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Monthly Archives: September 2009

300 million

September 30th, 2009 - 4:19 pm

Glenn Reynolds and Steven Pressfield discuss Afghanistan on Pajamas TV. Pressfield has leveraged his writing skill, experience and contacts into a serial of posts on Afghanistan.  What’s fascinating about the Reynolds-Pressfield conversation is their description of the blogging process, which is familiar territory to anyone who has put pixels to screen. The most important ideas they float, which are actually larger than the writing process and speak to the emerging structure of the new information environment are:

  1. Internet content provision is a conversation. Pressfield realized that once you started providing content (in a blog for example) you had to keep it up. He teased Glenn for his uncanny habit of posting almost continuously — the trademark of Instanpundit.
  2. Glenn broached the idea that some content is provided as an asynchronous thread, though he didn’t quite put it that way. What he said was blogging ‘is how you turn procrastination into a virtue’. In reality it does more than that because the threads are re-entrant; they come back at some point into what you are already doing. Steven Pressfield took the idea further when he recounted his research process (“drilling”). The information gets pumped out of various wells, but none of it is ultimately wasted. They all flow back into the main thread of his work, which was novels, but which is now broadening out into blogging.
  3. But the key idea, which associates back to Pressfield’s idea of ‘tribes’ in Afghanistan and Reynold’s Army of Davids, is that bloggers (in general any content provider) catalyze tribes. This is a very powerful insight, possibly the key realization of the new information age. (Think of Chris Anderson’s concept of the Long Tail) It is the failure to grasp this point that underlies one of the key failures of the MSM. The Internet is a self-organizing medium; it’s a declaration of governance and independence whatever else it may be. The MSM has been trying to reinvent networked communications and return it to the Age of Kings. The MSM is the town crier model and its day is over.

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The real thing

September 30th, 2009 - 5:17 am

One reason why President Obama may be reluctant to give General McChrystal more troops is that it would force the differences with Pakistan into the open.  Islamabad has been trying, for some time, to run America’s war for its own benefit. An article by David Ignatius implies that the ISI wants to manage the Taliban, not destroy it.  From the Pakistani point of view the danger in giving McChrystal surge forces is that the US military might get ideas.

At an operational level, the ISI is a close partner of the CIA. … But on the political level, there is mistrust on both sides. Washington worries that the ISI isn’t sharing all it knows about Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis, meanwhile, view the United States as an unreliable ally that starts fights it doesn’t know how to finish.

A test of this fragile partnership is the debate over the new Afghanistan strategy proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The ISI leadership thinks the United States can’t afford to lose in Afghanistan, and it worries about a security vacuum there that would endanger Pakistan. But at the same time, the ISI fears that a big military surge, like the up to 40,000 additional troops McChrystal wants, could be counterproductive.

ISI officials believe the United States should be realistic about its war objectives. If victory is defined as obliteration of the Taliban, the United States will never win. But Washington can achieve the more limited aim of rough political stability, if it is patient. In the ISI’s view, America makes a mistake in thinking it must solve every problem on its own. In Afghanistan, it should work with President Hamid Karzai, who, for all his imperfections, has one essential quality that American strategists lack — he’s an Afghan. ISI officials suggest that Karzai should capitalize on the postelection ferment by calling for a cease-fire so that he can form a broadly based government that includes some Taliban representatives.

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The second derivative

September 29th, 2009 - 6:02 am

The New York Times has a nightmare. “A specter is haunting Europe — the specter of Socialism’s slow collapse.” And yet the denial continues. Socialism’s weakness is all because those damned right wing parties have learned how to be human from the Left. An NYT source says that the Left has been weakened by its very success:

Europe’s conservatives, says Michel Winock, a historian at the Paris Institut d’Études Politiques, “have adapted themselves to modernity.” When Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Germany’s Angela Merkel condemn the excesses of the “Anglo-Saxon model” of capitalism while praising the protective power of the state, they are using Socialist ideas that have become mainstream, he said.

It is not that the left is irrelevant — it often represents the only viable opposition to established governments, and so benefits, as in the United States, from the normal cycle of electoral politics.

But Robert Smith at American Thinker believes that the left is in real crisis, facing not a temporary electoral setback in Europe but an existential crisis; that it is self-destructing at such a rate that the very swiftness of its collapse threatens to be a catastrophe in its own right.

Less than a year into his presidency, Barack Obama’s world grows bleaker. Liberalism’s world is bleaker. At home and abroad, liberalism, as advanced by the President, is failing. Are we witnessing the beginnings of another historic event, loosely comparable to the fall of communism twenty years ago? Now the fall of liberalism? … Overseas, the nation’s enemies, who only a short time ago feared us, now scheme to overtly or surreptitiously challenge us. Our allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, some of whom resent our power, must confront an ugly question: What happens in a world absent sufficient projections of American power?

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Law for legends

September 28th, 2009 - 10:04 am

It was Auden who observed that maybe we really don’t want to treat people equally. In his poem, In Memory of WB Yeats, he argued that the intellectual world has always had two standards: one of the talented and other for the rest of us.

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

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The winds of Manakoora

September 27th, 2009 - 1:33 am

What sank 3 destroyers, killed 800 men and inflicted as much damage as “a major fleet action” on the Pacific Fleet? A Philippine typhoon.

Typhoon Cobra, also known as the Typhoon of 1944 or Halsey’s Typhoon (named after Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey), was the United States Navy designation for a tropical cyclone which struck the United States Pacific Fleet in December 1944 during World War II.

