Sunday Morning Wrap Up

Actually a fairly decent slate this past weekend.

On This Week With George he had on Joe Biden (D-Delaware), the Senate Chairman of the Foreign Relations Comm. With all the horse race on the prez, there are major events going on around the world and Biden as always is very sharp.

They discuss this piece (generating buzz) by military analyst Anthony Cordesman (considered usually center-left) where he calls Afghanistan and Iraq two winnable wars. But only Cordesman says if massive infrastructure is built (nations, legal systems, police, army, markets) and if the military is invested heavily for years to come–likely until 2015!!! in Cordesman’s estimation. (more…)

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Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

blink-ing

blink.jpg

I’ve started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. (link to transcript of author interview on the book).

While Gladwell is better known I suppose for his first book The Tipping Point, my sense (1/3 of the way in) is that this book is both better and more radical in its assertion.

Blink does (at least) two things:  1)popularizes and makes clear research on the existence of what is called in the literature “rapid cognition” 2) (more importantly) argues quite persuasively imo that rapid cognition should be taught.  Gladwell thinks that rapid cognition should make us re-think our societal emphasis that the only logic or sound reasoning for making a decision is a long drawn out rational costs/benefits analysis.

Rapid cognition is as Gladwell points out “unconscious”.  He is quick to point out however that this unconscious is not like the repressed unconscious of depth psychology (Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian, etc.).  Rapid cognition is an evolutionary trait that allows for micro-second surveying of the environment.  Rapid cognition expresses itself often enough in bodily responses, but is not open to conscious processing.

The book is brilliant and deep.  I’m going very slowly with this one because it is opening up entire new arenas of experience and thought for me.

For integralists, one piece worth keeping in mind is that rapid cognition occurs in ways that the conscious mind does not understand.  Hence the conscious mind makes up theories as to why it has done/thought so and so which are in fact inaccurate.  Fascinating stuff.  Developmental psychology (think Kohlberg and Gilligan’s moral developmenal line/interviews) needs to be now integrated with cognitive neuroscience and the science of “blink”.  It is not that rapid cognition is the end all be all of cognition (some theorists go that route but that’s a dead end).  It is that the conscious rational function is incomplete.

This larger field is rapidly expanding–behavioral economics, evolutionary economics are a few of the hot items right not, which Gladwell in a sense presaged with The Tipping Point.

I need to do a lot more thinking on this subject, but I wonder mostly about the (possible) political implications of blink.  If any readers have done some thinking on this or have seen any (I googled not much came up), please let me know in the comments thread.

Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Costs of Iraq War

clipped from time-blog.com

Stiglitz was here to promote his soon-to-be-published book on the true cost of the Iraq war, which he and Linda Bilmes of Harvard University put at $3 trillion. This is a little bit higher than what some other people have said in the past. In fact, it’s nearly a trillion dollars more than what Stiglitz and Bilmes themselves were saying not much more than a year ago.The figure is so big because Stiglitz and Bilmes don’t just count operating costs – like the $12.5 billion a month is takes to run the war on the ground – but long-term expenditures, too. They tally up things like how much money the government will have to spend taking care of disabled veterans, what the war has done to the price of oil, and the cost of replacing military equipment that is wearing out much faster than it would have otherwise.

  blog it
Published in: on February 24, 2008 at 10:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Preview of the General?

This is why I believe Obama will beat McCain (assuming Barack is the nominee which I put as of now at 75%).

Obama hits McCain today on lobbyists–another wrinkle of the NyTimes story that came out was that a lobbyist was doing his phone business on the Straight Talk Express.  Here is the response from a McCain spokeswoman; it is wildly revealing:

Jill Hazelbaker, a spokeswoman for McCain, said the Arizona senator “has been an agent for change for his entire career — he is the greatest change agent in our party — and we plan to highlight that record in this election.”

Notice anything?  If the McCain camp (like the Clintons) must ape Obama’s language and feels they have to argue on essentially Obama’s turf (change), how they are better at change than him, then that is enough to see where this is headed imo.  The McCain goose is already cooked iow. 

Obama controls the narrative, has set the tone and the agenda; he has laid down the terms of the game.  Obama has clearly more than any other candidate sensed the mood (desire for change) so much so that now the McCain counter-argument is that he (McCain) is a better change agent.  But I think that will sound hollow, looking like they are stealing his (Obama’s) line.   

In sum, if the argument is who is better to bring about change, McCain doesn’t have a prayer.        

Published in: on February 23, 2008 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Musharraf to Step Down?

If true, this is huge:

Pervez Musharraf is considering stepping down as president of Pakistan rather than waiting to be forced out by his victorious opponents, aides have told The Sunday Telegraph.

One close confidante said that the president believed he had run out of options after three of the main parties who triumphed in last week’s poll announced they would form a coalition government together, and also pledged to reinstate the country’s chief justice and 60 other judges sacked by Mr Musharraf in November.

“He has already started discussing the exit strategy for himself,” a close friend said. “I think it is now just a matter of days and not months because he would like to make a graceful exit on a high.” 

According to senior aides, Mr Musharraf wants to avoid a power struggle with the newly elected parliament, in which his opponents will be close to the two-thirds majority needed to impeach him and remove him from office.

It would be good for him to step down voluntarily; his time is up.  That much is clear. 

