Sunday, August 31, 2008

A perfect own-goal

Women less impressed with Palin -- by large margins! -- than men. No shocker, I've always believed women were smarter. (My demographic votes overwhelmingly Republican, to my shame.) Yglesias thinks this is policy driven, but I'm skeptical: in an election where some centrist women were angered by the perception that a qualified woman was being passed over for a younger, less-qualified man, what could be more offensive than picking an even younger, even less qualified woman? The fact that many of Clinton's supporters would also have had the experience of a younger, more attractive woman getting promoted ahead of them seems to have not occurred to anyone in McCain HQ.

The attempt to get Clinton voters has the potential to backfire massively on McCain, which is why it's time for me to put in print the analogy I've been working with for a while now: the GOP in 2000, and 2004, was like watching the Empire's stormtroopers at the beginning of Empire Strikes Back: merciless, unstoppable, and brutally efficient. In 2008, it's like watching the same bunch of white dudes in Jedi: they're incapable of something as trivial as beating up Ewoks.


The Internet is an amazing place. As in, amazingly weird. A number of websites are running with rumours that Sarah Palin's youngest child is, in fact, her grandchild born of her daughter Bristol. I'm not providing any links, nor will I mention it after this one and only post. But I wanted to bring it up because I think it highlights the odd dynamic of the Internet: tiny, vocal, crazy-ass minorities can nevertheless be numerous enough on the Internet to appear more impressive than they are.

So we get never-ending rumours about Barack Obama's birth, and now no doubt Sarah Palin's daughter. We get the spectacle of the media inventing 9 out of 10 angry Hillary supporters of the PUMA mold, and of course we get it in larger ways too: the "controversy" over climate change is just this phenomenon writ slightly larger.

Journalists need to develop new filters for the Internet age, and one of them is this: just because a nominally large number of people say something, doesn't mean they're important.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Atheists can pray, too

Send some happy thoughts to New Orleans once more, folks.
HAVANA (AP) -- Hurricane Gustav has blown into the Gulf of Mexico after raking the western tip of Cuba and causing numerous injuries.

As of late Saturday, the storm's center was about 530 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, moving northwest at almost 15 miles-an-hour.

Gustav's winds have dropped slightly, to just under 140 miles-per-hour. That makes it still a powerful Category Four hurricane. And it's expected to gain strength over the warm waters of the Gulf. Forecasters look for winds is excess of 156 miles-an-hour, which would make it an extremely dangerous Category Five storm, the worst there is. Only three such storms have ever hit the U.S. mainland since they began keeping records.

Gustav is expected to hit the northern Gulf Coast sometime Monday afternoon, on course now for the region around New Orleans.
A brief sidebar: please, stop talking about abandoning New Orleans. For some reason, I only ever hear conservatives say this, and it comes across pretty gratingly -- "why do they keep spending money on that black city" is all I hear.

But for the record: there is only one place on Earth where the Mississippi river reaches the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi, in turn, carries 60% of America's food exports. New Orleans exists where it does for a reason, and when you say "abandon New Orleans" you just make clear a) how little you understand about global trade and b) how ignorant you are of the constraints geography places on our reality.


John McCain advisor on Sarah Palin's lack of experience:
She's going to learn national security at the foot of the master for the next four years,
Okay, good solid quote - what, you've got more to say?
and most doctors think that he'll be around at least that long.
Oh you poor bastard you just actually said that didn't you?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Oh, yes please

Gov. Palin is already co-opting Hillary Clinton's words to her own purposes. Time now for Sen. Clinton -- or maybe Pres. Clinton? -- to pull a Bentsen:

Specifically, a commercial with Sen. Clinton saying something like, "My supporters and I put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling ourselves, Sarah. We didn't have it handed to us by anyone, much less by John McCain" would be golden.


It's difficult for me to write about Barack Obama's speech last night. Basically, I feel an actual kinship with Barack Obama and his campaign for the first time -- not because of his emotional appeals, but because of the obvious skill and the kind of skill they're demonstrating. My feeling of kinship makes me think I'm entirely incapable of anything impartial for the next little while.

A little background: I have, on occasion, tutored people on how to write essays for university classes. Mostly for friends, sometimes for money. The hardest thing to teach people about writing a decent essay is that there really isn't anything hard about it. A decent paper has a structure that it adheres to rigorously and an internal logic that, when you're done reading, should seem inescapable. Flair in writing -- when we're talking academia -- is more often than not a waste of time. With syllabus in one hand and a blank sheet of paper in the other, you've got a job to do and the best way to approach it is as a workman: check the boxes, build the frame, fill it out, paint the walls. I love, love, love how surprised people are when, after a string of Cs and B minuses, they realize how easy it is to get an A.

Now, I couldn't have written Barack Obama's speech last night. Nor could I have planned the Convention, nor would anyone have been better off if I'd had anything to do with this party. But looking back on the last week, it's clear that someone with a workmanlike mindset planned the last 4 days. Day 1 is properly about Obama, or rather his wife. The convention is rightly about him, so it makes sense to start the party with her. Days 2 and 3 are devoted to healing the rift between the two wings of the party, which was done magnificently by the Clintons, and Day 4 is back to being about Obama, and more importantly being about the future he proposes. Al Gore's speech set Obama as the heir to Lincoln himself, and Obama's speech was extremely powerful. Check the boxes, build the frame, fill it out, paint the walls.

