23 June, 2009

Slicin' Up Eyeballs

Yggles gives some debaser love and posts this mashup of the Pixies song with Un Chien Andalou:

19 June, 2009

The Bailout

I'm not qualified to assess whether this is true or problematic, but some of you might be, and anyway it's really interesting.

From boingboing (hat tip Good/blogs):

15 June, 2009

Deep thought

How surprising that the septuagenarian clerical leadership seems to have underestimated the difficulty of controlling information in the internet age.

14 June, 2009

Mike Pence is an idiot

And not even the useful kind. There has already been some commentary on how the events in Iran will affect American intentions of sustained, productive engagement and general detente. I think that's an open question dependent on how events unfold, and in the meantime the Obama administration is taking the correct approach by reiterating its intention for engagement.

But here comes Mike Pence (R-IN) arguing on CNN that the Obama needs to stop "apologizing" and explicitly throw his weight behind the Mousavi camp. This would be profoundly stupid. The narrative of the Islamic Republic is based on a set of grievances against the meddling of the United States in Iranian affairs. It appears that reformers are well aware of the danger of appearing to be American proxies, and especially given the extremely delicate nature of the current situation, an "Obama intervention" could swing momentum back to the hardliners. It is a delicate line, because we should sympathize with the dissenters, and we should hope that the regime fails - but this will only happen due to the efforts of Iranians and the internal contradiction of the regime. As citizens we can sympathize, but to avoid a backlash and to ensure that we will be able to work with whomever comes out on top, our government must remain officially aloof.

What is happening in Iran?!? (II)

Roger Cohen has a searing report from Tehran on the ongoing riots/demonstrations/crackdown that are proceeding in the aftermath of Friday's elections. His is a good, quick, summary of the suspicions that Ahmadinejad, who controls of the Interior ministry and thus the electoral machinery, perpetrated an intra-regime coup:

But everything I have seen suggests Moussavi, now rumored to be under house arrest, was cheated, the Iranian people defrauded, in what Moussavi called an act of official “wizardry.”

Within two hours of the closing of the polls, contrary to prior practice and electoral rules, the Interior Ministry, through the state news agency, announced a landslide victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fantastical take on the world and world history appears to have added another fantastical episode...

He won as the Interior Ministry was sealed, opposition Web sites were shut down, text messages were cut off, cell phones were interrupted, Internet access was impeded, dozens of opposition figures were arrested, universities were closed and a massive show of force was orchestrated to ram home the result to an incredulous public.

Events are very fast moving, and state restrictions on media and internet make accurate information harder than normal to come by. A lot of the MSM is moving pretty slow, probably in large part due to the fact that foreign correspondents have reportedly been prohibited from leaving their hotels in Tehran. Here's whom I'm reading to try to make sense of the situation.
  • The Daily Dish is focusing almost exclusively on unfolding events in Iran, with many fascinating-but-unconfirmable eye-witness accounts
  • The Huffington Post actually has an incredibly informative and exhaustive continuing live-blog of events as they unfold
  • Juan Cole's expert commentary is helpful in making sense of the internal dynamics that might have spurred the crisis
  • Tehranlive.org is a local blog contributing striking photos of the riots such as the one above
Of course, it is still possible that Ahmadinejad won the elections. However, it looks increasingly likely that, facing a massive defeat at the polls, Ahmadinejad and his allies in either the clerical establishment or the military (or some combination of both) decided to pull the trigger on a massive, systematic, and rather shoddy (Juan Cole has a great breakdown of how the official results make no demographic sense) falsification of the election results. Mousavi is apparently under house arrest, influential regime insiders such as former president Rafsanjani and Grand Ayatollah Sanei have rejected the results, and a general crackdown is underway, with massive arrests of politicians and resignation of civil servants and university professors.

In short, it appears as of now that the Iranian regime has crossed a Rubicon of sorts. While elections in Iran have never been free and fair (all candidates must be pre-approved by the clerical leadership, the state controls the media), their results have always been respected within the boundaries set by the state. This had led to serious national debates and instances of moderation, and provided a kind of release valve that kept many moderates working within the system rather than against it. Outright theft of an election explicitly backed by the repressive aparrati of the state, if that is indeed what we are seeing, is a significant break, and, I think, a huge gamble. We are already seeing a split in the ruling elite, and if Ahmadinejad's camp can't quickly tamp down popular unrest, that split could become irreversibly large. And irreconciliable splits in the governing elite, unless one faction can quickly assert control over the other, often mark the beginning of the end for authoritarian regimes.

