Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Shrine of an Idiot God

While I am sympathetic for many reasons, I am increasingly of the opinion that one of the greatest recommendations of the monarchic system is that it has as an effect the disenfranchisement of essentially the entirety of a societies many, many idiots.

This has no bearing on the actual quantity of idiots present, or their vociferousness, but so long as the particular idiot that you hear is not the monarch, you can take comfort in the absolute knowledge that this idiot is not, and never will be, dictating policy. In this day and age I think nobody can deny the appeal of that sort of assured impotence in ones ideological opposition.

Imagine what changes there would be in our approach to discourse, which in the internet age is more prolific than ever, if it were known by both parties that their discussions are nothing but the exploration of hypotheticals? Without the illusion that anything said by any pundit has the slightest influence on policy, what good could getting worked up possibly do? From whence would come vitriol? Perhaps it is out of the habit of a lifetimes under a crown that gave our forefathers their seemingly effortless ability to discuss passionately matters of state, then just as quickly turn from them to more mundane subjects: a deeply ingrained belief that nothing they wrote actually had import or impact.

So what if the monarch is not brilliant, a master statesman? So what if now and again the monarch is one of the idiots? That is actually another upside which is critical to the contentment of the populace: Someone concrete to blame.

The monarch, as the State incarnate, literally is responsible personally for the well-being or otherwise of their subjects. If there is one thing that can be proven by the rantings of the people - of their blame casting and religious fervor and conspiracy theorizing and appeals to the state to intervene somehow - it is that the people above all want to know that someone is ultimately in charge. Not some amorphous, intangible Congress or Parliament. One solitary individual. Human nature all but demands a king.

And why not? Better to have one person in charge than this Byzantine mess of shifting allegiances and untraceable accountabilities. One person under whom we all thrive together or not; one person who is trained in the art of statecraft and who may even excel in it, potentially to bring us to new heights.

Let's not forget that the vast majority of governments have been some form of autocracy. The bulk of human achievement - art, technology, civics, literature, philosophy - has been accomplished under these conditions. The greatest and widest and longest lived empires the world has seen were united under a crown. Let's stop pretending that this is an accident.

Let's stop pretending that populist doublethink has truly improved upon tried and true methods. Let's abandon the idea that democracy and republicanism are new developments and logical progressions of autocratic government, when in fact these institutions date back to the ancient world. Let's stop pretending that by forcing politicians to pander to the populace for votes that we have attained greater transparency or accountability in our government; or that the plebians are even entitled to a hand at statecraft. Let's abandon that notion that says that all of us are better than some of us. Let's stop pretending that it isn't stupid to believe that democracy isn't mediocrity enshrined: that the law of averages somehow works in our favor in the long run.

Let's give monarchy another go of it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

On Iraqi WMD and the Justification for War

It is becoming public knowledge that there were chemical weapons found in Iraq during the 2003-2011 Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. On its face this contradicts the long-running script that "we were lied to" about the pretenses for the war.

As usual, the truth is not so pure and simple.

I heard about these a few years back from a couple different Iraq vets. I mentioned it in passing when ISIS overtook an old chemical weapons plant this spring. We had captured the same plant in 2003 when we first swept through.

There is a key point th
at needs to be made: The difference between "Saddam's WMD program poses a threat" and "Saddam has old, leaky, improperly stored and probably inert WMD from the 1980's" is not a small difference.

What many people fail to realize is that hindsight is 20/20. They think that the indicators are obvious, when in fact they aren't. We "should have known" the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor. We "should have known" about the 9/11 attacks. We "should have known" that Saddam's WMD programs were in a sorry state.

Saddam was surrounded by enemies and fickle allies who would happily turn on him if they sensed weakness. His regime HAD to create the impression that they had WMD as a deterrent. It worked on Iran, it worked on Israel, it worked on Syria and Jordan and Egypt, and it nearly worked on us.

As Sun Tzu said, "All warfare is based on deception". It is the function of Intelligence to try and peel back the layers of deception, and sometimes Intelligence fails. Critics of the war conveniently forget the way that Saddam blocked and delayed inspectors and rattled his saber in the days leading up to the war.

These revelations do not fully vindicate the Iraq invasion, but it does lend credit to the posturing that Saddam did in 2002-2003. We did go to war in Iraq because we were fed falsehoods, but it looks more and more like those falsehoods were fed to us by Saddam, not by George W. Bush

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Aborting Jesus

In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt makes one of the most controversial claims I've ever seen: that legal and accessible abortion makes a better world. The data makes a compelling argument and if you would like to examine it and his arguments I urge you to pick up a copy of his incredibly interesting book.
The pro-life contingent is fond of asking "What if the baby was the cure for cancer?" or other such inane questions. It is inane because any problem has a solution which may be derived by anyone with the proper intelligence. New problems, on the other hand ...well, let's just say that the drop in crime rates observed two decades after Roe v. Wade wasn't attributable to the "cure for crime" being allowed to come to term.

