Saturday, December 6, 2008
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Bamford says some bad things about General Hayden, then head of the NSA and now DCI.
Food for thought: The NSA now and in the future is going to regularly confront messy issues over when and who they can eavesdrop on. Given that fact, wouldn't it make sense for the agency head to have some experience with the legal framework covering domestic surveillance? That is opposed to someone experienced with surveillance in foreign countries, where such activities are necessarily outside the law. Put another way, if you want a legal domestic surveillance product then you might look for someone who knows how to do legal domestic surveillance. Just saying...
The other thing I'd want to remember- Bamford's sources describe targeting people for assassination based on intercepted conversations in languages they don't even understand. Death by Bureaucracy!
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Economics 113, American Economic History taught by Brad Delong!
Geography C110, Economic Geography of the Industrial World
I'm looking for perspective on the current economic crisis...
I'm also trying a video cast course,
International and Area Studies 180
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Saturday, July 26, 2008
The great illusion of the 1990s was that we were entering anFirst off, Brooks has a pathetic memory if all he remembers of the 90's is Francis Fukuyama. That text served more as an instructional punching bag then a foundation for policy, it was interesting to think about how and why it was wrong. It was certainly not relevant to resolving the Bosnian civil war, the most prominent foreign policy challenge of that decade.
era of global convergence in which politics and power didn’t matter.
What Obama offered in Berlin flowed right out of this mind-set. This
was the end of history on acid.
Since then, autocracies have
arisen, the competition for resources has grown fiercer, Russia has
clamped down, Iran is on the march. It will take politics and power to
address these challenges, the two factors that dare not speak their
name in Obama’s lofty peroration.
Second, Brooks' list of what changed since the 90's is garbage. Autocracies have always been around. Chavez now runs Venezuela but Milosevic is dead. Russia has tightened, China has loosened. Iran is on the march now? When was it not on the march? Doesn't seem like they move very fast, does it? Brooks can't bring himself to note the biggest change in the world since the 90's was in America's foreign policy, even as he claims the difference is as stark as an acid trip compared to reality.
What is naive is to think American policy could undergo such a shift without radically changing the rest of the world.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Looks like it didn't stop the Iraqis however from using common sense- a contract with only Bush's name on it isn't worth the paper it's printed on, so why concede anything?
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Cringely has a followup to his column on consultants, this time tackling the big research firms like Gartner and Forrester. His critique in a nutshell: Those firms live off churn, and that is not in anyone else's interest. Worth reading.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Another reason to like Ike.
A useful reminder of how doctrine isn't born fully formed and perfect, it's a result of constant testing and struggle against diverse circumstances. There is a book waiting to be written comparing this with the Cuban missile crisis and MacArthur/Truman in Korea.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Cringely has an excellent column and associated podcast up dated 4/18. His thesis in a nutshell: Most IT consultants don't know what they're doing, and trusting such people can destroy a company. What he doesn't say is that many internal IT departments are no better then consultants.
The fundamental problem is businesses that don't know what they're doing. What is the average duration of employment for someone with a given organization, maybe 5 years? How long does it take to understand all the nuances and tricks, to know what is real and what is merely label? One year, at a minimum.
Now add a level of complexity: how long does it take to gain sufficient mastery to be able to explain these intricacies to someone else? It's the difference between being a student and being a teacher. I'd say another year, easily.
So in a given company, at least 20% of the people don't know what they're doing, and another 20% are probably doing the right thing but couldn't tell you why. Throw in the fact that most of these 40% will not self identify, and it's no wonder requirement gathering sucks!
Cringely cites a successful consultant, Christine Comaford-Lynch:
A key part of her success was her requirements gathering process. She turned it into a very effective collaboration effort involving the key people who would use the software.
Sounds to me like she was good at separating the wheat from the chaff.
Friday, April 18, 2008
This crap op-ed by Charles Krauthammer got me thinking about the nuclear club. He claims the successful program in North Korea, and ongoing work in Iran mark the "end of the era of non-proliferation." Really? Let's look at the numbers:
Country/Year of successful weapon test
- US, 1945
- USSR, 1949
- Britain, 1952
- France, 1960
- China, 1964
- India, 1974
- Israel, prior to 1979
- South Africa, 1979
- Pakistan, 1998
- North Korea, 2006
Nearly every decade since the creation of the bomb has seen a nation, quietly or loudly, enter the nuclear club. And with the arguable exception of Britain every one of those countries conducted the R&D work in strictest secrecy. Secrecy in this context is not a sign of nefariousness, it is simply the way successful nuclear weapons programs get done.
