February 2007

2007 02 28

Poor guy never gets a break.

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2007 02 26

Great post about working in a welfare office.

Howls of outrage (4)

2007 02 26

An ill Matthew Yglesias confesses he doesn’t know how exactly the U.S. ought to conduct itself with respect to Pakistan. Bradford Plumer has a nice summary of the problem (click through for the hyperlinks):

Most policymakers and pundits don’t seem to know how to deal with Pakistan. (I certainly don’t.) On the one hand, the United States wants Musharraf to be more aggressive about hunting down Al Qaeda operatives in North Waziristan. On the other hand, moving too aggressively against that part of the country might cause Musharraf’s government to collapse, in which case radical Islamists could seize power–and with it, control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Scary stuff.

Plumer then wonders:

At any rate, I’m curious to know what sort of safeguards Pakistan has in place to prevent its nukes from falling in the wrong hands, should, say, Taliban sympathizers in the intelligence services stage a coup (or whatever). The reporting on this front appears patchy. In 2004, Graham Allison warned that the security measures were still much too flimsy, and wanted the United States and China to do a thorough review of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile, in order to help Musharraf set up proper controls. That would involve a lot of delicate diplomacy–especially since Pakistan is understandably reluctant to open its arsenal up to outside inspection–but it doesn’t seem completely undoable.

So what’s actually being done? A Congressional Research Service report in 2005 noted that the United States was offering some assistance, but mostly to “focus on helping secure nuclear materials and providing employment for personnel, rather than on security of nuclear weapons.” See also here. And last August, Pakistan declared that it had set up a “tri-command nuclear force,” but it’s not clear whether that would safeguard the weapons in the event of a coup. (In any case, the country’s past assurances on this score have been fairly suspect.) Those seem to be the main media stories of late. Who knows, perhaps the administration really is doing all it can here, but I’d sort of like to see a closer investigation.

There’s also the possibility of war with rival-nuclear-power-India to worry about. As for solutions, I too am stumped by the larger problem of how to deal with a nuclear power struggling with militants, rogue intelligence services, and hostilities with a nuclear neighbour. My modest suggestion of the day is that if I were in charge of U.S. foreign policy, I would have made a resolution of the Kashmir dispute a very high priority around 2002 (when things got very heated for a while between India and Pakistan), if I hadn’t already.

Obviously Kashmir is a tricky issue, but it’s not an impossible one. Constructive and careful intervention by an outside party might well make real progress on the issue, perhaps even leading to a solution that most of the parties could live with. This would be valuable for two reasons. First, one thing people are always forgetting is just how radicalizing the issue of Kashmir is within Pakistan. If you care about the issue of Islamic radicals in Pakistan – and you really ought to care – then you should be very interested in steps that might remove a major cause around which militants in the country have tended to rally. Second, obviously, a resolution of (or even progress on) the Kashmir dispute would significantly reduce the probability of a nuclear exchange on the subcontinent, an exchange that would be disastrous for the entire world’s environment and leave millions dead and dying.

Anyway, all this is just to say that I’ve spent the last few years wondering why this isn’t a very big priority for people whose opinions matter.

Howls of outrage (4)

2007 02 26
U.S. backs terror groups to sow chaos in Iran

It would surprise me very much if this story weren’t somewhere in the vicinity of the truth (via).

I wonder what the Iranian version of Fox News thinks is the appropriate response to this sort of thing.

Anyway, as the Scallywag-in-Chief of a Very Important Blog, I call on all parties to cut the nonsense and calm the fuck down.

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2007 02 25
Show coming up

Posted by in: Music

Holy kershmoley! It’s 10 buckets of fun! Join us if you think you can handle this much fun!

Wedensday, February 28, 2007

The Restless Spirit Trio

Yoon Sun Choi – voice
Jacob Sacks – piano
Matt Wilson – drums

376 9th St. (corner of 6th Ave.)
Park Slope, Brooklyn

Cover: $8

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2007 02 24
Tariq Aziz

For no reason I can think of, I suddenly wondered this morning what the hell was up with Tariq Aziz these days. There wasn’t a lot I could find in 30 seconds of googling, but this piece says he’s being held without charge, and this piece says that he faces the death penalty. Both compatible, I suppose, but I wonder if I’ve misunderstood something here. Both pieces agree that Aziz (a Christian) has appealed to the Vatican for help, through his lawyer.

