Sunday, January 24, 2016

(Somewhat) Current Events

The "Alien vs. Predator"  Kind
What to do when both choices are bad ones?  Let's examine a few recent cases, looking for strategies, winners and losers.

As an intro, "Alien vs. Predator" is a classic action picture concept in which the humans' best strategy is as a bystander, letting the two types of evil extraterrestrials destroy each other. Another type from popular culture is the "Kobayashi Maru", from the Star Trek series, in which any strategy you choose is a loser (Captain Kirk beat it by hacking the simulator and changing the rules)--it was designed to measure the type of response rather than the outcome.  Some religious folks have suggested that is how our God works, when asked to explain his mysterious behavior.  "Morton's Fork" is the term used to describe the situation in which, whatever your choice, the outcome is the same.

Then there are those which only seem to be lose-lose choices, but are really not. For example, Bush v. Gore, from the Naderites' point of view; Sanders vs. Clinton (which kind of win do you prefer?);  the Ukraine government vs. the Putinite rebels (false equivalence), and then, that ridiculous notion for a movie, "Superman vs. Batman" (you know they will work it out in the end).

Now we can examine some true lose-lose cases. "Between a rock and a hard place" was the classic American cliche for this situation, but the bad choices involving "Iraq" have made that a bad journalistic staple, though I really haven't heard ISIS' dilemma--of being "between Iraq and Assad"--described in those precise terms, attractive and alliterative as that seems.  Let's shift our geography just slightly: 

Iran vs. Saudi Arabia - As if things in the Middle East were not going badly enough, the rivalry between the the central nations of the Shiite world and the Sunni world heated up in recent days. Already proxy forces from the two battle for control of Yemen and in Syria (the Saudis providing various support to any Sunni forces fighting the Assad regime, while the Iranians back Assad); there were hard feelings in Iran when a crowd stampede during the haj in Mecca ended up with a disproportioate share of Iranians among the casualties.

A recent political escalation was caused by a more intentional provocation from Saudi Arabia.  Among a group of convicted criminals and terrorists executed together was a dissident Shiite Saudi priest, Sheikh al Nimr.  His crimies were political ones--wishing ill for the the Saudi monarchy, advocating resistance--thoughfrom what I have read, apparently not actively advocating violence. A riot ensued in Tehran, and the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital was set ablaze.  Unlike 1979, though, the Iranian leaders did not endorse the violation of diplomatic norms.The US wisely is urging restraint on both sides; we don’t need to get choose sides there, or in Yemen, and open conflict between the two would be unhelpful.  A distraction that came up since then was a small US Navy’s ship that accidentally drifted into Iranian waters.  Iran captured them, then released them the next day.  Our improved relations with Iran, stemming from the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, no doubt contributed to the moderate forces there having the upper hand and this remaining a minor incident.

Trump vs. Cruz - None of the current Republican state polls have anyone besides these two in the lead, which suggests that, as things stand, they may be able to emerge quickly as the only possible choices for the nomination.  I don’t have much of a dog in this hunt, but there are several candidates running on the Republican side who would be far preferable to either of them, so I just urge those others, who are firmly opposed to those two, and not just because they want to win themselves, to figure out a path toward uniting behind an alternative, and soon.  Otherwise, recall Paul Simon's words in "Mrs. Robinson":  "Going to the candidates' debate/ Laugh about it  shout about it/ When you've got to choose/ Anyway you look at it you lose."

Assad vs. Daesh+ - Syria is being destroyed, city by city, province by province.  Those areas which seem safe now will not be safe in the future.  The autocratic minority regime of Assad suppressed dissent during the Arab Spring with violence, thus starting the civil war there.  Daesh rose from rejection of Assad, and from Shiite government repression of Sunnis in Iraq, and advanced through filling a vacuum of legitimate control in areas in those countries and imposed its own local rule.   Though it may trace its rise from legitimate offenses, Daesh’s barbarism rivals Assad’s.  Unfortunately, the track record in this civil war of third forces in the country is generally unsuccessful.  It seems that anything that we can do to weaken Daesh will help Assad, and removing Assad would only increase the level of anarchy.  

A difficult problem, and one the US can not solve by itself.  The strategy of containing Daesh, systematically defeating it with a coalition of forces is slow but will be effective—unlike some other terroristic forces, the fact their strategy relies on holding territory makes them more identifiable targets.  At the same time, though, Assad’s regime can not be allowed back into liberated areas, and the US can lead diplomatic efforts to remove international support for the Assad regime, currently being propped up by Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah forces, Without that support, it will fall. 

