October 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


The Cuban Missile Crisis as Intelligence Failure : Fifty years of reluctance to draw an unwelcome conclusion (Amy Zegart, 10/02/12, Policy Review)

The cuban missile crisis marks its 50th anniversary this year as the most studied event of the nuclear age. Scholars and policymakers alike have been dissecting virtually every aspect of that terrifying nuclear showdown. Digging through documents in Soviet and American archives, and attending conferences from Havana to Harvard, generations of researchers have labored to distill what happened in 1962 -- all with an eye toward improving U.S. foreign policy.

Yet after half a century, we have learned the wrong intelligence lessons from the crisis. In some sense, this result should not be surprising. Typically, learning is envisioned as a straight-line trajectory where time only makes things better. But time often makes things worse. Organizations (and individuals) frequently forget what they should remember and remember what they should forget.

One of the most widely accepted lessons of that frightening time -- that the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba constituted a stunning American intelligence success -- needs to be challenged. An equally stunning intelligence-warning failure has been downplayed in Cuban missile crisis scholarship since the 1960s. Shifting the analytic lens from intelligence success to failure, moreover, reveals surprising and important organizational deficiencies at work. Ever since Graham Allison penned Essence of Decision in 1971, a great deal of research has focused on the pitfalls of individual perception and cognition as well as organizational weaknesses in the policymaking process. Surprisingly little work, however, has examined the crucial role of organizational weaknesses in intelligence analysis. Many of these same problems still afflict U.S. intelligence agencies today.

The far greater failure was inflating the potential nuclear threat from the USSR and imaging we were in a standoff.  The Crisis actually presented us with an opportunity to both topple the Castro regime and demonstrate that the Soviet Union was not a military peer.  Squandering it left millions of people under communist rule for decades.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


BB King at 87: the last of the great bluesmen : BB King, who has just turned 87, has returned home to Mississippi to play to family and friends. In the experience of a lifetime, Ed Vulliamy joins him and hears from the maestro about his rise from the cotton fields to international stardom (Ed Vulliamy, 10/06/12, The Observer)

Backed now by a lilac glow in the western sky - and looking east towards the village of Itta Bena, where he was born - BB sits down and starts up the show. He reaches "Key to the Highway", and there it is: that one long and trembling note, hanging there in the wafts of barbecue smoke, like only BB King can play it. He rolls his eyes, raises his eyebrows, then stares out into the crowd - and there's a collective gasp, a ripple of applause, and a mutual bond of affection.

This is a huddle, not a crowd, really. The town has come to hear its famous son: mostly black people - in families, many with a picnic - plus a few whites with ponytails, ZZ Top beards or other gestures of nonconformity. There are people here like Alfred Knox - one of 11 children with eight of his own (and 21 grandchildren) - who left Mississippi for Milwaukee when he was 19, the sound of Honeyboy Edwards playing juke joints ringing in his ears, and has now come back with his nephew Gervis to hear BB, to hear and talk blues, talk politics. The usual jocks and suits who wave bottles of Bud and shout at tourist clubs like BB King's own franchise in Memphis are not here for this annual homecoming concert - oddly, but thank God.

Nor, indeed, are some of Indianola's good citizens. Latunya and her friend were in the post office earlier, and said how "We're real excited BB's coming back. Gee, I'd lo-o-ove to go see him play. But I go out Fridays. I don't go out Wednesdays, I only go out Fridays". This is also the town in which the White Citizens Council was formed, political wing of the Ku Klux Klan; and the founders' heirs are probably elsewhere tonight.

The maestro's sonority on guitar is as inimitably perfect as ever. After one long, searing note during "The Thrill is Gone", BB King darts the stare of a clown right into the front rows, as though to say: "How about that!?" But it is BB's voice on the warm breeze that stops a heartbeat - that feeling behind and between the words that is the quintessence of the blues.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


John Muir's Yosemite : The father of the conservation movement found his calling on a visit to the California wilderness (Tony Perrottet, July 2008, Smithsonian magazine)

"There are an amazing number of misconceptions about John Muir," says Scott Gediman, the park's public affairs officer. "People think he discovered Yosemite or started the national park system. Others assume he lived here all his life." In fact, says Gediman, Muir lived in Yosemite off and on for only a short but intense period from 1868 to 1874, an experience that transformed him into a successor to Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Later in life, Muir would return to Yosemite on shorter trips, burdened with his own celebrity and the responsibilities of family and work. But it was during the happy period of his relative youth, when he was free to amble around Yosemite, that Muir's ideas were shaped. Some of his most famous adventures, recounted in his books The Yosemite and Our National Parks, were from this time.

