Thursday, May 5, 2016

Acceleration of generational change

If I had the time I would write this book, or maybe the book already exists (?); nevertheless, I would write a book about the generations that have really mattered in human history.... And speculate about the generations that will matter in the future....

Today, we classify generations based on the pace of technological change. The truth is, for over 90% of human history, technological change hasn't been a factor; technology didn't changed much from one generation to the next, hence generations didn't matter so much. One generation was hardly distinguishable from the last.

Historians might take exception with my claim: with migration, exploration, conquest, and mixing of peoples, religions and cultures, one generation of people in a particular place could be dramatically different than another. But such historical changes mostly revolved around culture. Culture is important but deeper analysis is called for....

It would be interesting to trace an exact date when generations started to become markedly different. Up until about 150 or 120 years ago, there were long gaps between significant changes. Today, we name each new generation; a reason why is that we take it for granted that each new generation will look at the world differently, and, essentially, be smarter than us.  The driver of change is technological innovation that makes the world smaller; technology that changes our ideas of what it means to be human, and what it means to be members of a planetary race....

In ancient history we talk of ages, not generations, because historical records aren't so precise; and because changes spread slowly and locally because of distance and poor communications.

Granted, even today change doesn't spread uniformly.  The Internet still has poor penetration in Africa, for instance.  Yet in the not-too-distant future, we can anticipate that everyone will have access to all of the latest knowledge via the Internet.  Air travel, phones and television already facilitate cultural mixing on an unprecedented scale.

What will be the clear markers of future generations?  Space colonization?  Unlocking the secrets of human immortality? Climate change catastrophe?  Roboticization of most human work?  The common integration of tech hardware and software with human bodies, i.e. androids?  Some breakthrough discovery in physics that unites relativity and quantum physics. i.e. a Unified Field Theory?  A new economic system that supplants capitalism?  The decline of religious practice?  Massive migration from the developed to the developing world?  Widespread negative birthrates (which are already happening in Europe)?  Or a combination of all these factors and other things?

The crazy thing is, today we can almost anticipate what those changes will be. We know that most of the above-mentioned drivers of change will happen, or are happening; their advent is only a matter of time.

And perhaps our current anticipation of future change is a generational marker in an of itself. Perhaps historians in the future will look back and say, in the 21st century, humans for the first time were able to predict accurately futures that hadn't happened yet.  Perhaps that will be a great marker in human time.  We take our forward-looking for granted, but relatively it is a very, very recent phenomenon. These are the first generations looking forward and backward at the same time, but for the first time perhaps in human history, more focused on the future. Today we expect the world to be turned upside-down. We are the first generations to anticipate our own obsolescence.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Galeotti on Putin's preparations to stay in power forever

Prof. Mark Galeotti -- in Moscow! -- is brilliant on how an ageing, increasingly isolated, paranoid dictator with no way out except jail or the morgue is consolidating police-spy power around himself, and substituting regular army troops for expendable mercenaries, as Putin prepares his gov't. to overreact and "break heads" to head off any popular riots -- a Russian Maidan. Will the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution be the trigger?
And there's the truism that Western observers always have trouble with, yet Galeotti oft repeats: In Russia, money is a "symptom" of power, not vice-versa like in the neoliberal West. In Russia money could be gone tomorrow; whereas power can get money or whatever money can buy whenever it wants. So Russia is beyond oligarchy. It's hard for us Westerners to conceptualize.
Everyday Russians expect their leaders to be corrupt, Galeotti argues, therefore, the Panama Papers were a big yawn for Russians. It's the corruption "in their face" that bothers everyday Russians. And so for now Russians don't make the connection between everyday corruption and Putin's regime. For now.

War College
By Jason Fields
Reuters | April, 29, 2016

Monday, April 4, 2016

Is the U.S. alone against ISIS?

This old semi-satirical article from The Atlantic disturbed me:

Defeating ISIS: The Board Game

I read this and ask myself, who is our ally against ISIS?  Nobody.

(Granted, this was before Russia entered the picture; but it's surprising how little Russia changed things in the regional calculus).

This started by asking myself, why is our #1 ally in the Mideast, "the only democracy in the Middle East," Israel, not helping us against ISIS, at least not openly?  I read the news; I read nothing about Israel in the fight against ISIS.

This thought alone disturbs me.

It disturbs me even more that countries in the region don't see ISIS as the biggest threat, but rather their neighbors, or homegrown groups.  Or the Kurds, whom Russia and the U.S. love to love but can't really support too much, because of Turkey.

What disturbs me the most, I guess, is that the world's #1 military power seems to care a lot about ISIS while all the countries where ISIS actually exists don't seem particularly bothered by it.  

It bothers me when I'm feeling manipulated. I don't like being jerked around. I think that's what's going on with ISIS.

THUNDERCLAP! Fox acknowledges class struggle

Without a moment's pause for reflection, Donald Trump has done a cannonball into the cesspool of U.S. neoliberal consensus politics. He's upset the still, fetid waters with his bloated, self-unaware orange corpus and in reaction conventional politicians and pundits are floundering, saying and doing things you would never see or hear them do otherwise, when everybody sticks to the script.

Such was the case yesterday with far-right political pundit Charles Krauthammer on the O'Reilly Factor.

Mark this moment: tried-and-true conservative Charles Krauthammer said that class and (lack of) education were central to Trump's appeal and the U.S. Presidential race.

He said, beautifully, that the GOP is already a party of whites, so Bill O'Reilly's adducing "white grievance" was irrelevant to the GOP primary contest.

Krauthammer said that Trump has tapped into something else.

If a Democrat would have said this on any other Monday, FOX would have shrieked "class warfare." But this was no ordinary Monday, no ordinary GOP primary. And sometimes, a little bit of the truth squirts out when you bite into a bullshit sandwich.


P.S. -- The bullshit bread of this truth sandwich was Krauthammer's assertion that we don't know how to address lack of education and opportunity in America. No, we know plenty. Just listen to Bernie Sanders. Step 1: Educate, train and heal American workers without putting them into a lifetime of debt. Step 2: Stop giving tax breaks and trade deals to multinational corporations (MNCs) that are nominally American yet do most of their production, and pay most of their taxes, overseas, and then "import" their products into America. Yeah, I'm talking about you, Apple.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Fox's ideas on fighting terror are a distinction without a difference

I'm going to quote FoxNews "security analyst" K.T. McFarland at length, with my comments, on her prescriptions for fighting violent Islamists... THINGS THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION IS LARGELY ALREADY DOING:

KTM: "An economic component that bankrupts radical jihad by cutting off their oil revenues  - attacking their oil fields, refineries and tankers  -- while we also develop our own resources to be energy independent of Arab oil."

Me: The U.S. is already energy independent, thanks to Obama's relaxing rules on fracking. We have so much U.S. oil -- and that's a mixed blessing, if you read the WSJ or Bloomberg -- that Obama even ended the long-time ban on exporting U.S. oil.  ISIS does control oil fields in Syria, but they sell it all on the black market, and we are already bombing them. 

KTM: "A banking component that uses the US primacy in international banking and finance to freeze out any country or company that does business with radical Islamists from ISIS to Boko Haram."

Me: Ditto the above.  I'm sure we could do more to root out the middle men trading ISIS's oil, (cough! Turkey!) but again, it's not like ISIS is trading oil on the world futures market.

KTM: "An alliance component that draws together moderate Muslims into an alliance against radical Islam.  If they’re reluctant to join an anti-Islamist alliance, we should let them know they shouldn’t come running to us if things don’t work out.   We should call them out if they have some in their inner circles that play both sides.  

"And we may have to hold our noses and partner with countries we do not always approve of, as we did during World War II."

Me:  Who are the moderate Muslim countries that have the capacity to fight ISIS?  I can think of only one: Turkey.  Saudi Arabia has the capacity but it is not a moderate Muslim country.  The Kurds are everybody's favorite moderate Muslims but they don't have their own state; and moderate ally #1, Turkey, will not allow the Kurds to form their own state. 

