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WWII: The Sequel

I haven’t been following the reboot of the Iraq War brought on by the ISIS atrocities.  For one thing, I don’t watch cable or network news so I missed the beheading videos.  Is it just me or should there be a law against showing that kind of thing on TV?  It feels like gratuitous snuff film porn for the purpose of horrifying people and stirring up strong emotional reactions.  I’m agin it.

I’m also against war in general but I’m not a pacifist or an isolationist.  I sat through a bajillion hours of The Last Lion, the biography of Winston Churchill and realize how dangerous pacifism and isolationism can be.  The peaceniks “at all costs” crowd are as unsettling to me as the Cheney types.  My attitude towards war is a Tolkienish one.  I don’t like it, don’t crave it, wouldn’t seek it out except for the protection of friends and innocents.

But there is a really good reason why the US can never be an isolationist country.  Going back to WWII, Churchill repeatedly threw the British Army (or what was left of it after Dunkirk) at different places in the Mediterranean and southeast asia for a purpose.  It was more than just a case of pestering Hitler like a biting sand fly.  And it did have something to do with the British Empire.  But more than that, he had to do it to maintain open sea lanes.  Take a look at the map below of the world’s chokepoints today:

If you follow the thickest blue line, you’ll notice that the most significant battles of WWII happened along it.  You can also see why the Axis came to be.  The countries that controlled the north Atlantic, Mediterranean and South China Seas pretty much ruled the world.  That big blue line represents the quickest route from East Asia to North America.  A vital choke point is right about where the Suez Canal is and what countries surround the entry and exit to the Suez Canal?  Egypt, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia.  If we follow the Red Sea southward, we see Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia. Then we swing around the Arabian Pennisula and into the Persian Gulf to Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and all that oil.

Like it or not, we are dependent on keeping those chokepoints open for international trade, not only for ourselves but for the rest of the world. It helps if the country in charge of patrolling the hot spots is above reproach.  Bush and Cheney kinda ruined our global reputation in that respect.  The rest of the world has to trust us to not act completely in our own best interests.

What Bush and Cheney did was take a giant dump in a very sensitive place.  And then they left a very naive but extremely cocky novice president to keep the place in order.  The naivety, coupled with an upcoming second term, caused a series of very bad decisions.  Pair that up with local instability in the region around the Suez Canal and you have our present situation.

There probably was a better time to intervene in Syria but in general, the region is always going to be a sensitive spot.  It’s geographically important, and you can bet the people who live there know it.  The Arab Spring might have been prompted by that realization.  We are probably never going to be able to completely reduce our presence there.  Our economy depends on keeping this chokepoint open.  Until we get rid of our dependence on foreign oil, we’re going to have to be there.  And even after we move on from sucking the mideast dry, that area is still the quickest way from point A to point B for many countries other than our own.

So, there’s my take on it.  We’re still fighting the world wars of the previous century and will be for the foreseeable future.  Obama was not thinking past his re-election and anyone who made their decision of presidential candidate in 2008 based on a war vote or promises to get out of Iraq wasn’t thinking it through to its logical conclusions.  It has always been clear to me that the president who took over from Bush/Cheney was going to have to make peace with the isolationists before he or she would ever make peace with the Iraqis and their neighbors.  It was never going to be simple or easy.  The best we could hope for was an uneasy status quo for a long time.

But somebody blew it and here we are.

Next time we elect a president, we might want to choose one who is explicit about these things.

One more thing: Considering what a sensitive area the Mediterranean is, you have to wonder why the ECB is being such a dick to Spain, Italy and Greece.

Lions, George Bush and Libya

I’m in the middle of the third part of The Last Lion:Winston Spencer Churchill.  Midway, actually.  Get it?  Ok, never mind.

Anyway, the third part is riveting.  No, seriously, I’m completely engrossed with the story of WWII.  I am my father’s daughter.  This part starts after Britain declares war on Germany and makes Churchill prime minister.  Churchill rallies the country with inspirational speeches and vows that Britain will not go down like Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and France.  Wait, was that everyone?  No, indeed, there was much more to come.  The Brits looked across the channel at all the carnage and slavery and starvation and brutality and decided they were going to gird their loins and tough it out.  Then came the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, The Blitz, the destruction of Coventry.  Thousands of British lives were lost in incendiary bombs during nights of terror while the country waited for the invasion they knew Germany was planning.  And then there was the British navy, number one in the world, being picked off boat by boat, ship by ship, in the north Atlantic by German U-boats, battleships and bombers.  The carnage was horrific.

