Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Nick Denton has an interesting question for neocon imperialists. Why can't they leave well alone and let the world sort itself out? Wouldn't that actually be the right "laissez fair" response?

But a cynic might think that the failure of the US political class to come to the same compelling conclusion is suggestive that the premises are wrong. Nick trusts "in the inexorable advance of liberal capitalism, [and holds] the United States to be the foremost force for good"

But suppose this isn't true. Suppose that the US is just a big country (with a big economy) that got lucky. It was the first big country to get the benefit of the explosive economic growth of industrialization. And the winner-takes-all effect of power laws in scale-free networks (like the capitalist economy), means once it was there, it retained the advantage.

Perhaps it's this mere first mover advantage, and nothing to do with liberal economics, the political system, constitution or entrepreneurial spirit that keeps the US afloat. Why isn't this outrageously heavily indebted nation a basket case like Argentina? Because foreign investors trust it's currency. But that trust doesn't need to reflect a deep faith in America and it's values by the rest of the world. What other currency could you keep your money in?

The dollar only has to be safer than the next most stable currency by an
infinitessimal margin to make investing in theUS the sensible strategy. And from then on, positive feedback kicks. Each investment link of trust makes the currency seem more attractive to the next potential investor.

We know that positive feedback plays a significant role in investment in stocks. It's why we get bubbles and spectactular collapses. We have no real reason to suppose that dealers in currencies are wiser than investors in companies. Both are making short term bets that the
thing they invest in will increase, or at least hold, long enough for their purpose. But they seldom look deep into the black box. Relability is guaged, instead, by observing what everyone else does. In this situation trust in the US system could be as baseless as trust in Enron.

You : Right, yeah! That's why the US economy has been the most dynamic and productive for the last century. Any reason to think that would-be rivals like Japan, Europe with consistently lower growth rates and longer, deeper recessions, have any kind of genuinely better economic system which would prevail if only the US didn't have first mover advantage?

Me : None whatsoever. But how this works, see, is like this. I've just dreamed up a fairly wild alternative conjecture to explain the
success of the US. I don't know if it's true or not, but it might be. Just in case anyone lacked the imagination to see that there could be an alternative explanation.

So now things get messy. The only way to decide between these two rival hypotheses is to start looking for some kind of more detailed descriptions of the claims being made; what kind of empirical evidence is available, and how we should weigh it up etc. I hope you'll debate this by adding comments, suggesting evidence etc.

Ross Mayfield on the culture at Google

Very distributed, small scale teams, co-ordination through light weight social software.

Monday, April 28, 2003

What did the original “Washington consensus” really mean? Not what is often claimed by its critics, for whom it quickly became a synonym for the “neo-liberal” (more accurately, neo-conservative) agenda of the governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Mr Williamson points out that his original article was “a reporting job” rather than a manifesto, in which he tried to sum up ... in a 10-point list a reform agenda that was emerging among Latin American policymakers.

His list did not include monetarism, supply-side economics, or a minimal state. What it did comprise, in summary, was fiscal and monetary discipline, opening up to foreign trade and investment, and large-scale privatisation and deregulation.

Economist via Brad DeLong
Interesting discussion on possibility of US planting evidence of WMD in Iraq. I still think they won't. It isn't necessary. But this article has some interesting past cases where the US did fake evidence to justify it's actions against foreign countries.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Chavez tries to turn Venezuelan oil industry into a vehicle for redistribution of wealth.

A semi-sympathetic article

This may be a disaster. A killing of the goose which lays the golden eggs as the government mismanages the company to death by slashing investment and talent. Or it may achieve some valuable redistribution and worthwhile reforms.

Worth keeping an eye on to see how this progresses.

I recommend all of this week's Doonesbury

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Ward Cunningham's weblog (via Joi)
Essential Greg Palast

Q: What does it take for a complete blackout of like the one we're getting on, say, the U.S. spying on the United Nations delegates?

A: Official denial. American newspaper reporters and outlets will not run a story which has undercover information which is officially stone-blank denied. Now that story, for example, of spying on the U.N., that's my newspaper by the way, The Observer, and those are my friends -- who are now, by the way, facing jail time for that story, under the Official Secrets Act ...

If I printed everything I wanted, if I printed the American edition in Britain, I would be jailed. One of my sources has already spent six months in jail. It's just horrendous without a First Amendment. I mean, unfortunately we in the U.S. don't use our First Amendment. Like I say, if Britain needs a First Amendment they can use ours because we're not. It's a nightmare in both countries. There, the nightmare is the law. There, editors are afraid, justly afraid, of the law. Here, editors are afraid of their shadows. As I say, Bob Woodward, editor of the Washington Post, would never run the Watergate story today. It was an unnamable source versus an official denial. He would not run it now. No way. And that's why I'm "in exile."