The idea that Iran's program marks some huge breach with the past is absurd, it would be a greater discontinuity if countries stopped trying to get nuclear weapons.
Snarkage: Krauthammer on regime change:
Total safety comes only from regime change. During the Cold War, we worried about Soviet nukes, but never French or British nukes. Weapons don't kill people; people kill people. Regime change will surely come to both North Korea and Iran. That is the ultimate salvation.
Regime change equals remaking a country into Britain or France! TOTAL SAFETY!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Monday, April 14, 2008
In the highly competitive world of international politics, nation states very rarely miss an opportunity to crow about success stories. The opportunity comes rare, mostly by default, and seldom enduring. By any standards of showmanship, therefore, Tehran has set a new benchmark of reticence.
The real money quote though is on the Bush administration:
Out of the dramatic developments of the past week, several questions arise, the principal being that the Bush administration's triumphalism over the so-called Iraq "surge" strategy has become irredeemably farcical, and, two, US doublespeak has become badly exposed. What stands out is that Washington promoted the latest round of violence in Basra, whereas Iran cried halt to it. The awesome influence of Tehran has become all too apparent. How does Bush come to terms with it?
Via Foreign Affairs
Michael Rubin has a generally wrong op-ed in the WSJ, but it has a few nuggets worth considering. His thesis in a nutshell: Democratic presidential candidates pose as realists, but their emphasis on diplomacy as opposed to military force makes them idealists. Rubin implies this makes them more dangerous then the fantasist George Bush.
The problems with this thesis are clear. Neither of the Democratic candidates have indicated a desire to disband the U.S. military. They have not even indicated a desire to reduce military funding from it's current astronomical levels. In fact, the only policy proposal from a Democratic candidate that Rubin cites is Obama's advocacy of aggressive diplomacy with Iran.
What is Rubin's take on Iran?
Attacking Iran isn't a viable option because it would likely only delay, not eliminate, Tehran's nuclear program. Risking the blowback from an attack would only be productive if there was a strategy to use the interim period to end the threat posed by the regime's ideology. Until there is a regime-change strategy, a military strike would merely allow politicians to put off conducting a serious national security debate.
In other words, to topple the government of Iran.
PURE REALISM, BABY!!
Snarkage: Rubin pushes the combination of threatening military force with diplomacy. Is there a better example of successfully executing this strategy then Bill Clinton with North Korea and Iraq? Is there a better example of the perils of this strategy then George W. Bush?
Friday, April 4, 2008
Via Foreign Affairs daily opinion roundup:
Philip Stephens has an op-ed in the Financial Times suggesting that the next President will have significant continuities in policy with the Bush Administration, if only because there are too many problems to solve in the course of a single term.
If you allow problems to define you then I suppose he's right. I'd hope for more though, a lot more from whoever is next to sit in office. The key challenge Stephens dances around is rejecting the factionalism that developed under Bush and regaining control of the bureaucracies.
Throughout Bush's term he was constantly overwhelmed and outmatched by events on the ground. This was only partially due to his incompetence. Another factor was the lack of control and direction given to the bureaucracies that make up the federal government. Cabinet members and their subordinates were free to pursue whatever agenda they wanted, so long as they observed the Golden Rule: Do not make George Bush look bad. Disband the Iraqi Army? Give the leader of North Korea the finger? Badmouth Western Europe? Sure thing! Allowing the departments to pursue their own agendas meant allowing them to define their own problems, all of them vying for attention and resources. A more unified administration would force policies to match given resources, based on the President's priorities.
I think any of the current candidates including McCain would bring a more unitary style of management. That in itself would mark a dramatic change from Bush- a President defined by their policies, rather then their problems.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Courtesy of Foreign Affairs:
Benjamin Friedman has a good op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor. He criticizes the field of presidential candidates for seeking to expand the western troop presence in Afghanistan, either through NATO or the American military.
His point in a nutshell- foreign military power is no substitute for a legitimate federal government. The US doesn't need a large occupation force to conduct anti-terrorist operations, and military forces are terribly ineffective at nation building. Hence sending in more troops is a waste of lives and money.