"As a young man, Muir felt he was a student in what he called the 'University of the Wilderness,'" Gisel said. "Yosemite was his graduate course. This is where he decided who he was, what he wanted to say and how he was going to say it."

When he first strode into Yosemite in the spring of 1868, Muir was a scruffy Midwestern vagabond wandering the wilderness fringes of post-bellum America, taking odd jobs where he could. In retrospect, visiting Yosemite might seem an inevitable stop on his life's journey. But his later recollections reveal a young man plagued with self-doubt and uncertainty, often lonely and confused about the future. "I was tormented with soul hunger," he wrote of his meandering youth. "I was on the world. But was I in it?" [...]

Muir left Yosemite abruptly in late 1870; some scholars suspect he was fleeing the romantic interest of Lady Yelverton, who had long been separated from a caddish husband. A short time later, in January 1871, Muir returned to Yosemite, where he would spend the next 22 months--his longest stint. On Sunday excursions away from the sawmill, he made detailed studies of the valley's geology, plants and animals, including the water ouzel, or dipper, a songbird that dives into swift streams in search of insects. He camped out on high ledges where he was doused by freezing waterfalls, lowered himself by ropes into "the womb" of a remote glacier and once "rode" an avalanche down a canyon. ("Elijah's flight in a chariot of fire could hardly have been more gloriously exciting," he said of the experience.)

This refreshingly reckless manner, as if he were drunk on nature, is what many fans like to remember about him today. "There has never been a wilderness advocate with the kind of hands-on experience of Muir," says Lee Stetson, editor of an anthology of Muir's outdoor adventure writing and an actor who has portrayed him in one-man shows in Yosemite for the past 25 years. "People tend to think of him as a remote philosopher-king, but there's probably not a single part of this park that he didn't visit himself." Not surprisingly, Native Americans, whom Muir regarded as "dirty," tend to be less enthusiastic about him. "I think Muir has been given entirely too much credit," says Yosemite park ranger Ben Cunningham-Summerfield, a member of the Maidu tribe of Northern California.

In early 1871, Muir had been obliged to leave his idyllic creek-side cabin, which Hutchings wanted to use for his relatives. With his usual inventiveness, Muir built a small study in the sawmill under a gable reachable only by ladder, which he called his "hang-nest." There, surrounded by the many plant specimens he'd gathered on his rambles, he filled journal after journal with his observations of nature and geology, sometimes writing with sequoia sap for added effect. Thanks to Jeanne Carr, who had moved to Oakland and hobnobbed with California's literati, Muir was beginning to develop a reputation as a self-taught genius. The noted scientist Joseph LeConte was so impressed with one of his theories--that the Yosemite Valley had been formed by glacial activity rather than a prehistoric cataclysm, as was widely, and incorrectly, thought--that he encouraged Muir to publish his first article, which appeared in the New York Tribune in late 1871. Ralph Waldo Emerson, by then elderly, spent days with Muir peppering him with botanical questions. (The pair went to Mariposa Grove, but much to Muir's disappointment, Emerson was too frail to camp overnight.)

By the end of 1872, Muir was making occasional appearances in the salons of San Francisco and Oakland, where Carr introduced him as "the wild man of the woods." Writing for outdoor magazines, Muir was able to put his ideas about nature into the vernacular, but he wrestled not only with the act of writing but with the demands of activism. Part of him wanted to simply return to the park and revel in nature. But by the fall of 1874, having visited the valley after a nine-month absence, he concluded that that option was no longer open to him. He had a calling, to protect the wilderness, which required his presence in the wider world. "This chapter of my life is done," he wrote to Carr from Yosemite. "I feel I am a stranger here." Muir, 36, returned to San Francisco.

"Yosemite had been his sanctuary," says Gisel. "The question was now how to protect it. By leaving, he was accepting his new responsibility. He had been a guide for individuals. Now he would be a guide for humanity."