On December 17, it struck Task Force 38 (TF 38), which was operating about 300 miles (480 km) east of Luzon in the Philippine Sea. Three destroyers were sunk, and a total of 790 lives were lost. Nine other warships were damaged, and over one hundred aircraft were wrecked or washed overboard; the aircraft carrier Monterey was forced to battle a heavy fire caused by a plane hitting a bulkhead. Search efforts eventually rescued 93 men.

In the words of Admiral Chester Nimitz, the typhoon’s impact “represented a more crippling blow to the 3rd Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action”.

These are amazingly powerful weather systems whose sheer elemental force has to be experienced to be believed.  Recently, a powerful typhoon ripped through Luzon “packing winds of 100 kph (60 mph) [and] dumped 341 mm (13.5 inches) of rain in six hours.” A friend who runs an orphanage wrote to me on Facebook to describe the effects of this massive energy dump: of flooded streets, diverted aircraft, homeless people and drowned souls.  Only three years ago, Typhoon Xangsane, a Category 4 storm equivalent at peaks, came through the same area with ten minute sustained winds of 90 mph and 1 minute blasts clocked at 145 mph. To put that in perspective, Ike and the Galveston hurricane of 1900 were Category 4 storms (though Ike touched Cat 5).  The recent Philippine typhoon was more rain than anything else, but what rain! (more…)

Ultimatum est

September 26th, 2009 - 2:26 pm

After revealing that Iran has been secretly building a nuclear facility for a year, President Obama warned Iran it was facing its last chance. He said, “Iran’s leaders must now choose — they can live up to their responsibilities and achieve integration with the community of nations. Or they will face increased pressure and isolation, and deny opportunity to their own people.”

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Calculus

September 26th, 2009 - 3:47 am

Two problems will make the administration’s attempts to take a hard line with Iran now that Teheran has been found to be secretly building a nuclear facility difficult. The first is the accusation that the administration is making a virtue out of a necessity. Revelations that Iran has been operating in bad faith can pull the carpet out from under the entire strategy of “engaging Iran”. Why make a deal with a double-dealer? The Politico describes how the administration raced to put together a tough public presentation just hours before the damning information about Iran’s nuclear cheating was about to go public.

But behind the scenes, the Obama administration was furiously preparing for a major public intelligence disclosure that it had not planned to make: that the U.S. had known for years about a previously undisclosed clandestine nuclear enrichment facility Iran has been building since 2005 in a mountain near Qom.

Interviews with administration and international officials, diplomats, non-proliferation and Iran experts suggest the administration had no plans to announce its suspicions before beginning international talks with Iran next week. But its hand was forced after learning some time during the week of a letter Iran had sent the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna acknowledging construction of a previously undisclosed facility. …

Indeed, one international official who asked for anonymity said that to this person’s knowledge, it was an Associated Press reporter in Vienna, George Jahn, who having learned of the Iranian letter, may have first tipped off western officials to its existence.

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Statesmen

September 24th, 2009 - 7:13 pm

A few posts ago I remarked that the world had gotten funny without my being able to laugh. I wrote, “The subjects have become so fantastic they are almost unreal. It’s like a horror movie where everybody is inexplicably funny. Maybe I should go have a beer.” The NY Post reports that a UN interpreter may need two six packs to recover his sanity after trying to interpret for Khadafy.

After struggling to turn Khadafy’s insane ramblings at the UN into English for 75 minutes, the Libyan dictator’s personal interpreter got lost in translation. “I just can’t take it any more,” Khadafy’s interpreter shouted into the live microphone – in Arabic.

At that point, the U.N.’s Arabic section chief, Rasha Ajalyaqeen, took over and translated the final 20 minutes of the speech. “His interpreter just collapsed – this is the first time I have seen this in 25 years,” another U.N. Arabic interpreter told The Post.

I’m afraid that as statesmen go, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

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Two eras

September 24th, 2009 - 5:03 am

As heads of state gather at the United Nations and issue calls for world peace and disarmament, it may be interesting to think back seventy years to another time when  publics also thought that war could be abolished by diplomacy.

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Equal to ourselves

September 23rd, 2009 - 4:42 am

When Energy Secretary Steven Chu scolded Americans for acting “just like your teenage kids” who didn’t know how to take care of the planet he was merely engaging in another “teaching moment”. The WSJ blogs wrote:

The administration aims to teach them—literally. The Environmental Protection Agency is focusing on real children. Partnering with the Parent Teacher Organization, the agency earlier this month launched a cross-country tour of 6,000 schools to teach students about climate change and energy efficiency.

It has become fashionable for governments to treat people — even adults — like children: children who consume too much, obey too little and remain too fond their imaginary friends. And their betters take it upon themselves to guard their speech, take away their dangerous toys and curtail their choices because they are prone to make unwise ones. And most of all they see to it that we should expect no better our lives but a little welfare gruel and some end of life counseling. Once upon a time mankind saw it as their birthright to wander the fields, swim in the streams and see what was over the next hill. Today we live penned up in dark houses warded by sour matrons and bloodless didacts who are forever seeking to administer their “teaching moments”.

Two observations on human freedom, the first by Ronald Reagan and the second by CS Lewis, recall an earlier tradition. Both argued that mankind was compelled to liberty by nature. They saw it as humanity’s right to look up at the moon and dream of the stars. Reagan said:

If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth. And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except to sovereign people, is still the newest and most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election. Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

It’s a quaint notion. Lewis put it another way.

The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so long as we are subject to one law. But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his own creation

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