10 June, 2009

What is happening in Iran?

Iranian elections will be held in less than two days, on June 12th, and it is likely that upon their results hang several key US foreign policy objectives, including cooperation regarding our withdrawal from Iraq, help in Afghanistan, and nuclear non-proliferation. The "Green Revolution" of former prime minister and reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi appears to be gaining steam. His supporters have been swamping the capital, Tehran, with mass demonstrations and public political altercations that are pushing the envelope of what have been the previously accepted levels of dissent in Iran.

Folks like Andy Sullivan have been documenting the competition with optimistic takes such as "Something is happening in Iran." And there is reason for optimism - the vigor and openness of this election seems to be real, and a real potential opening for rapproachement in the useless standoff between Iran and the United States. But, we must remember, it is very difficult for outsiders to understand local political dynamics in unfamiliar countries, but very easy for us to read our own desires and values onto their circumstances. So, there are several important questions. One, is Mousavi's victory as likely as western commentators making it out to be? And, second, will a Mousavi victory be as good as western commentators make it out to be?

The answer to the first question is, no one has any good idea. Polling is notoriously bad, and Ahmadinejad has an unclear amount of informal control over the electoral process. Newsweek's Maziar Bahari, however, predicts a wide-margined win for Mousavi on Friday, due largely to his popularity among the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the muscle of the Islamic Revolution. This brings us to the second question - is Mousavi really a reformist if he is relying on the support of the Revolutionary Guard (as well as the distaste much of the clerical hierarchy has for Ahmadinejad) to deliver or support his election victory? As MEMRI argues (h/t Sullivan), none of the candidates, Mousavi included, are actually "reformists" in the sense of the word that existed before 2005 - they are all well-ensconced within the "conservative" camp, and suggests that the differences between them deal more with their level of messianism than with their actual desire to reform the Iranian theocracy.

I can't speak to how likely it is that Mousavi will win on Friday, but I will say I hope he does. While he may not actually be able to change Iran's repressive apparatus, he seems likely to at least not make it worse. What's more, the very public presence of his wife on the campaign trail seems to be signalling a willingness to challenge the gender restrictions of revolutionary Iran. But while I have only goodwill towards ordinary Iranian people, I hope he wins primarily for selfish reasons. A moderate win will shore up Obama's support at home (which is important for domestic as well as foreign policy) simply by dint of the defeat of a key Bush antagonist. (Like the recent Lebanese elections, it will surely be read as a success of Obama's outreach.) It would make progress on Israel-Palestine more likely and would make an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program more likely. It could prove crucial to an effective withdrawal from Iraq.

I dare to hope. We will see.

Tragedy at the Holocaust Museum

You probably have heard about this already. Awful news today as a crazy white supremacist/anti-semite/serial holocaust-denier opened fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a guard.

Implications are already being discussed, and many are mentioning the Department of Homeland Security report warning about a possible increase in right-wing domestic terrorism. Widely pilloried at the time, it seems more than a bit reasonable to raise concerns after several acts of right-wing terrorism in such a short period.

An interesting clip on the matter from Shep Smith at Fox News:

As a former email-reading bitch in a US Senate office, I can back him up here. The one he read on air was on the coherent, well-reasoned side of most of what came in, although none I read threatened violence. These people are really scared, really angry, and really, really stupid.

A fantastic idea

Eliminating stalemate by eliminating check:

In chess, one way a game can be declared a draw is if black, say, has no legal move. This is called stalemate. Typically stalemate occurs because white has a material advantage but fails to checkmate and instead leaves the black king with no space to move that does not walk into check. It is illegal to place your own king in check.

The reason stalemate is an artificial rule is that check is an artificial rule. Clearly the object in chess is to conquer the opponent’s king. One can imagine that check evolved as a way to prevent dishonorable defeat when you overlook a threat against your king and allow it to be captured even though it could have escaped. To prevent this, if your king is in check the rules of chess require that you escape from check on the next move and it is illegal to move into check. This rule means that the only way to win is to checkmate: place your opponent in a position where his king is threatened and cannot escape the threat. The game ends there because on the very next move the king will certainly be captured.

This gives rise to stalemate: it is only because of check that a player can have no legal move. If we dispensed with checkmate, replacing it with the more transparent and natural objective of capturing the king, and eliminating the requirement that you cannot end your turn in check, then a player would always have a legal move. (it is easy to prove this.) Thus, no stalemate.

