Monthly Archives: September 2008

Religion buffet…

Every once in awhile I like to take a spin in the ol’ Belief-O-Matic and see what religion I most closely adhere to.  My recent results:

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Theravada Buddhism (98%)
3. Secular Humanism (81%)
4. Neo-Pagan (79%)
5. Liberal Quakers (77%)
6. Mahayana Buddhism (74%)
7. Taoism (66%)
8. New Age (66%)
9. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (64%)
10. Nontheist (58%)
11. Reform Judaism (54%)
12. Sikhism (52%)
13. Orthodox Quaker (50%)
14. Scientology (50%)
15. Jainism (48%)
16. Hinduism (47%)
17. New Thought (46%)
18. Bahá’í Faith (44%)
19. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (42%)
20. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (34%)
21. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (28%)
22. Orthodox Judaism (28%)
23. Seventh Day Adventist (26%)
24. Islam (25%)
25. Eastern Orthodox (21%)
26. Roman Catholic (21%)
27. Jehovah’s Witness (10%)

Well, the good news is you won’t be seeing me on your doorstep with copies of the Watchtower anytime soon.  With all due respect, I’m not sure Unitarian Universalism can really count as a religion since it seems so inclusive (not that that’s a bad thing!) that I’m not sure what it does or doesn’t stand for.  It seems a little more like a support group for people trying to find their own spiritual way.  I’ll admit I haven’t researched it much but there just doesn’t seem to be any sort of theology there.

Of course, if there was it’d probably rank down there with my childhood religion, Roman Catholicism (hey!  26 out of 27 ain’t bad!).  I may not care for the Catholic theology but I respect the fact that they take a stand.  I suspect that Roman Catholicism is ranked as poorly as it is because it’s the one I’m most familiar with and see a lot of the quiz questions in terms of.

So, looking at my other options I’m thinking it comes down to Bhuddism or Secular Humanism (I don’t think I could do the neo-Pagan thing…I’d just feel stupid dancing around a tree and praying to the earth).

Iran! Lions! Bears!

There seems to be quite a lot of talk about Iran this election and for good reason.  We haven’t exactly been best buds for awhile and they’ve been planning to rearrange the furniture in their neighborhood for awhile.  Of course, the fact that they’ve got a guy in power who may, or may not, be ‘cuckoo for cocoa puffs‘.

There’s been a lot of hand wringing, saber rattling, and general predictions of doom and gloom if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon.  While I agree it isn’t our desired end state, allow me to present a contrarin view…

First, it’s not like we can do a whole lot about it in the first place.  They learned quite well from the Israeli strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor.  They spread out their facilities and built in redundancies.  At best we could delay their effort and piss them off in the process.

Second, let’s not forget that Iran of 2008 is not the Iran of 1979.  All revolutions, once they come to power, moderate and maintance of power becomes their primary concern.  The French, Soviets and Chinese had some pretty crazy ideas when their revolutions took over and within 30 years had settled into fairly conventional nation states (not necessarily ones I would want to live in but that’s another issue).  Yes, the Iranians cling to their revolutionary rhetoric but it’s not at all clear that they aren’t doing the same thing.  Hold onto power and try to further your national goals.

Third, it would be dangerous to assume that the Iranian leadership is irrational.  Just because they do (and say) things we don’t like doesn’t mean they’re crazy.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be crazy or he may be stiring the pot and saying outrageous things about Israel for his domestic audience in order to boost up his approval and take their minds off of the fact that in face of $100 a barrel oil, they still aren’t making great headway economically.  Also, it’s not like Ahmadinejad is the supreme leader of Iran and can make his word law.  He may want to bomb Iran all day long but there would have to be a whole host of others in the government who agree with him before such an action could happen.

Fourth, look at Iran’s position.  On their eastern border are about 70,000 troops (U.S. and non-Afghan coalition) and on their western border are over 140,000 U.S. soldiers.  The U.S. has been a hostile power since the revolution in 1979 and ever since the end of ‘major’ combat operations in Iraq there’s been talk about hooking a right turn and taking Tehran.

