First Rule of Consulting

McCain: Obama needs to consult on stimulus | Politics | Reuters

The most important consideration one makes in seeking advice is finding a reliable source for the advice. Given that the entire economic crisis in the United States can be traced to Republican policies that de-regulated markets, that stiffled enforcement of white collar crime laws, that encouraged and rewarded profligacy and that absolutely choked competition by destroying the marketplace, John McCain’s demand that the Obama White House consult the Republican Party on the stimulus plan is tantamount to demanding that the doctor seek advice from a butcher in treating the terminal patient.

Obama is a rather steadfast fellow. The Democrats were given a mandate because the Republican Party failed so miserably in governing the nation. It’s not likely that Senator McCain will get the solicitation he so desperately desires.


The Truth about Israel’s Campaign in Gaza

Egypt attacks Iran and allies in Arab world | Reuters

This much was clear to me from the beginning of this whole affair, but perhaps I should have aired my enlightened and apparently correct opinion here earlier so that I could prove it to everyone.

Israel was eliminating Hamas in Gaza in order to do Egypt a favor. The public statements made by Egypt today confirm this. Read the article linked above.

Israel’s embarrassing campaign in Southern Lebanon in 2006 made it very clear to all neighboring Arab states that Iran’s influence–as exercised by proxy Islamist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas–posed significant threats to the Arab states and the sovereignty of their governments. The war against Hezbollah completely derailed Lebanon’s recovery from its devastating civil war. In essence, Iran was perfectly willing to sacrifice the entire nation of Lebanon for the sake of its influence in the middle east.

This recklessness on the part of Iran was not lost on the Arab states, for once. Even Syria began to realize that further strengthening of Hezbollah would undermine Bashar Asaad’s tenuous grasp on power and, hence, Syrian sovereignty. Ultimately, this is what prompted Syria to soften its stance on Israel and to collaborate, albeit surreptitiously, with the west.

Egypt acted in the same vein. The full cooperation that Egypt provided (in the form of a total blockade of Gaza) in Israel’s campaign betrayed Egypt’s intent. Egypt’s long battle with Islamist fringe groups (most prominently with Ikhwan Al Mosalman, the group that spawned Ayman Al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden‘s right hand man) rages still, and Iran’s ridiculous use of Hezbollah as a proxy force in Lebanon made Egypt realize that it is vulnerable to Iran’s ploys for influence in the middle east. Consequently, it acted with complete accord with Israel toward the total annihilation of Hamas.

It would be an exceptionally foolish mistake to confound Egypt’s desire for the destruction of Hamas as any sort of empathy, sympathy, or affection for Palestinians. Egypt is acting in the interest of nation and the preservation of its sovereignty. Any benefit that this might bring Palestinians–whose entire misery stems from the simple fact that no political entity (not even their own) has ever advocated their cause–would be purely ancillary. Egypt may well support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process solely to rid itself of the Islamist threat and Iranian influence that infiltrate Egypt through Gaza.

Strangely enough, this “hopeful” scenario is about the only good thing that arose out of George W Bush’s asinine war in Iraq. The American failure in Iraq dramatically emboldened and enabled Iran. Iran’s influence in the middle east increased dramatically as the United States eliminated Iran’s two biggest foes: Iraq and the United States. With Saddam Hussein gone, Iran had no military rival left in the region, and with the United States engaged in an economically crippling guerrilla campaign in Iraq that drove up the price of oil, Iran’s economic influence similarly grew.

Once the price of crude oil reached more realistic levels and Iran’s economic might was consequently tempered, Egypt saw an opportunity and seized it. Anti-American sentiment was waning as the Obama Presidency loomed. Iran found itself economically crippled by the collapsing price of oil, and neighboring Arab countries shared Egypt’s justified fear of an almighty and Shi’a Iran. Egypt seized the moment and moved in for the kill, and Israel was kind enough to oblige.

