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2014 September 01 Monday
Daniel Larison: Do Not Arm Ukraine

Since we really are not willing to fight for Ukraine Western governments never should have encouraged Ukraine to break free from Russia's orbit.

Several Western governments carelessly pursued a contest for influence with Russia in Ukraine without having any intention of dedicating the resources or taking the risks that such a contest required, and they did so without ever considering how negatively Russia would react to the attempt. Now that we can see how disastrously this has turned out, it makes absolutely no sense to repeat the error by encouraging Ukraine to fight an unwinnable war.

Which governments encouraged Ukraine to take a line that earned Putin's wrath? Was the Obama government one of the governments encouraging Ukraine? My (admittedly vague) impression was that the US State Department was for a trade deal between the EU and Ukraine.

Then Ukraine will have to maintain tariffs on Western goods and buy lousier stuff from Russia instead.

What I find interesting about Ukraine and also China in the South China Sea: There are limits to how far the United States will go to protect a country that wants to be free of undemocratic bully neighboring countries. The US will not protect Ukraine or, for that matter, some of China's nearest neighbors. Quite a few countries and ethnicities are going to (and in some cases already have) get into and stay in submissive positions toward Russia and China.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 01 10:48 AM 
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2014 August 30 Saturday
Imagine Obama And Cameron Had A Strategy On Iraq And Syria

Writing in Al Arabiya Raghida Dergham says some people think the British and American governments really do have a strategy in Iraq and Syria. I am in favor of this strategy. But I do not think Barack Obama or David Cameron are up to conceiving, much less executing on this strategy.

The Anglo-American duo is accused of devising a strategy and plans to lure American and British terrorists to Iraq and Syria to keep them away from American cities and bog them down in the battlefield at a cost borne by Syrians and Iraqis, rather than the Americans and the British.

It seems more plausible that Putin supports Assad's government as a way to pull Chechen jihadists to the Middle East.

At the same time, the Russian leadership consents to this approach, because President Vladimir Putin, too, wants to keep Russian, Chechen, and other terrorists from neighboring countries away from his geographical backyard, and is determined to keep them busy fighting in Syria.

Russia's historical circumstances select for ruthless and realistic Russian leaders. American leaders and elites can afford to delude themselves and their citizens and they fully avail themselves of their opportunities for delusion.

But I try to think about the real world and what would make Western countries better. Unfortunately, my ideas are all outside the liberal-patrolled Overton Window. For example, I think we should give free airplane tickets to any Jihadist with citizenships in Western countries who wants to fight in Syria or Iraq. Then put well concealed and highly mobile special forces on the ground to direct air strikes.

Update: The guy who definitely has a strategy: Bashar al-Assad. The fear of death can powerfully concentrate the mind. I've read that for years he concentrated his forces against his more secular opposition while letting ISIS/ISIL/Daash/IS grow in power. Why? Because he took away from the West the sort of opposition they would would delude themselves into thinking would be secular once in power. Now the West is faced with a far clearer enemy in the Islamic Caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the US is considering an air war in Syria against Assad's main opposition. Assad's strategy might work.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 30 10:25 AM 
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US Citizens Who Are Not Americans

We need to separate the legal from the actual. Jihadists with US citizenship are not Americans.

WASHINGTON — American intelligence and law enforcement agencies have identified nearly a dozen Americans who have traveled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the militant group that the Obama administration says poses the greatest threat to the United States since Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

What does it mean to be an American? If the term "American" is to have any meaning at all it can not include everybody. It can not include any person who wants to use US citizenship as a convenience who actually favors the abolition of American freedoms the fundamental attributes of Americans.

Jihadists are not Americans. Any US citizen who has their primary allegiance elsewhere (or even only to a group within US borders which rejects America) is not an American. The legal status does not make the person. The legal status is just a tool the person uses.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 30 09:50 AM 
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2014 August 28 Thursday
Venezuela Still Deteriorating From Socialism

Venezuela is still deteriorating. Drug supplies are going down. Alicia Torres deserves what she voted for but the opposition doesn't.