At any rate, I’m very curious what his debriefing was like. It’s not as if Saddam Hussein trusted Aziz a lot – if I recall, he used to throw Aziz’s son in prison when Aziz was out of the country, just to be safe. Still, Aziz must know an awful lot about the Ba’ath regime. Indeed, he must also know a lot about U.S.-Iraqi relations, which I suppose is one reason he’s not giving a lot of interviews these days.

Howls of outrage (4)

2007 02 21

Posted by in: Metablog

I keep an Explananda email address up on the sidebar in case anyone feels like writing to me out of the blue and doesn’t know my regular email address. Don’t laugh, it happened once. Anyway, I’ve had to ditch the one I started with because I was getting about 1,000 – yes 1,000 – spam messages a day. Anyway, I’ve written the new one in a convoluted way in order to confuse spam bots, and from now on I’ll not use a real address when I leave comments on other sites. Perhaps that’ll keep the villains at bay for a while.

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2007 02 20
My dotemacs

Posted by in: Emacs, Software

I’m sick and tired of being known as little more than a hunk with rippled abs and chiseled buttocks. It’s almost enough to make me drop my plans for the forthcoming “Men of Explananda” calendar, which has long been in the works. Therefore, I have decided to reveal my dotemacs file, both for the edification of the world, and so as to prove for once and for all that behind this pretty face is the mind of a true geek.

Howls of outrage (12)

2007 02 19
On tapeworms

Posted by in: Health, tech-sci


Howls of outrage (2)

2007 02 17
Ultimate Canadian Day

Posted by in: Canada

The Yarn Harlot has a long, lovely entry up about taking a day with her family to go skate the Rideau Canal in Ottawa – eating Canadian foods, seeing Canadian sights, etc. Lots of photos. We’re going up to do the same thing next week sometime, and this made me happy to see.

Howls of outrage (4)

2007 02 16
NBAer comes out; other player is a bigot; also an interesting historical tidbit

Posted by in: Sports

1. An NBA player came out last week! I totally missed it at the time. John Amaechi — who is a big (6’10”) bald black dude who played in the NBA for five years and looks every bit the part. Hooray for more queer role models who look like mainstream gender-role icons — manly men, womanly women! Hooray for more queer role models who aren’t white!

2. But now another NBA player has gone on record as being agin’ it. This admirable forward-thinker, Hardaway, says:

“I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”… [If there were a gay player on his team, he would ask for the player to be removed from the team.]… “Something has to give… If you have 12 other ballplayers in your locker room that’s upset and can’t concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, it’s going to be hard for your teammates to win and accept him as a teammate.”

So I got to thinking (there’s so much here to comment on, but I’ll stick with the most obvious). I know that there are quotes like this from white baseball players and managers from the 1940s and ’50s. We can’t have black players in the major leagues; all of us guys know it, but I’m brave enough to say it. I won’t play on the same field. That kind of thing. Good company to place yourself in, Hardaway.

3. Interestingly, I went looking for parallel quotes about the racial integration of basketball, and discovered that there aren’t any. Basketball integrated earlier, and with comparatively little hostility among players or from fans.

The National Basketball League, a forerunner to the NBA, became the first major professional [sports] league of the modern era to integrate, in 1942.

The reason you may not know about the NBL’s pioneering efforts is because integration in the NBL and professional basketball as a whole came with much less fanfare and fewer problems than it did in other sports. Unlike baseball, hockey, and football, basketball was largely an urban game played by a diverse population on every level but the pros.

From what the article says, basketball was integrated in the early ’40s because the war made good white players harder to come by. But baseball didn’t integrate then, although the first rumblings came then. It sounds — from the wiki links above — like a large part of the difficulty came because to integrate major-league baseball would require integrating the minor leagues, whose teams largely played in southern and rural areas where racism was most acute. (Purely speculation, but I wonder if basketball was also less dominated by the racism of individual star players, since at that time basketball stars would have been much less known than baseball stars.)

Howls of outrage (13)

2007 02 13
The deal

I’m very glad that the U.S. and the North Koreans are talking, and that things are apparently going well, and I hate to be a pessimist, but I don’t think the odds are very good that the deal is going to stick. It seems unlikely that the North Koreans are done acting completely bonkers; indeed, their past negotiating style suggests that they’ll do something dramatic to derail things at the last minute, on the off-chance that they’ll be able to do even better than they have. And there are still powerful elements in the Bush administration and Congress that will be looking for reasons to scuttle the deal one way or another. Still, this looks more like progress than anything else we’ve seen in the last few years.