Bengals vs. Steelers –Not the same level of significance, by any means, but the wild-card game illustrated some of the big problems with our nation’s favorite sport. As the game built toward its climax, one could see the frustrations mounting on both sides, with rules interpretations that allowed blind hits and gang-tackles that allow “fumbles’ to be created by ripping the ball from defenseless players. Unfortunately, players ready to explode remained on the field, and coaches got involved, too. It was an ugly game, a plague on both their houses, though in the end there was a winner—who should not have won—and a loser—who deserved to lose.

North Korea's New Nuke
On January 5, North Korea announced that it had detonated a thermonuclear weapon.  It was an announcement and action that probably were predictable, as their policy is, when they are not being noticed sufficiently, to do something dangerous to remind everyone how bad they are.  Also, it was apparently the birthday of their young, erratic President.

On the online odds site in which I participate, the market had been posed whether North Korea would detonate a thermonuclear device by the end of 2016.  The price of this market shot up overnight from about 10-15 cents (on 100) to the 60's and 70's, as it seemed like the answer to that question had been answered affirmatively.  However, the questions arose very quickly, because the rules of the market specify that the "thermonuclear" nature of the device need be confirmed by the Comprehensive Test Ban monitoring organization.  The seismic readings for the shock wave of the detonation--which did occur--were too low for the standard of most hydrogen bombs.  So, the value of the market did not go to maximum, but remained open and returned toward the same low level in the days following. 

What is the moral of the story?  North Korea will remain a dangerous nuisance, even a menace.  We can not expect China to restrain them effectively; only the deterrent that the US presents can prevent nations like Japan and South Korea from needing to develop their own nuclear weapons.  The Middle East may be a total calamity, but the threat to world peace presented by this regime is unsurpassed anywhere.  And that is what they wanted to remind us.

The Malheur National Wildlife Refugees
Leaving aside the question of the lawlessness of the Bundy family and their followers, the armed libertarian types occupying a rural Federal property in Oregon--a wildlife refuge building--are wrong on the fundamental question.  They seem to believe that the Federal government, which has legal title to the land, is unfair in charging ranchers for permits to graze on the land.  The fact is that Federal policy has subsidized this "free range" grazing for decades.

The correct strategy is to besiege the protest without creating a violent confrontation--at some point, no one should be allowed in or out (especially journalists providing the group with free publicity). Eventually they will give up.

El Corrido del Chapo Guzman
The capture of the leader of the Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel could eclipse Cosby as the 24/7 criminal justice story of the year.  Guzman will have the best lawyers fighting extradition to the US; it is a proven fact that he can corrupt the Mexican prison system and they can not hold him or disrupt his activity while under their roof.  So, I think it makes sense for the Mexican government to do its part to send him to the US, as it has indicated it will do, and for the US to pursue it.

I don't think the Sean Penn interview had anything to do with his capture; and his story was upstaged by it.  It may be that Guzman wanted to codify his status as a folk legend, as there are reports he had begun discussions about making a movie, and that the interception of those gave the Mexican authoritites clues as to his whereabouts after his last, audacious escape from prison.

+I'm switching over from calling the terror would-be state "ISIS"--which I liked because it is also the name of a pagan (Egyption/Babylonian) god--to "Daesh", which comes from the initials in Arabic of the group.  For some reason this bothers them even more, so I will adopt it until I hear otherwise.

1 comment:

Chin Shih Tang said...

On the "Trump vs. Cruz" dilemma, after much thought I have concluded there is a clear choice for Republican establishment types. Not Marco Rubio--an immature rube, and nearly as extreme as Cruz; nor Christie--failed governor, Jeb!--the world just doesn't need more Bushite misrule, nor Fiorina...

John Kasich is the guy they should all rally behind. He makes the most sense in debates, he is not Jon Huntsman, he is a successful governor from a critical swing state. If he can muster a third-place finish in New Hampshire, the above-named (except Rubio) would do well to drop out and support him. Then, Kasich can offer a hypothetical future job as VP (if he wins the nomination and the election) to young Rubio, who will need a high-profile job come next January (since he's given up his Senate seat, which he didn't appear to appreciate anyway).

Just saying...