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Current Topic: Current Events

On Thought, Engagement, and Repeated Mistakes
Topic: Current Events 10:36 pm EDT, Oct 10, 2008

From the archive:

I have been troubled for some time now by the notion of college students not engaged in conversations beyond themselves, in what should have been their own expression of empowerment on campus, and their willingness to accept the status quo without questioning it. I hope that this debacle will change all that.

It's sad to consider that after four years of the best education money can buy, these students have only over the last year "been forced to relearn the lessons" of their great-grandparents' generation. One would hope that the well educated wouldn't need to witness firsthand a repetition of mistakes of the past to get the point.

Do you understand the difference between "Is it worth buying?" and "Can it be sold?"

The credit crash of the late 2000s should have been followed by decades of soul-searching; instead, even before the old bubble had fully deflated, a new mania began to take hold ... that the modest expansion of domestic (and "green"!) energy production can produce social harmony and national economic well-being.

The bubble cycle has replaced the business cycle.

On Thought, Engagement, and Repeated Mistakes

Failure Now An Option
Topic: Current Events 9:47 am EST, Jan 21, 2008

In a stunning reversal of more than 200 years of conventional wisdom, failure—traditionally believed to be an unacceptable outcome for a wide range of tasks and goals—is now increasingly seen as a viable alternative to success, sources confirmed Tuesday.

Recall, from last year:

Failure is an essential part of the process. "The way you say this is: 'Please fail very quickly -- so that you can try again'," says Eric Schmidt, CEO at Google.

It's funny because it's true.

Failure Now An Option

Boris Yeltsin Is Dead
Topic: Current Events 11:58 am EDT, Apr 23, 2007

I assume this article is one of those pre-obits they've been sitting on for years.

He was overwhelmed by what he saw at a Houston supermarket, by the kaleidoscopic variety of meats and vegetables available to ordinary Americans.

The irony is killing me:

Under a government decree that took effect April 1, only Russian citizens can sell vegetables at any of Russia’s 5,200 markets.

I wonder which side of the "50% positive" ledger this falls on.

From Gorby's view, it seems to be a bit of both:

"I express the very deepest condolences to the family of the deceased on whose shoulders rest major events for the good of the country and serious mistakes," former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev told Interfax.

But if you go to the article linked above, then it's clearly negative:

“When we talk of death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive,” said one editor at the station who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive.”

So, to counterbalance, I offer you a pair of happy stories -- first from April 6, and then from today:

Martha Stewart Picks Space Pal's Menu

Martha Stewart, the apostle of the cozy and the quaint, came Friday to the bleak space town of Baikonur to watch a billionaire friend blast off for the international space station.

Stewart, who parlayed her vision of gracious living into a business empire, is a longtime friend of Charles Simonyi, a software engineer and developer of Microsoft Word who paid $20-25 million for a 13-day trip to the international space station.

He will lift off Saturday, aboard a Soyuz space capsule with two Russian cosmonauts.

Billionaire Space Tourist Back on Earth

An American billionaire who paid $25 million for a 13-day trip to outer space returned to Earth on Saturday in a space capsule that also carried a cosmonaut and a U.S. astronaut, making a soft landing on the Kazakh steppe.

The capsule carrying Charles Simonyi, a Hungarian-born software engineer who helped develop Microsoft Word and Excel, touched down after a more than three-hour return trip from the orbital station, a spokesman said at Mission Control outside Moscow.

Simonyi looked ecstatic after rescuers removed him from the capsule, which lay askew on the bleak grassland. He smiled and grinned as he spoke with the support crew. He then bit enthusiastically into a green apple -- a traditional offering for space crews touching down in Kazakhstan, which is famous for the fruit.

It's a good thing the capsule comes down in Kazakhstan, or that apple would have been a Russian potato.

