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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

 The wars in the middle east, mainly Afghanistan have chipped their way back into the news. Public and policy maker alike divide their opinion between packing up and going home or developing the resoluteness of Ton-kin. Just a few more soldiers and we got this thing right  Military Chief Says More Troops Needed for Afghan War -

 Afghanistan gets compared to the Iraqi situation. I can see that that suggests itself but Iraq was almost well defined by comparison. Three main ethnic groups Sunni's Shiites and Kurds. Shiites are a majority population subjugated, the Sunni's a minority population but long dominant; politically, educationally, and in bureaucracy. Kurds, since the first Gulf war have lived almost as a separate nation strong enough to stand against Sunnis or Shiite, but perhaps not both. We took power from the Baathists (mainly Sunni) and gave it to the Shiites, who were a submerged political force with major fault lines running through them. Among these considerable radicalism, after many years as an oppressed minority. Close ties to Iran and strong sect rivalry's, beyond that. Shiite groups fought us to achieve long standing goals, the Sunnis fought us to regain power. Islamist extremists fought us under the banner of al Qaeda Iraq, because we were there. They all fought each other.

 Eventually we brought in more troops re-deployed to a population protection stance -- to keep them all separated. This we branded The Surge (tm). We paid every Sunni we could, to form local militias against the extremists, to stay in their neighborhoods, and stay out of trouble. To have a single government that could contract petroleum deals and be less that a total adjunct of the Iranian government in Tehran, was the new face of victory. Anyway we would always have Kurdistan.      

The first thing you hear about Afghanistan is that the situation found there is more complex than Iraq. More tribes more divisions more poverty, more and more varied terrain. The harder road in more ways than one. The long southeastern border is an open unsecured frontier and the territories of Pakistan adjacent are an ungoverned sanctuary for the Taliban and other rebel forces. The chief commodity of Afghanistan essentially is heroin. It is a least a major cash crop. Narcotics profits and the criminality associated with the drug trade fund the fighting. The Afghan government in Kabul wants neither to alienate the farmers or give up the portion of poppy money that flows to them. US Forces share this ambivalence on the narcotics trade believing it is a distraction to tackle this issue now, not wishing to drive people to the arms of the Taliban, even as the Russians complain Afghan heroin flows primarily in their direction. The recent election rather than bolstering our handcrafted and preferred government seemed fraudulent enough to make Karzai's government, precariously seated as it was, disappear from legitimacy altogether.

 At precisely this point a report written by the office of General McChrystal, the Officer responsible for Afghan operations is leaked; saying the war is in dire and unsure status McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure' - Most interpret this as pressure to double down with a further surge similar to Iraq's Obama to Weigh Buildup Option in Afghan War - This seems to be the view of McChrystal, and his supporters in Washington (in the Pentagon, in the White House, elsewhere) General McChrystal Asks Obama for More Troops - Additionally only a relative silence or quiet acquiescence by other theater commanders such as Cent-Com Gen. David Petraeus. The meanings of the leak to Bob Woodward in raw political terms is beyond me, but I imagine the Obama administration rather desired decisions concerning the Afghan and Iraq wars to occur as automatically as possible. The current situation allows them to follow the recommendation of the military professionals  Obama Considers Strategy Shift in Afghan War - with the latitude offered by the military being seen as overplaying their hand . McChrystal Rejects Scaling Down Afghan Military Aims -

 This is now the eighth year of this war, not the first, the second or even the fifth. This is the first place to start your thinking about the situation. After putting in 20,000 troops half a year ago to hold and stabilize the situation President Obama finds it has accomplished little casualties rise. The war effort slides beyond our control. One Friedman unit ( 6 mos.) into this administration and the military and various vectors of neoconservatives are openly declaring the strategy unworkable and the war nigh on unwinnable. McChrystal's Review Creates Divide on War in Afghanistan - The election was the precipitating incident of the current concern. It made it difficult to defend the prevailing government (politically if not militarily). It becomes problematic to claim before a skeptical world and unconvinced Afghan people that the military effort is the front of the Afghan people. Karzai attempted to present this as a fait accompli, and leave it to the US to adapt to his reality within his demimonde. The US can respond by establishing unilateral arrangements with segments of the populace until they believe their effort speaks for a true majority. They can bring as much of the former taliban in as stake-holders as possible

