Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Pakistan Americans Don't Know

Sitting in our living rooms watching Fox News, we Americans assume that Dick Cheney can fly to Islamabad and demand that President Musharraf to do whatever we need him to do. Kill Osama Bin Laden? Yes, Sir! Disband the Taliban? Will be finished on Thursday!

Well here is a piece in the Asia Times illustrating just how different US and Pakistani interests are. Basically, it claims that Pakistan is setting up a Talibani Mullah to take over Afghanistan and move Kabul's orientation away from India and to Pakistan.

[Update: fixed subject agreement issue]

Monday, February 26, 2007

I may be slow but ...

I have not bought into the whole "Oil War" theory of the Iraq War. I have been willing to grant that oil is a factor in our Middle East policies but the idea that oil would explicitly drive us to attack another country just smelled too much like conspiracy theory.

Then I saw this quote from the 2007 State of the Union speech in a Michael Klare piece.
.. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario...
The invocation of "a nightmare scenario" caused by instability of some desert kingdoms, many thousands of miles away, can only be about oil. The President is explicitly stating here that our decisions about whether or not to start a war with Iran will be based on mainly our access to oil.

Now whether the Iraq war was intended by Dick Cheney to prevent China from winning access to the region's energy supply is highly speculative (and smells of conspiracy theory.) Whether an attack on Iran has already been ordered is also only one interpretation of events among many. All those ideas, wild or merely feral, will be left for another day. Sure, its nice to support Israel, with the holocaust and all, but would we grant Tel Aviv carte blanche if we weren't desperate for allies in that part of the world. It is at last clear (belatedly to me), that the only serious consideration about war and peace with Iran is the oil. Period.

I am reminded of the "hidden" cost of gasoline - the billions sunk into maintaining access to the Middle East. If only Bush took seriously our "addiction to foreign oil" he would see that the cost of changing our gas-guzzling ways would pale next to the benefits in money and American lives saved.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The J-C Bomb

Christians and Jews
Christian and Jewish

How many times have we heard these phrases used as if the two were perfectly compatible and complimentary, especially when contrasting Us against the Muslim Them. Or the Mormon. In light of Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign, this article by Richard John Neuhaus is making the rounds in the blogosphere. In it Rev Neuhaus uses some formulation of these stock phrases but, more specifically, writes the following:

Some have suggested that the LDS is a Christian derivative much as Christianity is a Jewish derivative, but that is surely wrong. The claim of Christianity is that its gospel of Jesus Christ is in thorough continuity with the Old Testament and historic Israel, that the Church is the New Israel, which means that it is the fulfillment of the promise that Israel would be "a light to the nations." The Church condemned Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament, and she never presumed to rewrite or correct the Hebrew Scriptures on the basis of a new revelation. On the contrary, she insisted that the entirety of the old covenant bears witness to the new.

On what planet does Christianity not replace/supersede/obsolete Judaism? Only with eyes squinting nearly shut can you claim that Jesus (threw out the Jewish divorce laws) or Paul (threw out any reasonable interpretation of the Law completely) were only fulfilling the Torah. Ask a Jew if Christianity fulfills the Torah and see what answer you get.

Now, there are plenty of liberal “Christians” out there who view Judaism as an equally valid way of experiencing God. Unfortunately, the Rev Neuhaus’ Catholic Church and your average Evangelical are sending these Episcopalians to the same Hell they have reserved for the Jews. It is disingenuous in the extreme to adopt beliefs that invalidate 80% of what it means to be Jewish and denies them salvation and at the same time complain that Mormonism is too radically different from Christianity to remain a part of it.

The Judeo-Christian alliance works only so long as the Jewish participants don’t get too uppity and point out that their partner is only using them as a loincloth to cover their “anti-Semitism”. Or, were there ever any Jews in the alliance to begin with? Are people who like to drop the J-C bomb desperately trying to cling to the idea that their religion is based on anything more than a failed Galilean insurgent rabbi and a frustrated Cilician hanger-on.

Technological Evangelism

Since no one actually reads this blog, I can take a moment to vent...

I have been informed that the software project on which I work will be modified to use something called the Spring Framework. Naturally I googled it to get a taste of what it involves before diving in. As near as I can tell, the "core" framework involves building XML files that contain all the definitions and dependencies of your classes and then using Spring to instantiate them , blah blah blah. Whatever. The lulu is that the proponents of Spring are claiming that this "removes the class dependencies from my code." Huh? Do these guys not realize that my new XML file IS my code. To boot, the XML is far harder to read than Java! Guess what? Since the XML is essentially my Java program rewritten in XML, I better have a way to test it. I have gained something questionable at the cost of more complex and error-prone code.

This reminds me of the Code-To-Test movement where you write a bazillion unit-tests and then use them as your "specification" - once you pass all the tests, you're done. Um, guys... your unit-tests ARE your code. They have to be tested, too. You gonna write unit-tests for your unit-tests?

A number of critiques of Spring make the disclaimer that they are not impugning Spring originator Rod Johnson's intellect. I am not sure I can extend the same charity to every one of his disciples. Aside from the marketing copy quality of some of the tutorials (isn't "versatile and flexible" redundant?), the concept of what constitutes "code" is a pretty basic to computer science. Is this too abstract for the average open source user?

It has sometimes been claimed that the problem with software development is that it is not enough like engineering. Having at least graduated as an engineer, I can see some truth to that claim. The alarming thing is that we are moving rapidly in the opposite direction. People are adopting all sorts of crap because it's hyped and it's free (I was personally burned by Log4J) .