But even hard-core Chávistas aren’t convinced. “How much further can we sink?” says Alicia Torres, a 53-year-old housewife in Caracas who voted for Maduro in special elections last year and now regrets her decision. “I spend hours in line each day, waiting for products to arrive. Maduro is killing the country with his ineptitude.”

Chavez and Maduro did unsustainable boosts in government spending to make the lower class want to vote for them. The lower class isn't bright enough to understand their support was bought in a way that made the long term worse.

"It wasn't so hard two years ago," said Geraldine, citing the cost of a refrigerator that has risen to 22,000 bolivars from 1,700. "This all happened because Chavez died. He left us a president who doesn't know anything. Chavez knew how to get things done."

Will the United States some day reach the point where its voters and politicians will interact in a way that is as destructive as what is happening in Venezuela? Venezuela has the highest inflation rate in the world.

Annual inflation reached 60.9 percent in May, the fastest in the world, while gross domestic product probably shrank 2.1 percent in the second quarter, according to the median of economist forecasts compiled by Bloomberg.

It is becoming harder for the more productive and skilled Venezuelans to flee. Airlines have cut half their flights to Venezuela due to currency controls on revenue. I bet some of the more skilled Venezuelans wish they had fled a few years ago before conditions got this bad. It is important to know when to flee. Many Venezuelans say they feel trapped in their country.

The talented people in messed up countries need a sort of Galt's Gulch country which imposes minimum IQ requirements for entry.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 28 07:42 PM 
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2014 August 25 Monday
Chechens: The Brains And Skills Behind ISIS?

US special forces soldiers want to mix it up on the ground with ISIS. ISIS are considered to be talented fighters. Why? Chechens went to Syria and taught them how.

Where did ISIS learn such sophisticated military methods, shown clearly after the first shots were fired?

"Probably the Chechens," one of the U.S. officials said.

The whole article is interesting. Some members of US special forces want to go into battle against ISIS.

One Chechen-led group is advertising their training camp on Youtube.

A new jihadist group known as the Jamaat Ahadun Ahad, or the Group of the One and Only, has released a video of its training camp in Syria. The group is led by a Chechen commander and includes fighters from Chechnya, Europe, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and several Arab countries.

The Chechens are dangerous. They've fought the Russians hard. A couple of them killed lots of people in Boston at a marathon. But we no longer have effective cultural defenses against them at home.

I do not know how big a role the Chechens have played in raising the game of Jihadists in Syria and Iraq. But something raised their game. Chechens? Albanians? If you come across any useful insights on why a ISIS is a much more capable fighting force than assorted militias that came before them please provide a link in the comments.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 25 09:25 PM 
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2014 August 24 Sunday
Programming Bootcamps Boost Employment, Pay

If you are smart enough you can switch to a new occupation in a hurry.

Of those without a college degree and with no coding experience prior to their bootcamp, 71 percent now have a full-time programming job.

I'm guessing this report overstates the bump in pay and employment rates of people who go thru these bootcamps. Whether this will work for you depends on how smart you are, how motivated to study and practice, and where you live. Some areas have few employers of software developers.

My advice for people who want to switch into software development: try some online courses and books,. Then use what you learn to try developing your own web site. Keep adding more kinds of functionality as you go. You can start out with PHP and do simpler stuff. Then try to code up a backend in Go or Java.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 24 11:21 AM 
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2014 August 23 Saturday
Dark Triad Traits And Relationship Preferences

The Dark Triad personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

Specifically, narcissism was uniquely correlated with preferences for one-night stands and friends-with-benefits and psychopathy was uniquely correlated with preferences for booty-call relationships. Both narcissism and psychopathy were negatively correlated with preferences for serious romantic relationships.

Narcissists can be bothered to develop friendships to the point where friends-with-benefits becomes possible. Psychopaths don't want that much overhead. A booty call relationship where contact is only initiated when horny doesn't include much contact beyond the booty call.

What I want to know: Are the Dark Triad traits being selected for in industrialized societies?