Published in: on February 23, 2008 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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J. Klein on Iraq

Going meta, one of the sharper commentators (one of only a handful really) on the war in US press (read the whole thing).  Here’s the conclusion (my emphasis):

Let’s say, to be charitable, that everyone is right: that real progress has been made in the fight against the terrorists, that Baghdad is more secure, that the Iraqi national parliament is trying to write some legislation…and that there are deep, explosve divisions among Iraq’s ethnic groups.

Where does that leave us?
With, I’d guess, two missions–one achievable and one not. The achievable mission is completing the job of clearing out Al Qaeda, a victory that will have resonance throughout the region (and which will not require the continuing presence of 150,000 U.S. troops). The unachievable mission is refereeing the ethnic struggles among and between Shi’ites, Sunnis, Kurds and Turks–and Iranians. If we try to do that, we will be there in perpetuity–perhaps as long as McCain’s 100 years–and they will be bloody years, an even more arrogant and idiotic squandering of our national reputation than this disgraceful exercise has already been.

In other words tactical gains in a strategic abyss, what Joe Biden has been saying for a long time now and what Barack Obama (finally) said in the last debate with Sen. Clinton.

With the everyone is right line and then putting together in which contexts which observers/participants are correct and what then the overall picture is when all are combined, Klein pulled an integral.

Published in: on February 23, 2008 at 11:27 am  Leave a Comment  

US-Iran Hostility Bleeds Over into Afghanistan

Emphasis on bleeds.

Story from Time.  

Iran recall was a huge supporter of the Northern Alliance’s effort (with US/NATO) to destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan.  That is because Iran was a sworn enemy of the Taliban. Iran is Shia and the Taliban are militant Sunnis who believe all Shia (including Afghan Hazara Shia) are infidels.

Iran in fact at a key point of impasse on deciding the future leader of post-Taliban Afghanistan, was the arbiter of the Karzai consensus.

For their help, the Iranians were listed as a member of the Axis of Evil.

Now, with the US continuing to ratchet up the pressure and talk against Iran and hardline elements in Iran playing chicken with the US, Afghanistan suffers the consequences.

In the past six months, however, Iran’s actions have taken a more sinister turn. U.S. and NATO troops have intercepted shipments of Iranian-made arms in Afghanistan, including mortars, plastic explosives and explosively formed penetrators that have been used to deadly effect against armored vehicles in Iraq. U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood said on January 31, “There is no question that elements of insurgency have received weapons from Iran.” The discovery of the first caches of Iranian-made weapons in Afghanistan in April, says a State Department official, “sent shock waves through the system.” Iran was doing more than just bringing western Afghanistan into its sphere of influence.

Two caveats.  The Army to date has not (to my knowledge) shown evidence of Iranian-made weapons in Afghanistan (or Iraq really).  Second and more importantly, assuming weapons did come from Iran they are just as likely to come from the black market, in fact more so than anywhere else. The implication of the press release is that the higher ups in the Iranian gov’t have ordered this weaponization.  It’s a long, porous border (Iran-Afghanistan) and the black market is a huge force, particularly with poppy production in Afghanistan reaching record levels.

Where the government has played a role is in the deportation of Afghanis from Iran back to their homeland putting further stress on the already weak infrastructure of the poor country.

Published in: on February 23, 2008 at 11:04 am  Comments (2)  
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Here’s Hoping: Uganda Edition

From Reuters on a ceasefire between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army:

JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) – With whoops and backslaps, Uganda‘s government and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels signed a ceasefire on Saturday, a big step towards a final peace settlement to one of Africa’s longest-running wars. “It is the laying down of arms. It is the end of the war,” U.N. envoy Joaquim Chissano said after the parties signed the “permanent ceasefire” agreement during their fast-progressing talks in southern Sudan’s capital Juba.

Only thing left now?

With only a demobilization deal left to be agreed on, negotiators and mediators like Chissano are predicting a final accord will be reached next week to end one of the world’s most macabre and least-understood conflicts.

The LRA has been fighting the government of Uganda since 1986, infamous for their brutality, kidnapping of children to be used as soldiers, their reclusive paranoid leaderto whom is attributed (by some) supernatural powers, and their supposed theocratic aims (e.g. to install the Ten Commandments as the law of the land).

Demobilization and disarmament as you can imagine are the most difficult aspects of these missions (just ask Northern Ireland), but hopefully a way can be found.  With East Africa roiling of late (from Sudan to the Horn to Kenya) amazingly Uganda and Rwanda could become the news bastions of peace in the area.

Published in: on February 23, 2008 at 10:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Only a Matter of Time…

Before China starts having to things it does not want to do (like push for political change with trading partners).  Story from NyTimes.

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Amid the international outrage over the bloodshed in Darfur, frustration has increasingly turned toward China, Sudan’s biggest trading partner and international protector, culminating in Steven Spielberg’s decision last week to withdraw as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics.

And it may be working.

China has begun shifting its position on Darfur, stepping outside its diplomatic comfort zone to quietly push Sudan to accept the world’s largest peacekeeping force, diplomats and analysts say.

It has also acted publicly, sending engineers to help peacekeepers in Darfur and appointing a special envoy to the region who has toured refugee camps and pressed the Sudanese government to change its policies.

Published in: on February 23, 2008 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Best Quote of the Day

Quoting a quoter even:

Sex, to quote one immortal bard, is nobody’s business except that of the three people involved and the shop that sold them the equipment.

Published in: on February 22, 2008 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment