danalwyn: (Default)
2017-08-29 09:08 pm
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I think I used to write on here

I think I used to write on here, largely about news and politics and things like that. But I haven't been, largely because news and politics is now in the streets and coming up the alley and being all in my business and so on, which explains my long absence.

It's odd to wake up and find yourself living too far in a story to turn back to the first page. Nothing to do, one expects, other than to muddle on.
danalwyn: (Default)
2016-06-25 09:08 am
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Brexit!

So now the post-Brexit stuff is going down. It's still very murky and unclear and about the only thing I can see a consensus on is that Cameron is a terrible politician. I mean, really. This is the second referendum he's mismanaged, and he can't even keep his own party in check. They may deserve their just desserts. The rest of the UK probably doesn't.

Presuming that Brexit doesn't simply die in committee or get set on fire or spontaneously combust in a second "Are-you-really-sure" referendum, the situation has become interesting to watch - from a distance. Things that were unthinkable a few weeks ago are now not only thinkable, but possible. That should worry the hell out of a lot of people, although everything is so far off that there's no point in worrying now. Still, for the sake of speculation, here's some ideas that have come up, which are fascinating in the 'unfolding trainwreck' way of things:

1) The Dissolution of the United Kingdom: One big argument for Scotland staying with the UK is that it would remain part of the EU (a new nation would not get that effect). But if the UK leaves, Scotland might choose to stay behind. That seems a reasonable outcome. Additionally, Northern Ireland is economically dependent on an open border with the Republic of Ireland. The Unification of Ireland would be interesting (and would hand an unprepared Republic of Ireland a smoldering fuse to put out). Wales might also do a bit better out of the UK, although it's unclear whether they'll make the jump.

2) The Disposition of the Expats: There are always a surprising number of British expats looking to spend their days in more southern and sunnier climes, often under the auspices of post-Schengen open border agreements. What happens to them post-Brexit? If the EU is feeling mean, they'll say that British citizens no longer have the right to live in Europe without a lot more paperwork, but the houses have to be taxed anyway. It's a good way to make some money for the countries involved, and it's not like the situation vis-a-vis Britain could be much worse.

3) The Free City of London: While we're carving up the British Empire, let's take it's most valuable part. London was definitely on the Remain side of the ledger. Its multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nature, its immigrant past, and the ties of its main financial industries to international markets make it a perfect candidate to be in the EU. If the departure descends into plebiscite hell, it would be interesting to see if London makes a break for city-state status. Southeastern England wouldn't be a huge country, but it would be bigger and richer than some similarly sized nations, like Austria. This is a catastrophic idea, but the fact that people are talking about it even in jest is an "interesting" development (as in the Chinese curse).

4) Learning to spell things without a u: The UK is no longer the world power it was last week. One of the UK's natural strengths was in its position in a series of alliances. Now its ties with the rest of Europe seem in tatters. The UK isn't on that good of speaking terms with most of its former (non-white) colonies. The only thing left to them is their "Special Relationship" with the US - which just got a lot less special because there's a lot less they can offer. This may look a lot more like a client relationship than an alliance if the UK can't recover some European ground, just due to the hostile climate they have created locally and the dependence that fosters on her remaining friends. That's okay. The US is always willing to step up. We'll soon teach the British not to stick 'u' in every possible word, and not to use words like 'lorry' that aren't in real English (American English), and how to provide soldiers for American interventions. Hey, maybe you'll even get to become a US state once London is gone!


Overall though, there are a few years left to shape this conversation. Don't worry about the catastrophes. The damage can still be contained. Or reversed. Or we get a do-over. This isn't just politics, this is history and history is never over.
danalwyn: (Default)
2016-03-05 12:11 pm
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The End of Another Era

So, Delmer Berg is dead.

I didn't actually know about Delmer Berg until this week, until he died, but he was the last survivor of the Abraham Lincoln brigade, and his death means that a strange but relevant portion of American history has slipped from living memory.

It's strange to look back at the 1930s and think that, at that time, both fascism and communism were seen as possibly viable successors to democracy. It is strange to remember that Americans of that time, in the throes of the great depression, amid the labor struggles and the struggles for survival that characterized the United States during the mid-30s, were so alarmed by the spread of fascism that some of them chose to volunteer to fight against the fascists in Spain.

The Spanish Civil War was an odd time. In our age of cynicism it is odd to think that people saw these new ideas in statecraft as representative of a golden future yet to come. But the Spanish Civil War became the flashpoint for conflict, attracting people of all ideological stripes to all sides. It draw not only on eAmerican laborers and activists, but also on foreign fascists, news reporters, and foreign authors like Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. It saw the final death of European anarchism, and the collapse of the League of Nations. It was an accurate prelude to World War II, a clash between German and Italian troops on one side, and Soviets on the other, through the crush of Spanish auxiliaries.

The Abraham Lincoln brigade fought for the Spanish Republic, despite the lack of support from anywhere else in the world for the survival of what began as a liberal democratic republic. They were not only committed ideologues, but also wanderers, vagabonds, troublemakers, and adventurers. Equipped by the Soviet Union (and only barely), and facing an increasingly well-equipped Nationalist force, they fought in the heart in the war. They were exposed to the fire of their enemies, and to the pettiness, capriciousness, and vindictiveness of their erstwhile Communist leaders. Some grew disillusioned, some reaffirmed their dedication to international worker solidarity, while perhaps growing apart from Stalinism.

The journey of adventurism and ideology, followed by hopeless battle and eventual disillusionment has uncomfortable parallels to the journey many volunteers for IS now undertake. It is also an uncomfortable reminder to the American Left that once the dedication to workers was so strong that people were willing to journey across the ocean and fight for worker's solidarity. And it's a reminder that people of all stripes are so caught up in the way they view the world that they are willing to cross it and risk death in order to protect their worldview. Sometimes they may even be right.

I can't say what good or ill came out of the Abraham Lincoln brigade, but they overcame terrible burdens and fought for an ideal of solidarity that many of us would choose to applaud against an enemy all of us would choose to loathe. For that they deserve to be remembered.
danalwyn: (Default)
2016-02-14 08:25 am
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Jiggery-Pokery

Goodbye Scalia, we hardly even knew ye.

I mean, you were around for a while, but your opinions, while strident, were so ideologically incoherent that we had a hard time figuring out what you actually stood for. Something to do with the constitution, we think, or your particular interpretation of it, unless it proved convenient to whoever you were angry at today.

So, who knows? His death leaves the court deadlocked (and Republicans threatening to block nominations), and reduces the vitriol per Supreme Court opinion by about ninety percent, and concentrates most of the burden of judicial incoherence in Clarence Thomas.

May he be replaced soon so we can get on with the damn business of running the country.
danalwyn: (Default)
2015-12-01 07:33 am
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Manliest of Men

So, it's been a while since Turkey shot down a Russian jet and nobody seems to have started World War III.

I'm hoping that this will disrupt the strange, peculiar, and in some cases almost homoerotic fascination that members of the American right have with Vladimir Putin as a strong, macho, manly man who doesn't take guff from anyone. For a man who is supposed to show no fear and whose tough use of force is supposed to make everyone else back down he's been putting on quite a show of nothing. Then again, when it comes to the Putin-fanboys in the Republican party making a sensible course correction, I'm not holding my breath. I suppose manly men never admit when they're wrong.
danalwyn: (Default)
2015-06-27 09:54 am
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Three decisions

While everyone is celebrating over Obergefell:

Held: The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State


one should also not forget Texas Department of Housing:

Held: Disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act.


and King:

Held: Section 36B’s tax credits are available to individuals in States that have a Federal Exchange.


It's been a banner week for the court, approving gay marriage, upholding the Fair Housing Act, and continuing the ACA. It's also been a terrible week for Scalia. That's okay too. If you drew a Venn Diagram of Major Court Opinions I Agree With, and Major Court Opinions Scalia Dissents On you would only have to draw one circle.
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-12-17 06:23 pm
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Rain Continues

The rain continues. There was a point where this itself was not particularly noticeable in the Bay Area, but after three years of drought, people notice. For one thing, they notice that they've forgotten how to drive in the rain.

Just as unsurprising, despite the fact that we've had probably half of our yearly average rainfall this early in the season, we still need a lot more to actually recover from three years of "hardly any". The best this is going to do is to stave off disaster for another year or two - which, hey, another year, but it's not like it got any easier to live in California. Worryingly, the snowpack is barely at half its usual depth.

