Obama should help Iran move to the Seam

There are a number of states in the seam between the functioning core of the global economy of Europe and the Gap. These range from countries in the process of integration into Europe — like Ukraine, Georgia, and Turkey — old outposts in the Gap — like Israel — and small oil-based economies, such as Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. While the Iraq War of 2008 has been successful in rolling back Baathism and al Qaeda in Iraq, it has so far failed in its attempt to make Iraq an obviously good model for hte rest of the greatest middle east. Iraq, for all our efforts, is still in the Gap.

Fortunately, Barack Obama (who becomes our President this month) has an opportunity at an even greater prize: Iran.


Iran is more populous and culturally more developed in Iraq. It has a greater ability to project power, and hence to make piece. It is increasingly integrated with the economies of our friends (Azerbaijan, Turkey, India, China, and so on), and is useful in our containing rogue states like Russia:

From “Russia and Iran: Comrades in contradiction” (hat-tip to Tom Barnett):

Making the task even more labyrinthine is the fact that for many of those years, Iran was actively working against the Russia’s interests (or vice-versa) in one area, while in another area they worked together harmoniously. One example of this is the nexus of civil wars in Tajikistan and Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Tajikistan, the poorest of the former Soviet states, dissolved into chaos in 1992. Russia backed the establishment communists for the sake of stability, while Iran entered the fray by supporting the opposition, which it mistook to be an Islamic revolutionary movement.

In the new millennium Iran and Russia adjusted to the new American presence in the Middle East and Central Asia. For a few years, both countries turned away from each other and towards the US. In Afghanistan, neither put up any obstacles to scattering their old foes, the Taliban. Then in 2003 the US invaded Iraq, and although Iran approved of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s ouster, the large American presence in another bordering country was too threatening to accept. Russia found itself at odds with America over oil contracts in Iraq, regretted its loss of prestige in the United Nations Security Council, and began to drift back towards Iran.

Friendship with Iran would do more than just bring geographical continuity to the Near-Eastern Seam. It would help cement the positions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan, all of which are permanently’ Iran’s neighbors and presently in the Gap. It could bring security to Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the U.A.E., which are seam states near Iran. Economic investment in Iran would cement Europe’s relationships with the near-east, and providing a nuclear umbrella to the region would provide safety for Israel, as well.

Many of them instinctively reverted to the polarities of the old Cold-War paradigm and saw Russia threatening an ideological ally of the United States. More important for the long term, though, the projection of Russian strength into the Caucasus sent an implicit message to Iran about who the real power is in the region.

There is much to be done in the near-east. Moving those countries off of oil (and reducing the power of oil-rich rogue states like Russia) requires us to invest in batteries, biodiesal. hybrids, and other new technologies. We have to spread those technologies to new core powers like India and China, too.

But don’t forget the geopoltiical component. Iran is a useful friend in a critical neighborhood.

I hope President Obama makes it a priority to bring at first detente, and then build a strategic partnership, between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Patrick Fitzgerald

It is fitting that the latest news from the Department of Justice begins with the line, “In a remarkable screw-up.”

Pat Fitzgerald Boots One – January 7, 2009
In a remarkable screw-up, a Department of Justice official today accidentally distributed to the media a document containing the names of nearly 20 confidential witnesses interviewed during a federal probe targeting the operators of a fraudulent investment scheme.

The DOJ has been producing one screw-up after another. From losing the 9/11 emails (by forgetting to log into hotmail) to a painful pattern of mistakes in the prosecution of Sen. Steens (R-AK), it’s hard to imagine who could take the DOJ seriously.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the DOJ attorney at the center of this scandal, also is in charge of the botched prosecution of the Governor of Illinois. Fitzgerald’s performance in that case created a bizarre Senate + Ill. Secretary of State v. Ill. Gov + Congressional Black Caucus showdown. If Fitzgerald had waited to announce the case against Governor Blagojevich until he could indict him, the latest national disgrace may not have happened.

R and Deep UX

New York Times has a great article on the R statistical language. A good friend of mine convinced me to learn R when my copy of SPSS expired. I am glad he did.


R is has a wonderful deep user experience (UX). After one hour of learning, you can do a lot with SPSS (A popular competitor) and just a few basic tasks with R.

After ten hours, you never want to use SPSS again.

With a design that encourages users to store commonly run tasks as scripts (instead of a point-and-click interface), users quickly build a library of the complex chains of tasks they run, allowing them to be easily repeat the same process they went through in the last day, month, and year.

