Advice for JetBlue

JetBlue is in the crossfire of two groups of flying monkeys over “sponsoring” a convention hosted by a politically left blog. The specifics of this meaningless and mostly manufactured furor don’t really make much difference. What is interesting is JetBlue’s response, which looks to be a lose-lose situation: it irritates the left for caving, and won’t placate the right much, because it isn’t really JetBlue they are railing against.

Since this blog is about half-baked solutions, I offer the following, alternative advice for JetBlue. Issue a statement with substance more like this:

JetBlue is politically agnostic. We don’t care why you are traveling, only that we provide the best travel experience we can. Whether you go to this convention to participate or to protest, we hope you’ll fly JetBlue.

In essence, incite right wingers to protest the convention, taking their money to bring them there. Everyone wins.

Manufacturing enemies

According the the old maxim, those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Assuming that’s true, a quick look at US foreign policy over the last forty years or so suggests at least one lesson we can learn. In that period, the US government often gave backing to questionable men as “lesser evil” allies of convenience, only to be bitten later by these men when the political climate suddenly changed. Noriega worked for the CIA. The Reagan administration gave financial, intelligence and military support to Saddam Hussein against Iran. The CIA funded and trained the people who became the Taliban to fight the Soviets. Since the current administration contains many of the same people who adopted and executed these policies, it’s a good bet that the future thorn in the side of the US is someone we’re currently cuddling up to while (supposedly) holding our nose.

From where might such a thorn grow and who might he be? Looking at numbers for total aid or even just official military aid may help, but past “backfires” were usually done in secret, so it is tough to say for certain who the US is really aiding at the moment. Still much of this is either reported or widely suspected, so some possibilities, in no particular order:

Middle East

The Middle East seems like an obvious place for the thorn (or thorns) to arise, especially since it is the site of the more recent such troublemakers. On the other hand, the US already has so many enemies there, we’re running out of candidates for turncoats. There are a few, though, especially since the US is losing the propaganda war there so badly that it doesn’t even know it is fighting one. (Hint: start with food.) The most obvious candidate for the US being betrayed in the future by those they are backing now is one of their more recent partners:

Sunni dissidents are now being armed by the US to fight against al-Qaida in Iraq. While on the surface, this seems like a boneheaded repetition of the mistakes made with the Taliban, there are a few differences (which may make it a better move, or even worse). One is that Sunni also may be receiving arms from Iran. Since Iran’s regime is Shi’a, this seems a bit odd, but perhaps they assume that anyone willing to resist the US in Iraq is worth befriending (i.e. they are making the same mistake in arming potential turncoats as the US). If this is true, the US effort to arm the Sunni may be more of a “better they get guns from us than them” move, attempting to point them at other targets. (Is that better? Worse?) Another difference is that authority to negotiate arms deals has been given to officers on the ground, not secret CIA operatives. (Better? Worse?) In any case, I can’t find any references to situations where dumping a lot of guns into an area experiencing heated religious strife and wrath against a foreign occupier ever helped much, so this seems like a good candidate for some future backlash. Photo by Xinhua/AFP Photo

The House of Saud presents a much different set of possible “backfire” threats. It is clear that Saudi Arabia has received official aid from the US and the House of Saud has ties with the Bush family, suggesting that unofficial aid is not out of the question as well. Three types of backlash seem possible. First, given the number of Saudi Arabian citizens involved in the 9-11 attack, it’s not clear how loyal the House of Saud is already. At the very least, a perception against them now exists, which may snowball into an official souring against them from the US, which would really give the House no choice but to turn against America. A second threat is that the House of Saud is very large, which makes it unlikely that all members share the same opinions of the US and provides lots of opportunities for infighting and coup. A “wrong” king seizing power could change everything quickly. Thirdly, should the House fall, the US would be confronted with a situation somewhat like that of Iran in the 1970’s, when the Shah fell. While the House of Saud is nowhere near as propped up by the US as the Shah was, the US has more to loose in Saudi Arabia than they did in 1970’s Iran. Photo by BBC Television

Pervez Musharraf, dictator of Pakistan, most closely fits the historical “type” of leader that ultimately turns on his US backers. Clearly a key ally in current US involvement in the Middle East, it is not so clear how loyal an ally Pakistan actually is. Pakistan is repeatedly accused of harboring terrorists, and signed a truce with the Taliban. Islamists in Pakistan are becoming more vocal and it appears that Musharraf may be starting to loose political standing. That’s a dangerous situation for a leader that might turn against the US to be in, as he may think he could boost his following by reversing course. Taking the danger to a whole new level, he controls nuclear weapons. Photo by Reuters