People live here because it doesn't rain. Now it's gotten worse. We'll have to see what happens next.
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-10-15 09:59 pm
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Global Rebellion

It will surprise nobody who reads this journal to realize that I keep up a lot on current events, mostly those involving conflict.

In the aftermath of 9/11 one of the first questions America asked itself was "Why do they hate us?" A lot of answers came fast and furious, because of past events, because of religion, because of fundamentalism, but they were mostly wrong because this is the wrong question. As people became aware that the entire world was involved in a great clash that transcended a religious divide, a political divide, and even geographic divides. The world was, in its entirety, in struggle.

It is human nature to draw narrative out of a great panorama. A number of narratives have been drawn out of this one. One of my personal favorites is the idea that what you see throughout the world is a grand reaction to global inter-connection. On one side is a world where people communicate across the world at the drop of a hat via Skype and SMS and Twitter, where you can order something from a shop in China for delivery in Uganda; a place with a huge culture made up of common threads that pokes its sharp, pointy elbows into every available spot. On the other side lies a world of our fathers and grandfathers, or traditionalists and ancient cultures and a cycle of years that passes back centuries (nostalgic centuries of course, history is rarely so kind as to be comfortingly static).

It's hard to explain human nature, but that's never stopped me from pontificating before )
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-10-02 09:17 pm
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In Today's Example

So, people are bombing Iraq again. You might remember this from several previous incidents. We're doing the whole thing again.

As usual, it's not going to work. Or rather it's better to say that all it's going to do is provide some minor assistance to the folks on the ground. For an example, I turn to the BBC.

To summarize, two GR4 Tornado aircraft (each costing about $15 million by past accounts) flew about 920 km one way (you don't want to know what the gas bill is for that), piloted by pilots who need hundreds of hours of training in expensive simulators, cruised around a target zone for a time, hit a "heavy weapons" station (capabilities unknown), and then spotted an enemy technical (also known as a pickup truck with a gun on the back). They fired at least one Brimstone missile (estimated cost $240,000), and hit and destroyed a truck (probably a couple of thousand dollars even in the US) mounting what was probably something similar to a ZPU (a dual purpose anti-aircraft gun first manufactured by the Soviet Union back in 1949, and probably about the same cost as the truck).

The point is not that this didn't do anything. It probably killed someone if they didn't bail out. If there were Kurdish or Iraqi troops around, it reduced the immediate threat to them. If it was in the middle of a fierce battle, it opened a hole in a position and allowed the shape of combat to change rapidly. Soldiers pinned down could advance, perhaps catching ISIL off-guard. At the least they weren't being shot at quite as much, and that's always a good thing.

But if the truck was just sitting near a command post, it does very little. ISIL will get a new truck and a new gun (both readily available on the black market), and replace the driver. The coalition will run out of missiles due to budgetary concerns and aircraft from the wear and tear long before ISIL runs out of second-hand Toyota trucks.

So if the RAF drops a state-of-the-art missile on a truck in the middle of Iraq and no friendly troops are around to take advantage of the situation, does anybody care? Probably not.
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-10-02 09:59 am
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Well, that's that

Looks like CY Leung isn't going to resign, at least not easily. Best of luck to the Umbrella Revolution and Hong Kong today. Let's hope things go well.
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-07-18 08:50 pm
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Hey, People in Real Life are being Stupid!

So, first, a rant. I know it's a little Victim Blamey - but can't people at least think for a change? I know that you can go wherever you are legally allowed to be, but come on! You flew a giant passenger plane through an active combat zone. An active combat zone where not one, but several, planes were shot down during the preceding weeks. Yes, it still may have technically been an approved route, but why take chances? And yes, they shouldn't have shot down your plane, but why take that risk in the beginning?

That being over, here are the answers that I've come up with to some of the most popular questions regarding the crash - because I'm annoyed at the internet, as usual:

Questions and Answers )
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-07-09 08:46 am
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That doesn't look so clever now, does it?

The real stinger for Brazil is not that they screwed up in front of the whole world, it's that they paid $14 billion for the honor of screwing up in front of their own fans. Maybe they should have let someone else get that particular honor ...
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-05-23 08:44 pm

Quick Transcript: Post-Coup Press Conference

Transcript of the practice run for the press conference in commemoration of Thailand's twelfth coup.

