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Monday, November 27, 2006

Rock Chalk!

Saturday night, Kansas beat #1 ranked Florida in basketball. It was a great game, especially for November, but the Las Vegas neutral court meant a very late start in the eastern time zone. I watched until nearly 1:30 in the morning.

Naturally, Kansas jumped in the rankings after the victory (to #5), but I'm somewhat surprised that they remain behind Florida (#4). After all, they did just play on a neutral court...

Hmmmm, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised.



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Sunday, November 26, 2006

007

"Casino Royale" has successfully revived the James Bond franchise. I really enjoyed the movie, even though the theme song was lame, Moneypenny and Q were AWOL, and the running time was a longish 144 minutes.

Not everyone appreciated the poker scenes, but I like to play (and sometimes watch) the game, so that part too was entertaining to me.

Eva Green's character was smarter than your average "Bond girl," which is a good thing, and Daniel Craig's Bond is the best since Sean Connery. He may prove to be better, but that debate cannot be resolved until he completes a couple more of these.

Thumbs up!


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Friday, November 24, 2006

Was Litvinenko a victim of terrorism?

The media has been focusing great attention on this story about former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. From the BBC:
Police probing the death of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko have found above normal levels of radiation at three locations in London.

Mr Litvinenko's death has been linked to the presence of a "major dose" of radioactive polonium-210 in his body.

Scotland Yard confirmed traces were also found at his home, a sushi bar and a hotel
From what I've seen on TV and in the American press, no one on this side of the Atlantic is discussing this as a suspected case of terrorism.

Yet British "anti-terror police" have been investigating the crime.

The following is from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, on a webpage called "Definitions of Terrorism." It addresses the well-known problem that "UN Member States still have no agreed-upon definition." Nonetheless look at this proposed definition:
4. Academic Consensus Definition:

"Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought" (Schmid, 1988).
Alexander Litvinenko's family apparently thinks that Russian President Vladimir Putin had the former spy assassinated. They released this statement purportedly from the diseased:
You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.

You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women.

You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.
If this crime fits within a pattern of violence designed to intimidate dissenters, then it would seem to qualify as an act of terror and not simply murder/assassination.


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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The dead

Thursday's Washington Post reports this very bad news:
The number of civilians killed in Iraq reached a record monthly high of 3,709 in October, mostly a result of sectarian violence, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.

The report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq described the many ways civilians have been killed, from roadside bombs to drive-by shootings to kidnappings. Many were found handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing. Most had gunshot wounds.
3700 in one month -- and that may be a conservative estimate!

Does anyone reading this blog think that the Bush administration would have been able to launch an invasion of Iraq without the 3000 victims of the 9/11 attacks?

Perhaps it is time to declare that "we" are even and that it is time to move on? I realize that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, making the entire bargain quite lopsided from their point of view. But since 9/11 was an important justification for US action, and still more US action is required to end the war, it seems like an appropriate way out too.


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Monday, November 20, 2006

What I didn't do this weekend

So why the light blogging, lately?

Well, it wasn't because I watched "the game." Yawn, football. This was interesting though.

Nor was I attending a wedding. Actually, I didn't go anywhere out of town. Sometimes, staying home is for the best, eh?

Locally, I didn't go to a comedy club, to a shopping mall, or to a basketball game. Did I really miss anything?

What do I have to say for myself then? Well, I started a good book, watched a decent video, and consumed some good BBQ.

I guess the holiday season has started.


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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Climate change update: November 2006

Kofi Annan is trying to go out with a bang.

Consider these strong statements from the UN Secretary-General`s "Address to the UN Climate Change Conference," Nairobi, Kenya, 15 November 2006:
Climate change is not just an environmental issue, as too many people still believe. It is an all-encompassing threat.

...Global climate change must take its place alongside those threats -- conflict, poverty, the proliferation of deadly weapons -- that have traditionally monopolized first-order political attention.
In the speech, Annan mentions the threats posed by climate c hange to human health, food and water supplies, coastal cities, and vital ecosystems. He added:
Climate change is also a threat to peace and security. Changing patterns of rainfall, for example, can heighten competition for resources, setting in motion potentially destabilizing tensions and migrations, especially in fragile states or volatile regions. There is evidence that some of this is already occurring; more could well be in the offing.
Framing environmental issues in terms of security threats may or may not be desirable, but many policy actors like Annan clearly believe it helps. Consider the repeated comparison to climate change risks and terrorism offered by various European and Canadian environmental ministers.

Finally, Annan had some strong words for the skeptics:
This is not science fiction. These are plausible scenarios, based on clear and rigorous scientific modelling. A few diehard sceptics continue to deny global warming¡± is taking place and trying to sow doubt. They should be seen for what they are: out of step, out of arguments and out of time. In fact, the scientific consensus is becoming not only more complete, but also more alarming. Many scientists long known for their caution are now saying that global warming trends are perilously close to a point of no return...