Swahili for Unity

Kiva launches in the U.S today!!! And one taxi driver has already been fully funded. Check out some of our neighbors and consider lending or re-lending.

09 June, 2009

06 June, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Blogging

Julian Sanchez via Sullivan via Cowen writes:

So maybe this is a proposal for a new genre of article. The function of the ordinary pop-science/social science/philosophy piece is to give the reader a sort of thumbnail-sketch of the findings or results of a particular sphere of study, while op-eds and radio talkers make the thumbnail case for a policy position. The latter are routinely criticised for their shrill content, but the really toxic message of contemporary opinion writing and radio is the meta-message, the implicit message contained in the form, more than any particular substantive claim. In an ordinary op-ed, the formal message is that 800 or 1000 words is adequate to establish the correct position on any question of interest. Slightly more beguiling is the debate format, where representatives of contrasting positions do battle, and leave it to the reader to decide—with the implicaiton that the reader is now somehow in a position to do so.

What might be more helpful, at least in some instances, is an article that spends the same amount of space setting up the problem, and getting across exactly why it’s so difficult for brilliant and highly educated people to agree on an answer—especially when many people outside the field tend to have an opinion one way or another, and believe that they’re justified in holding it with some confidence. Not just a clash between two confident but opposed views—we get plenty of that all the time, and it’s part of the problem—but an examination (assuming good faith) of what’s keeping these smart jousters from reaching consensus. Not “the case for policy A” vs “the case for policy B” but “the epistemic problems that make it hard to choose between A and B,” as though (I know, it’s crazy) the search for truth were more than a punch-up between mutually exclusive, preestablished conclusions. The message is not (to coin a phrase) “we report, you decide” but “we report on why you’re not actually competent to decide, unless you’re prepared to devote a hell of a lot more time, energy, and thought to it.”
Quoting Julian's piece almost seems against its spirit, so go read the whole thing.

"the growning phenomenon of Internet"

Just watch. Via Yggles.

05 June, 2009

I hate politics...

I've voiced my support for cap-and-trade in the past. But the bill currently pending in the House (Waxman-Markey) is utterly terrible. Here's why:

1) Giving away permits. If the government auctioned off the permits, this could be a huge source of revenue that could be used to lower taxes, build infrastructure, etc. Instead, they're giving nearly all of the permits away to the private sector. (Note that this doesn't affect the total reduction in emissions, just the distribution of the benefits.)

2) When is a cap not a cap? When it allows for carbon offsets. Bill Buiter has a great piece on this and I'll refer you to him. The jist is that offsets allow someone to create new permits for X tons of carbon if they can show that they are reducing carbon emissions by X. Of course the trick is that it's nearly impossible to show this. In practice someone can say "Well, I was going to burn down acres of forest, releasing X tons of carbon into the atmosphere, but now I won't do it!" This person can then sell the X tons worth of permits on the carbon market and make a healthy profit while increasing the total amount of emissions allowed, since of course they weren't really going to burn down that forest. Although we don't have hard evidence yet, this is what appears to be happening with the Clean Development Mechanism (the corresponding offset program for Kyoto countries).

There are plenty of other problems too, and Buiter lists several. In addition to these, many have argued that the cap is way too lenient. One might expect that this could be rectified later. But if offsets go in to the current bill, they're damn well never coming out of it.

04 June, 2009

Obama's speech

The full video below for those who missed it:

You should watch the whole thing. It is pretty vintage Obama: that sometimes uneasy mix of careful nuance and soaring rhetoric, and that now-commonplace effort to elucidate complications rather than deny them that can make listening to Obama unsatisfying for ideologues on both sides. He seemed to revel in delivering a strong defense of Israel in front of the Cairene crowd, though he paired it with an equally unequivocal statement condemning further settlement activity.

As usual, the Daily Dish is unparalleled in gathering reactions from around the web and around the world, from Hamas to Haaretz. Some important context for the timing of the speech: Iranian elections will be held on June 10, with incumbent hardliner Ahmedinjad facing the reformist (and former Prime Minister) Mousavi.

03 June, 2009

it's time

I received this website in an email this morning calling for me to join in the rally to reform immigration. I haven't spent more than 5 minutes with it since but I know that a sister organization to one that I'm involved with is a member of this, so I've been passing it on.

http://www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org/index.php the whole document is available in the "about us" section.

join the call to action or just read a new perspective.

Food for thought...

...about the effects of corn subsidies.

02 June, 2009

Inner City Pressure

This is really depressing.