Meanwhile, Churchill was on his own.  No other European country was going to come to his rescue.  After years of appeasement, the ability of the military to respond to German aggression was very weak.  The RAF had far fewer planes, the navy’s ships were old, the army’s tanks couldn’t compete with the German panzers.  Churchill begged the US to send whatever was mothballed from WWI.  He turned British bases in the Atlantic over to America in exchange for some old rust buckets.  It wasn’t enough.  He pleaded with Roosevelt for help.  Britain was having trouble feeding itself.  He warned FDR that America was next, that Germany and Italy would come for them eventually.  But FDR had his own band of isolationists to deal with.  They held our country hostage and prevented any useful aid from reaching Britain.  Lend-Lease was only partially successful and Britain nearly bankrupted itself trying to purchase food and materials to ramp up weapons production.

Then came a series of British military disasters.  They initially had success in North Africa, but lost momentum to Rommel in Libya.  The Brits promised to defend Greece but after Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite agreement with Germany and Italy, then had a coup in protest, it was invaded by Germany, which rolled right on thru to occupy Greece.  Once again, the Brits had to evacuate – to Crete.  In Crete, German paratroopers captured a British airbase.  The RAF didn’t have the means to defend itself.  It didn’t have any arms.  The Brits evacuated to Egypt.  It was one retreat after another.  Pearl Harbor came as a blessing.  Finally, another country was going to share the misery.  But once the US got involved, it quickly found that it was no better off than the British.  With decades of appeasers running the show, the US military also didn’t have the ships, arms or aircraft to put up much of a fight.  If the Japanese hadn’t thought they were so far ahead of the game that they could afford to take a break refit their ships, the US might have lost all of the ships we had in the Pacific.

In the first months of 1942, Churchill was called by the House of Commons to account for all the military disasters.  Crete and Greece were particularly grating.  The Greek campaign was seen as unnecessary, especially because it was a voluntary action and it was a total loss.  But Churchill pointed out that the purpose of the campaign was to show the world that Britain was not just a sitting duck, it would resist assimilation.  Also, there was that whole business of the eastern Mediterranean.  If the area wasn’t secured for sea traffic, oil from the Persian Gulf and other goods, would have to go around Africa to get to England.  THAT’s why the British were in Egypt, to keep an eye on the Suez Canal.  That’s why they wanted to keep Tobruk in Libya.  It was the safest natural harbor in the area for the British fleet.  That’s why the Germans were bombing the shit out of Malta.  That’s why Churchill was hoping that Stalin was ready to fight Hitler in Russia, so Germany wouldn’t capture Iraqi and Iranian oil fields. By the way,  how many of us knew that when the Japanese declared war on us, it effectively cut off our rubber supply from Malaysia and that our cars and other vehicles were impacted by the Japanese navy threatening the trade routes?  I didn’t know that until yesterday.

And he was pissed off that he had to report this crap to the House of Commons because all they needed to do was look at a fricking map for the past decade to see that these areas needed reinforcement and military strength.  But while he spent a decade as a ridiculed back bencher, running around with his hair on fire about the evil brewing in Germany, he had to put up with a lot of snooty appeasers who thought keeping the peace so commerce could proceed without interruption was more important than a raving lunatic and his band of thugs in Berlin.

The House of Commons still couldn’t understand the Greek thing though.  Why pursue a battle if you aren’t sure you’re going to win?  He replied that if you have to know in advance that a win is a certainty, you never get off your ass to become a real threat.

So, now we come to our own Libya.  And I look at the map of all of the choke points in the world now for international shipments of oil and grain and all kinds of stuff and it’s really not all that different today than it was in WWII.

 

It’s still the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, Singapore and the South China Sea, the Dardanelles.  We may all divinely wish that the world didn’t run on oil.  I certainly wish it.  But the powers that be are determined to keep us addicted and, let’s not kid ourselves, we haven’t really had a choice of president since 1996.  The election was stolen in 2000, probably 2004, certainly something went terribly wrong in 2008 and that led to 2012.  George Bush was a disaster for us.  The Iraq War was a disaster for us.  Afghanistan?  It started off well but quickly devolved.  We needed to go to Afghanistan.