By Randall Parker 2014 August 23 11:32 PM 
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Average 401k Retirement Account: Sign Of Future Oldster Poverty

Boomers have an average of $127k in their 401k accounts. That's way way short of what they need in their 50s and 60s.

Except for some government workers defined benefit retirement plans are road kill from the last 30 years of bankruptcies, mergers, buy-outs, and restructurings. Few companies are offering them.

Auto-enrollment is helping. But still a third of Americans have no retirement savings. You might think they are younger. But

About a quarter — 26% — of those ages 50 to 64 haven't started saving for retirement, the survey said; the figure was 33% of people 30 to 49 years old.

Some people are just expecting to work their entire lives. But their bodies won't hold out and neither will their skill sets. Brain aging especially makes that an unrealistic expectation. But even before taking that into account if one's job gets automated out of existence the learning curve to get back up to a comparable salary is so long that job losses in late middle age usually mean a much lower working salary for the rest of a person's working life.

Most humans lack the capacity to effectively plan and execute on a career and retirement strategy. Younger and less skilled generations are going to take the biggest hit.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 23 08:49 PM 
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2014 August 21 Thursday
Celebrity Charity Support Only Helps Celebrities

Celebrities are not good at helping causes.

Celebrity promotion of charities is ineffective at raising awareness, but can make the stars more popular with the public, new research says.

According to journal articles by three UK academics, "the ability of celebrity and advocacy to reach people is limited" and celebrities are "generally ineffective" at encouraging people to care about "distant suffering".

I think fatigue is a common reaction to suffering in various parts of the world. With the advent of really low cost cameras, the internet, and really cheap optical fiber we get bombarded with news and images about distant suffering. The worst places get the most attention. There is no shortage of sad stories when tragedies and moral outrages are sourced from a global market in news.

People watch celebrities play characters they admire, desire, or want to emulate. Lots of people have irrational emotional attachments to celebrities because we evolved before mass media could pour so many images and dramas into our brains.

Celebrities trying to draw attention to suffering to raise money go up against so many competing media events. They have a hard time getting heard above the background noise. Most do not come across as very articulate or persuasive when not reading a script written by someone else. Since some celebrities help some dubious charities that's not always a bad thing. What they support is a pretty mixed bag.

Speaking as someone who doesn't own a TV I find myself increasingly not recognizing celebrity pictures and names in news stories. This is great. I strongly recommend kicking TV. You'll withdraw from propaganda and from emotional attachments to actors who are really irrelevant to your lives.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 21 09:33 PM 
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2014 August 18 Monday
Disintegration Of Iraq: Already Or Future Event?

A WaPo opinion piece by Army Col. Joel Rayburn has a puzzling title: The coming disintegration of Iraq. The essay is actually quite good. But I do not understand the use of the future tense.

Let me try out a different phrasing: The Coming American elite acceptance of the disintegration of Iraq. The problem is that until American elite opinion adjusts to reality in Iraq the US will intervene to try to put Iraq back together and thereby lengthen the civil war. It would be far better to only intervene to help protect the weaker ethnic groups (e.g. Christians, Yazidis, Turkomen) so that the new countries could get formed under conditions where those ethnic groups do not get massively raped, enslaved, killed, and generally oppressed.

Rayburn is quite right that dividing up Iraq will force large numbers of people to move into more ethnically pure statelets. But if we can only accept the inevitable outcome we can greatly reduce the amount of death that comes with ethnic cleansing of Shiite and Sunni regions.

Yet another "inclusive" Iraqi cabinet with some American help isn't going to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, at least not with today's technology. The American people do not want to pay the price in blood or treasure and rightfully so. If the US military already had its 2035 or perhaps 2045 technology it could use cheap and really advanced drones and robots that can act on behalf of the Baghdad government to put down any attempt to secede from central control. But today the US lacks the tech to cheaply keep Iraq together. Plus, the US let Saddam get killed by the Iraqi government. So the US lacks a "partner for peace" who has the skill set needed to put Iraq back together.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 18 10:43 PM 
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2014 August 17 Sunday
China Gains From US-Russia Conflict Over Ukraine

Dmitri Trenin thinks the US alliance to put sanctions on Russia drives Russia to be more dependent on China.