Friedman does not dwell on the political calculus that encourages both parties to support escalation, but it's not hard to see. First there is a perception that while Iraq is 'lost' Afghanistan can still be 'won', and having more troops there increases the chance of winning. Afghanistan is salve and distraction from our losses in Iraq. Escalation also serves as political cover; candidates who would withdraw troops from Iraq can still claim the mantle of militarism by sending them elsewhere. There is a third reason for sending troops to Afghanistan, one that somewhat undermines Friedman's argument.
I'd argue that eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan are more important to America's national security then Iraq. First, Pakistan is an unstable country with nuclear weapons. Anything is possible there, and a significant area troop presence creates options. Second, the worst people are there. Osama Bin Laden and his followers, the people who actually did attack the U.S., are there. More troops permit more effective cordon and search operations. In sum, Afghanistan and Pakistan possess real WMD, and real people who have demonstrated the will and ability to launch attacks on U.S. soil. Iraq (and Iran) possess neither.
That's a relatively small problem though, because that only works if you think military forces in Afghanistan won't be used for nation building, and they almost certainly will be. It's worth thinking about what that is likely to accomplish.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Robert Cringely put out an excellent column on 3/21/08, the podcast is here. The theme: Society at large is only just beginning to adapt to the emergence of personal computing, and that changes to come will be greater then the ones we've already seen. He picks on schools in particular as an institution destined to be radically altered in character and purpose.
The current educational system is designed to help children internalize knowledge, that is to learn. Technology in this setting is a two edged sword- on the one hand it permits vast and cheap access to knowledge (Wikipedia). It also permits vast and cheap plagiarism and cheating (Yahoo Answers).
Cringely poses the question: Should schools be fighting such conduct? Is knowing how to find an answer an adequate substitute for knowing the answer itself? In an information economy the answer must be yes, and if so what then should educational institutions look like?
For a less pessimistic view of the future of education, see Brown and Duguid.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Via DeLong, Here is an essay by Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. Much good stuff. The nutshell thesis: Modern journalists have shied away from the necessary and valid role they play in influencing the federal government.
Pincus attributes this phenomenon to the pursuit of objectivity, to the desire to stay above the conflict of ideas. That may go a long way as explanation, but I'd throw in something else.
It seems to me that people are extremely pessimistic about the capability and utility of the federal government. There is a sense that the major social conflicts and tensions such as poverty, race relations, and terrorism cannot be solved or even improved by government. The gospel of Reagan. And if the government is going to get it wrong no matter what, then who cares what it does? Maybe journalists trivialize politics because they cannot imagine it having more then trivial significance.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Via Marginal Revolution,
Wired has a choice article about an episode from early in Nixon's first term, wherein he tried to convince the Soviets that he was insane in order to end the Vietnam War. The logic was that by convincing the Soviets that he was crazy enough to start a nuclear war, they would pressure Hanoi to fold. And to convince the Soviets he was really crazy, he sent a squadron of B-52's loaded with nukes to skirt Soviet air defenses.
How many problems can you find in Nixon's thinking? Try these:
- Pressuring USSR equals pressuring North Korea.
- Sending a squadron of bombers armed with nuclear weapons onto the edge of hostile airspace has no downside.
- It is in the interest of the United States to have countries with massive nuclear forces convinced that our president is insane.
How many of these delusions are present in the thinking of George W. Bush?
PressuringDestroying the government of Iraq pressures Al Qaeda.
- Sending air craft carrier squadrons into the Persian Gulf skirting Iranian territory carries no downside.
- It is in the interest of the United States to have the rest of the world convinced that our president is insane.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Saturday, March 15, 2008
My podcast of the week is episode #134 of TWIT (This Week in Tech). One of the guests was David Winer, one of the key architects behind RSS. About 20 minutes in the guys get into a pretty good discussion of podcasts, and the shortfalls of their current use and user experience.
David notes that podcasts are heard primarily on personal MP3 players, which are designed around songs. Songs differ from podcasts in a number of ways, principally that you typically only want to hear a podcast once and then get rid of it. Songs are typically kept and reused, listening to them doesn't subtract from their value. It got me thinking about ways the experience of hearing a podcast could be improved.