Boris Yeltsin Is Dead

Bush Meets With Democrats on Their Turf
Topic: Current Events 9:20 am EST, Feb  4, 2007

In a private session with lawmakers, ... Mr. Bush conceded the war is "sapping our soul," but he said he intended to pursue his plan to send more troops to Iraq.

When you search for "sapping our soul", Google asks in reply, "Did you mean: shaping our soul?" Yes, yes, that's it.

Iraq situation 'winnable,' official says

"Each time I travel outside the International Zone, I’m amazed that virtually every house in Baghdad has a satellite dish on the roof."

Taken on its own, you might be inclined to see this as an astute observation about the complexity of executing a "hearts and minds" campaign in the information age ... and the difficulty faced by the coalition in competing with other voices to be heard on the Iraqi 'street'.

But, no. To him, this is a "positive sign", evidence of a "post-Saddam boom". He seems to have no clue what they're watching ... how is that possible, when the material is so readily accessible? A sample, from a recent interview with Hassan Nasrallah:

I have said on several occasions that our [Zionist] enemy possesses some aspects that I wish we possessed - or that our countries or governments possessed. For example... I even praised Sharon once. I said that although this man is a criminal, a killer, a butcher, and a blood-shedder, there is something positive about the Zionists: They do not abandon their prisoners, and they do not abandon even their prisoners’ bodies, or their remains, even 50 or 60 years after their deaths. This is a positive aspect that you must respect in your enemy. That is why they continue to follow this issue. In Lebanon, for example, there were many prisoners, and nobody ever asked about them, and if you did ask about them, you would get punished. At any rate, this is a positive aspect about the enemy.

... We believe that the solution in Iraq begins with adopting the option of armed resistance - Jihad against the occupation forces. This is my opinion.

Defense Leaders: Iraq Debate Focuses Not on Whether to Win, But How

"It’s a very complex issue, and putting a bumper sticker on it really doesn’t help solve the problem,” Pace said. “The question is, ‘Where are we? Where should we be? And how do we get from where we are to where we’re supposed to be? And that is what the new plan is all about."

DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Gen. Pace from Pentagon

Good morning. I am announcing today that I've recommended to the president two offic... [ Read More (0.3k in body) ]

Bush Meets With Democrats on Their Turf

Bush's illusions | Andrew Bacevich in IHT
Topic: Current Events 10:24 pm EST, Dec 22, 2006

It's about leadership.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Bush and his lieutenants now preoccupy themselves with operational matters that ought to fall within the purview of field commanders. That issues like these should now command presidential attention testifies to the administration's disarray.

The most pressing question is this: Does open-ended global war provide the proper framework for formulating an effective response to the threat posed by Islamic radicalism? Or has global war, based on various illusions about American competence and American power, led to a dead end?

America's failure in Iraq lends considerable urgency to this question. That no responsible member of this administration possesses the presence of mind, the imagination or the courage to address the issue head-on forms yet another part of the tragedy unfolding before our eyes.

I am reminded of Baghdad Bob. The scary thing is that Bob is starting to sound prescient in places.

"Baghdad? It will be a big oven for them."

"This invasion will end in failure."

"We are winning!"

"They are lying every day. They are lying always, and mainly they are lying to their public opinion."

"They are achieving nothing."

"Iraq will spread them even more and chop them up."

"They are becoming hysterical. This is the result of frustration."

"Please, please! The Americans are relying on what I called yesterday a desperate and stupid method."

"They do not even have control over themselves! Do not believe them!"

Bush's illusions | Andrew Bacevich in IHT

Taliban and Allies Tighten Grip in North of Pakistan
Topic: Current Events 12:12 pm EST, Dec 11, 2006

So numerous are the recruits that a tribal leader in southern Afghanistan, who did not want to be named because of the threat of suicide bombers, relayed an account of how one would-be suicide bomber was sent home and told to wait his turn because there were many in line ahead of him.

It's like seniority in a union.

Javed Iqbal, the newly appointed Pakistani secretary of the tribal areas, defended the North Waziristan accord:

"We have tried the coercive tactic, we did not achieve much. So what do you do? Engage."

