Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What's Hungarian for Ermächtigungsgesetz?

President Trump's EU pash, Viktor Orban, is now officially the Dictator of Hungary.
Somewhere in the bowels of the White House Stephen Miller does a little dance.

I'm as terrified of this plague as anyone, but I'm almost equally terrified of our little American Orbans and their orange Leader. War and pestilence are the great enablers of dictators. It is when We the People are the most fearful and beaten that we are willing to trade liberty for "safety". We will get neither - especially given that these new dictators worship the old Gods of the Gilded Age that mean more profits for themselves - but those of us who prize "security" over that liberty will surely be tempted.

And, given our recent history, I cannot be sure we can resist that temptation. Four of ten Americans have already shown they will gleefully support any amount of destruction to small-r republican mores if it means shuttering drag queen story hour and keeping the dusky heathens in their place.

It will be intriguing to watch the reaction to this from the EU. If the leader of a European nation can become an out-and-proud dictator without consequence, what will stop those others (looking at you, Poland...) who are teetering along the border?
Did I mention lately how I reeeeeeally hate this timeline?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Mass for Shut-ins: Crossbarry 1921

While we're sheltering in place wondering if we'll be ordered back to work on Monday, here's a blast from the past: The Ambush (or Battle) of Crossbarry, a bit of an older guerrilla war, Brits versus Irish in the Twenties. Auld Tom Barry has a good day and Major Percival a bad one, all to the tune of Piper Begley's Greatest Hits.
A late bit of St. Paddy's Day green beer for y'all. Up the Celtic!

(FWIW, my maternal grandfather was a Scots-Irish Prod, and every St. Paddy's Day he'd trot out the old Orangman's toast. It went something like this:

"Here's to Good King William the Fourth
Who saved us from knaves and knavery,
rogues and roguery,
Popes and popery,
From brass buttons and wooden spoons."
(this, by the way, is where nine-year-old me thought "Grampa, WTF?" or at least would have had nine-year-old me known WTF WTF meant at the time...)
And may he whosoever denies this toast,
Be crammed, slammed and jammed into the Great Gun of Athlone.
The gun fired into the Pope's belly
The Pope into the Devil's belly,
The Devil into Hell, and the key in an Orangeman's pocket.
And here's a fart for the Bishop of Cork."

And this was in 1966, mind.
Sometimes the past isn't even prologue...

Friday, March 20, 2020

Love in the Time of Cholera: an open forum

It just seems remiss for a geopolitical blog not to have something to say about the Plague Year, and yet...
I'm not really sure WHAT to say.

It seems that this is sort of inevitable; human history has been punctuated by pandemics, going back to the Plague of Athens in the 5th Century BCE. At one time epidemic disease was so common as to be nearly unremarkable - who even remembers the Third Cholera Pandemic which tore through the globe killing millions? - but that through advances in public health and medicine we've gone over a century without a genuinely frightening pandemic.

Is COVID-19 that frightening pandemic?

It's dangerous, that we do know. But how dangerous? There's still some big questions. The PRC, where it seems to have originated by animal-to-human transmission much as many other historical pandemics have (note that this is in no way some sort of accusation of biowarfare or aspersion of blame; southeast China is simply one of the world's largest concentrations of domestic animals - largely chickens and pigs from which many (and almost all influenza) viruses are incubated - and humans who come in contact with those animals, and trade routes), has 1) a sketchy record of lying about its internal affairs, and 2) tremendous motivation to lie about the course of this disease. I have a hard time believing that it's genuinely eradicated inside the PRC. Russia has a hell of a long land border with China, and, yet, we know nothing about the presence or virulence of this infection there.

The real problem here is that the data we're working off is so poor. On one hand the London study suggests that nothing short of extreme public closures - workplaces, public spaces...almost any and all public gathering places - will reduce the degree of infection to a manageable level.

On the other, our information level is so low. As noted, the PRC is not a reliable witness, much of the other polities infected are having the same issues with the level of testing that US is having, and we have some datasets that suggests that this disease may not be as deadly as we fear.

If it isn't, and we lock down much of the global economy for a year or more..?

I think we need to prepare for, and treat this, like it is a potential disaster.

But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.
So consider this an open thread to discuss; what do you think..?

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Happy Xmas (War is Over)

While not really changing my opinion that the current Administration is an overall total clownshow, I gotta give credit where credit is due: Trump left Zalmay Kalilzad in Qatar to hammer out a war-ending ceasefire agreement with the Taliban representatives, and he did, inking a pact at the end of this week that sets out a process to finally #endendlesswar.
Now...there's a bunch of troublesome cans that this kicks down the road.

The Kabul government wasn't party to this critter.

That, in itself, might be a dealbreaker in a sense. Because as sure as the sun rises the odd-lot of tribes currently reigning in Kabul is doomed to fall before the Pashtun factions that are the core of the Taliban. Right up there with "don't get involved in land wars in Asia" (oops!) is "never bet against the Pashtun in Afghan power politics". The critical factor will be the Talibs willingness to be patient and let the Trumpkins distance themselves from this thing, so when the inevitable collapse of the current Kabul regime happens they can wave their hands and make it none of Our Business.