And through it all, the speeches become more and more pointedly about how bad John McCain is and will be for America. If we could watch the video of the last four days of the DNC on fast-forward and still comprehend what was going on, I guarantee that is what would stand out: the attacks on John McCain start off tepid on day 1 and are pretty sharp indeed by the time of John Kerry's barn-burner on Wednesday. And then on Thursday, Barack Obama brings the battle-axe: the kind of weapon you use to cleave a man in two, or just bust his shit down while he's inside, wondering which house he'll move in to next. We should all get t-shirts: It doesn't matter which house you're in Johnny, we're coming after you.

But compared to previous speeches, it was not flashy. We saw, not for the first time but most publicly, Obama dive in to the meat of his proposals and run on a policy platform, something we haven't seen much of since February in the primaries. But the flash didn't need to be spoken aloud: the context itself lent the event all the flash it needed. On the 45th anniversary of King's Dream (something Obama wisely mentioned only briefly, at the end) in a crowd of 80,000 people, all assembled to make him the next President, and the first Black President, we didn't need to be convinced that this was a special moment in history. What we needed to be convinced of was Obama's ability to beat McCain, and that it would be worthwhile to do so.

Mission accomplished, as they say.

For all the freaking out the Democrats were doing around Tuesday (freaking out being what Democrats do in their resting state) it's clear, in retrospect, that these people know what the hell they're doing, it's working, and we should calm the hell down. Consider: is there anything on the horizon that could be as damaging to Candidate Obama as Rev. Wright? "Bitter"-gate? Obama's campaign has handled every patch of rough water like an expert pilot. My friends are still asking me if I'm sure Obama will win, or if that's just what I hope will happen.

The answer is yes. It's nice, and rare, to be certain about our hopes.

I woke up this morning to the news that McCain has announced his sacrifical running lamb, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. It's difficult to see a pick that could possibly come off worse: an attempt to split Democrats with clumsy tokenism, instantly neutralizing the "experience" charge, and emphasizing McCain's age at the same time as making it clear that if the worst should happen a total neophyte would be in the Oval Office. As the cops say, thank God they're stupid.

UPDATE: Oh man this is sad. After last night, watching CNN do wide shots of John McCain's event just looks so damn small.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


There's a particular kind of American progressive that drives me nuts. They are, to put it bluntly, Nader voters from the year 2000. Or today, unrelenting Clinton supporters from the year 2008. People convinced that, if only their preferred candidate were in a position of power, things would be better. And, as a corrollary, that pointing out the reality of the American duopoly of party politics amounts to saying "you have to vote for Barack Obama."

Well, of course you don't have to. But Democrats -- especially Democrats! -- who spent the last 8 years blaming Ralph Nader and his vanity-quest/Republican-care-package for all that has come since have no reason doing anything at this point other than supporting Barack Obama, if they're at all interested in the consequences of more GOP governance.

Look, I vote NDP, and I believe strongly that people have the right to support the occasional quixotic party. But the White House isn't a parliament -- there's no minority government, no multiple opposition parties, no role for anyone outside of victory. And if you think you can vote for the Democratic Congress and things will be just peachy, I'd just ask you to reflect on the reality of the last 2 years and how disappointing they've been from a progressive perspective. You think President McCain will be more accomodating than the current occupant?

If the structure of American governance were different -- if America were a Parliamentary democracy, and we were considering Barack Obama for Prime Minister -- then I'd say go ahead, vote Green for all I care. If the Democrats can't hang on to voters who should be in their tent, they don't deserve them.

But screwing a party with whom you agree in most particulars, and whose second-most prominent leader you supported vocally up until two months ago, is just insane. And don't kid yourself: Hillary Clinton is a Democrat, who wants to see a Democrat elected President. (What, you calling her a liar?) If you don't plan to vote for Barack Obama, not only are you not supporting him, you've given up any pretense of supporting her. Instead, you're clearly supporting some animatronic version of her that says what you want to hear, instead of the actual Hillary Clinton has been saying for months now -- vote for Obama.

Finally, there's the constant whinging from the American left that the Democrats are always a disappointment. Well, sure, if you expect social democracy, cradle-to-grave welfare and national healthcare to break out between the 49th parallel and the Rio Grande. America isn't there, and some days I fear it never will be. For lack of a better phrase, wake the fuck up. The Democrats do not have to reanimate the cryogenically frozen corpse of FDR to get my support. You know what I look for in the leadership of the most heavily-armed state on Earth? The least crazy person around. If Obama and McCain are both likely to wage a war against some poor country in the middle of nowhere (historically, most postwar Presidents have) I want the one who's not going to go nuclear. If I can get the least-crazy person and they want national healthcare, then goody for us all. Supporting the least-bad option isn't a sacrifice, you whiny children, it's a moral imperative.


Politics and music metaphors, together at last

All my life, I basically haven't grokked jazz. It's like speaking italian to me: I get there's substance, and content, and beauty in there. But you could speak italian to me for hours and I'd still have not a single clue what you're saying, or what you want me to do. If you put me in a concert hall with jazz greats on stage, I'd be the guy looking around at everyone else, thinking "what am I missing?" The only Louis Armstrong on my MP3 playlist is "What a Wonderful World" -- what a wonderful song, but not what the man built his name with.

The recent Democratic Primaries were kind of like that for me: I was never so mad about Sen. Obama's candidacy that I hated Sen. Clinton but even before I decided, post-Edwards, to support Obama I just didn't get supporting Clinton. She had started off as a lousy speaker, and though she got better throughout the campaign, I never really grokked where the passion came from.

Last night, I heard Hillary Clinton of New York sing "What a Wonderful World", and now I get it.

Full text of her speech here, but you should really watch the video.

In particular, this part near the end (20:00) had me nearly cheering:
How do we give this country back to them?

By following the example of a brave New Yorker , a woman who risked her life to shepherd slaves along the Underground Railroad.

And on that path to freedom, Harriett Tubman had one piece of advice.