So let there be no more denial. Let no-one say we cannot afford to act. It is increasingly clear that it will cost far less to cut emissions now than to deal with the consequences later. And let there be no more talk of waiting until we know more. We know already that an economy based on high emissions is an uncontrolled experiment on the global climate.
Annan points out that voters could pressure political candidates to stake out positions and act upon this issue.

Despite some reasons for optimism about the US, I don't recall many politicians talking about this in the midterm election.


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Monday, November 13, 2006

Best in show

Across the river from Louisville, the Clarksville Little Theater is putting on a stage adaptation of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." There were several performances last weekend (I went to the Sunday matinee) and I understand that good tickets are still available for this Thursday, Friday or Saturday night.

The young girl who plays Scout* seems especially talented.

The theater seats more than 200 guests per performance, so this run will play to at least 1000 people even if the drama doesn't sell out most shows. That seems impressive to me.


Update: From critic Sherry Deatrick of the Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO):
"[Atticus] Finch’s daughter, Scout (Cate Payne), matures through watching the trial and its consequences.

Payne does a fine job with her difficult role."
Apparently, the review will appear in the issue dated November 15.

*Disclosure: she calls me Dad.


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Friday, November 10, 2006

Duck

Since Halloween, I've blogged the following at the Duck of Minerva:
  • November 3, "Film class -- week 11," about the brilliant dark comedy of the nuclear-age -- "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."
  • October 31, "How cool was that?" concerning political scientist John Mueller's appearance on "The Daily Show."
Thanks for reading.


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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rumsfeld fallout

Donald Rumsfeld might be out of the Pentagon, but that certainly does not mean that all of the organization's problems will disappear. The new Democratic Congress will want to ask potential successor Robert Gates hard questions about Iraq, the Pentagon's potential responses to Iran and North Korea, and other important matters.

Additionally, the new Congress may want to look into other personnel issues at the Pentagon as well. Just how many of the OSP-types survive?

This is a policy context, so the terminology does not quite match, but I am thinking of the potential "unindicted co-conspirators."


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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Results

You can get the news lots of places, so I won't try to report much.

At the party I attended tonight, the host cracked open some champagne and the entire group tosted when Anne Northup conceded to John Yarmuth. Disclosure: I gave Yarmuth a small amount of my cash this election cycle.

I'm also intrigued by the Virginia Senate race, where Democrat Jim Webb is winning by about 2200 votes with 99% counted. Unfortunately, it's not looking good for Claire McCaskill in Missouri, with two-thirds of the vote counted (50-46). Jon Tester is doing well in Montana (54-44), but only about 28% of the votes are counted.

Harold Ford is down 50,000 votes in Tennessee, so I'm not sure why the networks haven't called it yet. With 94% counted, there must be a lot of Democratic votes remaining (otherwise they would call it) -- but I'm skeptical.

A 50-50 Senate means Dick Cheney breaks the ties.


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Monday, November 06, 2006

Election predictions

I'm going to an election party tomorrow night (that's what Political Scientists do for fun) and am expected to weigh in on these races:
IN-09 Sodrel (R) Hill (D): Hill
KY-02 Lewis (R) Weaver (D): Lewis
KY-03 Northup (R) Yarmuth (D): Yarmuth
KY-04 Davis (R) Lucas (D): Lucas
AZ-Sen Kyl (R) Pederson (D): Kyl
CT-Sen Lieberman (I) Lamont (D): Lieberman
MO-Sen Talent (R) McCaskill (D): McCaskill
MT-Sen Burns (R) Tester (D): Tester
NJ-Sen Menendez (D) Kean (R): Menendez
OH-Sen DeWine (R) Brown (D): Brown
PA-Sen Santorum (R) Casey (D): Casey
RI-Sen Chafee (R) Whitehouse (D): Whitehouse
TN-Sen (*) Corker (R) Ford (D): Corker
VA-Sen Allen (R) Webb (D): Webb
House majority R D: Democratic + 24 = 227 - 208
Senate majority** R D: Democratic + 6 = 51-49

Yarmuth’s final score (score rounded up to two decimal places): 50.62
** Jeffords and Lieberman will be counted as D; 50-50 means a R majority


Post-election update: Apparently, I only had to select between R or D control of the House and Senate. Thus, I wasn't penalized for guessing that the Dems would merely pick up 24 House seats (it looks like they'll get 28, accounting for the fact that the Independent seat used to caucus with them).

So, I got 15 out of 16 correct (all but KY-04) and won the election pool!