Meanwhile, a user of SPSS would have to remember which menus, checkboxes, and buttons were pushed half a year ago.

Good to see R getting this high-profile treatment.

The response from a SAS representative reminds me of what Unix vendors must have thought when the first learned about Linux.

5GW: A Free-for-all of surprise destruction

I like almost everything about this summary of 5GW from David Axe:

How to Win a Fifth-Generation War | Danger Room from Wired.com
But the next generation of war — the so-called “fifth-generation” — wont feature armies or clear ideas. It will be what U.S. Army Major Shannon Beebe, the top intel officer for Africa, calls a “vortex of violence,” a free-for-all of surprise destruction motivated more by frustration than by any coherent plans for the future.

the only thing is the ending. It should be motivated by a coherent plan for the future.

5GW, that secretwar of hidden movements, relies on a waterfall development model, whether it is a state exporting 5GW, a state conducting 5GW against itself, or insurgents fighting a state with 5GW.

Must be a disinformation op by the Cold War Lobby

Rusisa’s hardly a “Cold War” threat — indeed, people who talk in this way tend to come across as hysterical. Rather, it’s a counttry about as powerful as Portugal which attempts to use the wealth it digs up from the ground to alter the foreign policy of our friends in the core of the Old Core, New Core, and Gap

While plummeting oil and natural gas prices are doing a job at containing Russia, we should not be lulled by the low prices into relying more on these hydrocarbons. Rather, the United States, Europe, India, China, and Japan should work together at developing alternative energy sources, and take away Russia’s ability to cause trouble.

Props to Reid

I realize it’s fashionable among conservative bloggers to bash Harry Reid (D-NV, the Senate Majority Leader) for whatever reason, but the recent attacks on him for refusing to seat Roland Burris (D-IL) are inane.

The Constitution gives each House of Congress the authority to judge its own members. From Article I, Section V, of the US Constitution:

Section 5: Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members, and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each House may provide.
Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.
Each House shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such parts as may in their judgment require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the members of either House on any question shall, at the desire of one fifth of those present, be entered on the journal.
Neither House, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

That some “conservatives” are now criticizing Reid by relying on an activist decision by the Warren Court should be a warming that many so-called “conservatives” are just Republican Party hacks who jump at any opportunity to embarrass the Democrats.

Hopefully after Governor Blagoevich (D-IL) is impeached, the next Governor can appoint someone appropriate to the seat. I have previously suggested that Tammy Duckworth is sufficiently Obamariffic for our age, and his scathing review of her by Firedoglake emphasizes my view. Anyone Firedoglake despises can’t be all bad!

Validation and User Experience (broadly defined)

Pulse UX has a pretty good post up about the Value-at Risk statistic that has recently taken a drubbing.

How new theories in human information processing explain the meltdown on Wall Street

At the heart of the answer to this vexing question on the melt down of Wall Street is a major shift in the underlying psychological theories of human decision-making. In fact contemporary theory on human error research has shifted entirely from the idea of “decision-making” to the concept of “sense-making”. The underlying cognitive science behind this new way of visualizing how individuals and more important entire institutions assess risk is known generally as “Naturalistic Decision Making” or NDM. What this new view teaches is that there are no “points-in-time” that constitute rational decision triggers, but that problems like RISK management on Wall Street are actually an accumulated series of EXPERIENCES that flow together to create situations that are filled with distortions such “positive outcome bias”. We now know from significant research that these distortions make it nearly impossible for those directly involved in such situations to make intelligent (reasoned) decisions about actual RISK.

What I get from this Pulse UX piece, as well as the conclusion from a recent piece at Mini-Microsoft

As a result, you get something like Office 2003 where the end-user feature set was so hard to describe that marketing had to resort to odd ads of people creating dog-piles of ecstasy over the release and ads warning customers that they are dinosaurs if they don’t upgrade. We can’t really describe what features you’ll get, but at least you won’t be a dinosaur… heh?

Like that point from The Field above, we need to focus on the customer experience vs. barely wired together technology which typically is redundant and confusing. At home I like watching videos stored on my Ultimate machine, and I’ve got about six different services running to do it multiplied by three different networked video boxes hooked to my TV. For a given video, I have to know the right hardware plus software combination. We want to own the living room, but our customer experience is mentally and physically scattered between Media Center, Xbox, WMP, Zune, and partner media boxes. I love Media Center and I think it should be present in all SKUs of the OS (excluding good ole N) but with something like the Fuji release I get pretty concerned about where it’s going. Around the consumer experience we need coherent focus, not a scattered competitive model.