If you hear the dogs, keep going.

If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.

If they're shouting after you, keep going.

Don't ever stop. Keep going.

If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.
The text doesn't do her delivery justice.

I loved all the chatter beforehand of whether Clinton would be able to -- are even want to! -- patch up the differences in the party. She's Hillary Clinton, you fucktards. You think she wanted to be the Senator whose tiny, vocal minority of supporters screw everything up? You think she wants to be the Ralph Nader of 2008? You assholes, she wanted to be President. More than that, she (unlike Ralph Nader) wants to beat the Republicans. So yeah, the game face was on last night. Does she still hate Barack Obama's guts for beating her? Who cares, this is politics and she knew what she had to do. And she did it in style.

I won't be working tonight or tomorrow night (for once this summer!) so I'll actually be able to watch Bill's and Joe's speeches tonight, as well as Al's and Barack's tomorrow. It's like the Superbowl for politics nerds.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No, he's not

Just watching CNN, where one of the talking heads said Barack Obama was "the first post-civil rights baby" to be nominated. Uh, no. This is only true in the sense that Barack Obama was born in Kenya or is a practicing Muslim.

Let's do some looking here: Barack Obama was born August 4, 1961. The Freedom Rides had just begun that summer, and SNCC was about 18 months old.

Martin Luther King Jr. has been organizing for years, but was still 2 years from being arrested in Birmingham (where he would write his famous letter.)

The March on Washington, where King shared his dream, would happen just after Sen. Obama's second birthday.

The Mississippi Freedom Summer would take place in the months leading up to Sen. Obama's third birthday, where activists tried (and largely failed) to dislodge the entrenched racism of the Democratic Party by organizing a desegregated Mississippi delegation to the DNC of that year. In the process, white southern racism finally did something to outrage white northerners: kill white kids. The uproar allowed Johnson to pass the Civil Rights act July 2, 1964. The Voting Rights Act would be passed by the US Senate the next year, on Barack Obama's 4th birthday. (Johnson would sign it two days later.)

Okay, so was Barack Obama an active participant in the Civil Rights movement? No, of course not. But just as obviously he's not "post-" Civil Rights, given that the Civil Rights movement's next big fight (after the battles in the South) took place in the North and Midwest, trying to desegregate northern towns and schools. (Look up forced busing.) And in many ways, the fight continues today -- schools in America today are effectively as segregated as they were in King's day. And sure enough, if your school is blacker, it's poorer.

There's this tendency to try and remove Barack Obama from history, as if he sprung from the head of Zeus sometime in 2002 or something. It's an insult to history, and it's often just wrong -- factually wrong.

Better pundits, please.

DNC Thoughts

1) I think Barack Obama's children may have actually given me cavities.

2) Michelle Obama is already a better public speaker than many elected Democrats.

3) Ted Kennedy will be sorely missed.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Also, hoping for McCain/Huckabee

I'm not wild about Biden, but I'm coming to like him. But what's terrifying is that I think Joe Biden is a decent proxy for the hard-nosed, Irish Catholic Democratic pol that was on the last winning Democratic ticket: Santos-McGarry.

The West Wing's predictive powers continue... spooky. I just hope Biden doesn't suddenly have a heart attack.

Update, with substantive thought: Okay, this is where I'm at as of Saturday evening: Joe Biden is, by all accounts, one of the Democratic politicians most qualified to be President, if we picked them based on actual competence with policy and knowledge of substance -- that is, if they didn't have to run for election. Meanwhile, he's also (with some notable very bad exceptions) a decently progressive politician (see Violence Against Women Act, others.) So actually, the Vice-Presidency is one of the best possible places for him: he's in the executive branch, where he can influence policies that he's most knowledgeable about, and he's been removed from the Congress, which is also possibly a good because he's no longer able to shepherd awful bankruptcy bills for his MBNA overlords. (Remember, he's still only the Veep if he wins.)

He is both a campaigning choice (already, he's lacing in to McCain) and a governing choice (unlike Edwards or Lieberman, but like Al Gore.) On balance, I approve.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Vestigial libertarian bones, cont.

Hey you there! Got a car? Going somewhere? I'm going there too! Maybe I could kick you some gas money, and we could share a ride?

Oops. We just broke the law.

Some days I think I live in the stupidest country on Earth. But this, now this could get interesting:
“Those are real dangerous operations. Those vans are not licensed, they’re not insured and don’t pass strict safety guidelines. PickupPal hasn’t picked up on the fact that their system can be abused,” he said.
Ah-hah. According to a spokesperson for an Ontario-based bus operator, the cars and vans on the road "don't pass strict safety guidelines." This is factually correct: you're much safer in a bus driven by a professional, licensed driver than you are driving yourself. And we know that the Ontario government is ridiculously concerned about commuter safety, because they continue to choke ZENN on red tape. And now we've got "credible" concerns about the safety of regular cars, too. Will the Ontario government jump on this threat to safety, posed by cars people already own?

To put it a bit more straight, it's true that cars and vans are not as safe as professionally-operated buses. But the government of Ontario, as well as the government of Canada, have recognized that they are safe enough -- see, there are levels of safety, and one needn't meet the most stringent criteria to be reasonably safe. The government of Ontario recognizes that cars and vans are safe enough for the conditions in which people drive them, but refuses to recognize the same with low-speed vehicles. Because, and this is really important, Dalton McGuinty's government doesn't have a fucking clue on this issue.

Oh, and if the government of Ontario seriously tries to shut PickupPal out of Ontario, I actually will be living in the stupidest jurisdiction in North America. C'mon Dalton, reach for that golden turd...

