Archive for the ‘International affairs’ Category

Who’s threatened by Iran?

Posted: February 12, 2012 by alephnaughty in International affairs, Military affairs, Politics
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Let me ask you a question: How many countries in possession of nuclear weapons have been attacked by a country not in possession of nuclear weapons? Take your time. In case you’re still scratching your head, the correct answer is zero.

Let me ask you a second question: Does the United States possess nukes? Does Israel? (Yes, they both have lots of them, the US especially so).

Projecting past experience forward, then (the new riddle of induction notwithstanding), will the US or Israel be attacked by a non-nuclear Iran?

Okay, if you’re still with me, let me ask you a third question: How many countries in possession of nuclear weapons have been attacked by a country also in possession of nuclear weapons? Again, take your time. In case you wanna cut to the chase, the correct answer (once more) is zero.

Projecting past experience forward, then, will the US or Israel be attacked by a nuclear Iran?

“Don’t be silly,” you say. “Just because something never happened in the past, doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. This time, my friend, really is different.” Maybe so. But when there is a strikingly consistent pattern in the historical record, it’s worth getting to the bottom of it. So let’s.

Why have countries with nuclear weapons never been attacked by other countries? Here’s a first stab at a solution. Political leaders, above all else, crave power. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice as much as they do to acquire it, and to maintain it. In 1945, when the US demonstrated the destructive potential of nuclear weapons (essentially telling Japan, “if you give us so much as a papercut, we will set you on fire”), every political leader in the world was watching. What they learned is that, for small countries, getting nuked is a recipe for not having a country over which to rule anymore. For big countries, getting nuked is a recipe for losing power very, very quickly.

So, caring first and foremost about power, world leaders silently affirmed the 11th commandment: Thou shalt not fuck with nuclear states. Don’t forget that, prior to 1945, war between great powers was the norm, not the exception. Since 1945, it’s only been cold wars between nuclear states, which is to say, often tense but essentially non-violent relations.

“Don’t be silly,” you say again. “Iran isn’t a cold, calculating government–it’s a fanatical theocracy committed to the destruction of Israel. Nukes in its hands cannot be trusted.” Maybe so. But consider this: How have the ayatollahs managed to (with relative stability) control Iran for 33 years? This is not a country whose government is protected from its people by outside governments. This is a country who has been the victim of CIA-led coups, internal uprisings egged on by outsiders, and social and economic volatility the likes of which Americans cannot even imagine. And yet these supposed loons have managed to maintain their grip. Something tells me that while they may be fanatical this-or-thats, they care a lot about political power, too. And something tells me that their cold, realistic calculations have a lot to do with why they still hold the reigns in what would otherwise be a tremendously unstable political environment. And recognition of the 11th commandment does not require a genius. So, why do you seem so sure that this time is different?

“Why, then, do they seem so hellbent on the development of a nuke?” you ask. Simple–when the most militarily powerful countries on Earth speak openly on a daily basis about their eagerness to destroy you, and when you know of the 11th commandment (refresher: Thou shalt not fuck with nuclear states), it would seem that getting hold of a nuke would help a lot with maintaining your grip on a country that is on the brink of revolution. Self-preservation is the name of the game in international relations.

Do I want Iran to have a nuke? Of course not. For one thing, lots of Iran’s neighbors would be more or less defenseless against a nuclear Iran. The effect on the balance of power in the Middle East would almost certainly be unfavorable. And yes, the probability of Iran violating the 11th commandment is marginally higher than the probability of, say, Israel doing likewise. Nobody wants Iran to go nuclear. But that’s not because Iran is a serious threat to US or Israeli security. It’s simply for classic balance of power considerations.

What’s in everyone’s best interest is for a ratcheting down of tensions. If Iran is less concerned about the international community planning its destruction, it will be more willing to slow or halt its development of the bomb. And if we offer that, in exchange for healthier diplomatic relations, we may be able to create a more stable political situation in the Middle East than would otherwise obtain.