First, long podcasts need breaks. TWIT has been running almost 90 minutes lately, I never listen to the whole thing at once. Bookmarks allow me to stop and later re-start, but in doing so I lose something, I lose the context of the conversation. It would be helpful as a listener to have 'producer' bookmarks, like a table of contents, to know where one section stops and another starts. You could argue the solution is that I just pay more attention to the podcast. After all, I can stop reading a book and generally pick it up later and still know what is going on, but that comparison is misleading. The reality is that I almost always use podcasts as an audio background while I do something else (like I use radio). That's in contrast to reading a book, in which reading is the primary activity and I actually try to minimize what is happening in the background. By paying more attention while I read I absorb more, with podcasts I might pick up a few interesting facts but it's primary function is entertainment. So to summarize, long podcasts are broken up by the listeners already, it would be helpful if the podcast producers took this into account and included their own bookmarks (and recorded with them in mind) to create more listener friendly breaks.
Second, we need a podcast player that recognizes the producer bookmarks and is able to automatically jump to new material. I'm thinking of an application that can mimic radio- integrating podcast material, regular MP3 songs, and cut music/sounds to transition between the two.
Finally, there needs to be a better way to get advertising integrated. Why not add commercial spots that could be fit into the producer bookmarks? Current practice is to have podcasters plug their advertisers. On TWIT for instance, they always talk up audible.com, typically mentioning a specific title they recommend. Why not allow outside producers to make a spot to sub in? I'd prefer to hear directly from the author of a book (or their representative) talk about why I should download their work, rather then hear Leo Laporte talk about it. Podcasters could have parallel feeds- one with ads, one without, and let listeners choose which to subscribe to. That way no disaffected fans. I think there may even be a cottage industry in there- the podcast-advertisement, wherein content creators like authors or musicians have a minute or two to tell listeners why they should purchase the product.
Why would I care about advertising? Because I think podcasters should be able to make a living (and make more podcasts). I'm thinking about Bob Packett selling T-Shirts or Reilly and Markham and coffee mugs. How much more sense would it make for them to run spots with history books?
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
from a Washington Post article last week:
As he was preparing to take command, Fallon said that a war with Iran "isn't going to happen on my watch," according to retired Army Col. Patrick Lang.
Lang, a former analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in an interview that he asked Fallon how he would avoid such a conflict. "I have options, you know," Fallon responded, which Lang interpreted as implying Fallon would step down rather than follow orders he considers mistaken.
From the Post today: Top Military Commander Resigns
This may or may not mean war with Iran is imminent. An alternative explanation is that Esquire published an article last week that flattered Fallon at the expense of the administration. Fallon could have been canned because he committed the unforgivable (the only unforgivable in this administration)- making Bush look bad.
Either way, the canary in the coal mine just died.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Here is a critique of a critique dealing with the quote that got Obama aide Samantha Power canned. Greenwald breathes fire because American journalists tend to give more room to interviewees when it comes to declaring 'off the record' then British journalists.
Boiled down, the question is who has the power to decide what is off the record? The British style clearly assigns the right to the journalist, an interviewee may offer a comment with the condition that it not be quoted, the interviewer can accept or reject the condition and the interviewee responds accordingly. The American style seems to assign the right of determination to the interviewee. The interview is conducted with interviewee indicating as they go what is off the record or on, and the journalist just follows their instructions.
That's a pretty big difference in relative power. Has it always been this way?
Friday, March 7, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
There is in our culture a tendency to view citizens as nothing more then consumers. Viewing ourselves that way infantilizes us, it renders us helpless when the lights go out. We need to get away from that. After 9/11, the government essentially codified the consumerist view of citizens, promising to take care of everything and keep our lives running as smoothly as a ride at Disney Land. A corollary to that is that we should cede total control to the government and just sit comfortably in our seats.
However, If you look at the actual events of 9/11, you see something striking. To quote Flynn:
it is the story of United Airlines flight 93, the thwarted fourth plane, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field, that ought to be the dominant 9/11 narrative. That plane's passengers foiled al Qaeda without any help from -- and in spite of the inaction of -- the U.S. government. There were no federal air marshals aboard the aircraft. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, could not intercept it; it did not even know that the plane had been hijacked. Yet United 93 was stopped 140 miles from its likely destination -- the U.S. Capitol or the White House -- because of the actions of the passengers who stormed the cockpit...This is the antithesis of the consumerist view: an active and informed citizenry, taking matters into their own hands to shape the outcome. It's often been remarked on that 9/11 was perpetrated by a small number of people with little more then box cutters, it's almost never remarked that their plans were partially foiled by a small number of people with cell phones.