There is only one exception to this pattern of heightened US influence: China. The sharp reduction of Russia’s economic ties with the advanced countries leaves China as the only major economy outside of the US-led sanctions regime. This increases China’s significance to Russia, promising to enable the Chinese to gain wider access to Russian energy, other natural resources, and military technology.

We need Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger plotting American foreign policy. Our current government is in over its head. Even George H.W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft, and James Baker would be a big step up. Barack Obama isn't up to it.

Armed conflicts in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Ukraine require a great deal of skill to think thru and recognize what moves will do most for US interests in the long run. As US power declines relative to China the US is going to need much more skilled handling of its foreign policy. Bu our prospects for getting more skilled foreign policy makers seem bleak.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 17 08:00 PM 
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Girl Power For Yazidi, Christian Iraqi Women

America should give all Yazidi, Christian Iraqi women weapons to protect themselves from Islamic State slavers. Check out this picture of a 14 year old Yazidi girl carrying an assault rifle on her back.

It was irresponsible for the United States to invade Iraq and then leave without giving weapons to every family of religious minorities. If all the Yazidis and Christians had assault rifles a lot more would still be alive and still living at home. A lot fewer would be headed to the slave market in Tal Afar too.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 17 02:27 PM 
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2014 August 16 Saturday
US Weapons For Iraq Being Used In Syria By IS To Take 10 Towns

The US government should help the groups battling against the Islamic State jihadists. US weapons captured from the Iraqi army are helping the jihadists to make rapid gains in Syria.

The fighting near Marea comes after IS fighters took around 10 villages in northern Aleppo on Wednesday and Thursday, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Captured US weapons are also being used in support of slavery: Despair for one Yazidi father as he is told that his daughter will be sold as a slave by Islamists who rampaged through Sinjar. She could end up in the Tel Afar slave market.

The Caliphate fighters are savages.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 16 10:08 PM 
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Mini-States Needed For Iraq Ethnic Minorities

Feel no loyalty to the Sykes-Picot agreement of May 1916 on how to divide up the Middle East? Think that Barack Obama is delusional in his pursuit of an "inclusive" government in Baghad? Here's Barack Obama criticizing outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for not being "inclusive":

"The only lasting solution is for Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government," Obama said

Here is Barack Obama praising Maliki in 2009 for being "inclusive"!

In public remarks after the meeting, Obama praised Maliki for leading “Iraq’s most inclusive government yet.”

Here is Obama acting pleased that the latest Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is going to form a more "inclusive" government.

Obama said he and Vice President Joe Biden called al-Abadi to extend congratulations “and to urge him to form a new Cabinet as quickly as possible, one that’s inclusive of all Iraqis and one that represents all Iraqis.”

But a very substantial fraction of the Sunnis do not want to play token roles in a government that will continue to be dominated by Shias.

Why try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again? The various ethnic and religious groups in Iraq can't be united under a decent government because, first of all, even a Shia government for Shias is going to be nepotistic and corrupt and unfair to Shias. That's what happens when consanguineous marriage and tribal bonds form a large role and public spirited fair behavior is not accorded much value.

Even worse, some of the ethnic and religious factions harbor serious and deep ill will toward other factions. Why play a futile game of trying to keep Iraq together? Suppose you wanted to protect the ethnic minorities of the Middle East. What to do? Start by dividing up Iraq by a map of ethnic concentrations.

Minorities in areas where they are in small numbers would need to move to places where they could become majorities. But given that they are already fleeing and looking to escape into exile it would not be hard to get them to relocate to a defended zone.

Clear borders for mini-states would make it easy to kill ISIS soldiers. Create no-man's lands between Sunni Arab and other groups. Use UAVs to patrol the zones 24x7 and destroy those who enter the zones without permission.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 16 09:22 PM 
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2014 August 12 Tuesday
US Hits New Record For Income Diversity

We all keep hearing that diversity is great. Here is another sign of increased American national diversity in a very interesting article in the Financial Times: The per capita income gap between the lower and higher ranked cities has reached a new record!