So, why aren’t we doing that? Well, recall the 11th commandment. Once Iran has the bomb, we will no longer have the option of shaping their internal political situation (witness nuclear Pakistan, a fanatical government if there ever was one, who almost certainly hid bin Laden, but whom we don’t give orders to). If we don’t take out the ayatollahs while we have the chance, Iran is, for the foreseeable future, beyond our sphere of significant influence. But why do we care so much about influencing Iran? We obviously don’t care much about influencing Syria at the moment (actions speak louder than words). The answer, not obvious to only the most deliberately obtuse, is that Iran has lots of oil. Our goal is not to steal their oil, or to secure it at a discount. Our goal–indeed, the Western world’s goal, is to stabilize oil production and flows in international markets so as to minimize oil shocks to Western economies (the oil shocks of the late 2000s drove up headline inflation, triggering tighter monetary policy, triggering the worst recession since the Great Depression). Sure, we care about human rights, etc., too. But the reason we seem really eager to bomb some countries (Libya, Iran), and not others (Syria), is because access to a very important commodity is at stake. No conspiracy, no hegemony, just good old fashioned pursuit of strategic interests.

Let’s, then, not sign off on another war without our eyes open to what’s really at stake, and what our government’s true motivations are.

I’ll have the endangered special, please

Posted: February 6, 2012 by pleonasty in International affairs
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Thanks to the ever growing population of the planet and the rampant increase in urban sprawl, many animal species are finding themselves without a suitable habitat in which to live. This had been occurring to such a high degree that the several non-government agencies, along with local communities established the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN then stratified threatened species into categories based on their level of endangerment. The categories are based on the risk of extinction the species is facing. While these conservation statuses are highly symbolic, the US has actually instituted some legal protection for certain threatened species. Despite these efforts, several animal species have become extinct, or at least been forced closer to that fate over the past half century.

Considered to be endangered, giant pandas have run into some tough times, aside from being a weird fascination among Asians. It seems like these bears just don’t want to survive. The chick pandas are only in the mood for like 3 days a year. To put it in perspective, though, I guess that’s not super different than married life. Bam. Amirite, fellas? Back to pandas, the new born babies weigh in at a whopping 3 or 4 ounces. That’s less than a Big Mac. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about giant pandas, here. Apparently the dudes aren’t all too keen on making the sexy time either, they need to watch panda porn to get their panda juices flowing. The guy that figured out this factoid is a pretty questionable individual. Now, I realize that some human couples enjoy viewing some salacious materials before engaging in intimate behavior, but bear-on-bear just seems wrong. These furry beasts might just be biologically hardwired to slowly off themselves in a very arduous process. We should probably do right by them and put them out of their collective misery.

Check out this little guy. That’s a Brazilian merganser. Yeah, I had never heard of it either, apparently it’s just some kind of duck. With an estimated population of only 250, this duck is considered to be critically endangered by IUCN. Critically endangered means that the population of species will decrease or has decreased by 80% in three generations. In a few years, there could be as few as 50 of these magnificent birds left. I can’t begin to explain the profound sadness I experienced when I discovered this prognosis. I just couldn’t cope with the very tangible reality that I might never get to sink my teeth into one of these tasty looking birds. I had such great plans to eat some of these ducks that I just found out existed courtesy of Wikipedia. Even just looking at this artist’s rendition makes me salivate like starved junkyard dog. The notion of eating the last of a species arouses me in every sense of the word. But, you know, mostly ’cause of the eating bit.

I’d be willing to bet there’s a healthy demographic out there of people that would enjoy eating tasty, threatened animals. Stay tuned for PEETTA membership info. Our first meeting will be a potluck. I’ll bring the bald eagle l’orange.

 

Documentation: Merganser picture borrowed from http://www.fws.gov/endangered/news/archives/2009.html

Iranian agression or puffs of smoke

Posted: February 6, 2012 by nullpointerexceptional in Important, International affairs, Politics, Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Iran upped the ante in their most recent attempts to catch the ire of the world by conducting a new series of war games – this time in the air. You know, paper airplanes and surface to air missiles that always miss their mark. More than likely this is in response to some of the fluff floating around on the interwebs concerning Israel’s likely hood of launch air strikes to delay Iran’s ever vigilant quest for the power of the atom. Mr Poopy Pants, otherwise known as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (for those of you living under rocks he’s the supreme ruler of Iran not to be confused with Mr Douchebag Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), recently talked about eliminating the state of Israel from the world forum – who would have thunk it?