This is welcome

I had to work yesterday, plus my computer is being difficult, so I wasn't able to hop on the "John McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns" bandwagon. So in case you missed it, John McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns. In his defense, Republicans have a hard time counting once they run out of fingers.

And yes, this matters. John McCain has profited from wingnut welfare ever since he got back from Vietnam: made a media darling early on, he parlayed that into a marriage to a wealthy Republican family and from there to the Congress and Senate. At every step, the wealth of his wife's family has insulated him from any kind of reality in America: when you spend a quarter-million on household staff in 2007, I think it's fair to say you no longer notice when the Wonderbread goes up a dollar.

Meanwhile, the Obamas were struggling with money until 2004, when he became a US Senator and bestselling author. But one of these people is an arugula-eating Commie.

Anyway, glad to see the Obama campaign take the gloves off. Now let's just make sure the gloves are locked in a closet somewhere and don't come out until the gracious acceptance speech... in November.

BTW, I know I'm not alone in this, but it's worth putting in print: I'm really hoping -- not accepting, not resigned to, but hoping -- he picks Clinton as VP. If Evan Bayh and Joe Biden are seen as appropriate VP material, when both supported the Iraq War but give the Democratic ticket bupkis, I say put Clinton on and let's stomp this thing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


1) POW who served with McCain sez hell naw.

2) The rare Canadian link: Conservative attacks on Supreme Court full of BS. Who could have predicted...

3) There's a lot in Tom Walkom's column that makes me want to beat him about the head, but by the end he comes around to basically advocating appropriate technology, something I wholeheartedly approve of. As much as I love gadgets, the solutions to our current crisis will be driven by changes in mindset, not just changes in gadgetry.

4) Read Andrew Bacevich. (part I and part II.)

5) Nordic semen shortage. Yup, you read that right.

6) Different subject, but still the most appropriate reaction to the now-not-news about John Edwards.

7) When it comes to climate change, maybe the Europeans aren't as enlightened as we'd like to think...

8) If you've got an hour to kill, watch this video of Naomi Oreskes and the American politicization of climate science. It's excellent, but makes me sad because I didn't realize Robert Jastrow was such a malign influence. One of the first books that made me really love science, and specifically excited me about astronomy and space science generally, was one by Jastrow that my father bought for me. Turns out Jastrow was hip-deep in SDI and and campaigned to shut down any political response to climate change. Alas.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When it's on Facebook, it's official

Consider this the last entry in the series, "Conversations with the girlfriend."
Me: Vicki, will you marry me?

Vicki: Yes.
Further entries will be titled "Conversations with the fiancee" and, unless Vicki comes to her senses, "Conversations with the wife."

Yes, we are both very happy. No, we haven't set a date. If you're curious, the question was popped outside the food building at the CNE last Friday. After Whack-a-mole and corn dogs.

A histogram of the reactions from family thus far would skew heavily along the "it's about time/what took you so long" axis. Vicki, for her part, says I exceeded her expectations by several years. (She apparently doesn't expect much of me.) I plead a combination of poverty, maleness, and a since-dispelled anxiety about being away from Vicki for many years at university.

I thought I was anxious about having spent so long apart: ha! The ten seconds it took Vicki to a) realize what I was holding, b) realize what I was asking, c) kiss me, and d) say yes have got to be the most anxious seconds of my adult life. The analogy I've been using to describe the intensity and volume of my anxiety in those seconds is inappropriate for a blog my parents read.

Surprising as the sunrise

"Study links child abuse to spankings with belts, switches"

People get understandably touchy when talking about child-rearing, but take a look at these paragraphs:
A study released today by doctors at UNC-Chapel Hill finds that parents who spank their children with an object — such as a belt, switch or paddle — are nine times more likely to abuse their child through more severe means.

Also, parents are much more likely to beat, burn or shake their children if they spank frequently, according to the study, which is being published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
I don't think all physical discipline is necessarily abuse, but it shouldn't actually be controversial to say that physical violence is something that, for our retarded simian brains, gets easier with practice.

And because I can't resist an international politics analogy -- lookee here, the interfamiliy arms race!
"Parents get angry when they're spanking, and it's not working," said Adam Zolotor, lead author of the study and a pediatrician at UNC-CH's Department of Family Health. "If a child gets spanked so often, they just don't care anymore and will misbehave anyway."
A child learns to resist physical discipline, so the parent's violence gets harsher, so eventually we get into truly horrific stuff like children being beaten or burned. Sometimes to death.

Quote of the day

Megan Carpentier:
I got my feminism from my dad, jerk-face, who taught me that I am any man's equal and many men's better and that I don't have to and never should kowtow to a man for anything, including sex, money, love or support.
Can I get a hell yeah?

Monday, August 18, 2008

That's your job, not his

There's much that I love in this NYT article about Jon Stewart, but this part kind of stuns me:
TO the former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, Mr. Stewart serves as “the citizens’ surrogate,” penetrating “the insiders’ cult of American presidential politics.” He’s the Jersey Boy and ardent Mets fan as Mr. Common Sense, pointing to the disconnect between reality and what politicians and the news media describe as reality, channeling the audience’s id and articulating its bewilderment and indignation.
Take out the florid bits, and you're left wondering why Tom Brokaw thinks a recovering stand-up comedian is the "citizen's surrogate" when there's a bunch of people who get paid day in and day out -- including Mr. Brokaw! -- to do the same job, and are, as Mr. Brokaw seems to acknowledge, failing miserably.

Journalists who think Jon Stewart is a problem for their profession need to have their heads checked. Stewart hagiography can go over the top, but the best parts of the Daily Show are exactly what journalism is supposed to be: democracy's bullshit detector.