And where is Norman anyway?

... the other is Norman Schwarzkopf. You have to understand that after Gulf War One, the Bush family cashed in like crazy, and Schwarzkopf said we didn't send half a million kids into the desert so the Bush family could cash in. And you hear how much he's been out front now, right? You'd think they would wheel out their big hero.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Nick Denton is in Brazil

He says Baghdad ... all seems very far away.

But actually, here's how it's going down in South America.

The Israel of South America is Columbia. A state which the US pumps large amounts of money and military aid into. Ostensibly this is part of the War on Drugs (Columbia's coke == Iraq's chemical weapons, dealers == terrorist delivery system.)

The Palestinians / "bad guy terrorists" are FARC, the old style leftist guerrilla movement who still control territory (where of course, all the coke is allegedly grown)

The oil is next door in Venezuela. Currently under control of Hugo Chavez. Chavez is no Saddam Hussain but he has had the audacity to inspire militancy in Opec and nationalize the oil company. That was enough for the US to try a regime change when the CIA backed an attempted coup.

The US probably thinks it can wait for Chavez to lose in the next elections, but is hedging it's bets by building up a military presence on the border in Columbia and building military bases in Brazil. These are very unpopular with the population here (in Brazil) , but the new government hasn't decided what to do about them. Lula is torn between Blairism : slick, media-friendly presentation, some minor reforms and big symbolic campaigns like his war against hunger (Fome); and a more traditional latin American inspiration from Chavez and Castro. At the moment he's steering a course between the two.

He brought in the US as a "friend of Venezuela" to help negotiations between Chavez and the strikers, but on the other hand he refused to declare FARC a terrorist organization banned from Brazil. He allows the Americans to have their base here (so far); but refused to support the war in Iraq.

Latin America is far more sensitive to US imperialism than the anglosphere or Europe. Chile, Argentina and Brazil have all had US backed rightwing military dictatorships within the last 30 years. (Remember that the US even tried to stop Britain going to war against the Argentinian Junta) So anti US feeling and cynicism is high. And Lula, a veteran of the anti-dictatorship movement is likely to be wary of US influence. On the other hand, the country is in hock to the IMF, and most believe that keeping the US sweet is essential to keeping the IMF credit line open. And if they don't ... well Argentina is a good lesson in not pissing off the IMF.

Brazil also has a growing oil industry in Rio and will allegedly be self-sufficent in oil within about 5 years. But it has an exploding drug trafficking problem in Rio too. The organized gangs have brought a large number of weapons into the city, which now has a mortality rate higher than Palestine! And they are increasingly coming into violent conflict with the police and authorities. Roughly once a month, as a show of strength, they shut down the city by threatening to kill any shopkeeper who opens shop, and taking out public transport with rockets. The Brazilian government responds with martial control, and the army on the streets.

How does this play out? South America is very different from the middle east and asia but some similar forces are at work. The war on drugs is as vacuous as the war on terrorism, and leads to the same category mistake of trying to use war against the governments of states rather than police work against networks of criminals within states.

Furthermore, the war on drugs has been spectacularly unsuccessful in anything other than moving weapons into the war zone and the hands of wealthy drug gangs. It's so unsuccessful that it raises the suspicion that that's actually what suits the US. In the short term it gives the US an excuse to extend it's power in the area : by selling miltary support to friendly governments, and making war against unfriendly ones.

In the long term, as with Afghanistan, countries are torn apart by civil war, they become candidates for invasion and reconstruction with pro-US governments. It also doesn't hurt the imperialists' aims that most of the population of the countries experiencing this, are so pissed off with the US, that they have long since become anti-American and therefore (incomprehensibly to the wide-eyed American public) hostile "potential dangers" to the US; and must therefore be repressed in the name of self defence.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Many on the left will say this is the wrong time for leftists who oppose the embargo and even worse military invasion as a wrong-headed approach to dealing with Castro's regime. I disagree. I think this is exactly the right time for the Left to act in solidarity with the Cuban people in defense of both democracy and social justice in that country. We should not force dissidents to choose between Bush's rightwing capitalist militarism and Castro's authoritarian repressive social justice policies. This is a call for leftist activists to standup for both social justice and human rights against militarists and authoritarians of all persuasions.

