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Sunday, January 30, 2005
  • More from Juan Cole on the Iraqi elections, including a nice rundown of recent history.
    So if it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi, or would have had stage-managed elections with an electorate consisting of a handful of pro-American notables. It was Sistani and the major Shiite parties that demanded free and open elections and a UNSC resolution. They did their job and got what they wanted. But the Americans have been unable to provide them the requisite security for truly aboveboard democratic elections.

    With all the hoopla, it is easy to forget that this was an extremely troubling and flawed "election." Iraq is an armed camp.

  • Preliminary assessments of the Iraq vote are mixed, but fairly positive. The interim government and its supporters will now try to play that up, to portray the resulting parliament as a legitimate body. The reports also indicate, however, that many polling stations in Sunni areas were empty or closed or that turnout was "at best a trickle," suggesting that the other side will also be able to make the opposite case. Juan Cole is concerned about the implications. Still, the paucity of violence is a very positive sign.

  • Thursday, January 27, 2005
  • The American sponsorship scandal

    I think there's a lot of significance to the fact that the two biggest papers in the US have used such different words to describe Bush's pronouncement on his administration's habit of bribing the talking heads.

    Is he urging it or banning it? Is he in charge of his cabinet, or just their advisor?

  • Wednesday, January 26, 2005
  • Extreme Game Design:

    Games are collections of rules. By knowing the rules, we know what game we are playing.

  • Monday, January 24, 2005
  • New blog to recommend, just discovered via Kevin Drum: ArmsControlWonk.

  • Saturday, January 22, 2005
  • And I thought in the weather in Montreal sucked.

  • Friday, January 21, 2005
  • Indeed, we are living in the end of days.
    The Rapture Index is by no means meant to predict the rapture, however, the index is designed to measure the type of activity that could act as a precursor to the rapture.

    You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity, but I think it would be better if you viewed it as prophetic speedometer.

  • Thursday, January 20, 2005
  • Die, they must die...

    ...the Panda's must die:
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Endangered giant pandas have boosted their numbers in the wild by almost half in just a few years thanks to enlarged habitat and improved ecosystems, Xinhua news agency said on Thursday.

    That's good news, but the source makes me pause before I celebrate. Xinhua, established in 1931 as the Red China News Agency, still reports directly to the Party's Propaganda Department. I'm just reminded of Soviet whaling numbers is all. Have international observers verified the claims of Chinese government officials about the rebounding Panda population?

    It's a little thing, maybe, but if China wants to improve its image in the West, playing the role of the Great Panda Protector would be a pretty good approach.

    ...and if you're wondering about the title of this post...

  • Wednesday, January 19, 2005
  • Cardinal Ambrozic is the Archibishop of Toronto who's making the news for his open letter to the PM urging him to use the notwithstanding clause to block gay marriage. He was just on TV. I support his right to speak his mind, but here's a recommendation. Catholic Bishops should never use the word "burning" to describe their feelings. When they say gay marriage is a "burning issue," it sounds like a threat.

  • The BBC has some interesting science news for us: UK dolphins are murding their porpoise cousins; and the cyborgs are here.

  • Canada news roundup:

    I actually read some of the Globe in paper today. What a pain in the ass. I am a big fan of text-based media, but not when the text rubs off on your fingertips. That's icky.

    Anyway, today's roundup focusses on three topics: same-sex marriage, Kyoto, and provincial democracy.

    The same-sex marriage debate is heating up in this country. Religious groups of various stripes are weighing in more forcefully, including the Catholics, Evangelicals and Sikhs. For their part, the Sikh Joginder (equivalent to the Catholic Pope) has taken advantage of PM PM's trip to India to denounce Canada's position on gay marriage. Some of the responses from within the Canadian Sikh community are very reassuring, however. Some of them are speaking out against the Joginder's statements, both because their view of Sikhism differs, and because they recognize that minorities ought to support one another. Martin should do more leading on this issue. Nevertheless, his response to the Sikh leader's comments - clarifying the fact that the debate is about civil as opposed to religious marriage - is useful and should probably be given more play here in Canada. Meanwhile, our military is making moves to recognize same-sex military couples. How cool is that?

