Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

President Obama wants to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan:
A concerted effort to start unprecedented talks between Taliban and British and American envoys was outlined yesterday in a significant change in tactics designed to bring about a breakthrough in the attritional, eight-year conflict in Afghanistan.

Senior ministers and commanders on the ground believe they have created the right conditions to open up a dialogue with "second-tier" local leaders now the Taliban have been forced back in a swath of Helmand province.
President Obama is also lashing out against the government of Honduras:
The U.S. government said Tuesday it has revoked the diplomatic visas of four Honduran officials, stepping up pressure on coup-installed leaders who insist they can resist international demands to restore the ousted president.

The U.S. State Department did not name the four, but a Honduran official said they included the Supreme Court magistrate who ordered the arrest of ousted President Manuel Zelda and the president of Honduras' Congress.
The United States is basically negotiating with terrorists that hate us while lashing out at democracies that made the blunder of trusting us. Does this make any sense to you?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A case of the self-refuting diplomat

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must be wondering if her current position helps or hurts her long-term presidential prospects. The principle benefit of her position is that she's not personally responsible for anything in particular, so the failures of the Obama administration shouldn't stick to her in the fiture. The principle drawback of her position is that she has to speak publically about the Obama administration's foreign policy, which tends to make her look like an idiot.

Here's an example related to our Administration's Iranian policy. Recently, Hillary Clinton floated a plan for saving the Middle East from a nuclear-armed Iran:
As a security summit in Thailand earlier this week, Clinton raised the possibility of a "defense umbrella" over the Middle East to protect other nations from a nuclear-armed Iran, marking the first time a senior administration official has publicly broached the prospect of the Persian nation succeeding in building a nuclear weapon.
That plan lasted a few days before getting shot down by its own sponsor:
"First, we're going to do everything we can to prevent you from ever getting a nuclear weapon. But your pursuit is futile, because we will never let Iran — nuclear-armed, not nuclear-armed — it is something that we view with great concern, and that's why we're doing everything we can to prevent that from ever happening. ... We believe, as a matter of policy, it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Avatar: The Last Airbender" is essentially a re-imagining of "The Phantom Menace".

Here's the premise of the "Avatar" film from wikipedia:
In a world where the four elements can be controlled by people known as "Benders", the Fire Nation is waging a ruthless, oppressive war to control the other great nations. The only hope for stopping the brutal war led by the Firebenders rests on the shoulders of a reluctant young boy named Aang (Noah Ringer). The last known survivor of the peaceful Air Nomads and the Airbenders, Aang is the "Avatar". The "Avatar" is the physical re-incarnation of the world spirit, with the power to manipulate all four elements and draw upon the power, knowledge, and experiences of the Avatar's previous incarnations. The Avatar is responsible for maintaining balance between the four nations of the world and the spirit world, hence keeping the balance of the world. Aided by a protective teenage Waterbender named Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her bull-headed brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), Aang begins a perilous journey to restore balance to their war-torn world. Standing in their way are Fire Nation Admiral Zhao (Aasif Mandvi) and Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), the banished prince of the Fire Nation who seeks to capture the young Avatar to regain his honor.
In "The Phantom Menace", an army from the Fire Planet (Mustafar) is about to invade the Water Planet (Naboo). The Air Planet (Coruscant) sends two airbenders to mediate a peace. When diplomacy fails and the Fire Army invades Naboo, these two airbenders rescue the teenaged Water Queen and flee. However, their ship is damaged during their escape, forcing them to land on the Earth Planet (Tattooine). There they meet the miraculous Avatar who will bring balance to the forces (two movies later, this Avatar will be the last airbender). After consulting with the leadership of the Air Planet, the two airbenders and the Water Queen return to the Water Planet and defeat the Fire Army with the help of the Avatar.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why the Time Lords were written out of "Doctor Who".