.. is that, too often someone comes up with something, and says it represents reality, without offering any validation for that. What I mean is, we hear that such-and-such is a measure of 4GW, or of User Experience, or of risk, or something, and we take it on faith.

From the User Experience of financial markets (currently at fatally low levels) to the Microsoft Zune (not much better), we run into trouble when we take claims of this-indicating-that at face value.

The Adventures of Problem Sleuth

Courtesy of Sinosplice, I need give props to MS Paint Adventures, which is best described as Choose Your Own Adventure crossed with Toothpaste for Dinner. MS Paint Adventures follows (more or less) Problem Sleuth, a wannabe hard-boiled private detective, annoyed by his neighbors and seemingly trapped in his own office.


MS Paint Adventures is inspired by Infocom games, and the faux-interface reminds me especially of Return to Zork. But the “game” is strictly linear, with only one option per frame. Check it out!

The Net-Zero Gas Tax

I have been pushing it for years, and I am glad a bipartisan consensus is now emerging around it: we need a net-zero gas tax.

Charles Krauthammer writes:

What to do? Something radically new. A net-zero gas tax. Not a freestanding gas tax but a swap that couples the tax with an equal payroll tax reduction. A two-part solution that yields the government no net increase in revenue and, more importantly–that is
why this proposal is different from others–immediately renders the average gasoline consumer financially whole.

Here is how it works. The simultaneous enactment of two measures: A $1 increase in the federal gasoline tax–together with an immediate $14 a week reduction of the FICA tax. Indeed, that reduction in payroll tax should go into effect the preceding week, so that the upside of the swap (the cash from the payroll tax rebate) is in hand even before the downside (the tax) kicks in.

The math is simple. The average American buys roughly 14 gallons of gasoline a week. The $1 gas tax takes $14 out of his pocket. The reduction in payroll tax puts it right back. The average driver comes out even, and the government makes nothing on the transaction. (There are, of course, more drivers than workers–203 million vs. 163 million. The 10 million unemployed would receive the extra $14 in their unemployment insurance checks. And the elderly who drive–there are 30 million licensed drivers over 65–would receive it with their Social Security payments.)

My proposal, by contrast, was a $3.00/gal gas tax, equiavelnt to a rebate of $42 every period. The specific mechanics of the net-zero gas, whether rebated through the payroll tax or as monthly checks, do not matter much. What matters is that it helps our friends and hurts our enemies:

We underestimate our power. Of course, the slump in China and other rapidly growing economies has contributed to the current extreme price collapse. But China consumes only 9 percent of the world’s oil. The United States consumes 24 percent. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia produces 13 percent of the world’s oil. We don’t generally see ourselves as the Saudi Arabia of oil consumers, but we are. The Saudis have the most effect on the world price because they are the swing producer. We are, in effect, the swing consumer. And since oil peaked earlier this year, we are consuming less. October was yet another month of record year-on-year decline of gasoline consumption in the United States. And that’s just the immediate effect, before the long-term impact of changes in our automobile fleet can take hold. And that long-term change will only occur if we keep the domestic price high.

Let’s hope Barack Obama introduces this geogreen net-zero gas tax, along with a geogreen economic stimulus!

WordPress 2.7 breaks the Redirection plug-in?

Since I mvoed this blog to WordPress, I have used the Redirection plugin by John Godley of Urban Gieraffe to patch over some inconsistencies between WordPress and my old host, blogspirit. For instance, blogspirit and wordpress have different locations for the RSS feed, the atom feed, some special pages, etc.

Redirection has always had a very convenient settings page, that allows me to make blog readers and other software think pages are still in their old locations. So far things had gone smoothly.

Unfortunately, the latest version of WordPress appears to break Redirection! The settings page is gone, and the forwarding now works inconsistently. So, for example, this link to a blog series I wrote years ago still works, but this link to my atom feed no longer works.

WordPress 2.7 has broken other sites as well — “probably not a good idea” as Lynne Pope says. The creator of Redirect knows at least some of the problems WordPress 2.7 has caused him, but not all. Some intrepid bloggers are trying to figure out the problem on their own,

WordPress is annoying enough people wiht 2.7 that some are advocating to stop using criticla plug-ins, which would remove one of the big benefits of WordPress for many people.

Eventually, I fixed the problem (I think) by going into the redirection database through phpMyAdmin, and changing both the action_type and match_type fields to ‘url.’ I am not sure if this is a valid approach, but it seems to work for now!