Perhaps a great new software paradigm will emerge from this wild west free-for-all. Perhaps we can all get back to writing applications instead of tools. Or maybe I will just continue in my curmudgeonry, decrying the poor state of our university education system.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I listened to an NPR report about the "surge" plan to station US soldiers in small outposts throughout Baghdad rather than in large, isolated bases. While discussing the exposure to violence that such soldiers would experience, the sentiments of an American General were relayed to the effect that they all knew there would be "risk" in this new arrangement.


Don't they mean Death? Don't they mean brothers, sons, mothers and fathers who would not be going home to see their families? Ever? If they want a war and they want to rhapsodize about sacrifice then let them (along with the media) call it what it is: War means Death, not Risk. The sooner they get it through their crack-addled brains, the sooner we can avoid more senseless messianism and adventurism.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Afghanistan Redux

Retired Gen. Victor Yermakov who commanded the Soviet Army's efforts around Tora Bora, Afghanistan in the 1980s is quoted in this McClatchy item:

"I was very impressed by the Americans," he said. "Gaining control of Tora Bora is a great accomplishment. I should know. I did it three times."

He shook his head ruefully, then added: "Unfortunately, the second I turned my back on the place, I needed to conquer it again. It is the same now. It will never change."

Still, he said, "every nation believes it is more clever than those who came before."

Nothing to add.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I Don't Think That Means What You Think It Means

In the recent "briefing" on Iran-Supplied-US-Soldier-Killing weapons, the anonymous military personnel involved were forced to admit that their claims of official Iranian government involvement was based on "inference". Since that time I have heard numerous talking-heads and unsourced comments to the effect that "it is inconceivable that these weapons could be smuggled out of Iran without approval from the highest levels of the Iranian government." More recently General Pace and President Bush have backed off this claim but it highlights a real problem with many of our military and civilian leaders: a lack of Imagination.

During one of the Gulf Wars (I forget which), I remember hearing a comment from a US General that Saddam must have WMD because the Scud missiles he was using were too inaccurate to be effective without chemical or biological warheads. Huh? If only the General had been alive during the Iran-Iraq War and could recall that Iraq launched numerous Scuds toward Tehran without a single chemical or biological warhead on board. How did this guy get to be a General?

I'm afraid that this sort of thinking pervades the highest levels of our government and military: if I can't think of an alternative explanation than mine must be true! This would not be quite so worrying if the individuals involved could think beyond the tiny world views that they have constructed for themselves. Their conclusions are reached before their analyzes have even begun so the number of outcomes is limited.

It is tempting to blame the conservative mindset. After all isn't the very definition of conservative the distrust of anything different? That kind of thinking does nothing to expand your mental horizons. The circles that Cheney and Rumsfeld built would certainly qualify as conservative and the military has become arguably more conservative in the past decade.

Perhaps in the Franken Administration things will be different. (that's a joke!)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sunny Niger

From Walter Pincus in July 2005
the White House had not paid attention to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s CIA-sponsored February 2002 trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife

What I don't understand is how anyone would think that a trip to Niger is a "boondoggle"? Like Wilson was just sitting around just dying to sit hours on a plane for the opportunity to spend a few days talking to bureaucrats. What's more, the insinuation is that Wilson is such a wuss that he has to rely on his wife to get him work. If he had been a real man like Cheney, he would get his own boondoggles! Could this be more sexist?

More likely, the CIA needed someone low profile who knew how to work around government officials and was available in a hurry. Plame thought her husband could do the job discretely and suggested him. Not so mysterious after all. That Wilson decided discretion was no longer appropriate after the President lied us into a quagmire is more admirable than duplicitous (triple word score and the D on a double letter score nets me 54 points!).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Finally Some Useful Employment for Politicians

From a McClatchy Washington Bureau report:

At a briefing Sunday in Baghdad, U.S. military officials said the al-Quds Force, an elite Iranian paramilitary organization, is sending arms into Iraq that include bombs that shoot molten metal jets through the armor of American tanks and Humvees.

They said these "explosively formed projectiles," or EFPs, have killed 170 U.S. troops and wounded more than 600 others and are "coming from the highest level of the Iranian government."

[italics added]

It's nice to know that President Ahmadinejad has a hobby.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Exit Al Zarqawi, Enter Dick Sargent

Now that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is safely dead, the White House is in desperate need of a Bad Guy on whom they can pin their problems in Iraq. Bin Laden is too remote and ineffectual. Sadaam has been hanged. Wait a minute… What about Iran?

On NPR this morning, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns claimed that the US has spent two years tracking Iranian activities in support of killing American soldiers. Two years! And it is pure coincidence that they are just now getting around to doing something about it?

The absurdity of this new line of administration deceit is that Shi’ite Iran is unlikely to be providing sophisticated explosives to the Sunni insurgents who kill the vast majority of American GIs as well as thousands of Shi’ite citizens. Then we reflect on the fact that Iran’s “agents” are being arrested in places like the home of a prominent Shi’ite leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

No, if Bush wants to target the sources of aid for the organizations targeting American forces, he needs start by looking to our “ally” in the region, Sunni Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Abdullah has warned the administration that if it abandons the Sunni Iraqis in favor of the Shi’ite majority, the Kingdom will be forced to throw its full support behind the Sunni insurgents. Back in 2003, WordNetDaily reported that the CIA had confirmed that wealthy Saudi individuals were supplying funds for Sunni military activities in Iraq (think back to the New York-IRA connection).

Now tell me who is killing Americans. Tell me that the NeoCons aren’t itching to pull the trigger on Iran.

[Update: Added link to WorldNetNews article]