Fatah, being an arm of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), would seem an odd horse for the US to back; however, they fight Hamas, who wants to wipe Israel off the map. It is unlikely, however, that Fatah will emerge as the next big “turncoat” enemy. They are being trounced by Hamas, so probably will not survive long enough to betray American backers. It is likely, however, that the US will continue to back any anti-Hamas groups it can find, and some of those may eventually succeed in eliminating Hamas, only to rise against the hand that fed them. Even Fatah itself, should it survive, can be counted on for betrayal. Already, as Michael Oren says in the Wall Street Journal (see previous link), “a distinct correlation exists between the amount of support that Fatah receives from the West and its need to prove its ‘Palestinianess’ through terror.” Photo by AFP

Former Soviet states

A number of ex-Soviet (usually ex-KGB) types managed to gain power in the former Soviet states after the collapse of the USSR. Fortunately, the citizens of most of these countries seem to have more sense than the US, as they’ve been overthrowing these Cold-War relics with surprising ease, and almost no blood. Some possibilities, however, remain:

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, at first glance, isn’t much of a candidate for this scenario, because the US doesn’t seem to have done much for or with Turkmenistan, the country who recently “elected” him. One would like to think the US has stayed away from the country because it’s former leader was so odious, but the truth is more likely that they are more fixated on other nations in the region at the moment. Still, even if Berdymukhammedov’s regime turns out to be as hard as his name is to spell, Turkmenistan’s natural-gas wealth nearly guarantees outsiders will try to make deals with him. Photo by ?

Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev, the current leader of the false democracy of Kazakhstan, provides a good example of the “dictator masquerading as democrat” that seems trendy these days. The current US administration seems intent on cozying up to him, in spite of typical post-Soviet thuggery. On the other hand, he evidently gave up huge numbers of nukes voluntarily (back to Russia) and seems more interested in playing nice with all sides. If Kazakhstan is a future thorn, it will probably be under a different leader. His son-in-law was making a bid for power in 2012, but Nazarbayev fired him and issued a warrant for his arrest. He also recently changed laws to allow himself to remain in power indefinitely. Photo by Associated Press

Islam Karimov, leads Uzbekistan similarly, but even more overtly dictatorially. The US government liked him, since he was trying to squash an Islamist rebellion in his country, but that’s changed since his troops gunned down a peaceful protest. (Given the fact that this action made the Bush administration say “woah! too brutal for us! see ya!”, you can assume it was pretty bad.) At this point, it seems the US already burned the bridge with Uzbekistan’s regime, which is now purging itself of pro-American members and cozying up to China and Russia. It’s possible Karimov might become a thorn, but it’s probably more likely that the brewing insurrection will succeed, making yet another Islamist state that hates America. Another possibility is that the growing rift over which country will dominate the region will grow worse, creating yet another opportunity for the US to pick the wrong side. Photo by Associated Press

Africa

Like much of the first world, the historically US has done its share of meddling in Africa, although to a much lesser extent than, say, France or England. Recently though, it’s joined the world in ignoring much of it. While the US has been throwing money at fighting AIDS promoting abstinence in Africa, it doesn’t appear to be exercising much political will there lately. Uganda appears to be on the rise, but it’s not clear it owes much of that to America. The US concern in Africa now seems not to be famine, genocide or mineral wealth, but terrorism. Which leads us to…

Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, has joined the US war on terror by launching an offensive against anti-American targets in Somalia and becoming much more involved in the rest of Africa. Zenawi’s regime has a history mixed messages. It leads Africa in the percentage of GDP spent on programs for the poor, but has little to show for it and a horrible human rights record. It opens its airwaves but stifles freedom of the press. Ethiopia is also surrounded by Muslim countries, with a growing Muslim population of its own (from 30%-50% of the country, depending on which source you check). The threat here seems to be that, as Ethiopia is slowly dragging its way to become more genuinely democratic, it’s demographics may be shifting. This could portend an ousting (legitimately or otherwise) of Zenawi, leaving an American equipped army in the hands of the ousters. Alternatively, Zenawi may develop visions of granduer from his military outings and turn feral. Another possibility is that tensions between Egypt and Ethopia over the water rights of the Nile could turn ugly, which would put the US in a tight spot. Photo by Ethiopian embassy

Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, served as a high ranking officer in several wars against Israel before attaining his current office. During the first Gulf War, he allied his country strongly with the coalition, Egyptian soldiers being some of the first to fight in Kuwait. Presently, he is not as enthusiastic about the Iraq war, but still receives nearly five times more military aid from America than does all of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It seems unlikely that Mubarak would rabidly turn on the US, but if it happens, it will almost certainly be over Israel. As in Ethiopia, another possibility is that increased democracy could actually oust him in favor of a more Islamist ruler. Photo by Khaled Desouki / AFP / Getty

Other locations

No doubt a number of other people and areas are missing from this list. Thailand? Indonesia? Mexico? What do you think?