And now we come to Libya.  Libya, the same damn place that was such a mess for the Brits in 1941.  There were probably a couple of reasons to do air strikes in Libya a couple of years ago.  The first may have been the oil.  I won’t deny it but I don’t know.  Yeah, oil is evil.  I think I’ve already mentioned that.  The second was to avoid a humanitarian crisis.  Qaddafi was going to scorch the earth.  And no, we can’t save the world.  It isn’t our jahb.  But I will remind the reader that in this case, the pre-WWII hypothesis of the military specialists was that air bombers were king. You get your best bang for your buck with a bomber.  That’s not necessarily the whole story.  It did eventually require a massive number of bodies thrown at Normandy to finally take Europe back.  But that was then and this is now.  Air strikes are incredibly effective and in Libya’s most recent case, it finished Qaddafi off.

Should we have not done it because there is now a bunch of Libyans fighting amongst themselves?  Should we only get involved if we know that people are going to not misbehave when we have our backs turned? I don’t know but I suspect that crazy dictators do not take you seriously if you don’t at least put up a fight to show that you mean business.  That doesn’t mean we should have gone to Iraq.  We shouldn’t have gone to Iraq because there was no reason besides greed to go to Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no WMDs.  And apparently, we learned our lesson back in 1941 and we are no longer lacking in military prowess.  No one is going to catch us without enough armament to turn any offending country into a glass parking lot if that’s what we want.  I just hope we don’t want.

Now our biggest problem is we are waging a different kind of war in the US.  The bad guys are so clever they ask us to disarm ourselves in completely different ways.  They are using our own safeguards against us.  I guess we can debate whether Libya was worth it or not.  Or we can pay better attention to the new dictators who are slipping in and taking over our country without shedding any blood at all.  Well, not yet anyway.

Our finest hour is coming.

 

What’s in my Instapaper queue?

It’s getting crowded in the Instapaper queue.  Time to clean it out.  This is what I’ve found interesting lately:

1.) The Dragons of Inaction is a 2011 paper from the journal American Psychologist listing the reasons behind the resistance to climate change claims.  As you may expect, resistance can be grouped into ideological and non-ideological causes.  One of the most interesting causes is mistrust.  We should expect that the people most likely to benefit from climate change denialism will play on trust issues in their target audience.  The conclusion section is light on recommendations but I thought it would be a good exercise to learn how the Fox News crew might put this information to use.

2.) An Ominous Health Care Ruling is the latest editorial by the NYTimes on the two Obamacare rulings yesterday regarding subsidies.  The editorial board is remarkably frank, given its boosterism for the ACA:

The 2-to-1 decision issued by the panel hinged on how to interpret language in the Affordable Care Act that most experts agree was poorly drafted and would ordinarily have been corrected by a Congressional conference committee. In this instance, there was no conference committee because the law was passed on a take-it-or-leave-it vote in the House to avoid a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

But then it reverts to form at the end by stating that regardless of what Congress did or didn’t do by rushing the bill through, the judiciary has a responsibility to not use ideology as an excuse to take subsidies away.  IMHO, the ACA perfectly demonstrates my former advanced inorganic chemistry prof’s saying, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” In other words, we are all potentially screwed by the effects of this bad legislation until Congress decides to do it over the right way.  When it has time.  And when it also has the rare astronomical convergence of a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, a majority in the House and a president in the White House who, you know, actually gives a crap.  Maybe some time next century. Maybe that was the plan.