    Speaking of the PM PM's, ahem, leadership, Martin's response to the fact that we're not going to achieve our Kyoto goals was (and I'm paraphrasing), "Oh well, other people aren't living up to their obligations, either."
    The Kyoto Protocol comes into force on Feb. 16. Canada, which joined the agreement in 1997, voluntary [sic] accepted the most aggressive target, 6 per cent below the 1990 emissions level.

    Finally, New Brunswick is the latest province to start thinking seriously about proportional representation (PR), or at least partial proportional representation. The co-chairman of the province's Legislative Democracy commission explains:
    “Voter turnout is dropping, youth participation in the electoral process is low, trust and confidence in our democratic institutions have declined and many citizens believe they have insufficient voice in the decision-making process especially when major issues are involved[.]"

    Personally, I have a fairly hard time believing that proportional representation, particularly at the provincial level, will do very much at all to help those particular problems. I've discussed some of my objections to PR before, and for the record, I still support Alternative Vote (AV) if we're talking about changing the way we vote. However, if you want to get people more involved in government and voting, why not mandate some civics classes for high school students and then invest the necessary money to make that count for something? Why not sponsor some public debates? There are a number of ways to go. Don't get me wrong, I'd be the last to say that electoral design doesn't matter at all. I'm sure that it does. And I'm sure the press coverage of change in the system, and the hopes that such a change would engender, would help produce a spike in voter participation if the system were indeed changed. I just don't think it would really do much in the long run to combat Canadian voter apathy.

  • Monday, January 17, 2005
  • The Pentagon criticizes, without denying, Hersh's report.

  • Highly recommended reading:

    Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker has a report today that the US is actively planning to take the war to Iran.
    The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer. ... “The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible,” the government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon told me.

    The article includes a very interesting account of some of the bureaucratic politics going on, such as the Pentagon's accumulation of covert powers, at the expense of the CIA. The more control the Pentagon gets, the less it has to coordinate with others, meaning the more the decisions reflect a single perspective - the neoconservative perspective.

    Attacking Iran would be insanity. And it's possible that rumors of American plans to do so are part of a broad American strategy to pressure Iran into complying with nuclear inspections. But we've had this same debate before, and see where we ended up.

  • Wow. Clinton really did want to make straight soldiers turn gay:
    American military bosses are said to have sought Pentagon funding for the proposed development of bizarre chemical weapons that would have had unusual effects on its targets - like making them sexually attracted to their fellow same-sex soldiers. ... According to the proposals from the US Air Force Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, which apparently date from 1994, homosexual tendencies among troops would cause a "distasteful but completely non-lethal" blow to morale.

    Other proposals included more weapons nonlethal to people but lethal to morale, such as weapons that would give enemy soldiers "severe and lasting" bad breath. Maybe even more interesting is the 'bad guy'-identifying agents, which were supposed to reveal the enemy's location by, for example, causing them to attract swarms wasps or rats.

    The story seems to imply, without definitively stating, that the funding was not forthcoming. The development of a chemical that could reverse a person's sexual orientation would have some significant cultural implications, to say the least.

  • Saturday, January 15, 2005
  • The Globe and Mail has a bit of an update on the Kyoto debate that's happening in Ottawa. If you're thinking of buying an energy efficient car or major appliance, you might want to wait until the next Federal budget.

  • This is kind of interesting: sociological maps of Montreal. Unfortunately, the most recent data is only from 1996. Still, kind of neat stuff.

  • Friday, January 14, 2005
  • The Sounds of Titan

    Huygens, a little flying saucer built by the Europeans and named after the Dutchman who discovered Titan, Saturn's largest moon, floated through the thick Titan atmosphere and landed on the surface today. Titan is believed to be the only moon in our Solar System with an atmosphere. That presence of an atmosphere makes for the presence of sound, which is why Huygens transmitted sounds from Titan for the brief duration of its battery life. Truly wild stuff.

    As far as I know, these will be the first extraterrestrial sounds to come to Earth. The Mars Polar Lander was to carry a microphone to Mars, but that probe was lost in space.

  • So, what is a 'death squad'?

    From the wikipedia:
    Records also show that a special intelligence unit (commonly referred to as a "death squad") of the Honduran armed forces, Battalion 3-16, trained by the CIA and Argentine military, kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds of people, including US missionaries.

    That was in the early 1980s. Now skip forward to last week's Newsweek:
    Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers ... according to military insiders familiar with the discussions.