So, is it really that irrational to try to get a nuclear bomb?  Everyone knows that is the ultimate game changer.  And a small number of bombs is a defensive move.  Let’s say Iran gets 1, 5 or even a dozen bombs.  What does it do with them?  Unless you assume that Iran is headed by a Hitler-esqe (or Joker-esqe if you’re tired of Hitler analogies) freak who just wants to destroy the world, there’s no way you’d contimplate a nuclear strike against Israel.  Even if you were to throw out the notion of American retaliation, it’s a widely held belief that Israel holds 100-200 nuclear weapons.  It would be the very definition of Mutually Assured Destruction.

So what would a few weapons get you?  A guarantee that the U.S. won’t invade.  Increased prestige and a seat at the regional (and perhaps international) table.  I suspect these are the things Iran really wants.

In order to be an offensive weapon, Iran would need to develop a first strike capability which would limit or eliminate Israel’s ability to retaliate.  Given the distances and capabilities of Israel such an attempt is likely to end up as fruitless as the attempts by the U.S. and Soviets during the cold war.

So I generally agree with this article by Bob Baer:

I myself think a deal can be cut with Iran. During the last 30 years, Iran has gone from a terrorist, revolutionary power to far more rational, calculating regional hegemon. Its belligerence today has more to do with a weakened United States and Israel than with any plans to start World War III.

If we want to have any hope of influencing Iran in the future we going to have to engage with them.  This idiotic idea we seem to have gotten that by somehow ignoring countries we don’t like will result in them running back to us, begging to give them just one more chance is ridiculous.

I’m convinced that our adherence to that policy has done more to keep tyrants in power (see Cuba, Iran, Syria, Lybia, Venezuela, etc.) than Soviet subsidies, radical Islam or expensive oil ever could.

So let’s cut the crap and start using some soft power…

Crash!!!

Ah, nothing like narrow minded ideologes to bring down our financial system.  It appears a number of our fine representatives are willing to sacrifice our livelyhoods in order to protect us from…SOCIALISM!!!  Horrors!!

From the NY Times:

Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican, said he was “resolute” in his opposition to the measure because it would betray party principles and amount to “a coffin on top of Ronald Reagan’s coffin.”

Hey, thanks Darrell!  You’re right, I (and millions like me) will be more than happy to stand on the bread line so that we can honor the memory of Ronald Reagan.  After all, you can’t make an omlete without breaking some eggs.

Idiot!

And as an aside, am I the only one thinking that Bin Laden and the Islamists are feeling totally vindicated right now?  While I think this has nothing to do with them, I can see how they’ll spin it.  Just like the Soviets, we invaded a Muslim country and faced economic ruin.  This was, after all, their plan.  Draw us into war(s) and then bleed us dry financially.

The big squeeze

Well, something’s gotta give and, unfortunately, it’s been this blog over the past week or so.

Mea Culpa…mea culpa…mea culpa….

Two classes, house hunting, volunteering for my presidential candidate and trying to keep a life going is making blog posting tough (Cripes, I haven’t even been able to play Team Fortress 2 or Total War!).

And it’s really frustrating because there’s tons of things I want to talk about.

So…things should start picking back up a bit now.

Stay tuned!

Serendipity?

For some reason my interest has been sparked in the subject of animal intelligence.  So, I was pretty psyched to get a book for my birthday on the intelligence of crows and ravens (yeah, yeah…I know, I’m a geek.  But we’ll see who’s laughing when the great bird uprising happens and you’re all trying to figure out how to appease our new avian overlords).

So, I thought it an odd bit of fortune to this this post in boing boing about…how smart crows are.

Recent research has found that crows are able to use ‘casual reasoning‘, a skill unidentified in non-humans to this point.  In fact, crows seemed better at tasks requiring such reasoning than chimpanzees.

Here come the Finns! Well…maybe not.

In today’s Helsingin Sanomat there’s an article about Finnish reluctance to join NATO in the wake of the Russo-Georgian conflict this summer.  Finland has been flirting with NATO cooperation and the idea of membership for a decade or more but it’s tradition of neutrality has kept it from making the jump.

Russia remains the one and only security concern for Finland (from a nation state, at least) and that concern weighs heavily on their decision to join.

Normally, the assurances NATO gives might be very attractive in terms of preventing Russia from getting any funny ideas about grabbing more Finnish lands.  Russia, as far as I know however, hasn’t made any claims on Finnish territory and even tried to sell Finnish Karelia back to Helsinki. It also appears that most Finns don’t really regard Russia as a serious threat (they’ve got other countries to invade first).