3.) In A $650Million Donation to Psychiatric Research, we find research into the causes and a cure for bipolar disease funded by a billionaire with deep pockets who also has a son afflicted with the condition.  It’s great for people with bipolar spectrum disorder but not so great in that it takes a private person to fund it.  The reason so many pharmaceutical companies are pulling out of psychiatric research is that it’s incredibly expensive and there is an extra hurdle to jump when it comes to the brain.  It’s called the blood brain barrier and it gives drug designers and medicinal chemists fits because only compounds with certain physical properties can cross this barrier and they are devilishly hard to make and get approved.  So, you know, there’s not so much profit in it for Big Pharma.  And now we have to rely on billionaires with a personal stake.  {{sigh}}

By the way, the recipient of this largess, the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA, is primarily a computational biology outfit.  That will be very useful for tracking down the genetic causes and systems biology associated with bipolar spectrum disorder and schizophrenia but biologists don’t make the drugs.  That’s what medicinal chemists, structural biologists and drug designers are trained to do.  It will be curious to see going forward whether the Broad Instituts recruits more of these specialties or decides to farm them out.  Farming it out would be a mistake, I think, since project teams need to see the same material and work on it together.  On the other hand, if Broad doesn’t mind hiring modelers remotely, I am available.  😉

4.) The Atlantic posted an article on The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence.  In short, being acutely attuned to the emotional states of everyone around you might be great for salespeople but it sucks for people working in professions that require concentration and contemplation.  For the latter group, paying attention and kissing up to the people around you is a distraction.  The resulting effects on the working environment of those people expected to play the EQ game when they don’t have time for it are predictable. From the study cited in the article:

Cote’s team assessed how often the employees deliberately undermined their colleagues. The employees who engaged in the most harmful behaviors were Machiavellians with high emotional intelligence. They used their emotional skills to demean and embarrass their peers for personal gain.

Seen that happen with my own eyes.  Depressing but all too common, especially in the uber-competitive environments engineered by biz school grads and propagated throughout the industries they manage.

5.) The website, Ask the Headhunter, has a video for those of you who can’t get through the HR filters that you are required to navigate to apply for jobs.  If you are lucky enough to already have a job and haven’t been through this exercise in futility, it goes something like this: You see a job on a website for which you are (probably over)qualified and are directed to the company’s HR application system.  Then you spend hours per application uploading your resume and then reformatting it (god knows why the reformatting step is necessary but the OCR never gets it right.  Besides, didn’t you just upload a copy of your resume??).  Anyway, after you have edited and reformatted and written a brilliant cover letter telling the company all of the reasons why you would be more than perfect for the job, you never hear from them again.  Oh, sometimes you’ll get a form generated reply saying they received your information.

The truth is, there are filters that are set to weed people out and nobody knows what they are.  In some cases, the HR filter is set so unproductively that most applicants who qualify never make it to the resume review round.  That may be why so many employers whine they can’t get good help anymore.  If they would only hire people who could reset the filters for them they might get better candidates.  But to do that, they’d have to reset the filters themselves in the beginning and that takes vigilance, time and probably one FTE. It’s a vicious circle. Nick Corcodilos says to scrap the resume and don’t bother going through the HR application process.  The best way to get a job is to hang around people in your field or the area that you want to get into, and make connections.  In other words, you need to be a human with a face because HR filters do a lousy job of staffing and are probably not worth your time.

6.) Alistair McCauley reviewed the current production of the Bolshoi’s Swan Lake at Lincoln Center.  It’s not pretty but it is a fun read:

At the start of every dance, my heart would lift again, noting some marvelous feature of Bolshoi style. The communicative generosity of manner! The thick-cream legato flow and keen dynamic sense! The juicy red-meat richness of texture! The unaffectedly erect posture of the torsos and their gorgeous pliancy! The easy amplitude of line! The powerful sweep through space! Yet nothing availed. Each dance soon grew monotonous.

I can’t remember, is McCauley the critic who thinks all ballerinas could stand to lose a little weight?  Anyway, I’m not a fan of companies with a lugubrious ballet style.  Give me something livelier, and, er, probably not Swan Lake.

7.) I. Must. Have. This. Desk from CB2.  I am confident that my life and blogging will be improved by it.

And a heads up to you IKEA fans.  The 2015 Catalog is supposed to hit the interwebs tomorrow.  I can hardly wait!

8.) Finally, I am on the third part of the longest Audible book I have ever “read”.  It’s The Last Lion, a biography of Winston Churchill.  It’s excellent and probably more detailed than any biography has a right to be.  Highly recommended.  5 sponges.

So, I ran across a page on some of his predictions and inventions.  For example, did you know that Winston invented the tank and the onesie?  Ok, maybe not his finest hour.  But he was a great futurist.  Check it out.