Jesus is a great example of just such a situation. Imagine how much better the world might be if Joseph had done what he was supposed to do? (Hint: Deuteronomy 22:20-21; Numbers 5:11-31) There would be only one basic cult of Jehovah on the planet. The Dark Ages, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Sharia ...and likewise, the reactions to those forces: communism, the French Reign of Terror, the Holocaust, Pogroms. Lesser banes like Intelligent Design would also be absent from the world today.

In the void left by Jesus' absence there would be new atrocities, for sure. Humans are atrocious, and religions are made by humans. But what if three quarters of the world's population wasn't all devoting their bloodshed to the same God, whose cults have written into their texts the world's most reassuring excuses for horror yet devised? Mind that even the religious wars in Hindu and Buddhist areas in the modern day are fought against one sect of the cult of Jehova.

Perhaps this is the key to Christopher Hitchens' note of the correlation between Women's Rights (and reproductive freedom) and the quality of life and freedom of an area. Perhaps the causal relationship is not only direct; but it is as Hitchens suggest, that women's rights and reproductive freedom create conditions for a better world.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thin Blue Lifeline.

I saw one of those uplifting, good news type stories in my news feed today:

Police officer picks up tab for the groceries a desperate mother tried to STEAL to feed her struggling family

I re-shared it for a couple reasons.

First, it's awfully popular to hate on the police. I understand that what they do is often unpopular, and very few of us ever have or take the opportunity to have a pleasant encounter with the thin blue line. In a larger sense, this is true of everything we do. We can be model employees, but a single fuckup is what our bosses will tend to remember. So it is important that we take time to remember that these individuals have taken a job that they know is unpopular, that doesn't pay well, and is dangerous, almost universally out of a sense of service. It is also important to remember that most of them retain that sense of service and community; and to remind ourselves in positive ways why it is that such a profession exists. The watchman doesn't just repel dangers, but checks in to ensure our well being. Which leads to my second reason:

This is exactly what the police ought to do.

I'm not saying buy groceries for folk, that was an act of charity above and beyond the duties of an officer. But it is an indicator of how the officer ought to view their role and act within that role, and that role is as a member of the community.

I've heard people wax nostalgic about the days when the cops that walked a beat in your neighborhood knew your name. I am wary of nostalgia, but this is a worthwhile goal. It fosters a sense of connection between the officers and their charges. It enhances community appreciation of the police. It means that there are enough police to have them walking about and knowing their areas and the people within them.

I'm writing about this news item here for a third reason. A while ago I opined on nullification, and made the point that while the police ought not to have de jure powers of nullification, the realities of law enforcement give them such powers de facto. This good news story is an example of this de facto nullification: the law requires that the woman, a thief, should be arrested and punished; in most cases the law is perfectly logical and therefore should remain standing. However, the officer took the time to consider the situation and chose not to enforce the law, because in this specific situation the effect of doing so would have been beyond negative. This officer, rather than act without imagination, did the right thing without the waste of time, money, and paper that would go into legislating every conceivable exception that can or ought to be made to the law.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spy Games

If you asked me what the most myopic thing in the news today is, I'd give the outrage over this as an answer:

US coping with furious allies as NSA spying revelations grow
US should accept limits on spying on allies
Spying on Allies Fits President Obama's Standoffish Profile

The majority of news sources are treating the "revelations" that the US spies on its allies as some sort of bombshell, as though international relations were conducted between preteens who still get shocked when they find out their friends talk about them behind their backs.

And so, in this "Hollywood Tonite" approach to International Relations, we are treated to surprise when it is revealed that Germany is still talking to us and has a delegation of intelligence professionals en route to the US.

They speculate, in their ignorance, that it is to discuss getting the US to knock it the hell off.

That is total bullshit, and I think any reasonable adult who steps outside, gets a breath of fresh air, and forgets the hype, can understand why.

NPR gets it:
4 Things To Know About Spying On Allies

Everyone spies on everyone. It's an accepted and expected aspect of international relations. Society is a bit weird, though, and holds a bit of a double standard. So while Barack Obama and Angela Merkel may have assumed (or even explicitly known) that they were being spied on, there has to be a bit of a public shit-show for the plebes when "embarrassing" revelations are made.