Every one should really appreciate radical thinkers, you know the ones that think outside the box but Iran might be fingering the wrong country here to pick a fight with. Let’s look at war as a pure numbers game: Iran expends roughly $7 billion a year (2010 estimates) versus Israel’s $13 billion. Iran certainly talks the big talk but Israel walks the big walk – heck almost their entire air force is comprised of US born jets. Let’s not forget Israel’s largest backer – the US government (military expenditures on the order of almost $700billion for a point of reference).

Staying on that numbers game, Israel totes a lean 176,000 active troops at any one time versus Iran’s 550,000. Money doesn’t buy u everything but it certainly buys you the latest gagetry to blow your enemy away with. Maybe a good way to look at it is to compare the dollar per active troop in assessing an all out brawl between the two: Israel – $74k versus Iran’s $13k – more than 550% difference. I know if I had to pick the military to join, I’d go with the one spending more money.

Given the recent slue of empty threats coming out of Iran as of late, I wouldn’t be surprised by a sudden mass air strike spear headed by Israel (maybe even a little US involvement). Like the little kid in the school yard, eventually he can no longer take it and beats the piss out of the bully. It’s not like Israel has really cared in the past about this sort of stuff anyway (see any number of disproportionate responses to aggressions by enemies of Israel – like the ‘Gaza War’ where ~1100 Palestinian’s died versus 13 Israelis, 4 of which were friendly fire).

Pakistan is also in the process of shooting themselves in the foot by saying any act of aggression towards Iran will bring them into the mix. Oh no, we don’t support terrorists (see the leaked UN memo on Pakistan’s terror involvement or the countless CIA drone strikes for counter evidence) which makes our involvement in something like this more of a religious zeal than anything else. That’s going to be an interesting situation when the US suddenly drops all aid to the country (actually $700million is already frozen by lawmakers since Pakistan can’t get their act together). Will Pakistan stick to their guns and come to Iran’s aid? Only time will tell.

If a fight does break out in the Middle East, it’s not going to be pretty. Right now we’re talking about Iran, Pakistan, Israel and through association the United States. Remember kiddies, the US is just after Iranian oil afterall…

Not too long ago, the good people at One Laptop Per Child announced they would be developing tablet computers specifically for children in developing nations. These tablets are supposed to be inexpensive and very durable. They have been designed with the unstable life of a third world child in mind. They don’t need wall chargers because the battery is capable of being charged via hand cranking or a solar panel. They are equipped with a camera to allow the kids to take pictures and express themselves creatively through that medium. Most importantly, though, each tablet is capable of connecting directly to one another for peer-to-peer collaboration on group projects. All in all, a wonderful step forward for the massively underprivileged children of third world nations.

Hold up. Tablet computers? Is that really the most pressing issue Afican kids are facing, lack of fancy electronic devices? Now, I’m no Luddite. I don’t even brush my teeth unless each tooth is being gently caressed by the automatically rotating heads of my electric toothbrush. Much to my chagrin, similar technologies are not available when it comes to hand washing; my right hand is still belabored with the task of washing my left, how bourgeois. Get it together, Science. These kids, though, they haven’t slipped the surly bonds of earth and touched the face of God. They don’t know what it is to not be poor. Maybe they’d like to finally enjoy the experience of having a nice sit on a sturdy chair, instead of a mound of hard packed dirt. I mean, with all the turmoil they’ve endured during their brief tenure on this earth, perhaps camping out in front of their neighborhood Target for the debut of the latest gizmo isn’t the greatest of their concerns. Oh, wait, camping out is pretty much their standard of living, isn’t it?

There’s a reason that I’m sitting here on my plush suede couch, sipping the very finest V8 vegetable juice (for the fiber) and those kids are out there nibbling on wet garbage, trying to suck out any notion of nourishment to help satisfy their distended stomachs. That reason, friends, is that all men are not created equal. Let’s get our priorities straight, first world first. None of those kids should even know what a tablet computer is before I get bored of mine. Once we all get ours, then let’s consider how we should deal with sending our scraps out to those third worlders. They won’t know the difference, anyway.