 If the Powell doctrine has any relevancy left I would say give the Afghanistan theater the extra battalions it asks for, as long as the Army can support it. Particularly if this happens in conjunction with a ongoing draw-down in Iraq. I say this because technology is not the force multiplier, the panacea, that so many in the military were lead by their systems analysts to believe it was.  Simple uneducated opposition can demonstrate remarkable levels of training resilience and adaptation, confounding static approaches  Changes in Afghanistan, Washington May Require Shift in U.S. War Strategy -  There are no true small wars. It takes soldiers to control violent opposition, as much as assassinations. Those thinking further through the Powell doctrine, point out that in recent polling the public has largely turned away from the war (wars), yet they were around and for them when we started them. The notion that if you break you've bought it stands. Afghanistan needs what-ever combination of new tires and a paint-job it takes to get someone to buy the title from us. That, it should be understood, means being able to leave a government in charge with a majority of coercive force in hand. We take charge, with the force needed to build a majority coalition and a policing force, of people signaling they are willing to be citizens of an Afghan state U.S. Plans to Shift Forces to Populated Areas of Afghanistan - This may take a few years: Meet-the-Afghan-Army-Is-It-a-Figment-of-Washingtons-Imagination - Metafilter. Then we leave. We don't worry about whether we have won the Program for the New American Century's idiot war or not, we leave.

 The Obama administration already signaled, by retaining Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense that the military had a comparatively free hand to work out solutions to these affairs on their own terms. Conduct counter-insurgency with general purpose troops according to best practices.  Conduct counter-terrorism with special operations and special applications.

 We must decide our true national security interest in these matters, and particularly when it comes to American soldiers, to American lives it must be defined narrowly. A few years ago it was commonly viewed that the world had a basic divide between Integrating / Non Integrating population areas. Integrating areas were those belonging to or being drawn into the worlds trade and commercial system. These areas were considered unlikely to form existential threats to other peoples or nations. Non integrating populations were Paul R. Pillar - Terrorists' Real Haven Isn't on the Ground, It's Online - The idea was not so much to destroy them, but to peel people away from their recalcitrant leaders until they lead nothing.

 We cannot be the world's policemen, though. We cannot be everywhere, we do not and never will have the level of manpower and fortune to do such enforcement. Moreover it weakens the principle of sovereignty. The idea that the world's nations must rule (and control) their affairs is what we ought seek to preserve. Bottom up order is the only stable order.  The goal is to bring the populations of the world grinding away at the periphery in poverty into the prevailing world economy and integrating them into its rule based meta-society. Imperfection is acceptable. It's an imperfect world.

11:55:33 PM    comment [];trackback [];

Friday, September 18, 2009

 A spat of recent naval incidents caught my attention, as a former sailor, and I made note to circle back and mention them when I had time. The Kang Nam was a small and marginal cargo ship that sailed from from North Korea early this summer, supposedly containing a shipment weapons or ammunition bound for Burma (Myanmar if you insist) Whither the Kang Nam, North Korea's suspect cargo ship? | It is unclear how this determination was made, but once it was, the ship was set upon and tracked continually. The outcome was an apparent success. After being shadowed by U S ships as it sailed slowly down the Chinese coast, very publicly thanks to the U S Navy, it eventually turned around and sailed back to North Korea US Navy well-versed in interdicting suspect cargo ships |

 A very different incident was the disappearance of the Russian ship Arctic Star. That was the first mystery. Speculation ran from smuggling, illicit arms trading, piracy, or simple theft  BBC NEWS | Special Reports | 'Ransom threat hit hijack ship'. After a week or so the lost was found, or perhaps was never really lost. Russian naval forces effected a self interdiction quietly in mid-ocean and escorted the ship back to Russia. Then began the second period of mystery. The Russian maritime expert who first raised alarm, flees county saying he has received strong threats  BBC NEWS | Europe | Russia ship mystery editor flees. Speculation now turns on involvement by Russian oligarchs and or  sectors of Russian Government. There are hints of involvement of by Israeli special operations the scenario here is that the ship contained advanced weapons of some sort perhaps anti-aircraft missile systems bound for Syria or Iran that had not been formally cleared by the Russian Government . At least the world's navies can locate and track ships at sea, when they want to.  

 Using Naval resources to accomplish anti-terror / anti proliferation goals turns on three abilities (1) Human resources: Training and teams. Certainly at the most specific level - physical interdiction and vessel searching.  (2) Material resources: ships in (the right) place. This depends greatly on cooperation regimes with other services and other nations. As well the ability to quickly enter into operational Intel networks with these regimes, aspects of these networks are evolving along lines not dissimilar to social networks (and social networking software types) familiar to ordinary experience.  (3) A legal mandate. The Proliferation Security Initiative: A Means to an End for the Operational Commander

 Traditional definitions of Ocean Surveillance aims, more broadly Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), involves knowing where US and Allied trade assets (merchant shipping) that need protecting are. Where what would harm them is also. Keeping the sea lanes open. At the moment this has been made easier as half the world's merchant fleet is riding empty at anchor in the Malacca straits off of Singapore  Revealed: The ghost fleet of the recession | Mail Online. The  Increasing commitment to Anti- terror, proliferation and even piracy missions is an added tasking  Navy Role in Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism: Background and Issues for Congress: RS22373.pdf.  A primary interest here for me at least is seeing what the new administration's inclinations on this topic are, particularly as the QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review is underway which will set the tone for the next few years.  At the moment it seems the Navy will continue to be a primary tool of Non-proliferation efforts.

