Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Found a nice link:

Distribution of income between states 1929-2003

This goes back to the argument about the contribution of the South to various war efforts. In 1929 State per capita income in the South was less than 1/2 of the state per capita income in the north. The poorest state - South Carolina had per-capita income of $2300 as compared to $9717 for the richest state NY. The next poorest states were: Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. The rest of the former confederate states were all below average in income. This is in addition to the fact that the population of the south was rather small before the huge population boom of the second half of the 20th century. They simply couldn't have contributed much to the war efforts of the 1st half of the 20th century.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Orkut.

Google is starting to bother me. Their philosophy of rolling out products while still in Beta testing is evil. Basically they claim that some of their products are still in Beta and this allows them to pretend that membership is exclusive and this makes it somehow more desirable. It uses the fact that humans have an inherent desire for membership in exclusive organizations. The way this works online is that in order to join Gmail and Orkut you have to be invited by somebody who is already a member.

Unfortunately I too am human. One of my roommates in Israel had Gmail so I got an invite. Once into this exclusive club you realize that everything is pretty much the same. Its still email, though with some cute new features. The other Google beta invite-only product is Orkut. Orkut is Google's answer to myspace, friendster, hi5 and yahoo 360. All these are 'social networking' sites. The idea is that you invite your contacts into the network and as they join they bring in more of their contacts. This allows you to meet contacts of contacts. For the longest time I couldn't find anyone with an Orkut membership to invite me. The truth is the only reason I wanted in was because I couldn't otherwise get in and see if its any good.

So anyways I found a place where to ask for an invite and received one. Now that I am in, I see its pretty much the same as the other networks with small differences. Orkut seems to be bilingual in Portuguese and English. By this I mean that 3/4 of the membership is in Brazil. This is by itself strange and is probably being explained by somebody writing a PhD. thesis on online social networking. The other thing is that there are communities that you can join. A community just seems to be a message board where you can see many people's pics and interests. I can see how this can be useful in identifying possible friends if the communities where small enough. However once these go past 30 or so it just seems to become a jumble of faces. An excellent idea might be for these social networking sites to split up these communities geographically once they go over some number. Or at least display community members in order of geographical proximity. I mean its great and all that Hasheem Mahmoud of Lagos, Nigeria shares my love of bonzai trees, but its much more useful to know that Jane Smith of central NJ does so as well.

OK, so if someone wants an invite to Orkut or Gmail tell me.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The problem in Iraq is that the two objectives of the US in the region - confronting Iran and confronting terrorism are at odds. In order to confront terrorism there must be stable control over central Iraq. The most likely candidate to exercise such control is a centralized Shiite government. However such a government would be pro-Iranian. There is an alternative. There must be a counterweight to Iran. It used to at least partially be Iraq. Iraq once shielded Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from Iran. It demanded money and respect for this function, but it did fulfill it. Since Iraq is now broken, somebody else must do this job (if the US takes this job then its deployment in Iraq will be near permanent). The break-up of Iraq, as well as the current position of the Sunni Arabs allows the possibility of the intervention of the Arab League, or more specifically Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (and the GCC) on the side of the Iraqi Sunnis. The fact that Syria is currently very weak means that it probably will not be able to prevent such an intervention even if it wanted to. Were this to lead to an Egyptian deployment in central Iraq, supported by Jordanian supply lines and connections in the region and by GCC money, then perhaps such a counterweight can be found again. In addition the Arab League intervention, if it was led by Egypt and Jordan, could secure central Iraq and prevent it from being used as a terrorist staging ground. Hopefully the former elements of the Iraqi government can come together around the Arab League intervention and create a stable structure in central Iraq. How does this work? For a start the presence of the Arab League should give the Sunnis a much more powerful voice in the government, limiting the role of Iran. In addition the Egyptian, Jordanian and Sunni Iraqi intelligence operatives can conduct clandestine operations against the pro-Iranian factions in the Iraqi government. The Americans can withdraw to Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar and leave the Arabs to deal with the Islamists. Let the Egyptians run Abu Ghraib.

This is a short-term solution to limit Iran's influence in Iraq. Iran has the chance to become way too powerful in a very sensitive region of the world. So, in the longer term the Iranians will have to be confronted and its government will need to be deposed.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The US is proper f$&$&d in Iraq.

Every surrounding country has an interest and they don't match up. Internally every ethnic group has its own interest and again they don't match up.

Internal:
The Kurds want independence. They would be willing to settle for autonomy, but I have doubts as to whether they will allow Arab troops to patrol Kurdistan. So if anything it will be just one step short of independence. With their 75,000 peshmerga fighters they will probably have the ability to resist such encroachments. They can't stand up in front of the Turkish army though and so declaring independence seems foolhardy.