Nathan Newman :

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Currency boycott as a protest

Signed up for BlogWise.

Another blog directory. But maybe it's good to get into a network early if winner-takes-all power laws are the rule around here.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Apple may buy Universal Music

Interesting. To make it's catalogue available online? Don't think they'd give it away for nothing. So either they have a strategy for selling it with some kind of DRM or they think it can stimulate hardware sales. Some proprietory file format which can only be played on iPod?

Surely Apple are too smart to do the really dumb things. So what have they got up their sleeves?

More wondering here
I notice that the Iraq Civilian death count is almost up to 1400 since I last checked. As the war seems to be over I hope this increase is news trickling in, or is it more people being killed in ongoing fighting?

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Qualifying "neocon bastards" below.

Q : Hey Phil, that's a bit strong isn't it?

A : Well, I'm very happy the Iraqis are free of Saddam. In particular, I'm happy it didn't turn into the bloodbath it could have.

But I don't for a moment believe that the neocons went to war against Saddam to save the Iraqis from torture. Sure, it helps them feel good about themselves. Sure it's great media. But that's just a bonus. It wasn't the motive.

Q : C'mon, on what evidence?

A : Well, I reckon these are pretty much the same people who under Raegan sponsored the Contra terrorists in Niceragua who often used barabaric torture methods. I never heard a neocon hawk renounce that. They're still supporting right wing thugs in Columbia.

Q : That's just the "why Iraq, not somewhere else?" argument.

A : No. I accept somewhere has to be first if you are on a crusade against evil dictators. (And maybe Blair, for example, is.)

No, this is about those people who are still supporting torturers, when it's in the interest of the American empire.

Iraq teaches everyone that having nukes is the only thing that deters the US. What should be done about N. Korea?

The obvious thing is that this is for China and S. Korea to sort out between them. Western powers should be encouraging China and S. Korea to work together on this. China is the only country with any influence over the N. Korean government. And, re-unification with the south is the most attractive option for most Northerners. Between them they can probably encourage a diplomatic opening.

China can show the north how to incorporate quite a lot of a capitalist economy without losing political control. A more open, capitalist north would want to re-unify with, and learn from the south, the way China wanted Hong Kong. And the south, without excessive US pressure, would be tempted.

But the prospect is deeply scary to the US imperialists. Suppose North and South Korea come to an agreement to unify, but keep the nukes? A unified Korea with the economic strength of the south and the military strength of the north would be a serious contender on the international stage. It could play the same role of attendant to China's growing superpower status, as the UK or Europe does to the US. Japan would fall further within this sphere of influence. (The equivalent of Germany in Europe?)

And it's likely that a revitalized East would want the US out ... of Japan, of Taiwan, of S. Korea.

So my bet is that the imperialists don't want this solution to the North Korea problem.

Testable Predictions :

Expect to see US pressure on the south Koreans not to build too many diplomatic bridges to the north. Expect more military "investment" by the US in south Korea. Expect not much to be done about the north. A divided Korea is the key to preventing an Asian block.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

I notice Diesel Sweeties is evolving into Doonesbury

  • Indie Rock Pete == Mike
  • Metal Steve == Zonker
  • Maura == Boopsie

Other suggestions?
So, maybe ... maybe it's been a relatively easily won war after all.

And of course, armed resistance has collapsed. Military analysts will be studying for years the non-appearance of the Republican Guard, the vanishing Iraqi army, the lack of organised urban guerrilla warfare. Perhaps shock and awe had their effect after all.

Historian John Keegan, Defence Editor of the Daily Telegraph, concluded that there had not been a war at all as Iraq had not put up a fight.


And with only around a thousand civilians killed. Perhaps fewer than the regime would torture to death in a good year.

So am I switching to thinking that the war was a good thing all along? I'm going to remain open minded on that. We'll see how this plays out.

A new picture is emerging of Saddam. Not a dangerous monster, not someone on the verge of unleashing weapons of mass destruction, not an evil tactical genius with the skill or ability to turn Baghdad into a Beirut style death trap for the US army. Just a puffed up, nasty, and very stupid dictator. A fall guy for the US, too vain and dumb not to play that role. Then idly swatted, wiped out without the army even noticing.

I stand by the prediction that on the WMD front, it's likely the US / UK will find nothing more than some attempts to build fairly inneffective chemical and biological weapons. Nothing which posed a significant danger. And no nuclear weapons programme worth speaking of.