 The PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative) dates from May 2003 originating with John Bolton under[deputy] secretary of state at the time was/is a State Department program.  John Bolton is something of a prat. commonly given to over the top dyspeptic rhetoric unbecoming someone at his supposed level. President Bush era aggressiveness and unilateralism are woven in the very fabric of the NSCWMD (National Strategy for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction out of which the PSI grew The proliferation security initiative as a new paradigm for peace and security. There are a number of useful general assessments of the PSI and its history written towards the end of the last administration  The Proliferation Security Initiative: A Glass Half-Full | Arms Control Association. One from an Australian perspective seemed especially succinct: The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI): An Assessment of its Strengths & Weaknesses The PSI is primarily as an activity, an agreement towards potential bilateral cooperation with only a 3 page statement of principle governing it.  It was designed to fill in the gaps between existing international non proliferation frameworks and to especially close down transfers of mass destruction weapons to non-State actors. This received strong affirmation in the form of Security Council resolution 1540 in 2004. Beyond this framework, there are only a fairly light rounds of operational and command center exercises to flesh the intent out.  The desire of the core members of the program has always been to move against both weapons and their delivery systems. Against acquisition of precursor materials even those acknowledge as having dual (civilian and military) use. Against networks of materials trade, and weapon design expertise and information. All for the purpose of making this trade more costly and more difficult.  I haven't read it,  but this book treats the subject at length: Combating weapons of mass destruction : the future of international nonproliferation policy []

There are acknowledged knocks against the initiative. Mostly involving its thin legal grounding. Also difficulty assessing its efficacy amid secrecy surrounding the initiatives activities, and claims that some acknowledged successes were the product of multi-faceted efforts.  Lastly its extensiveness. That the PSI will only be effective if a certain and sizable set of nations participate in its activities. It started with only 10 nations in 2003, by mid 2007 73 nations were involved in one fashion or another many in the periphery  Origin, Developments and Prospects for the Proliferation Security Initiative : JFD_2006_PSA_Yamazaki.pdf.

  Legal objections to use of force in international waters extend from a firm and fixed principle that the flag a vessel sails under constitutes it as sovereign territory of that nation. There is the possibility allowed in theory that this might happen in redress of a past injury. Injury a non transferrable or non diffusible concept, that is it cannot extend to others to form a negative common good  Interdicting Vessels to Enforce the Common Interest.

 Largely these Legal objections are answered by they suffer from impracticality. The law at the International level for all its resemblance to statue law or aged common law is more a balance of actions. For those nations inclined to look on the world as an organized or tuned affair, it becomes a matter of passive deterrence vs. preemption of threats. This turns on notion that catastrophic lethality cannot be contained in  notion of equivalency to conventional categories of injury the law supposes. As in the case of Guilfoyle's [above] continual referral to nations in a fishing dispute seizing each others boats and catches as a suitable paradigm for injury. Commensurate action in nuclear non proliferation is interruption of their trade. Reading through the various summaries and their description of the legal difficulties it seemed that some nations may be telling the core nations of the PSI that they wished that the Initiatives activities were more clearly tied to traditional notions of risk assessment. Balancing the level of probability of occurrence against the severity of loss. At least as it pertains to the lengthy lists of banned commodities and the U S's zeal for interdicting them. There is also the sense that the cost of overly isolating target nations ought be added to the assessments. However most accept there is a near certain likelihood that non state actors would use weapons of mass destruction if the international community did not work to make it exceptionably difficult. There is also an increasing acknowledgment that existing models and assumptions of nuclear deterrence would fray and break down once the number of nations possessing nuclear weaponry rises to a dozen or more nations. The nine nations that currently have atomic weapons have set off more than two thousand nuclear detonations since they were developed Nuclear weapons testing - Wikipedia

 Informal policy statements around PSI make it clear the initiative is aimed at particular nations such as North Korea, Syria and Iran. This promotes buy-in by some nations who take this as an assurance that this initiative will not interfere with their own arms trade. Others will see in this a double standard absenting nations the United States favors including ones they disfavor, and see behind it all a U S hegemony.  For those inclined to caution and taking the very long view. Pushing such a way of proceeding into de-facto international law; consider that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. There may come a time in the not-that-distant future where others seek to stop U S shipping from what they deem inappropriate technology or weapons transfer.