I am reminded of this quote:

"It has become clear that Internet access in itself is a vulnerability that we cannot mitigate. We have tried incremental steps and they have proven insufficient."
        -- Undersecretary of Commerce Mark Foulon

Taliban and Allies Tighten Grip in North of Pakistan

Iraq: The War of the Imagination
Topic: Current Events 11:56 am EST, Nov 23, 2006

Mark Danner in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books.

Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end.
—George F. Kennan, September 26, 2002

I ask you, sir, what is the American army doing inside Iraq?... Saddam's story has been finished for close to three years.
—President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to Mike Wallace on Sixty Minutes, August 13, 2006

In the coming weeks we will hear much talk of "exit strategies" and "proposed solutions." All such "solutions," though, are certain to come with heavy political costs, costs the President may consider more difficult to bear than those of doggedly "staying the course" for the remainder of his term. George W. Bush, who ran for president vowing a "humble" foreign policy, could not have predicted this. Kennan said it in October 2002:

Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things on your mind as a purpose of what you are doing, but in the end, you found yourself fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before. In other words, war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it.

If we are indeed in the third act, then it may well be that this final act will prove to be very long and very painful. You may or may not know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end.

On the subject of "solutions", I would draw your attention to my digest of Rumsfeld's Rules:

2. It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.

8. For every human problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.

9. Simply because a problem is shown to exist doesn’'t necessarily follow that there is a solution.

On the subject of Rumsfeld, Novak finds no one who is satisfied with the orchestration of Rumsfeld's exit.

Iraq: The War of the Imagination

Bombs Kill 144 in Baghdad, Gunmen Storm Ministry
Topic: Current Events 11:05 am EST, Nov 23, 2006


In one of the deadliest sectarian assaults since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, explosions from at least three powerful car bombs and a mortar shell tore through teeming intersections in the Shiite district of Sadr City today, killing at least 144 people and wounding 206, the authorities said.

Security is not to be taken for granted.

Up to six car bombs killed 133 people in a Shi'ite militia stronghold in Baghdad on Thursday, in one of most devastating such attacks since the US invasion.

A further 201 people were wounded, police said.

The blasts, which were followed by a mortar barrage aimed at a nearby Sunni enclave, came at the same time as gunmen mounted a bold daylight raid on the Shi'ite-run Health Ministry.

The Health Ministry is run by followers of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia is accused by many Sunnis of being behind some of the worst death squad violence in the capital, in which hundreds of people a week are being kidnapped and tortured and their bodies dumped around the city.

The United Nations said on Wednesday violent deaths among civilians had hit a record of over 3,700 in October, although the health minister insisted it was much lower.

Bombs Kill 144 in Baghdad, Gunmen Storm Ministry

Building a Team of Rivals
Topic: Current Events 10:24 am EST, Nov 23, 2006

Over the next few months, I’m going to ask the presidential hopefuls the following question: What lessons do you draw from the Iraq experience about decision-making in the White House?

Brooks makes some good points here. It's true that structural problems are rampant, and that they have played a role in getting us to this point.

But I am skeptical that a shift change in the White House can really address enough of the structural issues to make a difference. Sure, the issues Brooks raises are within the White House's control, but they are only the most prominent and talked about.

Before the rest of them can be addressed, we'd be at the tail end of a two-term Presidency fully devoted to making such changes. And the likelihood that a President could allocate so much time to amending the micro-structure of Government? Slim to none.

Building a Team of Rivals

Colliding With Death at 37,000 Feet, and Living
Topic: Current Events 7:58 pm EDT, Oct  3, 2006

"We’ve been hit," said Henry.

"Hit? By what?" I wondered.

And so began the most harrowing 30 minutes of my life.

Must read. Silver star at least for originality. I rarely see reporting like this in American newspapers any more.

Colliding With Death at 37,000 Feet, and Living

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