In the original "Doctor Who", the Time Lords were the Doctor's mysterious, near-omnipotent superiors. In the current revived series, the Time Lords no longer exist, having been destroyed by the Doctor in the last great time war. Why was it so important for the new series to completely exclude the Time Lords?

Here's one possibility that I stumbled across recently. Here's a description of Jonathan Swift's Laputans from "The Closing of the American Mind" (pp. 294-295), by Allen Bloom:
On the Flying Island [of Laputa] the men have one eye turned inward, the other toward the zenith. They are perfect Cartesians -- one egotistical eye contemplating the self, one cosmological eye surveying the most distant things.
Bloom further quotes Swift:
Another peculiarity of these men is described by Gulliver as follows. "What I chiefly admired, and thought altogether unaccountable, was the strong disposition I observed in them [the Laputans] toward news and politics, perpetually inquiring into public affairs, giving their judgements in matters of state and passionately disputing every inch of a party opinion. I have indeed observed the same disposition among most of the mathematicians I have known in Europe, although I could neve discover the least analogy between the two sciences."
This is a dead-on description of the Time Lords. The Time Lords live on a planet named Gallifrey that is supremely well-defended from attack by an impenetrable force field ("the Flying Island") . The Time Lords are masters of space, time, and transdimensional engineering ("They are perfect Cartesians", in the geometrical sense). The Time Lords keep watch over threats to the spacetime continuum as a whole and draw their power from an artifact called the Eye of Harmony ("the cosmological eye surveying the most distant things"). The Time Lords are also naturally telepathic ("one egotistical eye contemplating the self") and, of course, are not entirely immune to meddling in the affairs of other species ("perpetually inquiring into public affairs", etc.). The Old High Gallifreyan language was even written using mathematical symbols ("I have indeed observed the same disposition among most of the mathematicians I have known in Europe").

Vice President Joe Biden is a national joke.

Here's the latest boner from the Vice President:
Vice President Joe Biden told people attending an AARP town hall meeting that unless the Democrat-supported health care plan becomes law the nation will go bankrupt and that the only way to avoid that fate is for the government to spend more money.

“And folks look, AARP knows and the people with me here today know, the president knows, and I know, that the status quo is simply not acceptable,” Biden said at the event on Thursday in Alexandria, Va. “It’s totally unacceptable. And it’s completely unsustainable. Even if we wanted to keep it the way we have it now. It can’t do it financially.”

“We’re going to go bankrupt as a nation,” Biden said.

“Now, people when I say that look at me and say, ‘What are you talking about, Joe? You’re telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?’” Biden said. “The answer is yes, that's what I’m telling you.”
The good news is that Biden at least recognizes that government spending is now driving the government bankrupt. The bad news is that, given a choice between cutting his political pork out of the federal budget or cutting your health care out of the federal budget, Biden is more than willing to go for the health care cuts.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Obama's bizarro-world Iranian policy

President Obama's original foreign policy with respect to Iran was based on the principles that Iran was a "normal" power that could be usefully negotiated with and that the United States was not going to "meddle" in Iran's internal affairs. The recent Iranian electoral protests created a shift in that policy. The United States would present Iran with some criticism of its internal response to the protests, but the United States wouldn't consider the Iranian goverment to be delegitimized by them.

Now we have another shift in Obama's Iranian policy. Instead of being highly restrained in how we meddle in Iranian internal affairs, we're now going to shamelessly meddle in Iranian internal affairs:
Vice President Joe Biden seemed to give Israel a green light for military action to eliminate Iran's nuclear threat, saying the U.S. "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do."
Here's another way to view the problem with America's Iranian policy. The Iranian protesters presumably have four things that they hold dear: (1) America not attacking Iran; (2) peaceful Iranian nuclear power; (3) hatred of Isreal; (4) delegitimizing the current Iranian regime. As of today, our Iranian policy is now attacking Iran to destroy their capacity for nuclear power if diplomacy fails; having Israel conduct the attack; while conceeding that the Iranian government is otherwise 100% legitimate.