 North Korea's recent apparently successful test of nuclear device so alarmed the international community that the U N security council passed a further resolution forbidding them to traffic in weapons technology and called on all U N members to search vessels, with consent, anytime it is reasonably believed, such forbidden cargo is aboard a vessel India Detains North Korea Ship, Citing U.N. Resolution - There are some indications that recent North Korean maritime activity show possible signs of a probing for weakness in the PSI's capabilities N Korea: In Deep, Illicit Water / ISN.

 Non-proliferation and anti-mass destruction weapons trade is a process and PSI is a part of that process the idea is to provide redundant blocks to spread of dangerous weapons.

 The PSI needs to grow in membership, become normalized and partially institutionalized. For funding and training purposes and for effective international cooperation. So that its process: leveraging existing national authorities for extra border coercive police action attains the status of recognized international principle rather than an activity that is a cipher (the U S is not yet a signatory to UNCLOS). The UN can hamper nuclear arms trade through Security Council resolutions. Further acquisition of nuclear weapons is de-legitimized by these means. This paves the way for blocking arms trade by nations that continue to develop nuclear weapons regardless -- by international agreements authorizing searches and seizure of any vessel carrying on such sanctioned trade.

 Ultimately the success of the PSI and acceptance of its aims by a critical mass of nations will be the degree to which it is guided by the principle of the eventual decommissioning of all nuclear weapon arsenals by all nations. It is here that I suspect I diverge from Mr. Bolton's vision most, who will give up mass destruction last of all.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009
Hearts of Oak

  Every time I'm inclined to read any singularity or uniqueness to the current noise-some dogmatic populism on the right these days I have only to reflect on Acorn ( Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - Wikipedia ) to keep it in perspective. The Tea-baggers are out there in their very own wild blue yonder, a high styled paranoiac thrill ride. I'll take nothing off the top of that. They might notice the major policies of this country haven't changed much and won't because the President is pragmatically inclined and moderate in his sensibilities. That is if they weren't running around asking each other: "Now what part of White-House don't that boy understand."

 Acorn made themselves a target of the right and shouldn't wonder really at the arrows lodged in their back  Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn - They are there for their many years of community activism. Their work on housing discrimination, and voter registration drives. They've spent years putting African and Hispanic Americans on the voting rolls - that made them a target first of all. Second for was their diffuse seemingly chaotic organization, and particularly their thin veneer of somewhat inept leadership. They knew they were under close examination for more than a year now, and at no point did they seem to tighten up procedures or undertake any sort of policy review. This last forms a third way they made themselves a target. The sense of self-justification they had about their work. The idea that if you were "fighting the man" it was all good, it was all covered.

 There are sectors of the left, among the progressives I recall from my college days, and others, where this feeling runs very deep. It does not admit to the validity of other viewpoints. It does not even genuinely allow the complete corporal existence of those who might hold these opinions. This last ought to evoke echos of familiarity with the rhetoric of the Birther or Tea-bag movements. This is the partisan error: desiring to rule as though those holding other views were secondary, illegitimate, vacant.  Acorn did not review their way of operating because their sense of righteousness did not request it of them. Those that opposed them were just so many ghosts.

 If Acorn wants to protect remaining any remaining value to their brand they need to recognize they are engaged in a PR battle, not a street fight, not a legal fight, or even really a straight forward policy fight. The Metafilter troll in the thread  ACORN under fire | MetaFilter was correct: the web site Big Government's tapes were well executed text-book long form gorilla journalism. That this site is carrying an air of more and deeper organizational structure behind it is unmistakable, but what of it?   Acorn needs to determine and protect core enterprises. They need to resist the impulse to sue, particularly on grounds of clandestine recording and entrapment. This is weak legally and PR poison beyond that. Resist all temptation to engage in escalating counter-rhetoric. Or continue their "a few bad apples" defense against a well prepared and well layered attack. The Big Government "journalists" were able to repeat this exercise in a number of different and unrelated localities. Across the board they need to admit that what these tapes captured is utterly indefensible, even criminal. No public organization can operate this way. Acorn's apologists should cease trying to offer Acorn's attackers guile and hostility as a defense of their own conduct. Other's behavior speaks for itself as much as it needs to.