Instead of giving these underprivileged youths a shiny new toy, let’s give them something they’ll actually need. They don’t need to learn how to make a gripping PowerPoint presentation about changing ecosystems in various climates. Nor do they need to be tweeting about how exhilarating it is to eat their first gummie bear. These kids are living in the middle of continuous tribal infighting; they need to learn how to shoot a gun. Let’s face it, at $100 a piece, these tablets are going to be some real junkers. Instead, let’s check out the black market for some lightly used, adult owned AK-47s from smoke-free homes. Hell, down there, you give me enough time and a can of used motor oil, I could probably barter for one. The best part is that the AK is a multipurpose tool. You can hunt with it and then later you can use it to paint a still life. Multipurpose. How many things can you do with a junker tablet? Words with Friends is really only so effective at teaching kids how to cheat.

I’ve been around computers for what seems to be forever. Countless hours clicking away on my 28.8 modem and checking out all the hot AOL keywords that you’d see in commercials. Punting, ASCII art, and progs (gold stars if you know what any of these are) passed the time while I waited the 30 minutes for Napster to download that ultimate creative commons (they didn’t have a real name for any of that back then) mix to serve as background noise later that night. You know the good old days, when people thought that having an MP3 was illegal if you had it on your computer for more than 24 hours. I got my start in second grade – we had a computer for all of 3 days before our first internet connection and I never looked back. Countless hours after baseball and basketball practice were dedicated to surfing the web without parental controls or content filters (just flat out did not exist), hitting the deep bowels of the Internet underground and coming back unscathed each time, all the more educated, all the more aware of the power of the Internet.

When I started all of this, it was out of curiosity and the quest for knowledge. Hacking and phreaking text files went down like butter. Thousand page technical books on wide ranges of topics consumed my free time, sending my parents for broke at $50 a pop. Source code from open source security projects littered my hard drive. By the time my family had their second computer, I already had re-purposed it with a hardened version of Linux and I wasn’t even in 6th grade yet – that didn’t last too long when my sister complained about the black screen and lack of a user interface. Computers were a passion, an obsession for me – something that I always knew I wanted to do ‘when I grew up’. Can you guess which direction I went? Computer Science baby, the major of champions, or so I thought.

Shortly after starting my formal computer science education I began to question my choice. I found myself reinventing the wheel, redeveloping the STL, rewriting quick sort, random naming conventions, or my favorite: game development (hangman anyone – maybe a round of text based chess?). The closest I came to anything that was actually applied was the development of RSA encryption in scheme – what never heard of the programming language called scheme? I don’t think that will ever show up as a required skill for a job interview. It quickly became apparent that the education that I was receiving had nothing to do with the real world and none of these teachers had stepped foot outside of academia, stuck in the academic matrix and never the wiser. I get it, in order to justify your existence you have to keep a steady stream of non-informed students entering academic computer science who don’t know that source code management system, naming conventions, or that standard libraries exist to do a lot of what you need – no need to write and compile your own data structures for each new project you work on.

Needless to say, I complained to the head of the department about the lack or actual skills being imbued onto students through the course structure. I heard rhetorical rues on building a foundation and ensuring that all students were at the same level before progression, that the courses have been the same for the past 10 years. I guess he missed the point when I said that the foundation both his underlings and himself were laying went against every logical principal there was in my book: don’t reinvent the wheel, use widely accepted naming conventions, and learn how to integrate code that others have developed. Hmm, a 10 year old course structure sounds like something I want to put on my resume, don’t you? Quickly, I transferred to a hot business school but continued to take electives in computer science something which, only much later, opened my eyes to the problems rampant in the software industry.

I found myself in settings where the teacher could not explain the difference between a token ring network and the star topology. Fourth year students having compile time errors in their graphical chess game and not knowing what was wrong with their code. People saying they were doing computer science because they heard about people making large sums of money but lacked any inkling of knowledge. Maybe, I have had a tainted experience at two totally unrelated schools but a pattern was coming into being that I had never thought about before…

Why does every one tell you to go to college? In the current job market it’s the only way to get a job. You hear less and less people talking about getting jobs outside their college major and more and more job listings having masters or greater requirements. Well, that’s a sort of weird trend right there – requiring higher and higher educational standards for the same mundane positions. Parents that didn’t go to college use money as a good motivator to go to college (although they will probably freak when they realize their kid makes just as much as they do but is sitting in $100k of student loans). What does that leave you with in academic institutions? It leaves you with a sea of individuals who on average have no passion, no real direction with where they want to go,5 skirting by through the good graces of diluted course content and the understanding that failing a student soils the professors reputation in the department. Uh oh, the problem is starting to come into focus with not only computer science but academia as a whole.