    So, basically, a death squad is a military unit charged with hunting down troublemakers and killing them. But isn't that pretty much what the US military is doing now? Well, yes and no. As I understand it, the major difference is the "free hand" such a unit would be given to do whatever the hell it wanted. The result of that, of course, (especially when you've got a latent ethnic conflict and the death squad belongs to one side of that conflict, the Kurds and/or Shiites, and the rebels belong to the other, the Sunnis) - well, then, you've got a recipe for horrific human rights abuses and a lot of murdering of innocents. A lovely outcome for a war justified (kinda sorta) by the atrocities commited against the civilians of Iraq by the former regime. The Newsweek article equates "death squads" with "Special-Forces-led assassination or kidnapping teams."

    However, an unnamed Pentagon official quoted by Newsweek explains the rationale behind the strategy thus:
    "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."

    In other words, the goal of such a policy is not simply to catch or kill the insurgents, it's to make their sympathizers suffer as well. If you make the costs of supporting the insurgency outweigh whatever gains a person accrues from the insurgency, that person - if s/he is rational - will stop supporting the insurgency. This is the opposite of winning hearts and minds; it's rule by fear. In the words of Christopher Dickey, the message this policy aims to convey is:
    “We can protect you from the guerrillas, but the guerrillas can’t protect you from us, and you’ve got to choose sides.”

    Apart from the "free hand" Iraqi death squads would no doubt have, there's perhaps another important aspect to them. Because they'd be local, they could (unlike the US forces) be placed under the authority of an Iraqi strongman, a Saddam Mark 2. Logan seems to think that's what the Iraqis need, but I fail to see why.

  • Thursday, January 13, 2005
  • I guess I just don't get Realists. Here's Justin Logan. I like him a lot because he's a fan of Moldova and an opponent of Bush. But his support for Iraqi Death Squads, even if it's somwhat tepid support, is reprehensible. Especially given how poorly thought out it seems to be.

  • Wednesday, January 12, 2005
  • News Flash: There were no WMD in Iraq before the war, according to the CIA. That's the final assessment. The hunt for Saddam's secret arsenal is officially over.

  • Tuesday, January 11, 2005
  • Canada needs to change course on Global Warming according to a leaked government document. Trying to get greenhouse gas reductions from businesses "voluntarily" hasn't been much of a success, meaning that we're off-target for Kyoto.
    The document notes a need "to utilize a full suite of policy instruments." In the language of bureaucrats, that is generally taken to mean taxing those who do not assist with goals such as production without greenhouse-gas emissions, shifting to non-emitting fuels and creating energy that is climate-friendly -- and providing incentives for those who do.

    This document represents a bureaucratic recommendation rather than a policy decision, so the question is open whether Martin will act on it. The NDP and the Bloc are likely to raise the issue, but we should do what we can.

    In many ways, the Kyoto Accord is a good wedge issue for the Liberals. The Conservatives are the only national party which oppose it, meaning that the Liberals can use Kyoto to keep Duceppe and Harper away from each other.

  • Monday, January 10, 2005
  • Here's an interesting wrinkle to the Ukrainian election about which until now I'd been unaware. The West's darling president-elect is committed to pulling out of Iraq. This, plus the recent deaths of 8 Ukrainian soldiers, has lead the outgoing Ukrainian president to order the military to quickly produce plans for a full Ukrainian withdrawal from Iraq.
    The eventual withdrawal of Ukraine's troops from Iraq has been a foregone conclusion for months, since both Yushchenko and Yanukovich made it a campaign pledge. But how quickly they will leave has not been spelled out.

    The Ukrainian contingent is one of the largest in a multinational division under Polish command, whose numbers have already fallen to just 6,000. Poland itself says it will draw down its contingent, which now numbers 2,400.

    Oy. It's numbers like these, along with ever-increasing estimates of the size of the insurgency, that are driving the Pentagon to consider the creation of Iraqi death squads, as well as a flurry of discussion about "disengagement".

    Matt Yglesias, suggests that the so-called "El-Slavador option", of creating local death squads, is a likely scenario, given the background of the US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.
    Put a man with lots of death squad experience in charge of your counterinsurgency, and you tend to wind up with death squads.

    Juan Cole suggests a name for the death squads: the Wolfowitz Fedayeen.

  • Saturday, January 08, 2005
  • Lest we forget...