The real threat

With the realization that the shooter at Virginia Tech was South Korean, I’m just going to go ahead and blame the whole thing on gold farming. There are already idiots blaming videogames as a whole for no reason, might as well try to sic them on gamers that actually do suck.

If a bunch of bloggers started suggesting a connection between gold farming and the shooting, I wonder how long it would take for the media to pick it up as a “story”. It’s not like the media will spend much time blaming the actual shooter or prevalent anti-US propaganda in South Korea, after all. Better to lead them to a “juicier” target. I bet it wouldn’t take much, even in spite of the fact that it South Korea isn’t really much of a source of gold farming. But the media doesn’t care about facts, really, so this should not be a problem. It makes the story compelling though, because it deals with money and cheating. Maybe there’s even a way to add sex into it.

You might even be able to convince some hysterical pundit or other to report it as truth to the media.

Update: Sadly, gold farming doesn’t seem to have made the list of blame.

Fighting global warming with greed

An Inconvenient Truth aired on HBO a few days ago and held up better than I thought it would, though it comes across more as a good lecture than the best documentary. One of the things Al Gore says in it caught my attention: during a slide of the car emissions standards, he points out the fact that U.S. auto manufacturers cannot sell a number of their models in China, because they do not meet China’s emissions minimums. This gives me an idea on how American car companies can save the environment and make scads of money at the same time. It goes like this:

First, make line of cars that get something like 60 miles to the gallon, or some number higher than any other manufacturer. If they are more expensive, so be it. Make the technology that runs it as hard to duplicate as possible. If possible, make it require a substance that you control the vast majority of supply.

Now.

A year or so before these cars become available, leverage your evidently huge influence over emissions regulators to quickly change the U.S. standards such that new cars sold in America have to have emissions just shy of your new model and, crucially, above everyone else’s. You’ve just captured the entire American car market, preventing everyone else from importing to the United States. Attempt to do the same in as many other countries as you can.

Of course, you will not actually be able to reap the benefits of this directly. What will happen is that before the legislation is voted in, other countries will protect their own auto industry and attempt to derail the new regulation with lobbyists of their own. If this fails, they can simply boycott U.S. cars, which would hurt. So, while these negotiations are going on, you unveil the real strategy: you meet with foreign car manufacturers and give them rights to your technology in exchange for joining your new auto hegemony. They then can make their own cars that meet the new standard, giving them incentive to support it, and to make it happen in their own countries. You gain the royalties on all of those cars you sell, as well as support for you new standard.

Depending on how many foreign companies go for the deal, you tune the limit your in-pocket legislators are writing into emissions standards. Chances are those who would reject the deal would be those who meet already high emission standards. If you can’t get them to join, you tune the limit to be below their levels, thus replacing their need to oppose the regulation with a reason to support it. They become de facto conspirators. You do this until those still opposed to the move can’t buy as much influence as you. This should not be difficult. Once the law passes, it should be possible for the hegemony to crush those that didn’t play along, eventually buying them.

If all goes well, you should end with a situation much like you started with, except that a) most new cars in the world will be far less polluting, b) some job adjustment will have occurred, with jobs gained from building and supporting the new technology and lost (at least temporarily) from companies that wouldn’t play ball being locked out of various countries, c) cars will likely be more expensive, which consumers won’t be able to do anything about (hey, at least they’re no longer dying from global warming) and d) car makers would have made a ton of money.

Product Idea: “Rumsfeld”

There should be a “Rumsfeld” mode in Bugzilla (or other issue tracking systems) that tracks issues the way Donald Rumsfeld does. Something where the “severity” field is something like this:

Come to think of it, why doesn’t the government have a big public bug tracking database? Certain “power users” could be officially assigned issues to take into their own hands, like “fit the pothole on 5th and Main” or “secure the El Paso border against brown people looking for work you won’t do”.

MAD, but effective

For nearly fifty years, the concept of mutual assured destruction, whether official doctrine or not, has probably prevented the use of nuclear weapons in anger. Even during very close calls, knowledge that the result of a release would mean everyone’s death kept fingers off the triggers.