Monday Morning Pessimism

I have to say, the most curious thing I read during the whole Russo-Georgian War was this by Brad Delong:
Of the four big potential threats to world peace--the Islamic Reformation, the rising industrial power that is Imperial Wilhelmine China, the potential for a National Hinduist India, and Weimar Russia--Weimar Russia may be the most dangerous.
First off, note the categorical: "the four" big threats to world peace.

I thought to myself reading that, "Really? Only four?" And in those four, there's a rather striking omission: America. Not to be too blunt about it, but if America were a nation at peace with the world, John McCain would be the first candidate to be polling in the negatives. His combination of mendacity, militarism, and mediocrity is polling well because, in America, stupid-ass fraudulent militarism sells. Don't believe me, ask President George W. Bush after he retires in peace and is never disturbed by the war crimes tribunal he so richly deserves.

Meanwhile, the most offensive thing Islamic states have done to America is not be threatening enough: humiliating America by not having active nuclear weapons programs in either Iran or Iraq. America, on the other hand, has actually invaded and occupied another country with far less pretext than Russia had to invade Georgia. And, you know, killed hundreds of thousands of innocents in the process. Maybe they could have been put in the #5 slot, Prof. Delong?

I would really, really like American liberals to actually grapple with the fact that you live in a nation that is dangerous to the world. Some of this is just what comes from being the biggest kid in the playground, but then you've got something like 40% of Americans supporting John crazy-ass McCain, a man even less qualified to be President than the current occupant. America is a threat to world peace, too, and what concerns me a hell of a lot more than what's going on in Pakistan right now is what happens if John McCain wins in November, and terrorists attack an American city sometime after that. Watching America gear up to attack another country based on lies once was bad enough.

Tropic Thunder

That movie is the most pitch-perfect satire I've seen since the first 20 minutes of Enchanted. And everyone is good in it. Even -- gasp! -- Tom Cruise.

I'm actually at a loss for what more to say, just that it's probably the funniest movie I've seen all year. Tight script, great work by all the cast members, and manages to be one of the better action movies of the year while satirizing the action movie genre, which I think is a neat trick.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Things are just beginning

Ian Welsh makes the argument that Ukraine is next on Russia's shit list. The question you've got to ask, before you start screeching about how we've got to protect the territorial sovereignty of our ally (?) Ukraine, is whether or not it's worth going to war with Russia, or even putting up a significant deterrent (>10,000 men) in order to prevent war, over a province that's historically Russian, filled with Russians who don't want to be Ukrainian, and that we generally don't give a fuck about.

This is the Kosovo Precedent, people. You want to keep Ukraine's current borders? Then pony up. And if you can't stomach a years- to decades long involvement in Russia's southern flank, then there's going to have to be stuff you just accept.

The closest comparison to the mess of problems in the FSU is the fall of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and German empires at the end of WWI. These empires had significantly mixed ethnic populations, so when the empires collapsed various new nation-states found themselves with substantial pockets of minorities, some of whom liked to make trouble, and some of who just though the mapmakers in various European capitals shouldn't get to decide which country they lived in. The only solution was WWII, during which atrocities throughout the period sent massive population flows heading east and west and effectively balkanized central Europe in a way it hadn't been before.

Hopefully, there's a better way to do this today.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Well, I did say I was being alarmist

Looks like Russia is settling down and not moving any further. Earlier reports of attacks on Gori seem to have been exagerrated at best.

So in short: Russia won, and it won smart.

The good news is that Russia is not, apparently, being run by madmen posessed by maximalist visions of Russian power. That's also kind of the bad news -- I'd much prefer Russia be run by incompetents rather than people who seemingly learned every lesson the Bush Administration refused to.

Note also that the argument that Ukraine is now in danger seems suspect. The fact that Russia isn't forcing regime change in Georgia makes it clear, to me, that this was as much about signalling to the west as it was smacking around Georgia's leadership. This was, in all, a relatively low-cost and low-risk operation for the Russian military. Any of the other potential targets would seemingly offer way less reward at far higher costs -- Ukraine is an order of magnitude more populous than Georgia, and wealthier to boot.

As an aside, McClatchy is reporting that the Bush Administration tried and failed to warn Georgia from attacking Russia, and in fact expected a strong (though not this strong) Russian response. This implies that either a) the Bushies are currently lying, or b) the State Department under Condi Rice is even more incompetent than I'd believed.

I was joking with a friend a few days ago that somewhere, in the bowels of Foggy Bottom, the handful of competent veterans in the State Dept. huddle in obscurity, knowing each other only by their own shibboleth: "We're all FEMA, now."

Monday, August 11, 2008

That didn't take long

Inevitably, someone accuses me of wanting to knuckle under to Russian hegemony. Brilliant.

Look, I have no desire to see Georgia occupied or attacked at all, nor do I think Putin's on the side of the angels here. But this is pretty much the sequence of relevant events and impressions that I can discern:

1) The USSR breaks up, with a whole fucking mess of ethnic and political disputes that continue to linger. Among these are Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia legitimately claims them within it's borders, the people of Abkhazia and S.O. disagree, and have the Russians on their side.

2) The west pursues a number of different policies to roll back Russian influence, some of them successful, some of them not, all of them provocative -- most importantly, rolling NATO's borders a few hundred miles closer to Russia. To be clear, this is wildly popular in places like Poland and Prague, not so much in Moscow -- I don't weep for the Russians on this count, because who cares if they think Poland is theirs?

3) At the same time, western powers basically announce (via the Kosovo precedent) that territorial integrity is no longer an absolute guarantee in international politics. This becomes clear earlier this year, but remember that Kosovo's been on a rolling boil for about a decade, while Russia (see #1) has been dealing with a passel of it's own breakaway provinces (Chechnya, anyone?) If you think this didn't freak Moscow's leadership right the fuck out, you haven't been paying attention.