Chancellor Merkel shakes a finger at President Obama, and in a few weeks, everything quiets down and the world moves on.

At least, that would be the case if it wasn't for some very REAL embarrassments that didn't change the situation slightly.

Embarrassments like these assholes:

The US spying on allied countries is no big deal until the very instant the US starts having problems containing its classified information, because information taken by spies tends to be of a classified nature - that is, it's not just American secrets that are at risk.

So this hubbub over American indiscretion is not entirely disingenuous. There IS a big problem with the US spying on our allies. But it has nothing to do with Chancellor Merkel feeling invaded. It has to do with feeling exposed.

My guess is that the German intelligence envoy is not going to spend most of their time discussing how much less spying the US can do on Germany - though in a grand scheme of things it would be advantageous to do so - but rather inspecting US security protocols to ensure that German secrets are adequately protected.

They will also likely take some time to work out what German secrets have already been compromised so that the German government can get a head start on some PR and damage control. The French, and any other allies, would be smart to make similar assurances for themselves. Given the close-knit nature of Europe, they may be piggy-backing on the German mission. It would be more prudent for them to see to their own business, though, and I expect visits from our NATO partners will be coming soon. Once everybody's asses are sufficiently covered, this little debacle will simply fade from public consciousness.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"This Man's Army"

There are an unbelievable number of preventable, serious breaches of honor and integrity occurring in the military.

Snowden worked at NSA for less than a year and took the job with the intention of leaking information.

In the entire clearance process, not ONE person managed to make him as a fraud.

Manning showed countless signs of being unhinged. Not one person in his chain of command did what was necessary to stop him before it was too late. Not one person who in-processed him made him as a confused and tormented individual. Instead, we handed him a clearance.

The Army is going to try and make this about individuals, but there are critical failures within the Army itself that are going unaddressed. As we speak, there are half a thousand students going through AIT to become Intelligence Analysts. By the end of the year, the majority of them will be handling sensitive information. Nowhere near that proportion of them is actually mentally and/or psychologically qualified to do that job with the attention to detail and gravitas it requires. They are being permitted to do things which they ought not to be because the Army is willing to cut corners to fill the demands of a war that is all-but over.

Manning, Snowden, and Hassan are guilty and deserve punishment. None of what I've said is intended to exonerate them. But let's not forget that the blame for the damage they have done does not rest solely with them.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Some Sense Regarding Syria

Given my line of work, I've been keeping abreast of the Syrian Civil War. My coworkers and I have formed some ...unpopular opinions about the best course of action.

To wit, we're rooting for Assad.

This is not because he's necessarily a great guy. We joke sometimes that he should get a nomination for Time's "Man of the Year" because he has managed (despite the claims every few weeks to the contrary) to avoid using his chemical stockpile in his efforts to maintain order in the country, and by extension maintain stability in Asia Minor.

That last little piece is what is most important here. In case you've been entirely ignorant of world affairs the last two years, the entire Middle East is in a bit of an uproar. Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Afghanistan are either in the midst or on the brink of what we'll euphemize as "major paradigm shift"

In many cases, this is not necessarily a good thing. I'll talk more about it in another post, which will focus on Egypt, but suffice it to say that we, as a nation, have some very simple and idealistic notions which often serve to act counter to our best interests as a nation.

Were it not for the Syrian government's connections to Iran and Hezbollah, I firmly believe that our internal debate about which side (if any) to choose in the Syrian conflict would have been ended months ago in favor of Assad.

Syria was one of the most stable countries in the Levant. They had a mostly secular government which, due to its composition of a minority sect, served to protect the rights of both Sunni and Shia Muslims within the country. Sympathies towards Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas comprised a known element which could be accounted for, which both the United States and Israel did.

The Syrian opposition represents not only an unknown quantity, but an unpredictable one. The rebels are not a unified group, but a loosely affiliated cluster of dissident organizations who have little in common but a mutual interest in the destabilization of the Syrian region. Many of the groups have terrorist support. Many of them are openly anti-US. These are important considerations for any aid: There is no way to control which aspects of the Syrian Opposition get support, but the Syrian Military, which is an organized and homogenous force, CAN offer that security. There is no way to know which faction of the Syrian Opposition will attain power should they win; but we know from experience EXACTLY how the Assad regime will behave.

To oversimplify, the Syrian conflict boils down to the old dilemma of "the enemy you know" versus "the enemy you don't". This is an oversimplification because we know, at least in part, a bit of the enemy we have in the Syrian Opposition, and it is an enemy that no country - not even Iran - has an interest in handing control of a nation and its resources.