There are also a lot of other people with interests in keeping the Afghan pot boiling, and it will not be simple for the main parties to this agreement to keep them from mucking things up. Various Islamic extremist factions, Afghan tribal interests, Americans who will see this as rightly a recognition that the past 19-odd years have been a complete and utter waste of blood and treasure...

But, frankly, it isn't Our Business; the U.S. has little reason to be picky about who is mulcting the opium trade from the gaddi in Kabul. Provided whoever they are keep the place relatively quiet and regional unrest on the downlow it's a "win" for U.S. interests. When the Taliban is the organization in charge? If they can do that, then more power to them, and us.

Nike employs people who helped kill GIs in Vietnam to make shoes for American feet; why shouldn't Talibs who shot down Americans in the Korengal Valley grow opium for American junkies?

Is this a "good" way to end this mess? Probably not. But, then, there really is no "good" ending, just a selection of bad and worse ones, and this is probably as good as it gets.

Update 3/2: As you might expect, the Kabul government immediately shoved a spoke in this deal, refusing to agree to the prisoner exchange portion.

Plus the Taliban - or some part of the anti-Kabul rebellion - bombed a soccer game almost immediately after a ten-day "reduction in violence" ended. Apparently the Taliban has committed to not whacking GIs but has left the Kabul government fair game.

As Trump famously said about presidenting; who knew this stuff would be so hard?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Shores of Tripoli..?

Anyone care to speculate WTF is going on in Libya? Turkish invasion? Seriously?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

“...disunited, undisciplined, ambitious, faithless...”

Worth noting, as we drift unmoored through the final days of the Republic, that we're showing as many indicators of a late-stage political dissolution abroad as we are at home, one of these being an increased dependence on mercenaries to fight our cabinet wars.

I'm not going to pretend that these hired guns are going to have anything like the negative domestic effects Niccolo Machiavelli reported they had on the Italy of the Renaissance:
"Mercenaries...are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe; which I should have little trouble to prove, for the ruin of Italy has been caused by nothing else than by resting all her hopes for many years on mercenaries, and although they formerly made some display and appeared valiant amongst themselves, yet when the foreigners came they showed what they were."
The United States is not the Florence of the 1500s; we will neither be conquered nor ruined by these mercenaries.

But a putative republic should be concerned with the interests of its citizens. When it increasingly becomes, through using hired troops to further divorce its actions abroad from its people at home, more of an imperium it furthers the conditions that make all the more likely that - although the standards may still read "The Senate and People" - that the orders that move those standards do not reflect any actual intent to do good for, or further the interests of, We the People.

I wish I could, as I so often do, make this into a partisan problem. It's not; the desire to make the nation's military adventures less fraught with political consequences has been sought by the "leadership" of all factions outside the tiny genuinely Red Left (such as it is) and the equally tiny isolationist Right.

No, it's not a Democratic or Republican problem.

It's an "American" problem, and one generated by the massive indifference We the People have shown towards holding our "leaders" accountable to us for their indifference towards...I won't even say "our interests"; it's an indifference towards even trying to honestly and openly assess what those interests are.

Any truly rational evaluation of the value of spending blood and treasure to send soldiers - any soldiers - to chase the ragged aspirants of a theocratic fantasy around a disputatious and chaotic foreign region would quickly conclude that value is utterly nil. All the bullets ever cast cannot kill the notion of Islamic hegemony any more than they could kill Christian dominionism when it was the animating force of the West. It took an Enlightenment to do that, and by our part in discrediting and destroying the secular authorities in the Islamic lands we've done a hell of a fucking good job ensuring that the Islamic Enlightenment is further away than ever.

I have not desire to see my fellow soldiers thrown into this pointless abyss.

But I have even less desire to see my country continue to sow the dragon's teeth simply because I and my fellow citizens are too lazy and disengaged to bother with that sowing when it's done not by our "own" hands but by hired ploughmen tilling foreign fields with the seed my taxes have bought.

Those underneath the harrow are not too stupid to know whose money is behind the rifle, regardless of who is actually carrying it. If we do not understand that, if we do not understand the idiocy of trying to use those hired rifles to divorce ourselves from our cluelessness and geopolitical stupidity, we will never understand that we can never hire enough of those rifles to ever prevent being continually nipped by the dragons.
"...he who told us that our sins were the cause of it told the truth, but they were not the sins he imagined, but those which I have related. And as they were the sins of princes, it is the princes who have also suffered the penalty." ~The Prince, Chapter XII

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Jihadi Jumbo

Abu Abdul Bari, also known as Shifa al-Nima, was arrested in Iraq Thursday.  The high ranking daeshi Imam, supposedly an authority on Sharia, has been charged with issuing fatwa death sentences against other clerics who had repudiated the daeshis.  Also allegedly ordered the destruction of the Tomb and Mosque of Biblical Prophet Yunus (Jonah) back in 2014 saying it had become a place of apostasy.  Or was he jealous of the whale? 


Affectionately nicknamed 'Jabba' and the man who put the fat in 'fatwa'.    They could not cram him into a police car, so they hauled him off in the back of a pickup truck.  Where has he been hiding all this time?  He'll break the scaffold if they hang him.  Unless of course they put him on a radical diet first.