Saturday, February 07, 2009

Re: Imminent U.S. Attack On Iran?

Continuing on the theme of dredging up old emails in lieu of posting anything new, I found this reply I gave to someone who had forwarded to me a widely circulating email. The circular suggested an imminent U.S. attack on Iran while hypothesizing false-flag operations would precipitate the event and referencing a film called "Terrorstorm". She asked what I thought, if investments need to be protected, and if I had heard of the film. My reply, posted Wed, Nov 29, 2006 at 1:14PM is as follows:

It's unlikely that anything large-scale is imminent. Moreover, it's extremely dubious that any administration can plan and execute self-injury to its own naval vessel.

This is not to say that were accidental injury to occur that the event would not be propagandized mercilessly in an opportunistic manner. The Spanish-American war of 1898 precipitated in large part due to the sinking of the USS Maine on February 15, 1898. While the cause of losing the vessel was deemed inconclusive both by independent experts of that time and by those today, the U.S. Govt. under strained relations with Spain decided to spin the event as a deliberate attack by Spain. The rest is history. Current theories as to what caused the USS Maine to sink agree that the ammunition magazines in the ship exploded, destroying the vessel. The theories then diverge from there, one believing the vessel detonated a Spanish mine and that ignited the magazines and another believing the high-temperatures of the coal-engine ignited the magazines. Despite the theories, it is widely agreed that Spain desperately wanted to avoid any confrontation with the U.S. because it was more than aware of its naval inferiority to the newly industrialized U.S. Why a nation aware of the certain defeat it would suffer if engaged in a war with the U.S. would precipitate one stands against reason; yet, in 1898 the U.S. Govt. played Spain as the aggressor and emanated its views across all distribution channels.

One thing to note, however, is that the U.S. Govt would never explicitly execute injury to one of its own vessels because the gravity of that act would be so earth-shattering that it could simply never be kept under wraps. Too many individuals would need to be involved and the risk exposure too high. Passive negligence is often the route to achieve casus belli, as some suspect Roosevelt employed with Pearl Harbor. The passive negligence Roosevelt is suspected of is in concealing and not relaying in a timely manner information pertaining to an imminent strike on Pearl Harbor, in the hopes that a successful Japanese strike, even if on a remote outpost in the Pacific, would engage the American public in furor. Of course, as witnessed with the slow information pipeline under the Clinton administration regarding the 1998 Pokhran-II tests, it seems reasonable that inefficiency and lack of readiness is caused by bureaucracy and not by malicious intent.

All that said, is an invasion of Iran imminent? The option of passive negligence is always available and it would inevitably lead to a confrontation of some kind with an enemy of the Govt.'s choosing, presumably Iran. However, I do not think our current administration would exercise such an option for two reasons.

The first reason is that the military command structure has built-in shortcuts to bypass sending every decision to Bush. If reinforcements or some other defensive precaution is needed, the military can carry out the needed tasks without involving Bush. The only time the president is necessary is in transforming intelligence provided by the CIA into action carried out by the military, and the president can choose to delay this process as some claim Roosevelt had. While the CIA may provide vital information which Bush has the ability to be passively negligent of, the strong presence of the U.S. military forces in the middle-east supply the military with a self-sufficient source of intelligence, effectively diminishing the utility of the CIA and removing opportunities for Bush to be negligent.

The second reason is that Bush's political capital is extremely low, both with allies as well as with ordinary folk, and I doubt he would successfully manage to convince everyone that stretching our military thinner than how extremely thin they are already stretched is a good idea.

Of course, it's likely that Ahmadinejad's advisers have made similar analyses and will try to push the boundaries of what the U.S. will allow them to do. This could spiral into brinkmanship. As of yet, there hasn't been any serious news of Iran testing the patience of the U.S. Without properly testing our reactions to various, minor infractions of internationally acceptable behavior under the current settings, Iran would not be able to triangulate a clear enough landscape of permissibility. Thus, even if they are aware that the landscape of permissibility has expanded due to an emaciated Whitehouse and depleted spare military power, they are in the dark as to the exact boundaries of this new permissive landscape. So long as they are uncertain what our reactions will be, Iran will not take any path of major consequence. Of course, I could be over-estimating Iran's prudence and they may decide that venturing into an unknown landscape is of high enough value to merit the risk.