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Sunday, November 05, 2006

"Prepare to Bomb Iran"

Ignore the distractions in the news, my title phrase is a direct quote from neoconservative Joshua Muravchik's latest article in Foreign Policy. Here's what immediately follows:
Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office. It is all but inconceivable that Iran will accept any peaceful inducements to abandon its drive for the bomb. Its rulers are religio-ideological fanatics who will not trade what they believe is their birthright to great power status for a mess of pottage. Even if things in Iraq get better, a nuclear-armed Iran will negate any progress there. Nothing will embolden terrorists and jihadists more than a nuclear-armed Iran.

The global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening, and it will have many echoes at home. It will be an injection of steroids for organizations such as MoveOn.org.
Muravchik, a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is helping to launch neoconservative's "Operation Comeback."

Indeed, do not be fooled by the apparent silence of the neocons for the past couple of years. They are mounting a full-on effort to duck responsibility for the Iraq war fiasco -- and they apparently plan to get things right in Iran.

This is why Pete Dombrowski and I want to invigorate the public debate about the prospects for such a war. Muravchik focuses on the negative implications of an Iranian bomb, but completely ignores the disastrous potential consequences of even a "limited" war against Tehran.

Coming attraction in this space: Explicit discussion of the downside of war with Iran.

Hat tip on Muravchik's article to Steve Clemons.


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Sunday: Combating Global Warming workshop

The University of Louisville is hosting the Engaging Our World conference November 3-5. It is a Southeastern Global Leadership Conference featuring these aims:
raise awareness among students in our region of the country to contemporary problems confronting our global society, empower them to creatively engage these problems and participate in the creation of a better and safer world.
Sunday morning at 8:30 am in Humanities 106, I'm giving a workshop on "Combating Global Warming." This is the abstract I submitted weeks ago:
Scientists overwhelmingly agree that human activity is altering global climate in profound ways. Figuring out what to do about this reality poses substantial political, economic, and social problems. This workshop discusses actions that students and others can take as members of their communities, workplaces, states, nation, and planet.
It is free for UofL students and $35 for others. In all, organizers have lined up over 40 speakers and the program is interesting and diverse.

If you are in Louisville this weekend, check it out.

NOTE: I am giving this post a Sunday date so that it will remain at the top of my page even as I make other blog entries.


Followup: The session went fine, I focused discussion on efforts by colleges to meet Kyoto goals, "offset" their greenhouse gas emissions and/or promote renewable energy efforts. Many interesting student-powered initiatives have been launched at colleges from coast-to-coast.


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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Risks of attacking Iran

Frequent coauthor Peter Dombrowski and I are thinking about writing a piece about various risks associated with "pre-empting" an Iran nuclear weapon. Each of us has been searching the literature to see what other analysts have already said about this question.

So far, my graduate assistant found a briefing paper written by Paul Rogers called "Iran: Consequences of a War" published by the Oxford Research Group in February 2006. This is from the abstract:
It outlines both the immediate consequences in terms of loss of human life, facilities and infrastructure, and also the likely Iranian responses, which would be extensive.

An attack on Iranian nuclear infrastructure would signal the start of a protracted military confrontation that would probably grow to involve Iraq, Israel and Lebanon, as well as the USA and Iran. The report concludes that a military response to the current crisis in relations with Iran is a particularly dangerous option and should not be considered further.
Another related piece is by W. Patrick Lang & Larry C. Johnson, "Contemplating the Ifs," The National Interest, Spring 2006, pp. 27-31. They make a point that Pete and I discussed:
But before we embark on another military operation, we must reckon the costs; we must ensure that we are willing to pay those costs; and we should ensure that neoconservative enthusiasts would not be tempted to say—if venturing into Iran becomes a misadventure—that it was impossible to foresee negative consequences. There are a lot of bad things that could happen if we launch a pre-emptive war with Iran.
If you search around, you can perhaps find a copy of this article online.

I also found this piece, by Sammy Salama and Karen Ruster, "A Preemptive Attack on Iran's Nuclear Facilities: Possible Consequences." It is on the Center for Nonproliferation Studies webpage, September 9, 2004. They conclude:
An attack on Iranian nuclear facilities in Bushehr, Arak, and Natanz, could have various adverse effects on U.S. interests in the Middle East and the world.

Most important, in the absence of evidence of an Iranian illegal nuclear program, an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities by the U.S. or Israel would be likely to strengthen Iran's international stature and reduce the threat of international sanctions against Iran. Such an event is more likely to embolden and expand Iran's nuclear aspirations and capabilities in the long term.
Also, see this: Jeffrey White, "Iranian Nuclear Weapons (Part III): How Might Iran Retaliate?" Washington Institute for Near East Policy, PolicyWatch #762, May 29, 2003.

Pete and I have considered and/or discussed some potential consequences that none of these authors address. More on that later.



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