, so the Administration had to show evidence that it wasn't, thus outing a July caputre--who was helping them, no less. What this meant was that now British Intelligence had to move quickly against the suspects Khan had helped put under surveillance. Kevin Drum says it better:
What in God's green earth is going on here? I have a whole stew of reactions swirling around in my head about this. I'm beside myself that Bush administration officials are so spineless that they'd kill an undercover operation just to remove some political heat from themselves. But: I'm also angry that the reaction to Sunday's terror warning from Bush critics was so hysterical that the Bushies got panicked into doing this. And yet: I'm furious that Bush and his cronies have so corrupted our intelligence services that deep skepticism was hardly an unfair reaction. But: why did Tom Ridge insist on politicizing Sunday's news in the first place? On the other hand: why did the New York Times print this? Did they know they were blowing an operation?
It's a complicated story right now; but it seems like a simple explanation can be given: Who's working hard to destroy America? Let's hopes the Bush administration didn't botch this one.

Thursday, August 05, 2004


Bush may be remembered as a President whose linguistic ineptitude conveyed a folksy charm, so endearing as to make him accessible to the electorate writ large. Much like his father’s tortured syntax, Bush happens to suffer from the same embarrassing handle of the English language. Today, Bush outdid himself. Speaking to a gathering of military civilians, Bush used a bit of parallelism to get across his message to the terrorist—a bit of parallelism that was expressed incredibly poorly:

Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

Call it a Freudian slip, expressing what his Super Ego consciously felt his current administration was doing to America. Ironically, Bush unintentionally told the truth.

For more Bushisms go here.