 Acorn should be prepared to make a quick and radical move towards a significantly tighter and more professional organization. To bring in new leadership, move part-time volunteers to a supervised and vetted exterior tier. Hire or gain volunteer professional lobbyists to stabilize their reputation. Only at this point will Acorn have given their political friends enough cover to come forward in their defense House Votes To Strip ACORN Of All Federal Funds | TPMMuckraker. If Acorn is unable to collapse to a core of good work and demonstrate their worth, then what good they do and good people they have need to migrate to other organizations and continue their work there.

Yes,  this post's title is a Ted Leo song.

Also this post written on 16 and 17 Sep 09 is landing in a slot dated 10 Sep 09 because the yet uncompleted post that was there, agreed to swap places with it.

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Friday, September 4, 2009
An Etsy Post

  My sisters Ann, Ellen and Susan, as well my niece Nicole go up to Baltimore every year in a February-ish season for the Baltimore Craft Show (properly the American Craft Council Show Baltimore; there are others across the country Atlanta, San Francisco : American Craft Council) I have a rough idea of the thing  though I've never been. The Baltimore craft show: like an Etsy you can walk through. On occasion I've even gone over to the Torpedo Factory (no torpedos  involved currently) aka  Torpedo Factory Art Center. Which lies broadly, even thickly along the continuum from arts & crafts through to Art. It facilitates a romanticized vision of the creative lifestyle I find I need to believe in sometimes.

  Some people like their craftisomes new, and others aged. I appreciate, certainly, forms and objects that have survived time, I feel implicated in that even; however, I would not be set against an understanding of antique as simply a upscale word that means anti-new. There may be no intrinsic value in old. I find flea markets and yard sales a great temptation, as much for the bricolage time machine aspect as for anything.  I find I like the Shorpy Archive as well. But I would probably pass by any place calling itself "antique" this or that, unless I felt that by use of the word they were simply putting on airs and actually had good honest junk, the tchotchke of generations, on their shelves.

  Online this territory is covered by eBay or Craig's list, neither of which I spend much time haunting. Trân has discovered that while she gets pennies on the dollar selling back her old textbooks in the campus bookstore, she can get list for them on eBay. This only confirms certain thoughts I have concerning eBay.

 What is Etsy in this mix, Etsy :: Your place to buy and sell all things handmade? From their own description it is the "new economy" and a ethos of handmade made manifest. The pseudo night-human-activity map they have up (a clever and very Etsy idea) Etsy :: About shows Etsy is currently concentrated in the eastern and west coast United States, but surprisingly also England and Scotland which never struck me as being Arts, Crafts, or cottage industry sorts of places. Etsy's trade is the new: a democratic neighborly peer market in craftiness. Objects not only warm from the hand that made them, but of the ideas that inspired them. They facilitate sales of jewelry, wearables home furnishings and home accents. All in a  light minimalist interface replicating individual booths and exhibition tables in as many web 2.0 nodes. Wikipedia indicates the current CEO, Maria Thomas, apparently is a former NPR executive, Etsy - Wikipedia

 Over the past few months I've been asking around to see who's heard of Esty. I first learned of it through Mir's Dim Sum Diaries weblog. MetaFilter also turns up with Etsy-centric threads now and again  (there is even a node for MiFi Etsians Shops by MeFites | MetaFilter)   It took reading about it a couple of times before I really caught on to what it was.  My sister Ann had heard of it - through someone at her office. Of course, she is the premiere Baltimore Craft Show attendee in the family. My sister Susan had not. Few I spoke to had heard of it, or knew much about it. No men, I made inquires to, had heard of it at all. Not one. "Possibly not a guy thing," I entered into my small pocket notebook at this point.  A co-worker, my friend Nina had. Nina belongs to a crocheting circle that formed at the library, back in the spring. They meet once a week or so. I think Trân was participating in this as well during the summer, but she is back to taking classes now and lunch belongs to the textbooks. What Nina was working on was very nice. I told her so and added that she could probably sell her stuff on Etsy. "Oh no," she exclaimed gesturing at her work station screen then snapping a finger at the mouse to shake off the screen saver and show me: "Etsy is where we go to get our ideas." While I haven't bought anything off Etsy yet I wouldn't say I won't.

  Being aware of Etsy at all is probably something of an outlier experience for me. As well I am passing out of the demographic that notices things at all. I'm on the fence about fighting my way back in. My money and yearnings are no longer of statistical significance to marketeers. People my age don't buy what they want to sell. We don't  respond reliably enough to advertising to make it worthwhile they're trying. They may suspect we have money, but they know better than to try to get it by talking to us. At last I am at liberty not to care unless I actually do care.  

11:49:18 PM    comment [];trackback [];

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