    Kevin Drum and I have similar aesthetic tastes, at least when it comes to the testimony of high-ranking bureaucrats. Today, he has reprinted our favuorite Paul Wolfowitz testimony, namely the gross misrepresentations, lousy assumptions, and bald-faced lies with which he sold the Iraq War to Congress just a few weeks before the invasion. The most amazing line of this has got to be his claim that there was no history of ethnic conflict in Iraq.

  • Friday, January 07, 2005
  • Fahrenheit 9/11 Redux:
    Halting President George W. Bush's electoral certification Thursday afternoon, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) led Democratic members of Congress as they spoke before the joint session and offered reasons why legislators should investigate circumstances surrounding the Ohio vote.

    ...Boxer endorsed the challenge on behalf of the Democrats -- something no one was willing to do following the 2000 election scandal. Once a challenge is signed, the law requires members of the House and Senate meet separately for up to two hours to consider it. Senate members used about half of that time to render their decision.

    Members of the U.S. Senate voted almost unanimously to certify Bush’s re-election (74-1) with Boxer being the only dissenter. The House voted (267-31) to accept the Ohio results. All of the ballots supporting a challenge were cast by Democrats.

    The scene in Moore's original film where the Senate refused to conisder the pleas of those disenfranchised Black Floridians was deeply upsetting. I'm glad they cut it from this year's remake.

  • Wednesday, January 05, 2005
  • What if the Insurgency moved to Kansas?
    The Islamic Army in Iraq, one of the main armed groups fighting U.S. forces in the war-torn country, has threatened to carry out attacks inside the United States, according to a statement posted on a Web site yesterday.

  • A great Slate article about the decline of the US dollar as the international currency for smugglers and drugs-dealers. Ahead of the curve, they're switching to Euros. Via Stephanie.

  • In case you wondered, Juan Cole has provided some arguments against partitioning Iraq. Partitioning an ethnically divided country is almost never going to work for at least two basic reasons. First, populations are never nicely divided geographically or even (really) ethnically - meaning that there are all kinds of cross-cutting ties, like intermarriage, which confuse the whole issue. Second, different ethnic groups will always fight to control the most valuable resources of their to-be-partitioned country. In the case of Iraq, that mostly means oil fields, but also important cities and so on.

    One line that stands out from Cole's disussion, and which is not exclusively relevant to the partition issue is this one:
    Some Iraqi guerrillas are already talking about hitting back at the US mainland.

  • Monday, January 03, 2005
  • Probably, there is a place for military media. But a Pentagon-run television channel is definitely pushing the limits of acceptable military speech in a democracy. This channel is now available online and via satellite. It may be that the nature of the programming will turn away most civillian viewers, in much the same way non-wonks avoid watching CSPAN or the parliamentary channel here in Canada. Nevertheless, it's disquieting. How many clips couretsy of the Pentagon-channel will be aired by CNN or FOX?

    Via Wonkette.

  • Early Warning...

    I hope to return to blogland soon. The hiatus is a product of (a) the holidays, and (b) the completion of the requirements of my master's degree. The latter factor contributes to my sense that I want to do something slightly different with this blog, but still I'm not quite sure what. At any rate, you've been warned.

    A third explanation for the delay is that I've been looking for an appropriate subject with which to resume blogging, and it seems I've just found it. Matt Yglesias and Brad Plumer have been trading disaster scenarios. Matt wonders if the East Coast needs an early-warning system to detect an eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the canary islands.
    If Cumbre Vieja volcano erupts, it may send a rock slab the size of a small island crashing into the sea, creating a huge tidal wave, or tsunami. . . . New York, Washington DC, Boston and Miami would be almost wiped out by the tsunami generated by the insecure rock falling into the Atlantic.

    In turn, Brad reminds us all of the apocalyptic threat of supervolcanoes:
    The last supervolcano to erupt was Toba 74,000 years ago in Sumatra. Ten thousand times bigger than Mt St Helens, it created a global catastrophe dramatically affecting life on Earth. ... It is little known that lying underneath one of America's areas of outstanding natural beauty - Yellowstone Park - is one of the largest supervolcanoes in the world. ... Climatologists now know that Toba blasted so much ash and sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere that it blocked out the sun, causing the Earth's temperature to plummet.

    Anyway, I'm adding these to my list of projects on which I'd rather see the missile defence money spent.

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