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2007 02 12
What to do about Iran

Spencer Ackerman is losing arguments:

A few weeks ago, I found myself drunkenly arguing with a conservative journalist about the wisdom of a war with Iran. It didn’t go well for me. The unshakable response went roughly as follows: It’s not us declaring war on them. They have declared war on us. They attack our troops. Your position amounts to requiring soldiers in a firefight to check the nationalities of their assailants before returning fire; and so you have reached absurdity. Victory is mine.

I’m not convinced Ackerman needed to lose that argument. The clever who-started-it rhetorical strategy looks great until you figure that the U.S. has been more provocative with Iran than Iran is accused of being with the U.S. so far.* But set that aside for a moment. The fact is this: Regardless of who started it, the U.S. simply can’t afford a conflict with Iran now. It just can’t. An invasion isn’t on the table, and even if the U.S. bombs the shit out of Iran, the best case scenario is a diplomatic disaster for the U.S. and a major set back in its anti-nuclear proliferation — excuse me, anti-bad-country nuclear proliferation — initiatives. The worst case is that Iran actually does get serious about meddling in Iraq and gets many U.S. soldiers killed there.

No. There’s nothing to do but diplomacy, even if everything alleged about Iran is true. And if not diplomacy, here’s some advice for U.S. policymakers: Just shut the fuck up about Iran. Since you really have your hands tied, and you don’t want to look weak, the best thing to do is to pretend that Iran isn’t supplying arms to insurgent groups in Iraq, since making a big stink about it and then getting nowhere makes you look even weaker than you otherwise would. So shut the fuck up. This is, by the way, what the rest of the world does in the face of provocations it can’t afford to respond to. Welcome to weakness, U.S. pundits and politicians. I know, it sucks.

Ackerman describes his debating partner as a conservative, but I take it that that’s a misleading label for “militarist,” since there’s absolutely nothing conservative about pushing for war with Iran. I think the appropriate response to a militarist who thinks that Iran has given the U.S. a clear casus belli is to say that it’s too bad then that the President has maneuvered the country into a strategic position so dire that it can’t afford to respond to a clear casus belli. But that’s how bad things are now. This is what serious strategic defeat looks like. So it’s time to make the best of it and shut the fuck up. Also crucial at this juncture: shutting the fuck up. In conclusion, pretty please shut the fuck up.

*Prediction: The next ten years will see a trickle of news reports about various naughty U.S. doings in Iran, including covert operations and support for groups opposed to the government. This will confirm and extend the impression created by the trickle of news reports to this effect which have come out over the last few years.

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2007 02 12
Bees in trouble

Mysterious ailment destroys bee colonies across US. This kind of thing terrifies me; it has the feeling of the first visible symptom of a total apocalyptic collapse. And it’s an apolitical reminder of why we need a first-rate science infrastructure (education at all levels, public funding for wide-ranging no-immediate-payoff science, encouragement of high social regard for scientists).

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 02 07
After the fall

Totalitarian societies stay standing in large part because everyone in them believes that they’ll stay standing. It’s hardly surprising that these societies look especially rugged from the outside, and that once people within lose faith in them they can crumble almost overnight. We’ve learned this much just from watching it happen a couple of times in our own lifetimes. What we haven’t learned, and what we’re unlikely to learn, is how to predict exactly when it will happen. Still, once an entire social order collapses, we have some empirical data — from the elements of the former U.S.S.R., from Poland, from Yugoslavia, from East Germany, etc. — about the difficulties these societies face.

I’m thinking today, for no particular reason, of North Korea. North Korea looks like it’ll be stuck in its own wretched version of hell for quite some time. But it’s entirely possible that it will collapse this week, or month, or year – as possible, I suppose, as the bleak alternative of continuing on exactly as it has for the next twenty years. Eventually, however, it will collapse, and in a way that will probably surprise nearly everyone. Unfortunately, when this happens the other cases I mentioned above will be only rough guides to the difficulties facing the country, and the region. Things have been so bad for so long in the country that when the current social order finally breaks down, we have to expect massive refugee flows, an enormous humanitarian crisis, absolutely massive corruption, possibly a civil war within competing factions of what is left of the society, and more. And South Korea has to expect pressure to follow West Germany’s example to integrate a society that is thoroughly broken. And yet the (hardly pain-free) integration of East into West Germany can hardly serve as a model for this project, since the circumstances of North Koreans are just so much bleaker, in both relative and absolute terms, than anything that East Germany endured.

About all of which I have only this to say: I wonder what sorts of contingency plans the regional actors have in place now for the day this does happen. There really will be a need to have a coordinated response to deal with the mess, and by the time anyone realizes they need a plan, it’ll surely be too late to draw up a careful and effective one.

Howls of outrage (2)