Still, should investments be protected? Of course. But the advice is no different than it always has been: a well-balanced portfolio. Equity, currency baskets, funds, etc. I don't think anything in particular needs to be done whether or not we invade Iran. In the extreme case, the Govt. might issue higher-interest bonds to summon additional, immediate spending power for war-financing, thus reducing the price of existing bonds currently trading at lower yields and reducing the price of mediocre equity. The impact on stocks would not be as dire as one would think. If war-financing is conducted through the issuance of bonds, the US Dollar will weaken further, having two effects: firstly, better exports to Europe; secondly, cheaper labor and higher inflation. Traditionally, such devaluation has a positive effect on the economy because the mood of the consumer revolves around nominal wages. Thus, if they make 45,000 now and 52,000 next year, even if purchasing power has diminished, they tend to be giddy with joy at, yes, earning less, but receiving more currency units. This consumer confidence acts as a steroid, bolstering demand for almost every product, and helping stocks perform.

No, I haven't seen "Terrorstorm", but I now quickly googled and read reviews about it. It seems to be done with the theme that the govt manufactures a perpetual state-of-war in order to subdue domestic freedoms and attain maximum centralized power in order to perpetuate status quo and concentrate wealth to an elite class. It's a bit like the elected chancellor in Star Wars who manufactures an enemy to help receive enough votes to assume dictatorial control, legally, so as to manage the war effectively. "Terrorstorm" seems to be a mix of 1984 and Machiavelli's The Prince, done with a collage of news events. I think it assumes a higher degree of cohesion and capability than exists in reality, even if its assumption that greed and self-interest fuel most administrations is probably correct. However, even if most top-officials are corrupt and greedy, I think it would be disingenuous to assume that the corrupt and greedy are mostly top-officials. There are plenty of corrupt and greedy people acting purely on self-interest at all levels, from high-school dropouts at the lower rungs of the UCLA campus police to various mayors of small, insignificant towns.

It's not disconcerting that greed and corruption are pervasive, since that's an unfortunate reality; what is disconcerting is that the central govt., which is best suited to "policing the police" is instead distracted with imperialistic dreams abroad and is inattentive at home, or, worse, an enabler in granting an oversupply of power to domestic bureaus and state law-enforcement with little to no oversight. While the '60s showed a central govt. willing to act for civil liberties by stepping in with U.S. Marshals and other federal forces to ensure that black students were permitted into white schools in the South, despite opposition from the Southern governors and local police, it now no longer seems conceivable that the new central govt. would use forces to protect citizens against rogue police. The path currently taken seems to steal focus away from domestic abuse and onto foreign affairs, leaving local forces with a carte blanche in using newly conferred powers. With the evaporation of habeas corpus and other guarantees to prevent abuse, there's less and less apart from per-capita income that differentiates the U.S. from a stereotypical non-democratic regime.

(My name)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Re: high school graduation speech

Walking down memory lane with my gmail archive, I found an interesting email I sent in response to Paul Graham's graduation speech. I had emailed him on Fri, Jan 21, 2005 at 3:57 PM, the following:

Hello Paul,

I hope you're not being inundated with slashdot readers writing their feedback. I'm certainly not lessening the effect by writing, but I feel I should write since I enjoyed reading your graduation speech and am as dismayed as you that it couldn't be delivered. I'm not in highschool anymore, but mentoring highschool students in my free time I know your advices and anecdotes to unveil reality are good ones. I've even forwarded your webpage to my younger cousins who themselves are in college but still very curious about life, the division between childhood and adulthood, and the "point of life" - to stay upwind as you put it.