The recent strong American stance in response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia and endorsement of Georgian membership in NATO by both presidential candidates turns that calculation on its head and now might make NATO membership more risky than going it alone.  If Georgia and/or Ukraine enter NATO, for example, and Russia decides it wants to veto that decision with a few T-80s a country like Belgium, the UK or the US can rattle some sabres and slowly escalate.  Finland, on the other hand, would literally be on the front line of the conflict (Helsinki is less than 200 miles from St. Petersburg) and could find itslef more involved than it prudently would want to be.

A resurgent Russia might create some incentives for Finland to join (BTW, is it just me or does Mr. Stubb look an awful lot like Guy Pearce?)  but probably not before the Georgia/Ukraine question is settled.

Here’s a 1999 examination of the pros and cons of NATO membership.  I’ve only just skimmed it definately looks worthwhile.  But that doesn’t mean the Finns are isolating themselves.  It just looks like they’ll continue to cooperate with NATO on an ad hoc basis.  They may very well assume that NATO wouldn’t stand for Russian incursion into their territory regardless of their membership status since it wasn’t a part of the old Soviet Union.  With Georgia and Ukraine, the Russian leadership can make bogus arguments about how they’re defending Russian citizens that were essentially left behind with the USSR collapsed.  That argument wouldn’t fly in the case of Finland.

Allright…enough talk…let’s watch some cool Finnish Defense Forces videos.

My life lessons

I just turned 40 yesterday and I figured now would be a good time to start dispensing all that wisdom -ahem- I’ve accumulated over the years.  So, in what will likely be the shortest reoccurring segment ever, here’s the first nugget of knowledge

Rule #1:  Don’t trust anyone with a nickname that has no relevance to their given names.

Example:  “From those distant beginnings grew American International Group, which became one of the biggest insurance companies in the world, under the leadership of Maurice R. “Hank” Greenberg.”

What’s wrong with Maurice?  Too girly?  Then use the middle name.  What are the odds his parents gave him a middle name that was unacceptable too?  ‘Robin’?  ‘Rachel’?

It’s just wrong.  They have something to hide and once they hide from their name there’s no stopping them.

Yours truly,

Iago

Pakistan-American ‘cooperation’

Well, apparently those threats by Pakistan to fire upon U.S. soldiers crossing the border from Afghanistan to target ACM (Anti-Coalition Militia) forces weren’t just for internal consumption.

This story came out yesterday saying that orders were sent out to the Pakistani military authorizing them to:

“…open fire if U.S. troops launch another air or ground raid across the Afghan border…”

To which the U.S. responded:

…a Pentagon spokesman said Pakistan would “correct the record” on the latest statement.

“We enjoy good cooperation with Pakistan along the border,” said the spokesman, Bryan Whitman. “Pakistan is an ally in the global war on terror.”

The BBC actually reported that the Pakistanis had already fired on U.S. troops the day before as they attempted to cross over into Pakistan.

They say seven US helicopter gunships and two troop-carrying Chinook helicopters landed in the Afghan province of Paktika near the Zohba mountain range.

US troops from the Chinooks then tried to cross the border. As they did so, Pakistani paramilitary soldiers at a checkpoint opened fire into the air and the US troops decided not to continue forward, local Pakistani officials say.

The MSNBC story says that the Pakistanis and Americans both denied that story with the Pakistanis saying that ‘trigger happy tribesmen’ were responsible for the shootings and the Americans saying that they weren’t even there.  Hmmmm…sounds a bit fishy to me.

The U.S. appears to be desperately trying to defuse the situation while keeping (or getting?) the rights to cross over into Pakistan.  Today, Admiral Mullen met with the Pakistani leadership to find some resolution to this quandry (I guess to toast the wonderful relationship Pakistan and America are enjoying?).

Now, I’m no expert in Pakistani internal affairs and I’m certainly not someone who believes that Pakistan has be 100% committed to defeating violent Islamic extremism in the region but they do seem to be in an untenable position.  You’ve got a region that has been virtually indepdent since Pakistan became a country.  A population with widespread resentment towards the U.S. and not a great deal of tolerance towards even the appearance of U.S. influence over the Pakistani government.  A rogue intelligence service that has been a supporter of radical elements in the region for decades.  And finally, a military of questionable ability.

I’m just not sure what they could do, at this point, without undermining their position, even if they wanted to.