Some claim the MAD doesn’t work against “rogue states” or terrorist groups. After all, if New York evaporates in a mushroom cloud caused by a smuggled nuke, against whom are you retaliating? However, since MAD is more of a political weapon, I believe it can indeed be useful against both terrorists and “rogue states”. Since the point of Asteroid is to suggest solutions, however half-baked they may be, here is how this half-baked strategy would go down:

NETWORK ANNOUNCER: We interrupt this program for a special announcement.

Cut to image of presidential seal

WHITE-HOUSE ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States..

Fade to shot of President sitting behind desk in the Oval Office. His countenance should be a subtle mix of “in control”, “forceful”, “grim” and “saddened”; however, if this speech was really made, it would probably be made by Bush, so we’d likely have to settle for his usual mix of “smirking” and “simian”

PRESIDENT: My fellow Americans…long ago, the Persian Empire spanned from India into Europe and Africa, host to one of the most advanced cultures of its time, bringing the world unmatched advances in medicine, chemistry and mathematics. Unfortunately, those times are long past and Persia has devolved into the fundamentalist theocracy of Iran, a false democracy, where opposition parties are banned from running for election.

Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced “the start of the progress of this country” not with medicine or mathematics, but by enriching uranium, the first step towards production of nuclear weapons. Iran, claims that this technology will only be used for energy production. It is possible that they are telling the truth. It is more likely that they are not.

In the past, Iranian leaders have called for the death of America and its allies. They have taken our citizens hostage and taken the sovereign territory of our embassy by force. They continue to fund terrorism. There is much Iranian leaders could have done in the past decade to rejoin the international community, but nearly every action they have taken has instead been calculated to drive them further and further from the company of rational men and women. There are no doubt many Iranian citizens who oppose this stance, but so far they seem unable or unwilling to wrest control of their freedom from those who illegitimately claim to speak for them.

Therefore, while the United States and the international community determines how best to handle Iran’s nuclear program, I am today announcing a policy change in the way our great nation will respond should the unthinkable happen and a nuclear device is discharged on our own soil or abroad.

From this day forth, should an attack with nuclear or radiological weapons, or missiles capable of delivering them, be launched from Iran against any nation, particularly the United States or its allies, the response of the United States will be to immediately and without warning launch an attack that will blanket every square meter of the nation of Iran in nuclear fire.

Furthermore, the detonation of any nuclear or radiological device, anywhere on the globe, whose source cannot be determined will be assumed without proof to be an attack by a hidden alliance of North Korea, Iran and the greater Muslim world against the economy, security and people of the United States. This will invite a nuclear counterattack by the United States in which, along with the totality of Iran, the cities of P’y?ngyang, Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo, Riyadh, Amman, Beirut, Baghdad, Kabul and Islamabad will be incinerated with nuclear weapons.

It is possible that countries like Russia or China will respond to this policy by creating a policy of their own threatening nuclear retaliation against the United States should it be invoked. This will, if it happens, require the United States to strike against those countries in kind.

Therefore, the result should Korea, Iran and the greater Muslim world fail to control those who would use nuclear weapons will be the destruction of all life on Earth, including themselves. A loose nuclear weapon will not be a righteous weapon of holy vengeance, but a death sentence for every living thing.

There are those who suggest that Iran is just waiting out this administration to be replaced by a new Presidency more like those they dealt with in the past. Mistakes of those administrations have led many in the Middle East to believe that our great nation is toothless, and easily backs down. They’ll assume that this policy will not be carried out by my successors. Such assumptions would be a mistake. Whatever their other perceived weaknesses, no administration since the development of nuclear weapons has ever hesitated to take an aggressive stance regarding nuclear weapons. Even the most peaceful of men will fight if the stakes are high enough, and the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of a nation who both funds terrorism and has repeatedly called for our nation’s destruction is high indeed.

Our great nation is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons in anger. We have not had to use them since, blessed with rational adversaries. Iran has not done much to show itself as rational. It is my hope that they soon will, abandoning this pursuit of a technology that, in the end, won’t help them at all. But, while I hope, our nation’s nuclear arsenal will remain ready.

God bless you. And America prevails! And God bless the United States of America.

There is a chance of this strategy backfiring and uniting more of the Islamic world against us; however, at this point I’m not sure our reputation with the rest of the world could get much worse, after six years of steady bridge-burning. What do you think? Would this strategy work?

The Fightin’ Multiculturalist

The world “multiculturalism” means different things to different people. Critics of multiculturalism, like the Ayn Rand Institute, tend to define it like so:

In brief, multiculturalism is the view that all cultures, from that of a spirits-worshiping tribe to that of an advanced industrial civilization, are equal in value.