Apart from my compliments, I also have a suggestion, which I'll get to after a short anecdote of my own. I was very mathematically inclined as a kid and delved into software more than most I knew. All along, I had only one friend whom I could learn from and he equally learned from me. Even my father who was a software developer was uninterested in the murkier topics of computer science theory, such as lambda calculus, frequency analysis, and feistel networks, as the practicing world cared more about programming libraries. Needless to say, it was a difficult journey to learn and a lonely one at that. I knew college would be better, but that's eons away when you're in eighth grade. I stumbled upon linux, open source, and a community working on things without monetary purpose nearing the end of my tenth grade. My first email communique outside of my highschool was to Andrew Tridgell, then the sole samba developer. I had my vague notions of tcp and udp and OS datagram frames but in one email response he clarified questions I would've spent the next year analyzing. Instantly, solitary learning where I learn from my mistakes like an ape became human learning where I stood on civilization learning the past mistakes of all. It was incredible, and I wish I hadn't had to have stumbled on that revelation.

I'm not saying open source is the answer to everyone's grade school intellectual doldrums, even if it was my answer; I'm saying that a useful community will inevitably exist outside college, and highschool students impatient for that college life can tap into it earlier. The key element is people. Most students, including both the academic ones trying to learn and the non-academic ones trying to be popular, will benefit from the idea that there are more people to know and learn from than those in their own school. I know of far too many students who never communicate in email or chat beyond their school classmates, and parents unfortunately find that comforting. The concept I couldn't grasp was how many 6 billion people are and yet how only a few dozen people would be interested in samba in 1995. As a ratio, it's astounding. However, these non-popular -- distinctly separate from the unpopular -- projects are bastions of clever lonely people, the perfect type for a student with little to offer besides attention and a lot to gain such as knowledge.

Ergo, my suggestion. I believe it would be highly useful to impress upon students how they should look beyond their region - that while their home town may be the only place in the world to know certain inside jokes and terms, there are things far grander in the world and fractious enough as to make the individual teams small, closeknit, and meaningful. While being trendy and knowing the latest, local, and popular things can make one feel good about oneself, the eclectic, esoteric, and historical things are longer lasting benefits which compound with themselves in value over time. To be eclectic, however, one cannot be content with what is provided. I was very distrusting of supposed quality, and knew the world contained a spectrum of quality far greater than I could contemplate. Far too many people cling to the first anchorman, reporter, or developer they meet if they're interested in that subject. I suggest exploring and discerning whom to emulate.

Being mindful of history is necessary in order to be eclectic. Old news tends to be overlooked, or be seen as unprofitable, making it somewhat immune from the noise of limelight seekers' premature ideas and from marketing propaganda. There's money in making software, not in writing a taxonomy of comparisons between, or meticulously documenting the concepts wielded by, different software. There are even taxonomies on taxonomies, each level becoming less popular and less profitable and taking longer to complete, thereby missing the slim window of public interest. However, by sitting in 1995 and reading tcp/ip lessons in 1994 about lessons from 1991 etc., dating back to the release of the cornell worm in 1970, one could learn a lot more than if one had only read some arbitrary book circa 1980 focusing purely on unproven and trendy '80s paradigms. I've given the following advice to many: we should look at the thirty year topics that are still alive today, even if barely, and trace the discussion back to their origins. By learning from the collective discussion, any contemporary incident can be seen through the lens of a learned person, yielding an amalgam of concepts surviving a darwinian massacre of preceding years' ideas. Once the lens has been shaped, it serves as a crude tool to craft finer tools. Apply that lens on another, more recent, incident, and repeat the process until you're looking at present day situations with an extremely well-pruned, eclectic corpus of knowledge with which to interpret anything you choose. This strategy works tremendously well at solving the problem of "noise" -- too much nonsense posing as quality work; and, interestingly, this same approach is taken by bayesian spam filtering.

Sorry for writing as much as I have - it was originally meant to be two or three short paragraphs. Pardon me for any typographical errors.

(My name)