Sometime right after the dot com bubble burst, there was a shift in technology companies towards that of heavy accents, broken English, and backward grammar. Whoa there, did I just break out stereotypes? Go with the flow and keep reading. Stereotypes didn’t get started out of the blue – there must be some truth behind it, something that could explain the H1B sweatshops, rampant offshore development, and blatant abuse of certifications and titles. White collar Americans were cut out of their cushy $200k a year jobs and replaced by $15 an hour counterparts. But where did this flux come from and why was the world of the 90’s so different than the wasteland of the 00’s?

Get rich quick technology IPO’s flooded academic institutions with computer science graduates. Even the modern veil is apparent just by searching for top jobs in your favorite search engine – computer science means you will make good money. Universities go further to promote this with slides showing that people with college degrees will make a million dollars in their life time – I hope that spending $160k (assuming private 4 year university excluding interest) on an education would net you a million dollars in your life time (65-22 = 43 years. $1,000,000/43 = $23k and change – “Man, I wish I made just above minimum wage!” is just what college student think) – and yes this was on a real publication by a real university.

Maybe the problem with the software industry wasn’t actually caused by the software industry? Maybe universities and academia are the ones to blame? Maybe the notion of non-profit academic institutions fighting for student dollars in the free market crossed some wires and have lead to the current state of technical fields?

Let’s face it people – there are more universities than ever before spitting out more graduates in every field than ever before. The problem isn’t the government but academic institutions and their proliferation of mediocrity. Getting back to software, India dominates. Period. But why? Opportunities to leave the caste, their country, or poverty is only available to them if their skills are at least at the same level of their American counter parts – and are willing to work at a discount.

When student apply for college, they are not given a full picture. They don’t get to see the trends in the work place or know that they are heading for a life of mediocrity. The only ones that succeed in the work force are the ones dedicated and passionate for what they do and study. Joe Blow that goes to school thinking that a degree in XYZ will get him somewhere is on crack. The same goes for Jane Doe sucking up to the teacher to get that 4.0. Academia doesn’t matter. It’s a milestone in the progression of life, but the assumption that reaching that milestone will get you somewhere is something only perpetuated by academics. If you get bored one day, look at the bios for corporate leaders or read about any successful person – most of them made themselves, not the school or degree they attended. One thing I haven’t gotten around to is looking at the GPAs for these very people and seeing just how many of them “applied” themselves in school versus the ones that worked two jobs and busted their butts to get through. I have a feeling you’ll find alot of 2.5-3.0’s rather than the 4.0 but I’ll leave that one for another day.

Education isn’t really about wrapping things in a neat bow and flaunting it around as the end all. In fact, the idea of a canned education system can only spit out deficient students to the workplace – all thinking the same and making the same mistakes time after time. Maybe this downfall was cause by the introduction of content filters and limiting of information. I know I certainly learned more trolling the internet underbelly than I ever did in the class room.

Remove the canned nature of education and lift the social filters which have become common place and maybe, just maybe, the United States will come out of its slump.

Demand for Iranian oil declines, holding supply fixed, which lowers the price of Iranian oil on world markets. Demand for non-Iranian oil rises, holding supply fixed, which raises the price of non-Iranian oil on world markets. Everyone outside the EU sees Iranian oil going for less than non-Iranian oil, and so buys more. Demand for Iranian oil rises, holding supply fixed, which raises the price of Iranian oil on world markets. Demand for non-Iranian oil declines, holding supply fixed, which lowers the price of non-Iranian oil on world markets. From the perspective of world markets, it’s a wash. From Iran’s perspective, all that changes is who is buying their oil; neither the price nor the quantity sold changes (after an adjustment period). Inside the EU, the supply of oil is effectively restricted, raising its effective price. Outside the EU, the supply of oil is effectively expanded, lowering its effective price.

In short, the equilibrium impact of this move is to make EU citizens poorer and non-EU citizens richer. There are ways to make Iran suffer. This is not one of them.

Addendum: Goldman seems to agree, though they think Iran would suffer somewhat from lower prices. They probably know more about the relevant elasticities than I do, but my basic point stands.