Americans should celebrate -- and ponder -- the reality that the legislative and executive centers of the U.S. federal government, whose constitutional duty is to "provide for the common defense," were themselves defended that day by one thing alone: an alert and heroic citizenry.
BTW, if you're interested in Flynn's work I recommend this discussion and Q&A podcast at CFR.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Forget about the validity of the claims, and consider how easily a presidential candidate could kneecap such a contract on their own by simply announcing their intentions with respect to Iraq. Put out a statement saying that any promise of a long term security guaranty by Bush isn't worth the paper it's printed on, and that if elected you would on the first day order a bottom up policy review of everything in force. I understand that Iraq policy is toxic waste so long as Bush is in office, but that ends when the new person comes in. Whoever it is, they should not be allowed to blame bad policy on ghosts.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Milbank struggled when asked what was Taboo in Washington. He responded that you didn't really know until you broke one, and cited McCain in 2000 insulting fundamentalists and McKinney hitting a police officer. I don't think that's Milbank being naive, I think it's a genuinely hard question for someone in Washington to answer. Taboos aren't just rules, they're untouchable, unthinkable. Asking someone what is taboo is like asking a blind person to describe what they can't see. On the other hand politicians and media personalities do a pretty good job avoiding taboos (Milbank, who writes 4 columns a week can only cite two transgressions from the last 7 years!) so they must be at least subconsciously aware of them.
My picks for current taboos (broken by party)
- Racism among whites
- Homosexuality (except in the context of bashing it)
- The self-contradiction in being an "anti-government" politician
- The reality that what makes a government unique is it's ability to use legal coercion: That any time the government tries to solve a problem, to the extent that it is doing more then what an individual or non-profit could do, it is using coercion. In that sense the heart of classical liberalism is not in government at all.
For both parties:
- Criticizing the place of Israel in American foreign policy
- Saying that "sunken costs are sunken costs" with respect to Iraq
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Sunday, February 3, 2008
People talk a lot now about how nihilistic terrorists are, that they have no strategic purpose beyond killing. Killing without purpose is dishonorable and disgusting. That pretty well describes the Afghan mission in it's first phase- shedding blood because they could.
Coll describes a cultural shift in the CIA, wherein old school Yale types retire and the new school comes in. The new school were people who spent the 60's in service, rather then in college. It was a markedly more conservative, Republican, and presumably anti-communist mindset.
I imagine these were people who kept wondering why America held back during Vietnam. You have the even darker years of the 70's, and then Reagan rides in with the sun at his back and everyone says "now we can do what should be done", and miraculously the Soviets walk into a dark alley blindfolded and are just sitting there waiting to get popped. They were meat on a plate.
Is that how they see our troops in Iraq?
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Most of the topics covered I knew about before (hagiography around 9/11 widows, demonization of 'Jersey Girls', Jessica Lynch) but laying it all out together makes for a powerful presentation.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Synopsis of the moral issue:
...until we stop operating on the premise that the world is our playground to run and control through military force -- for invasions, bombing campaigns, wars and occupations to be commenced whenever we perceive it to be in our "interests," however broadly that might be defined -- the only real question is how quickly these problems are going to worsen, how severely the accompanying erosion of our national character will become. A country that is defined by endless war and world military hegemony is inevitably, unavoidably, the Nation of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and Torture and Renditions and Limitless Presidential Power and Secret Black Sites and Blackwater. You can't have one without the other.
Look beyond the spin, the wishful thinking, the intellectual bullying and the myth-making. The real legacy of the surge is that it will enable Bush to bequeath the Iraq war to his successor...
Remember when it was considered politically possible to withdraw troops from Iraq? A time when it was politically possible to at least TALK about our purpose in maintaining the occupation of Iraq?
Friday, January 11, 2008
My picks for the semester:
History 181B: Modern Physics. Maybe it will inspire me to finish reading that Gell-Mann biography I haven't picked up since Chicago...
Info 205: Information Law and Policy. Building code for digital architecture.
I'll pass on Polysci 179, which is the one class I listened to regularly from last semester.
Rhetoric 10: Introduction to Practical Reasoning and Critical Analysis of Argument. Just what the country needs in an election year.
Not a thin lineup after all.