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Friday, September 26, 2014

The World is NOT Getting More Dangerous!

Sure, we have Ebola, ISIS, and Russia to worry about.  But Christopher Preble at the Cato Institute is right to challenge those saying these are especially dangerous times. Most dangerous world ever? We are still in a stable, unipolar global system.  The US has no significant military rivals.  Russia barely qualifies as a minor power.  Nonstate actors like ISIS are nasty cannot seriously hurt us.  Global terrorism is really a Middle East/Central Asia problem.  Ebola is scary--the WHO just said it will infect 2 million people--but the history of this disease is that it burns itself out.  It is still impacting only three countries. 

Now, I'm not sure, as Preble argues, that mankind is rejecting violence, as Steven Pinker in "Better Angels of Our Nature" maintains.  In the US, homicides may be down, but I've been told by some policemen that intentional homicides are up.  Improvements in trauma care (all these wars have some benefit, after all) has greatly increased survival rates.  We're still violent, but perhaps we are just getting better at mitigating its effects. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ISIS Kills Iraq Soldiers in Droves

This week ISIS overran an Iraqi Army base in Anbar province.  At least 300 Iraqi soldiers (jundi) are dead or missing.  According to a survivor, they had no food or medicine, and they ran out of ammunition. Aid from Baghdad never came.  See this article Overran by ISIS

One of the bitterest ironies of the Iraq war is that this army, which we spent billions to train and equip, is completely useless.  ISIS has consistently shown itself to have better tactics, training, and morale.

The current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, once oversaw the training effort.  Were we honest with ourselves about the results?  The lack of logistics and command and control capability was a longstanding problem that we had known about.

Still remains to be seen how we are going crush ISIS by relying on Iraqi ground forces to clear the areas we bomb. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

NFL "Scandal" Exposes Sports Media Corruption

The NFL is the "biggest" sport in America--although not the best--and its commissioner Roger Goodell a major public figure.  The sport is so overhyped by the media that any "scandal" gets blown out of proportion. 

The latest "issue" is violence in the NFL.  Think about this.  An extremely violent sport played by testosterone-charged, hyperviolent men.  Why would it shock us that they sometimes take this off the field? 

Goodell, who, it is true, earns millions to make the right decisions, decided to suspend one player two games for punching his wife in a casino.  Normally, he would have earned a six-game suspension, but Goodell decided to be lenient because the player was cooperative, the law had already enacted its penalty (pre-trial intervention for a year; he was a first-offender, and that's not uncommon.) and the player's wife begged for clemency.  The facts in the case were never in doubt.  He walloped her. 

Only two games raised some eyebrows, especially when one player was suspended a year for being a three-time offender of the NFL's illegal-drug use policy.   But the media moved on...

Until  a celebrity website leaked the video of the actual punch, recorded on the casino's security system.  Then all hell broke loose.  Goodell was obviously covering it up (Why? Never explained.)  He then suspended the player indefinitely.  (Even though the facts of the case were never in doubt.)

This was an ugly incident.  But not even the worst we heard about in the last week!  Law enforcement has been busy.

Now the media want Goodell to resign--because he made a mistake.  Three reasons for this: 1) the sports media always feels inferior to actual journalism, so when it has an opportunity to squawk about a Big Issue, it does so for all it's worth 2) it feels subliminally guilty about ignoring issues like off-field violence for so long, especially of famous stars; and 3) it has Watergate Envy:  It wants to show that, by itself, it can take down a major figure, like the Washington Post supposedly did to Richard Nixon.  

Note well, this has nothing to do with the welfare of the offending player's family; his wife blasted the media for dredging all this up again.  Now they have no income to boot. 

The fact is the NFL has done more in recent years to clean up these off-the-field offenses than  in all its past decades combined.  See this perceptive article by Samuel Chi: Give Goodell a Raise  The league is way cleaner than it used to be.

Maybe some good will come out of all this, such as getting people to start realizing that they worship organized violence, which might have some unintended consequences.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scottish Independence and the Rise of "Micro-Nationalism"

Scotland votes tomorrow on independence.  If the yes vote wins, it will peacefully break up the most successful nations in the last 300 years.  Why might Scots do this?

It isn't for economic reasons.  The Scots gain more from the union than they put into it.  This seems purely an act of nationalist pride. 