KTM: "An anti-hostage component – we will not negotiate, exchange prisoners with nor pay ransom to terrorists. If you take our people hostage, we will turn the tables on you and put a very large bounty on your heads. We promise to hunt down kill anyone who kills our citizens, no matter now long it takes."

Me: Who's the greatest terrorist hunter of all time?  President Barack Obama.  Indeed, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg just revealed that, "killing the so-called caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is one of the top goals of the American national-security apparatus in Obama’s last year." 

And that's not an empty threat, coming from the guy who killed bin Laden and most of Al Qaeda's senior leadership during his term in office.

KTM: "A communications component which champions western values, like we had during WWII and the Cold War. Violent radical Jihad and western civilization are NOT morally equivalent.  No apology tour, no comparing the Crusades to ISIS.  Be proud of America or be quiet."

Me: Communications are a funny thing. Compel somebody to say something they don't believe -- good luck with that! -- and it comes across as lame.  And when the U.S. tries to do it ourselves -- and we do, assiduously -- the results are mixed, because we're even lamer, and nobody there trusts our motives.  The truth is that, in the age of social media and instant viral communication, it's very hard to shape the dialog, especially in a region we understand poorly.  Putin's Russia does the best job of it, with an army of paid trolls and bloggers, but what they mainly accomplish is sowing doubt in the concept of objective truth of events itself to create cover for Putin's maneuvers, not creating a new accepted truth.

KTM: " An Internet component that blocks their online recruiting and training efforts and uses metadata to track and destroy terrorist leaders."

Me: This sounds a lot like more cyber spying.  And who's the greatest cyber spy of all time?  Again, President Obama. 

KTM: "A religious and ideological component which applauds moderate Muslim leaders – like Egyptian President Sisi and the Grand Imam of Al Ahzar Mosque- who speak out against radical Islam."

Me: Ouch.  Egyptian President Sisi is now widely regarded in Egypt and the region as a worse tyrant than President Mubarak.  He doesn't "speak out" against radical Islam, he jails, tortures and kills anybody suspected of associations with such.  That's not exactly clean and neat, and certainly not representative of traditional American values.  Nevertheless... who is Sisi's greatest patron?  Again, President Obama.

KTM: "And finally, a military component which does not, repeat does not, require thousands of American combat forces, but rather gives our allies every inducement and all the arm twisting necessary so they put their own boots on the ground.  And which supplies them with whatever they need to do the job."

Me: This is the only semi-novel and impactful recommendation of McFarland. She's basically saying, arm the Saudis and the Turks to fight our battles for us, because nobody else has the capacity even to accept such help.  Israel does but they don't want to get involved. (BTW, gee, isn't it funny that our bestest ally in the Mideast isn't helping us to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq?  Why is that??) But we have problems with Turkey (see: Kurds); and with Saudi Arabia, which spends millions of dollars all over the world promoting a radical Wahhabist version of Sunni Islam; and which is still more concerned with Iran than ISIS or Al Qaeda.

So in summary, McFarland's prescriptions on how to fight "global jihad" boil down to a distinction without a difference vis-a-vis current U.S. policy. The truth is, there is only so much the U.S. can do in the world, especially in the fractious and conflicted Arab Middle East, and even less our "allies" are willing to do, no matter what bribes or inducements we throw at them.

Finally, I've said it before, but comparing all of these people to the Nazis or the USSR, and saying we can copy-paste what we did in the 40's or the Cold War to defeat them is moronic, stupid, wrong, impractical...I just don't know how else to say it.  Political correctness has nothing to do with this fight either.  Whenever you hear somebody say any of this, know you're listening to an old fogey who doesn't understand "franchised" terrorism and the root of these many regional conflicts -- which have nothing to do with Islam, originally -- that create power vacuums and provide the perfect breeding ground for Islamist terrorism. 

Yes, America, it's war. Here's how we can stop losing and start winning
By K.T. McFarland
March 22, 2016 | FoxNews