4) After recent elections, the Georgian government takes a decidedly pro-western, anti-Russian turn. Yay for us, right? The US starts loudly advocating in favour of Georgian membership in NATO, and providing oodles of military aid for the country.

5) With all the love from Washington and Brussels, Saakashvili decides to make a grab for his country's (legitimate) territory. He thinks he'll have Washington behind him.

6) The US hangs him out to dry. I hope he can get a plane out of Tblisi in time, because I think that's where this is heading.

None of this stuff exonerates the Russians, and none of it makes the Georgian people in any way responsible for their plight. Nor does it make Washington responsible for Moscow's choices, anymore than Paris was to blame for Berlin's, circa 1939. This is the game of empires -- the little people, and little countries, always get smashed. What this does mean is that the Georgians are, in a very real way, paying the price for Kosovo, and for a number of other policies we've pursued. Maybe you think it's worth it -- indeed, I think the unification of Europe (economically with the EU, defensively with NATO) is worth quite a lot.

But -- and this is the lesson the west refuses to learn -- international politics isn't cheap, and it isn't free. Russia should play nice? Why? Because we said so? Can we make them? What is inherent in our positions that makes them superior? Most importantly of all, why should Russia view our actions as anything other than a long series of threats against them? And can you convince Russians of that? Do you even believe it yourself? (An anti-ballistic missile system in Poland, but the real target is Iran? Are you fucking kidding me?)

George Bush is responsible for the immediate problem of implicitly and explicitly giving Saakashvili the belief that the US would back him up, but not for Moscow's ambitions or for the problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and certainly not for the problem in opaque intentions in international politics. A wiser man would have never let Georgia think they had a superpower behind them, but we've always known George Bush isn't a wise man.

More on Georgia

Henry Farell writes about Georgia, and mostly disagrees with me and others who see the US as primarily at fault. He argues that Russia is trying to stifle democracy in it's near-abroad, and I don't disagree. I just think that America has played the role of an accelerant in this fire, not an extinguisher.

The other thing I would say is that, if we are serious about curtailing Russian freedom of movement in its near-abroad, the next step is to fast-track Ukrainian membership in NATO, with some immediate movement of forces into that country as a kind of tripwire. But, if we do that we can kiss any kind of cooperation with Russia on Iran or any other issue goodbye.

Of course, the most likely result will be for us to loudly proclaim our commitment to Ukraine, and then whine like a beaten donkey when Russia neglects to recognize our magnificence.

Heh. You said "Caucasus".

Alright, so about Georgia. And Russia.

Two things seem rather clear to me: First, Georgia made a collossal mistake last week by firing on Russian personnel in the hopes of capturing South Ossetia. It's a fair point that a sovereign coutry shouldn't have to "capture" land within it's own border, but it's Georgia who disrupted the status quo.

Second, George Bush remains the worst President ever. Why? Because when a small country is being threatened by a large country, it will come begging other large powers for some kind of security guarantee. So most large powers, when led by wise men, offer flat refusals to small powers looking for security guarantees. When they're not well-led, you end up guaranteeing the sovereignty of Belgium and going to war against Germany.

It doesn't need to be that bad, if the global hegemon actually has the means and the will to guarantee the security of a small country far from it's borders. But if you're going to make noises about security guarantees, you better damn well bring guns to a gunfight. It doesn't take an international relations scholar to realize that making noise about, for example, bringing Georgia in to NATO (a purely military collective security organization) without having any intent of actually providing security is the worst possible policy.

Guess what the Bush Administration did? That's right, the worst of all possible policies. They've spent the last several years making nudge-nudge wink-wink gestures towards Georgian sovereignty, which seem to have convinced Georgians in power and in the streets that if a big fight started between Georgia and Russia, America would have their backs. But when it came right down to it, the facts remain that the US has no interest in defending Georgia's borders.

To wax alarmist for a moment, there's more than just the posession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at stake here. If you take a look at a map of Georgia, you'll notice that if Russia ends up in posession of those two provinces -- either de facto or de jure -- Russia will have gone from bordering Georgia entirely along mountains to bordering Georgia on a broad plain in the west and on low central foothills near Gori. For once in the post-war world, a comparison with Munich in 1938 is actually reasonable: the Sudetenland wasn't just part of Czechoslovakia, it was also the bulwark of that country's defenses against Germany. The fruits of Munich meant that it was impossible for Czechoslovakia to meaningfully defend itself against it's much larger neighbour. Similarly, by the end of this war Georgia will be nearly indefensible from a Russian attack -- in as much as it's possible to be safe when you're bordering Russia.

I've got tons of scorn for Bush, who clearly has made a bad situation worse over the years, but Booman is right that he inherited a bad policy from the Clinton Administration. What makes this tragedy so depressing is that it is quintessentially fucking American: talk shit about Russia, try to browbeat the Europeans in to dangerous expansionism, commit no real resources to follow-through, and then bemoan European spinelessness when your brilliant plan goes tits-up.