But Peter Hitchens here might be right: if you have Shell Oil, David Cameron, and the Queen all urging you to vote no, you might be inclined to vote yes just out of spite: Threatening the Scots

Americans also can understand this.  You remember that in the story of Rip Van Winkle, the hero falls asleep when the colonies were under the king's rule, and wakes up when the United States is independent.  Nothing appears as prosperous as it once was.   But the people were at least free.

It's possible the referendum loses and the independence movement loses steam over time.  This is what happened in Quebec.  In 1995 the sovereignty movement there only lost by one percent.  But that was the high water mark of the movement.

The implications of the vote might be far reaching.  What about all the other smaller nationalist entities in Europe and the world?  Catalan, the Walloons and Flemings, the Kurds--the list is practically endless. It is hard to believe the results will be better security and more prosperity.  As George Friedman suggests here, the cat is out of the bag:  Implications of the vote

Monday, September 15, 2014

Confessions of a Monopolist

Peter Thiel of Paypay offers this in the WSJ:  good businesses have to be monopolies and escape competition.  Competition is for Losers  No doubt this is good for business!  But what about for the rest of us?  He uses Google as an example: but what does Google do for me that other search engines don't?  I going to start using Bing now, just out of spite. 

The muckraking book from 100 years ago that revealed the monopolist mentality was Frederick Howe's Confessions of a Monopolist. See this piece Confessions .  I remember one of Howe's key points: monopolists get the society to work for them.   That is, the public needs to accept and embrace the essential goodness of the monopolists having no competition! 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mr. Obama Goes to War

The other night, President Obama pledged to root out the "cancer" of ISIS.  This apparently will be accomplished by more air strikes and US special forces advisers.  The Kurds and the Iraqi Army (the same guys who fled before ISIS in June and August) will do the heavy lifting on the ground. 

The irony of this speech on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11 was lost on no one.  We're back in the fight again. 

The other irony is that Obama has just signed on publicly to Bush's open-ended and endless Global War against Terrorism.  He has scaled way back on the drone strikes when faced with public criticism, but he had been quietly practicing Bush's policy.  Now he's back in.

But rooting out the ISIS cancer will be really hard to do. Check out this map from the Institute for the Study of War:  ISIS map  They are embedded with all the Sunni communities in Iraq.  This cancer is going to take massive amounts of chemo and radiation, and may end up killing the patient anyway. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

ISIS as "Fight Club"

If you remember the movie, or read the book, "Fight Club" was about men emasculated by modern society who first took to fighting themselves, but who then evolved into committing acts of terrorism against modern society itself.  The main characters, life's losers, found meaning and purpose, finally, in violence.  To see what I mean, see this piece about a former Catholic from North Carolina who tried to join ISIS: Ex-cop tries to join ISIS

For another confirmation of this, read this one by the excellent journalist Dexter Filkins, who points out that ISIS has no grand strategy to all this: its members just get off on killing:  The Murder of Sotloff 

Modern terrorism essentially is a masculine revolt against modernity. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

No Islamic terrorism threat in U.S.A.?

Several news sites have decried a report that omits Muslim extremism as a main source of domestic terrorist threats. See Bill Gertz's piece for example:  Domestic threat assessment omits islamist terrorism/   The subtext on this is that many on the right believe the Obama administration has whitewashed the story of Islamic-motivated terrorism in this country.  I haven't gotten my hands on this report yet, but I'll suggest a few ways to think about this problem.
  • The FBI does not deny the problem of Islamic terror.  Check out the Most Wanted List and see if you can detect a pattern:  FBI's Most Wanted
  • The Feds are reluctant to call something Islamic terrorism if the motive is unclear.  Perhaps that's why the report doesn't finger the Tsarnaev brothers as "Islamic" terrorists.  As far as I know, they have not been credibly linked to Al Qaeda or any other organized movement.  By the FBI's definition, domestic terrorists "lack foreign direction." 
  • One of the problems is the issue of the lone operator,  or "leaderless resistance," which has become an Al Qaeda strategy now.  This, as far as I know,  originated in the American White Supremist movement with "The Turner Diaries."  Are they really politically motivated terrorists, or just dangerous psychotics?
  • For a great read that makes sense of the whole issue, and notes the ambiguity of the FBI's definition, see the Congressional Research Service's report on Domestic Terrorrism  The CRS is one of the best-kept secrets in the federal government.