Three Generals sit at a table in front of the cameras in pressed green uniforms. Respectively they are LEFT, RIGHT, and CENTER

Same old, same old )
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-04-16 06:09 pm
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So, To Specify

Perhaps to be specific, when I said there would be no war in Ukraine I should have said there will be no western war in Ukraine. Whether there will be a long drawn-out revolt and proggle in Eastern Ukraine is still up for debate, but the West seems particularly uninvolved. Perhaps luckily, for once nobody in the West seems too interested in fighting a war on Russia's doorstop. We may be happy to encourage the Ukrainians to fight one, but we're staying out of it - at least directly.

As to what the Ukrainians and the Russians do, well, that's largely up to them.
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-03-31 07:06 pm
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Is It Over Yet?

As befits the actual nature of the situation, it's now been several weeks and there's been no sign of war in Ukraine. In fact, things have gotten a little calmer, with the Russians deciding to withdraw a battalion of the 15th Motor Rifle brigade back to its home base.

The BBC article and every analyst in the world will tell you that this doesn't mean much. The Russians have about 40,000 troops surrounding Ukraine, and the withdrawal of the 500 or so troops in a motor rifle battalion isn't going to seriously affect the balance of combat power. It could just be that this was a group that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and hence got roped into standing guard while only half-ready for war. It could be just a standard bureaucratic shuffle given significance only by coincidence.

But it adds strength to the narrative - the threat of war is over. At least in Ukraine the standoff is getting less and less tense. Despite a lot of posturing, Crimea was an easy sell, and a place Russia already controlled. The early idea of a Russian army marching lengthwise across Ukraine, laying waste to the countryside and returning the country to Soviet rule, just hasn't been panning out. Nobody seems to want WWIII today. Of course the pundits will spin it all sorts of different ways, US strength, European weakness, Russian weakness, whatever, but the truth is probably closer to inertia. It takes a lot of effort to rock the boat in this day and age - and the Russians don't seem to want to expend that effort. Neither does anyone else. Easier to pretend it never happened.

Don't worry though, I'm sure the Koreans or the Nigerians will soon provide a new place for those who missed out on their war to be all worried about.
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-03-18 08:56 pm
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In Which I Am Wrong

So I have to admit, I didn't get Crimea right. I was betting on an independent quasi-Abkhazia in place of Crimea, a sort of Russian puppet state, not outright annexation. Annexation is a dangerous step, since it's the first outright annexation of a major territory by a larger country that I can remember since India and Sikkim, and with even less justification. It was peaceful at least, which means that things weren't terrible but it doesn't exactly set a good precedent for an uncertain future.

Not that this is necessarily bad for the West, or even for Ukraine, but it's certainly not a good thing. A return to land-grabbing power politics could make the next few years very interesting for Central Asia, where the borders aren't very clear, although in the end it probably sows the seeds of people's destruction. It's just not going to make this next year any more comfortable.
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-03-04 09:52 pm
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We're All Still Here

Apparently I'm in a Really, Really weird mood )

Sigh. I don't even know what I was trying to say, but I said it, and the world is probably poorer for the experience. It doesn't deserve me being grumpy at it tonight. I'll try and make it a better world ... tomorrow. I just hope it doesn't curse me in turn by making the Ukraine interesting again.
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-03-03 05:58 pm
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That Whole Crimea Thing...

Within twenty-four hours there may be a war in the Ukraine. Or there may not. It's hard to tell. At this point, most speculation is trash, and will rapidly become unhinged by events. What I have noticed is that, at least among the commentators I read, there is a fairly narrow window of possibilities to the only question that matters: How will this all end?

The Road We Might Take )

That being said, nobody really knows what's happening next. The current bet seems to be on some level of unpleasant, realpolitik sanity prevailing, but really? Sanity has usually been the first thing to go in these affairs, so hang onto your hats and don't trust in it too much. But still, so far Russia tries to keep things under control, so don't prepare for the end of the world quite yet.
danalwyn: (Default)
2014-02-13 07:07 pm
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First Russia, Then ...

So, looks like Russia isn't doing too well on that whole "Ready to host a major sports event" thing.

Anyone holding betting odds for Rio this summer?