The fantastic dream that may be realized out of this is that of pan-arabism that has been kept painfully elusive by ancient internecine animosities. Even more fantastic would be the recognition that Israel can actually aid Arabs in effecting control over their own domains as it is aiding Egypt now. Thus, the net effect, in the minds of the neocons who dreamt this nightmare in Iraq, would be a total disaster for the United States: the Iraqi campaign that was designed to increase American influence in the region is now ending in the fortification of Arab states and the nearly total elimination of American political influence in the region.

Fortunately, a more rational presidential administration is in power now in the US, and it is highly likely that Obama, Clinton and company will see the opportunity to engage the middle east as friendly, willing partners in the creation of a new economic alliance against Russia, China and, to a much, much lesser extent, Europe. Such could be the consequence of Hillary Clinton’s use of American “soft power” (or “smart power” to use her words), and that would be the greatest consequence for the USA.

Let us thank the powers that be, then, that the morons are finally out of office.


The New Softer Robot’s Touch

Bayer MaterialScience: FSK’s prize for wrinkle-free polyurethane skin for service robots

After some very limited exposure to polyurethane, everyone will marvel at the utility of this material. The chemists, materials scientists and engineers who keep discovering new formulations, new processing methods and new manufacturing methods for this remarkable material ought to be applauded for their remarkable ingenuity and persistence. Polyurethanes are now available with virtually any property one desires, and this latest formulation by Bayer scientists is especially intriguing because, so goes the claim, it will enable robots to handle objects as humans do. Its flexibility allows the robot to pick up gentle objects without breaking them. Bayer further promises the capability of embedding sensors that will enable the robot to judge the hardness of the object before grasping it.

Persistence pays.


Tax Cheats: EU vs USA

BBC NEWS | Europe | German ex-high-flyer in tax trial

The attitudes toward white collar crime could not be any more different on the two sides of the Atlantic. The Deutsche Post executive who defrauded the government out of €1 million has faced two years of public humiliation and is now facing rather harsh consequences in a German court.

In contrast, American executives (such as, oh, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco International) face little public criticism, enjoy lavish lifestyles, steal multitudes (hundreds of millions of dollars in some cases) more than this German executive did, and often manage to beat the rap and to go free.

The United States may well be the perfect place to be an executive, then. The combination of a flexible justice system, plastic and virtually nonexistent regulation and an ignorant shareholder population that is content being enamoured with its executives rather than being demanding of its executives creates the perfect environment for signing contracts that lavish golden parachutes upon even the most incompetent executive.

And, of course, if the executives fail especially miserably, they can always count upon their political pawns in the government for welfare, handouts and bailouts. This may very well explain why General Motors may be a hopeless cause. Absent all motivation to perform well, it should come as no surprise that many corporate executives are not performing at all. Therefore, after driving GM into the ground, what motivation could Rick Wagoner have to save the company?


Sympathy for the Devils

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iraq fails to sell Saddam’s yacht

Whom should one pity? The billionaires whose failing fortunes prevented them from purchasing this ridiculous yacht (equipped with rocket launchers, gold plated amenities and an escape hatch leading to an escape submarine)? Or Saddam Hussein, the original owner of the yacht, who imiserated an entire nation for the privilege of owning this magnificent ship and yet never managed to board it?

The sale of the yacht would have benefited the Iraqi people. In over forty years, they have never suffered any good fortune. They are, perhaps, better off than Rwandans, Congolese and Palestinians, but is the greater suffering of others a legitimate source of relief?

Is it more appropriate to pity billionaires who had once known greater times, or the most wretched of the earth, those who have never known good times? Were it not for the miserable times being suffered by all, there may have been enough sympathy and good will toward mankind left to make the posing of the question relevant. As it is, I truly don’t care, and I’m certain that no other soul on earth does, either.


The State of “Journalism”

BBC NEWS | Business | Blogger brought down by dire forecasts

Living in modern times, one finds it difficult to find comfort in the misery of others. After all, modernity derives to some extent from the establishment of standards and the adherence to standards by practitioners of all stripe. Consequently, the lower standards to which less industrialized (i.e., less modern) societies conform provide no relief to the modern citizen. The educated, modern citizen will find relief only in the elevation of the higher standards in which he or she lives, and he or she will lament the deterioration of the high standards to which she or he has grown accustomed.