Likewise, I’m not sure what the U.S. could do without a significant influx of troops (to try to seal the border).  The Pakistanis want advance notification before any U.S. actions take place on their soil but that’s untenable since it would be reasonable to assume any such notification would make its way to the targets almost as soon as the Americans hang up the phone.

Like many of the problems that are bubbling to the top of the news from Afghanistan, this isn’t new or unexpected.  The administration has been in denial mode for 6+ years now, trying to convince everyone (including themselves) that Pakistan is a dedicated, reliable and capable ally when they aren’t.  Instead of addressing this problem years ago we let if fester until it reaches these proportions.

yeesh…

I have no idea what this means…

but it does conjure up some interesting mental images…

…while the Securities and Exchange Commission said it will strictly prohibit naked short-selling starting Thursday.

link

Either the trading floor is a lot more interesting than I remember from my economics classes or I just wasn’t paying enough attention in those classes.

eh…never mind.  I guess Wall Street isn’t going to be the focus of the next ‘Girls Gone Wild’ show.

Short-selling is when traders borrow shares of a stock they expect to fall and sell them — if the stock does indeed fall, the traders buy the cheaper shares to cover the borrowed ones and profit from the difference. Naked short-selling occurs when sellers don’t actually borrow the shares before selling them; it’s a practice some say is partially responsible for the huge drop in the shares of investment banks like Lehman, Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns Cos., which JPMorgan Chase & Co. bought earlier this year.w.

News from that ‘other’ war

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about Afghanistan which is a shame since there’s been a lot going on there and being said about it.  I’ll try to wrap it up now.

Dexter Filkins got a lot of kudos for his article on the Pakistani tribal areas in last week’s NY Times magazine article.  It’s well written and gives a good overview of the situation there but I’m not sure there’s anything terribly new here.

  1. The Taliban is using the area as a base
  2. The Pakistanis are going through the motions (at best) in their support of our war aims
  3. Pakistan is becoming destabilized
  4. We’re in deep doo-doo

The big news lately has been that President Bush has officially authorized the military to conduct operations inside Pakistan without prior approval from the government in Islamabad.

The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants. They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.

This distrust was present on the ground in Afghanistan back when I was there in 2003.  I remember hearing periodic ‘reminders’ that the Pakistanis were our good and loyal allies and that there were not to be treated any differently from our other coalition partners.  Of course those speeches were universally received with a ‘Yeah, right’ attitude and the fact that we had to be reminded of what good partners the Pakistanis were spoke to the true level of their reliability.  I can only assume that someone high up had bought some serious rose colored glasses and felt that constant repetition about how stalwart the Pakistanis were would somehow make it so.

Of course, the Pakistanis aren’t too happy about this and are threatening to defend their sovereignty.

Pakistan’s top army officer said Wednesday that his forces would not tolerate American incursions like the one that took place last week and that the army would defend the country’s sovereignty “at all costs.”

And the Prime Minister agreed.

I don’t know if that was for internal consumption to keep the army and Pakistani population from totally wigging out or if it was a warning to the U.S.  After all Pakistani forces firing on Americans isnt’ without precedent

“When the Americans started bombing the Taliban, the Frontier Corps started shooting at the Americans,” we were told by one of Suran Dara’s villagers, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being persecuted or killed by the Pakistani government or the Taliban. “They were trying to help the Taliban. And then the American planes bombed the Pakistani post.”

I can definitely see how this sort of thing can blow up in our faces.  A large scale (in size or duration) incursion into Pakistan could further weaken the secular forces there.  They don’t have much control as it is but at least they control their nuclear arsenal.  But what can we do?  The Pakistanis have clearly demonstrated that they have neither the will or capability to work the tribal areas on their own and without getting a handle on those areas we’re going to keep losing ground and taking casualties.

As what I hope is my only political aside of this post, let me remind you that this ‘new’ policy was put forth by Obama in August of 2007 (I can’t draw attention to that date in any other way) and at the time McCain said:

“You don’t broadcast that you are going to bomb a country that is a sovereign nation and that you are dependent on … in the struggle against (the) Taliban and the sanctuaries which they hold.”

By the way…great primer of the area by the BBC.

How can you not get furious that we’re at this point:

“I am not convinced that we’re winning it in Afghanistan,” Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday…”Frankly, we are running out of time,” Mullen said, adding that not sending U.S. reinforcements to Afghanistan is “too great a risk to ignore.”

This did not have to be and a lot of people knew it.