How stupidly bipartisan is US policy in the Caucasus? Let's turn the mike to Richard Holbrooke, your reliably stupid liberal hawk:
Moscow seeks to roll back democratic breakthroughs on its borders, to destroy any chance of further NATO or E.U. enlargement and to reestablish a sphere of hegemony over its neighbors. By trying to destroy a democratic, pro-Western Georgia, Moscow is sending a message that, in its part of the world, being close to Washington and the West does not pay.
Uh-huh. And America would be totally disinterested if Mexico had tried to join the Warsaw Pact. NATO is an explicitly military alliance that continues to threaten Russia implicitly and explicitly. Whether it's constructing anti-Russian radar sites capable of tracking all air traffic west of the Urals, or demanding that Russia sell it's natural gas at below market rates, NATO has never, for even a moment, stopped threatening Russia since the "end" of the Cold War, nor has the US for a moment treated Russia as a reasonable ally in the world.
What can we do? First, Georgia deserves our solidarity and support. (Georgia has supported us; its more than 2,000 troops are the third-largest contingent in Iraq -- understandably those troops are being recalled.) We must get the fighting stopped and preserve Georgia's territorial integrity within its current international border. As soon as hostilities cease, there should be a major, coordinated transatlantic effort to help Tbilisi rebuild and recover.
So, Richard Holbrooke and his co-author believe that America should first evict Russian forces from Georgia -- no idea how, of course -- and then commit tens of billions of dollars to reconstructing a country most people don't give a damn about. In an election year, in the middle of a recession.

Na. Ga. Happen.

The shame is that Holbrooke and the other liberal hawks will never pay a price for their stupidity. They thought they could keep pushing Russia year after year, and Russia would never push back. They thought they could clearly tell Moscow that NATO would end up surrounding its western frontiers, and there was nothing Russia could do about it. They were wrong, and their wrongness has become clear. Nevertheless, Holbrooke will probably end up being SecState in the Obama administration.

As I've been writing this, there've been more reports that Russian troops have left Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and entered what CNN is ridiculously calling "Georgia proper" (what was going on before now? Does CNN concede that those territories weren't actually Georgian?) Apparently Senaki and Gori are both being taken by Russian forces. That means to me that Russia is playing for a bigger prize in this invasion. In theory, if the tanks stop at Gori, there's a reasonable argument that Russia is just trying to defend what it's already taken (Gori sits at the confluence of two valleys, and it's the only way Georgian forces could counter-attack into South Ossetia.) Still, given that nothing so far about the Russian moves has been what you could reasonably call "defensive", I'm tacking back towards alarmism. If Russian tanks are in Tblisi by Friday, I wouldn't be surprised.

[Fast-moving update: Fox News is reporting that the tanks are already moving towards Tblisi.]

A tip for understanding the fight going on: Robert Farley has been doing regular updates, and I would also suggest looking for good maps of Georgia, especially topographical ones. Wikipedia and Perry-Castaneda are as always useful resources.

One last thing: while opinions will differ, I think a strong argument can be made that, despite the last week, Vladimir Putin is still better for international peace than George W. Bush.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Historical document

FDR, in his first state of the union address after Pearl Harbor:
If any of our enemies, from Europe or from Asia, attempt long-range raids by "suicide" squadrons of bombing planes, they will do so only in the hope of terrorizing our people and disrupting our morale. Our people are not afraid of that. We know that we may have to pay a heavy price for freedom. We will pay this price with a will. Whatever the price, it is a thousand times worth it. No matter what our enemies, in their desperation, may attempt to do to us- we will say, as the people of London have said, "We can take it." And what's more we can give it back and we will give it back—with compound interest.
Who were these people, who shrugged off the threat of suicide bombers with barely a tremor? Who were these people, who reacted to the challenge of literally rebuilding the world with a moments hesitation before putting their backs in to it? And, you know, could we ask them to help a brother out again?

Read the whole speech.

Not cool

Fucking Rogers. My Internet access has been spotty, and I was writing a post about Russia invading Georgia on blogger. When the Internet went down, Blogger stopped autosaving, and of course something decided now was the perfect time to hang my laptop. So poof, 30 minutes worth of work down the tubes.

The short version is: I have no particular expertise on this matter, but it makes me think of season seven of Star Trek TNG. The post was awesome, and now none of you will read it because I can't be bothered to re-write it.

So the household is, in a related matter, talking about abandoning Rogers for some DSL provider -- hopefully, non-Bell. Anyone have suggestions for DSL ISPs in Toronto?

Thursday, August 07, 2008


The kind of story that makes my mostly-vestigial libertarians bones ache:
TORONTO -- Starting the evening before recycling day and often working all night in neighbourhoods throughout Toronto, scruffy-looking scavengers armed with dilapidated shopping carts sift through the city's blue bins, grabbing beer and liquor bottles to return for refunds.

It's a trade that city officials are planning to stamp out.
I know it's been a crazy summer, but I must have missed the press conference when Toronto City Council announced that all murder, robbery and violent crime had been stopped and would no longer trouble us, allowing the city to refocus its efforts on the imminent conversion to a 100% renewable economy. That's the only plausible explanation for the city spending any kind of time or energy on this "problem".

What? That never happened? Shit, that must mean we're governed by morons then.

The city is caught in a real dilemma, though: the Blue Box program -- mandated by the province -- sucks balls. The reason scavengers are going through people's blue boxes is the same reason deposit programs universally work way, way better than curbside recycling: what gets rewarded, gets done. It's a feature, not a bug, people.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A question for the audience

Does John McCain like his wife, even a little?

First there was "At least I don't trowel on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt"-gate, and now he publicly offers his wife to a biker rally. And while I understand that husbands sometimes say nasty things to their wives, the biker rally joke was in his prepared remarks.

Uh, I think my girlfriend is pretty hot too. But I'm not gonna be offering her to bikers anytime soon.

Must be nice to be a democracy

A year ago Musharraf was governing by diktat, and now he faces impeachment. But oh no, the American Congress couldn't even think of doing anything that nasty.

The Internet is weirder than you can imagine

Uh, okay...
Paris Hilton kind of feels like Gandalf returning to Middle Earth, "at the turn of the tide."
That's how you know you're a nerd: you could've used the more common "tipping point", but you had to bust out Gandalf.