The funny thing is, Churchill was never a great student but he had a formidable intellect.  He was definitely not Ivy League material in the most 2014 sense of the word.  That would have been a great loss for England if our current standards of performance were in effect then.  He might have ended up writing Op/Eds for WaPo and gone no further in life.

And here are a few Winston quotes for good measure:

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” (Sound familiar?)

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”

“It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

He made his share of mistakes and was on the wrong side of history as far as women’s suffrage was concerned (they turned out for him anyway).  He failed many times but he learned from his failures and he never surrendered.  Cool dude and an honest guy.  We need someone like him right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clarification and Meeting this morning on Women’s Reproductive Rights

The comment thread from the last post evolved into a discussion on whether the Democrats are going to try to ram another historic candidate down our throats in 2016 and whether her iconic status is sufficient reason to vote for her. The answer to that is yes and maybe.  I have a couple of things to say about this, assuming that you’re interested.

1.) You should only vote for the best candidate.  That candidate, in my humble opinion, should possess a combination of characteristics based on experience, knowledge, ability to convey his or her message and another quality that Winston Churchill was said to possess.  That is, a “built in gyroscope”, or a worldview that orients the bearer regardless of circumstances.  One might call it morality or ethics or scientific method or a mix of all of these things.  This quality may have something to do with the internal vs instrumental motivations that were described in a recent NYTimes Op/Ed.  In other words, ambition and desire for external rewards make a bad president if they are not balanced by an internal drive to shape the country to one’s worldview.  You can draw your own conclusions about what that says about our current resident of the oval office.

2.) I absolutely do believe that the country needs to elect a female as president.  That is because a woman will have a worldview that is distinct from her 40 something predecessors and this worldview is going to be important to the majority of the population of this country who also happen to be women. I think women have a right to demand this. However, we have seen from the present president that that might not mean diddly-squat without those internal motivations mentioned above.  It isn’t enough to want to be number one.  You need to have a plan for doing stuff once you get there.  So, once again, being a woman, though extremely desirable to about a zillion of us, is not the most important thing ever.  She has to want to be there for a very specific reason.

Now, I realize that there are people out there who could give a flying fig about the concerns of women and find it all a big yawn.  You know who you are.  And you don’t want to get pressured to vote for a woman like you were pressured to vote for Obama.  I completely understand the desire to not get pressured.  It’s like being forced to vote for homecoming queen because a certain clique of people have decided that they are going to pick the winner for you and they have some teachable, schlocky, sentimental rationale for doing it when really it all comes down to who their friends are or money or both.  I get that.  And Obama has not really improved the lives of African Americans so you have to wonder why he gets so much support from them and why he was sold as such a great civil rights leader and cherry on the top of the civil rights movement.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and, in my opinion, it wasn’t there.  What was there was a billion dollar Charlotte’s Web campaign.  Terrific pig, maybe, but not a terrific Martin Luther King Jr. whole hog.  Let’s not kid ourselves.

But your boredom with women candidates and their urgent concerns coupled with your insistence that a certain female candidate jump even higher bars than any other male candidate on earth has ever had to do just plain pisses me off.  And, frankly, I’m tired of hearing your lame excuses as to why you won’t vote for “that woman”.  Come to think of it, I might not vote for “that woman” either if she doesn’t turn her fricking gyroscope on soon and start making her worldview known, whether the masters of the universe like it or not.  But that’s not the point.  If it turns out that “that woman” is the absolute best candidate we have, I expect you to get behind her. Not because she is a woman but because you may not find anyone better, male or female, that is able to get close enough to the top to command the kind of money to actually, you know, run.

If you’re going to hold her to a particular vote, hold all of the candidates accountable for the same votes.  If you’re going to whine about campaign fund raising, do the same for all of the candidates.  If you’re going to expect certain levels and types of experience from her, expect it from all of the other candidates.  |female candidates| = |male candidates| Don’t single women politicians out for special expectations because that just comes off looking sexist and neanderthal and ornery and not worth any of my time to read about.  In short, stop being a jerk.

Ok, I’m done.  You get my point.  Don’t do it again.

***************************************

The Senate is holding a hearing on:

S.1696, The Women’s Health Protection Act

It starts in about 10 minutes.  Probably on C-Span.  I’ll link to it when I find it.  Could be interesting.

Update: Well, here’s the link.   Not sure when this is going to air.