They then proceed to refute, often logically and convincingly, that such a view is foolish, saying things like:

Multiculturalism seeks to obliterate the value of a free, industrialized civilization (which today exists in the West and elsewhere), by declaring that such a civilization is no better than primitive tribalism. … The ideas and values that animate a particular culture can and should be judged objectively. A culture that values freedom, progress, reason and science, for instance, is good; one that values oppression, stagnation, mysticism, and ignorance is not.

This critique seems to the one voiced most often in recent popular (as opposed to academic) debate, particularly in discussions about the Islamic world.

The problem with this argument is that its initial definition of what multiculturalism means is completely wrong. Granted, one of the largest difficulties with multiculturalism is that it is not well defined, a point made evident by the entry on it in the Wikipedia, where at least four different definitions are mentioned. Even so, it seems that the only credible groups who use the definition above are the ones who oppose it. The impact and meaning of multiculturalism has been debated significantly in academic circles for quite some time. Though I was trained at one of the primary institutions that could be accused of “pushing a multiculturalist agenda”, I’m not an academic, so I confess ignorance of much of this debate. My interest here is more in the popular use of the term and, in particular, how a multicultural society can consistently deal with one that is not.

In saying that people like the Ayn Rand Institute have the definition of multiculturalism “completely wrong” it is incumbent on me to provide a correct one. Sadly, the best definition I can provide is by way of an example of multicultural behavior: fans of the National Football League.

Your average NFL fan (or any other fan of a professional domestic sport team) favors one team above others. When attending the temple of their team, they will dress in appropriate religious regalia, usually a set mix of colors, maybe with a large number on the front, or representations of dairy products on their head. Some will be disgusted and/or amused at the zealotry of those of their number who get tattoos of team iconography or paint their body bright orange or wear big foam hands. Many even do this watching on television at home. Most will talk about their team with anyone who will listen. Every one of these fans, however, knows somebody that roots for another team, maybe even someone even more impassioned about their own team than they themselves are about theirs.

Ayn Rand, no doubt, would be thrilled to know that each particular team “can be judged objectively” and it is usually (though not always) possible to empirically determine which team is “better”. No fan anywhere would ever claim that all teams in the league “are equal in value”. Clearly his own team is worth far more to him than the others are, even though it may simultaneously be worth far less in terms of monetary value, turnover ratio or victory percentage.

While a fan of a losing team may have to endure barbs of fans of other teams (or even his own fellow fans), it’s rare that his choice of team puts him in any real danger. By the same token, a fan on the championship team, while he might not understand why someone would root for any other team and may, in fact, consider anyone that does so inferior or even express hatred for them, he never seriously opposes, or even questions, the right of those other fans to root for whoever they like. It’s not like a large group of them get together and scream through loudspeakers “all others must renounce their own loyalty and support our team, or face righteous wrath,” then send out the “Shining Row 12 of Section J” to hack up non-believers with machetes. (Well, at least not outside of Oakland.)

There are exceptions, of course, but when American sports fans hear of planned soccer riots, fans grouping together to fight fans of other teams, fans murdering their own goalie after a loss, governments torturing their athletes for losing or even when players leave the field to deck some smart ass, the vast majority of them wonder “what the hell is wrong with these people?”. Sure, American fans react badly to victory and turn over police cars with the best of them, but this almost never involves clashes with opposing fans. While they think their own team superior, they don’t assume that this means that fans of other teams should have less of a right to root for whoever they want. In short, they have a “multicultural” view when it comes to team loyalty.

You might define multiculturalism as “the tolerance to allow others to believe stupid things”. Or maybe it’s as simple as “live and let live”.

However, practicing multiculturalism has a lot in common with laws surrounding free speech. In principle, it’s fine to say “people are free to say what they want”. In practice, there are sticky implementation problems. How do you deal with someone yelling “fire” in a crowded room? How do you deal with someone who invokes their free speech rights to broadcast the secrets of people, corporations or governments or make false accusations against them? Is it permissible for someone to claim their right to free speech is more important than someone else’s? Suppose someone openly encourages others to kill someone?

Similarly, encoding a principle like “people are free to believe in what they want and live the way they want to” has implementation problems of its own. Suppose a prisoner believes he must be provided steak as part of his religion. What about a culture that allows its children to die from preventable ailments? How about a religion that considers its practitioners justified—in fact expected—to kill members of other cultures?

The guiding principle in rationalizing these kinds of difficulties tends to be “your right to swing your fist ends at my face”. In other words, I consider myself a multiculturalist, but I also have no problem at all with killing someone who is trying to kill me because he is not.