Of course, I approve wholeheartedly.

But it's how we've always done it!

The amount of hair-pulling that some professional journalists do over the "demise" of newspapers really gets annoying after you've spent enough time in their company. The idea that, for decades now, the production and dispersion of what they call "news" has largely been a thin patina over a bloated marketing vehicle seems to have either eluded them entirely or not really troubled them at all.

Hilton/Rihanna '08

The election never gets any less weird, does it?

Rihanna as Vice-President concerns me, as I believe her song "Umbrella" to be all about her desire for permanent construction of BMD facilities in eastern Europe.

Monday, August 04, 2008

What Cory Said

I'd like to just go ahead and endorse absolutely everything Cory Doctorow said in his talk here. It's about "Life in the Information Economy", and it's got just about every important point about copyright and the all-pervasive threat that Big Content plays to a sane and just life with the Internet.

One of the points he makes is that, yes, it may actually be true that Internet piracy poses an irreconcilable threat to the status quo (or rather, the status quo ante) in cultural production, where profits are made by huge industrial producers of millions of pressed discs with digital information on it. But there's no evidence that the Internet is a threat to human cultural production, quite the opposite.

The analogy Doctorow uses is the protestant reformation: Luther and his progeny made it impossible for the Catholic Church to build cathedrals and beautiful monuments like St. Pauls anymore. While this is regrettable for those who were employed building Cathedrals and their dependents, this didn't lead to less religion, or less Christianity. It certainly didn't lead to worse Catholicism. But it did destroy the old order, and replaced it with something new.

Similarly, any number of factors involved with digital technology -- piracy, Youtube, increasing economies for independent producers, whatever -- may make it impossible or more difficult to make $300 million blockbusters. But whatever happens, it won't silence musicians or deafen the public: just as Christians in the 1600s had a surfeit of religious choices, we now literally have more culture than we know what to do with.

And this is a very, very good thing. It would be nice if people would take a moment to recognize that. Instead, we seem intent on backing a counter-reformation, designed to lock us in to the business models of the One True Faith.

I've been wondering when this would get more popular:
Last year, my freshman university students in Los Angeles regaled me with stories of "hard-drive parties" where everyone would gather with guitars, beers and whopping great hard drives that cost less than either the guitars or the beers. While the students jammed, sang and danced, they simply synchronised their drives using whatever laptops were lying around, transferring hundreds of gigabytes' worth of music while composing and recording songs of their own.

It made me wish I was a teenager again: that sounded a lot more fun than painstakingly recording my vinyl to 90-minute cassettes and shyly giving them to girls in the hope of impressing them.
A USB-connected enclosure and a hard drive to match it will probably cost you less than $80 these days -- more if you buy a ready-made one because none of your friends knows what to do with a screwdriver. For that you get a cheap case and a 250G HD. USB plugs are faster than the Internet, so the "bandwidth" for a hard drive party is ridiculous and ridiculously cheap. So in some ways, this isn't a bad solution to the problem of pervasive copyright enforcement. But I can't help but think this is what Swiss Catholics did during Calvin's reign in Geneva: hid in basements with a bit of alcohol and sung quietly while the Consistory looks out for any deviancy.

[Beats head in to desk, grey matter leaks from ears]

I'm pretty cynical when it comes to conservative governance, and the Republican party in particular, and the Bush Administration when it comes to extra-particular. But even I am sometimes shocked and appalled by how fucking stupid these people are. From McClatchy:
Pakistani generals and other leaders are also infuriated by President Bush's pursuit of a strategic relationship with India, their foe in three wars, as embodied by a U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation pact that won United Nations approval Friday, the U.S. officials and experts said.

"One thing we never understood is that India has always been the major threat for Pakistan," said former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain, now the president of the Middle East Institute.
Argh. My head. I don't even know where to begin. But let's start with this: who in their right minds would think that US interests in Central Asia would trump Pakistan's long-term rivalry with India? Nobody with a right mind, that's who.

Us squishy liberals talk a lot about the problems of American narcissism in foreign policy, and this is a concrete example of what we mean: failing to understand that Pakistan supported and supports the Taliban and Al-Qaeda for actual reasons, and that unless we address those reasons Pakistan will find ways to pursue the same goals. McClatchy again:
Pakistan, which refuses to allow Indian products through its port of Karachi, has long coveted Afghanistan as a market, a trade route to central Asia and a rear area for its army in any new conflict with India.
Of course, Pakistan so "covets" Afghanistan that for 30 years they've done them the favour of supporting total nutters who took the country from war-torn hellscape to peaceful-because-it's-a-wasteland hellscape. Which just goes to show there's more than enough assholes to go around.


A Moral Giant

RIP Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

The history of European Communist parties should really be divided in to two periods: BGA (Before Gulag Archipelago) and AGA (After Gulag Archipelago). The few diehards in the free world who hadn't abandoned Communism after Khruschev's speech condemning Stalin were woken up, in large part, by the narrative of Solzhenitsyn.

I do hope that when the moral midgets of our current age, the ones who tell us that torture is acceptable -- nay, necessary! -- against the nearly-ridiculous threat of terrorism[1], when they finally pass beyond this life, Alexander Solzhenitsyn will be there at the pearly gates, ready to beat them to within an inch of their afterlives.

[1]The Soviets believed that the ever-present threat of a NATO first strike justified their Terror. Given that NATO actually had planned first strikes throughout its history, and people advocating first strikes continued to hold positions of power within the US government until the moment the Cold War ended, can we say history has been kinder to the USSR than it will be to the US, where the threats posed by terrorism are miniscule in comparison?