That said, it is pretty amazing to learn that economic journalism and prognostication in South Korea is about as pathetic as it is in the United States. A single, high school educated blogger seems to have outdone the entire South Korean economic journalism establishment in analyzing and predicting Korea’s financial course. Whether it was the government that ended the blogger’s career or a thoroughly embarrassed journalism establishment remains, consequently, a legitimate question.

Still, it would be nice if “journalism” had some meaning in the US, the Korean debacle nothwishtanding.


Truth and the War on Terror in Afghanistan

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Karzai blames allies for problems

Anyone who has scrutinized the fiasco undertaken by the United States in Afghanistan ostensibly against the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11/2001 attacks in New York City is well aware of the fact that the United States policy in Afghanistan has been a colossal failure and that the coalition operating in Afghanistan remains more figment of political arm twisting than reflection of any shared desire to disarm terrorists and the Taliban.

Perfect evidence of this comes in the above article. On the day George W Bush  officially leaves office, moments from Barack Obama’s swearing in as the new President of the United States of America, Hamid Karzai, the Afghani Prime Minister anointed by George W Bush, goes on the offensive and excoriates the United States and our allies for our failure to improve Afghanistan’s political situation. He further criticized the West’s ineptitude in tackling the sources of the problems: arms trade, infiltration from Pakistan, drugs trade.

Now that our so-called allies have the freedom to speak, Americans who have had their heads in the sand may finally hear of the horrors, the incompetence and the corruption that had been projected onto the world scene as the emblem of the U.S.A.  over the past eight years. Our reputation is so badly tarnished that it is hard to conceive of any speedy recovery, however much good will Obama may have on his side.

Then again, there will be those who will refuse to accept the reality no matter how many American alliances crumble, how many allies publicly denounce America’s aims and motives, and how many friends publicly renounce America’s mission. It all echoes of Primo Levi’s accounts of the wretched starving corpses who still managed to delude themselves that they still led some semblance of a life in Survival at Auschwitz (previously published as Is This a Man?). Perhaps if the horrors of Auschwitz cannot force people to relinquish their fantasies, then there is no hope for the deluded in the United States.

Obama’s hands will be full, indeed.


Panorama of the Hong Kong Skyline

Image:Hong Kong Skyline Restitch – Dec 2007.jpg – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A spectacular panorama of the Hong Kong Skyline from Wikipedia.
A spectacular panorama of the Hong Kong Skyline from Wikipedia.

Skylines are beautiful. The Hong Kong skyline may be unrivaled in its size. This skyline is so hypnotizing, so enticing, so utterly mesmerizing that one is inclined to wonder what inspired flight before these dreamy products of human ingenuity and labor, and monuments to human ambition.

Natural wonders are unrivaled in the inspiration they evoke. Looking at this image, however, one finds it hard to dismiss man-made wonders.

Do You Love William Shatner?

Apple widget that spits out random facts about William Shatner.
Apple widget that spits out random facts about William Shatner.

Apple’s widgets, a copy of the wonderful open source KDE information gathering applications, has spawned some very bizarre experiments in information gathering. (The KDE widget engine is now known as Yahoo! Widgets.) Now, DSG Design, a group of web designers, have created perhaps the most bizarre widget, Shatner Facts. For the price of the publicity (which is to say, free to the user), one can have all the trivia that one’s heart desires about William Shatner. This ought to be entertaining. After all, the facts about Shatner are themselves quite interesting. Who knew that he played a major character in Judgment at Nuremberg.

Yes, the man has certainly had a remarkable career, and whether he is doing commercials or playing the greatest sac of puss ever to practice law (Denny Crane on Boston Legal), he is certainly a better actor than he has ever been.

And now, whether you are romantically obsessed with Shatner, or morbidly curious about the man, there is a single resource that will satisfy your craving for Shatner facts: The Shatner Facts widget for Apple Macintosh OS X.

The hell with Obama. Shatner will save the world.