The Sunnis want to go back 5 years. A Shiite fundamentalist dominated government does not appeal to them. Their options however are only limited to destabilizing the current order since they don't have the numbers or support to impose their own order. When Iyad Allawi's block lost the last elections it became very unlikely that a Shiite-Sunni coalition could unify Iraq.

The Shiites want unified Shiite Fundamentalist - led Iraq. They have the numbers to do it and are likely backed by the Iranians and Syrians. Not to mention the Americans. The problem is that the Sunnis and Kurds will be hard to bring into such a system. Not to mention the fact that the Israelis, Saudis, Jordanians and Kuwaitis will likely oppose such an expansion of the Iranian influence in the region.

External:
The Turks want a strong unified non-Iranian leaning Iraq. If thats not possible then any arrangement that keeps the Kurds under control is fine with the Turks. Otherwise their own Kurds might become very bothersome and would have safehaven in northern Iraq from which to strike into Turkey. If an arrangement comes out in which the Turkish Kurds will find safehaven in Iraq the Turkish army will easily roll over Iraqi Kurdistan and could probably just as easily take over all of Iraq.

The Syrians want a strong unified Iraq because they have their own Kurds. The Syrians, along with the Iranians would like the Americans to walk away with a bloody nose and a black eye, leaving behind an Iranian-backed central government in Iraq. Not only the Kurds, but also the Sunni Arabs in Iraq could pose a problem for the Syrians. If there was anarchy in central Iraq on the border with Syria then some Sunni fundamentalist violence might spill over into Syria, destabilizing the minority Alawite government in the face of its domination of a majority Sunni country.

The Saudis, Kuwaitis and Jordanians want a strong counterbalance to Iran. The Kuwaitis would probably even prefer that the Americans stay permanently.

The Israelis would probably prefer a counterbalance to Iran regardless of color. A democratic Iraq would be nice, but I am assuming the Israelis gave up all hope of that. They would probably not mind if the Americans stayed permanently. Were the Americans to leave they would probably place their bets on the Kurds in order to prevent a strong Iraqi state and to use them to partially destablize Iran and Syria.

The Iranians are probably the only ones interested in a unified democratic Iraq. This is primarily because their allied Fundamentalists will win elections. Were they to do so, Iraq will come under the Iranian umbrella. The Iranians will also want to prevent the Kurds from exercising independence and would work to undermine their autonomy, otherwise their own Kurds might start getting notions.


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Now you have a large number of players and between the Israelis, the Turks, the Iranians, the Saudis and the Americans plenty of resources to play with. Its also hard to see an outcome that can be agreed upon between the players since some players don't actually talk to each other. The Iranians have the strongest cards for a long-term game - influence over the Iraqi Shiites, over the Syrians, and a long open border. This will probably not change over time. The only way that some sort of equilibrium can be found is if the Iranians were weakened and their hold over the Iraqi Shiites was broken. This could only be done through regime change in Iran. Short of this what you have is either an effective dissolution of Iraq followed by a Turkish or Iranian intervention or an Iranian allied Iraqi Shiite state. In either case there is likely to be a civil war as there are too many players to avoid massive violence. The American presence does nothing to change this outcome and the American training of the new Iraqi army only makes the latter outcome more likely.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

I have been reading about this French rioting. Its amazing. 3300 cars were burned, schools and other buildings destroyed. 10 police officers were injured by shots fired on them by a mob. Elsewhere club-wielding rioters attempted to attack police who responded with tear gas. The French government has effectively lost control of several 'suburb-ghettoes' of Paris and neighborhoods in other cities. The most amazing thing is that in 11 days of rioting not a single person has been killed. Were this to happen in the States there would be national guard with shotguns in the streets within a week. A few rioters would be shot and everybody else would go home and hide.

So lets see what the French government will do with their fellow citizens. The French race-blind policy of assimilation, whereby the immigrants are meant to forget what they were and to become culturally French is basically on trial here. The first problem is that the immigrants don't quite want to fully assimilate. The second is that the white French still see these newcomers as foreigners and discriminate accordingly. Its just that the government refuses consider race to be an issue and so can hardly do much to treat the problem. Regardless of what happens from this point on, this should leave little doubt that the French can't just pretend that inside every Muslim/black immigrant to France is a Frenchman trying to get out.

This Szarkocy guy is also interesting. The same guy that has called on the government to crush this rioting 'scum' has called for affirmitive action and a regression from the apparently failing French model of assimilation towards more Anglo diversity models.

So what are the French going to do? How do you stop rioting that is spreading?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What the fuck is a Judeo-Christian and have you ever met one?