The research shows Boston – ranked at 10 – reporting a per-capita income 1.61 times that of Cincinnati ranked at 90. At its low point in 1976, the gap was 1.36 times, between San Francisco and El Paso.

I am fine with highly productive people getting paid much bigger piles of cash. But two things worry me. First, there is less shared experience, less shared interests, and less shared understanding that is needed to have a healthy society. Second, the (growing) lower classes really are less productive and less valuable as their jobs get automated and off-shored. Immigration is assuring that the lower classes will grow even bigger still. In spite of far lower costs of communication the people in these borders have less in common with each other. We used to be clustered around the middle. No longer. Middle class neighborhoods are shrinking.

This is the same America where Alan Block can't even get his internet service disconnected. If this is possible just how strange is it going to get?

This is not an accident. Comcast turned their customer services reps into sales reps. This is normal business practice. It isn't like they are even customer service reps any more. I think this is a weird kind of class warfare that is somehow related to the rising inequality and declining social capital measures.

Comcast is at it again with another customer who was smart enough to record his first call with a customer service rep. In a sign of the time PC Magazine has come out with an article on how to record your customer service calls.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 12 08:50 PM 
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2014 August 11 Monday
Kurdish Fighters From Turkey Turned Tide Against ISIS In Iraq

Kurdish fighters from Turkey, members of a group called PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), are designated as terrorists by Turkey and Western countries. These terrorists developed combat experience fighting for the Kurds in Syria against Sunni Jihadists and then recently entered Iraq and turned the tide of battle.

Sure, US bombing helped and so did small CIA arms shipments to the Kurds (which are now going to get ramped up btw). But the experienced Kurdish fighters made a big difference.

Some observations about Syria and Iraq:

  • Russia and Iran have been supporting the Assad government against ISIS.
  • US military supplies to the lame Iraqi army have ended up in the hands of ISIS in Iraq and ISIS has transferred some the tanks and other equipment to Syria.
  • US military supplies to the lame Iraqi army were used by ISIS to attack Yazidi, Christian, and Shiite Arab towns and to attack Kurds.
  • US military aircraft sorties against ISIS/Daash in Iraq are blowing up US equipment that ISIS is using to kill Yazidis and others that ISIS sees as deserving death just because of their religious beliefs.
  • The Obama Administration has yet to man up to the US government's responsibility to destroy US weapons captured in Iraq which are now in Syria being used against Kurds, Christians, Alawites, and assorted other groups that are not Sunni Muslim Arabs.
  • Russia and Iran have played key roles in preventing the Sunni Jihadists from slaughtering non-Sunnis in Syria.
  • Russia and Iran were faster to help the embattled incompetent, nepotistic, and corrupt Iraqi government and military.
  • A Kurdish group branded as terrorists by the Turkish government is fighting in Iraq to protect Kurds against the ISIS Jihadists.
  • Kurds who honed their fighting skills protecting Kurds in Syria are protecting Kurds and other minorities in Iraq.
  • The US government is too obsessed with maintaining a multi-cultural state in Iraq and in keeping alive the Sykes-Picot national boundaries in the Middle East to be able to think rationally.
  • Ethnic groups who do not trust each other, some of whom even want to wipe out some of the other groups, should not be together in a single national state.

ISIS is horrible at a level that makes many other less-than-freedom-loving groups in the Middle East look good in comparison. ISIS hate us and hate non-Sunnis. Okay, great, the enemies of our enemies ought to get help from us to wall off some areas against our enemies.

Some of these other groups aren't even really bad. The Kurds, who have been abused by Arabs and Turks alike, just want their own country and their efforts to get it seem pretty justified. Some other groups in the Middle East would be far better off with their own country. Coptic Christians, Lebanese Christians, and Yazidis come to mind.

A modest proposal: We help Kurds move from Turkey to the Kurdish zones in Syria and Iraq and arm them to the teeth so that they can expand and defend their zones. Then we help Christians and Yazidis set up their own zones in a loose confederation with the Kurds.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 11 09:27 PM 
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