The US Government has been wavering on the subject of intervention in the Syrian Conflict. Due to the pressures and misguided sympathies of an uninformed and capricious public, we have been supplying marginal amounts of aid to the rebels. But it is best that we remain uncommitted in this conflict, and deal with whoever the victor is from a neutral position. Fortunately, it appears the victor (absent US, NATO, or UN intervention) will be the standing Syrian government. They have the military hardware, the air supremacy, and funding from some of the greatest military powers in the world on their side. By withdrawing from the Syrian conflict, we all but assure Assad's victory and can resume diplomacy in the Middle East status quo ante.

And finally, someone in the US government has seen and heard reason, and has spoken in its favor.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Difference Between Retreat and Tactical Withdrawal

In a disappointing turn of events today, Brad Manning was acquitted of what was arguably the most important charge leveled against him: Aiding and Abetting the Enemy.

This means that he has dodged a minimum mandatory life sentence, though this could (and arguably, should) be a matter of semantics. The full weight of the crimes for which he has been found guilty carry a combined sentence of well over a hundred years.

This is assuming that the sentences are not served concurrently.

As my opening statement made abundantly clear, I have no love or respect for Manning. I remain hopeful that he spends the rest of his life behind bars. Furthermore, I am hopeful that his acquittal on the charge of primary importance was politically motivated to create advantages for the preservation of Information Security.

Edward Snowden is currently seeking, and has received a limited version of, political asylum. The Russians, who currently hold his fate in their hands, have so far protected him on two grounds: First, that they feel the United States have been unduly harsh on perceived whistleblowers (no doubt a reference to the trial of Manning). Second, that they have no extradition treaty with the United States. While this second point will require some considerable political maneuvering, the first provides the crux of whether or not Snowden will receive asylum.

By acquitting Manning, the issue of leaks has been depoliticized. Manning and Snowden are now simply at risk of punishment for crimes which the whole world, themselves included, admit committing. Intelligence is a sacred lifeline for all nations, and no self-respecting government can brook a threat to the security of their secrets.

This is surely not lost on the Russians, whose protection of Snowden has no end other than the pique of the United States. However, all nations have a public face to present, and so in order to be the guardians of order and righteousness which they proclaimed in their issuance of partial protection to Snowden, they will be put in a tough spot by the news that Manning is officially not a traitor. If they do not return Snowden, the grounds for asylum are also now clearly not present, and Snowden may have to find himself in places where less political power can be brought to bear in his defense.

A similar case may also be found in Julian Assange, who has managed to hide himself away in an embassy in London lest he face extradition. The whole of Europe, who fretted over the injustice of his possible fate as a spy in the United States, now has no reason to worry and therefore no reason to sour relations with the United States over a single muckraker, hacker, and thief.

All told, I am hopeful that my disappointment will turn into a greater overall victory as we are able to thoroughly and without hindrance persecute and prosecute these traitors and spies who proclaim "anti-secrecy" and once again establish the rule of law and order in our Intelligence communities.

"I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are."
-William Tecumseh Sherman

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Void of God

Trying to hijack science as proof of religion is an old trick.

Inescapably, though, it is a non-falsifiable claim, and therefore not rational. But it is comforting to those who hold the belief.

But the only bearing comfort has on science is in ergonomics.

The old religions have had to move perpetually backwards. God used to live on the mountain. When we reached the top of the mountain, and God was not there, God went to the clouds and the sky. And when we went to the sky, and God was not there, God went to space. But God has not been found in space, he has not been found in the sun, or on the moon, or in the caves or on the ocean floor. He has not been found in the cells or in the atoms or in the spaces in between the atoms. He has not been found in the solar system or in the galaxy. He has not been found in the light matter, he has not been found in the dark matter, he has not been found in the wavelengths or in the echoes from the beginning of time.

There is not one touch of the divine upon anything in this universe, and those who need to debase the human experience and human progress by attributing it to some designer have been forced to ignore evidence, or to banish their gods to ever more remote places in the vain hope that science will not reach there, or that when it does, maybe, perhaps, THIS TIME they will find God. They have been forced to bend over backwards to claim credit for god when it is the glory of man which they should revel in, the glory of our civilization, the wealth that we reap for the struggle and adversity that we have overcome.

It is a perversion.

And it is not rational; nor is it desirable in any sense. The churches and the cults can say all they want how grand the design of the creator is, but ultimately, deeply, they know they are clinging to the flotsam of the false hope they peddle.