Some of my friends think that the US and UK will just fake the evidence. I don't think so. I think there'll be enough feel-good factor from happy Iraqis that they'll just run the bits of evidence they do find, and make a big noise about how significant it is. The supporters and media will accept that. Some radical anti-war and anti-american journalists will complain, but the details are too subtle for the news media to convey significantly. If they hear the word "anthrax", people will nod and accept that WMD have been found. I hope the blogosphere can track and fact check this.

Building a civil society in Iraq will be difficult. The idea of dividing it into Kurd, Suni and Shi'ite zones is relatively smart. The Kurds can be given elections early to demonstrate the good intentions of the occupiers; while the military government assesses whether the Shi'ites can be allowed democracy without voting in a pro-Iranian government.

If terrorism haunts the new Iraq, the US will blame it on Iran and Syria rather than disaffection of the Iraqis themselves. The more terror there is, the more it re-enforces the view that the problem resides in the rest of the Islamicist world; and that this needs to be dealt with too.

In other words, for all the hot air generated, the neocon bastards in the US government look like they might get away with it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Seb Paquet asks for ideas for swarms tackling real problems

Here's one I thought of a few weeks ago. As the war was gearing up in Iraq I started thinking about the following problem. Was it possible to solve the controversial question : is US agression towards Iraq motivated by oil?

I wondered whether some kind of smart mob could solve this through swarm statistics. Perhaps by collecting data about US military focus (either aggression or "friendly" military presence like US bases) on countries, and the estimated oil reserves of the country at the time.

Then to do some stats to see whether one is a significant predictor of the other. The smart mobbing would come in because the swarm would pool data, ideas as to what statistics to collect, actual number crunching, and would (constructively) criticise each model. Ideally it should include both those who believe that oil is and those who believe oil isn't, a factor.

My brother-in-law works in the oil industry and promised me some figures for the oil reserves of different countries, but I'm stumped for measures of US aggressivity / military presence. Any ideas? If I get a good one, I'll be tempted to start this.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Thursday, April 03, 2003

I'm taking part in today's Cyberhippie DDOS sit-in by trying to download the Uk prime-minister and US government's site thousands of times.

Cyber Hippies

Is this a good thing? Well, as I'm not in the UK at the moment I can't get to a UK demonstration against Blair. I could fax my MP but apparently, and weirdly, my hardcore Tory MP (Ainsworth) was againstthe war. Not sure what more I could ask of him.

It's distributed action, and it would be interesting to see how much affect it has. Of course, actually changing minds against the war, not much.

Had some more interesting correspondance with anonymous civil servant. Unfortunately I think I'm going to take until the weekend to organize an answer. Could be an essay in it though.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Trying to get the Second Superpower to put up a candidate in elections is so crazy it just might work

Jim Moore

But I have some suspicions. The second superpower has a lot of people. But currently elections are fought over geographically defined areas. The SS (hmmm. don't know if I entirely like that term) may be a minority within each. Does geography (community) based voting make sense now we're all network individualists?

Of course, we aren't really, yet. A short term solution might be for everyone who cares about an issue to virtually move into one place. And get their guy selected there.

Hey, if the UK anti-war movement all moved to Sedgefield we could vote out you know who.

War switchers ...

Apple has a campaign to highlight real people who switched from Windows to Mac. I'm looking for warbloggers who switched from supporting the war to criticising it once they realized it wasn't going to be a quick painless strike against Saddam.

Suggestions please ...

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

No doubt about it: Bush and Rumsfeld are done. They are toast.


But at least Blair's motives are not compromised. Like Kennedy he sees the role of power as being to work, sometimes, for nationally disinterested purposes. He's an internationalist visionary, albeit a naive one. He believes he was put on earth to make it a better place, in ways that have little to do with the power or riches of his own country.

This, however, makes him look the more forlorn. It marks one more divide between him and the mighty ally whose armed fig leaf he has allowed this country to become. He is tainted, much as he might dislike it, by American political strategies. Around the world, he is seen the way Bush's neocons are seen, even though many people, especially in Europe, are mystified about how and why he allowed this to happen. He has been sucked into their power games, their world view, and their grotesque insensitivity to the interests and judgments of other nations.

He has, maybe, one final chance to break free of this fealty. The next test is over who does construct the political authority in postwar Iraq. Blair believes, allegedly with passion, that it has to be the UN. Looking at the scale of the problem, most people would agree that internationalisation is the only way. Does our leader have the nerve to speak and vote with Kennedy, not Bush?

The Guardian

Photos from the first gulf war