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Reality: How can we know it exists? (Mike Holderness, 10/01/12, New Scientist)

[T]he question "what exists?" reduces, for what in philosophy passes for practical purposes, to questions such as "what do we mean by 'know'?"

Plato had a go at it 2400 years ago, defining "knowledge" as "justified true belief". But testing the justification or the truth of beliefs traces back to our perceptions, and we know these can deceive us.  [...]

Quite separately, rigorous logicians such as Harvard's Willard Van Orman Quine abandoned the search for a foundation of reality and took "coherentist" positions. Let go of the notion of a pyramid of knowledge, they argued: think instead of a raft built out of our beliefs, a seaweedy web of statements about perceptions and statements about statements, not "grounded" in anything but hanging together and solid enough to set sail upon. Or even, possibly, to be a universe.

This idea is circular, and it's cheating, say critics of a more foundationist bent. It leads back to the suspicion that there actually is no reality independent of our observations. But if there is - how can we know?

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Dueling scenarios helped shape Trayvon story in epic media battle (Hal Boedeker and Martin E. Comas, 9/29/12, Orlando Sentinel)

The key ingredient helping the story gain traction was Zimmerman's call to a dispatcher who told him to back off before Martin was killed, Rosenstiel said.

"It was after that tape was released that the story became much larger," Rosenstiel said. "That was one of the propulsive elements along with social media."

But both sides also used traditional media. Benjamin Crump and Natalie Jackson, lawyers for the Martin family, became frequent TV guests on morning programs, cable news and local newscasts.

At a March 16 news conference, Crump said, "Thank God for the media, because I'm not sure we ever would have gotten the truth out." Crump even flew to London with Martin's parents for a hoodie march.

"Most lawyers prefer to try their cases in the courtroom," Crump said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. "But in my experience, in civil-rights cases, if you don't present your case in the court of public opinion and get media coverage, there's no guarantee -- no matter how egregious the facts are -- you'll be able to present your case in a court of law."

In his 17 years of practicing law, Crump has become well known for taking on cases of poor minorities -- and presenting them to the media before they reach the courtroom.

Crump took the case after several requests from those in the Martin camp, including Tracy Martin. He sees a societal benefit in his TV appearances with Martin's parents.

"It kept mushrooming to the point that people started talking about it with their children," Crump said. "It became a debated issue at dinner tables around America. It was a phenomenon in every sense of the word." [...]

The Martin side relied on publicist Ryan Julison, who volunteered to help the family and who had worked with Natalie Jackson before.

"I never engaged in any racial conversation," Julison said. "To me, the story was a Neighborhood Watch vigilante carrying a gun who shot an unarmed teenager and wasn't arrested."

But Crump said the case highlighted a double standard on race and crime. What if Martin were white and Zimmerman black?

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


In Biggest Protest, Jordan Islamists Demand Change (Reuters, 10/06/12)

Thousands of Jordanian Islamists marched on Friday in the largest demonstration since Arab Spring-inspired protests erupted last year, calling on King Abdullah to accelerate democratic reforms.

At least 15,000 protesters from across the country flocked to the main street leading to the Husseini mosque in downtown Amman after Friday prayers and chanted: "Listen Abdullah, our demands are legitimate" and "People want to reform the regime."

Hundreds of young bearded men also chanted: "We are free men, not slaves" and "Freedom...Freedom", while others carried placards or banners denouncing corruption and the pervasive role of the security apparatus in daily life.

The "Friday to Rescue the Nation" rally was called by the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition party, to push for broader representation and a more democratic parliament.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


The Real Debate: The Good Father vs. The Abandoned Son (Roger L Simon, 10/06/12, PJ Media)    

What we have before us in these debates is an almost archetypal confrontation - between a man who was and is an exceptionally good father and a man who was deserted by his.

Good fathering is the story of Mitt Romney's life. He has five sons who are, by all accounts, devoted to him and vice-versa. These boys grew up with a father who, although wealthy and successful, worked like a demon, doted on them, and apparently devoted an extraordinary amount of time to charitable work, in which he also involved them. Indeed, I've never heard of a politician who did anything quite like it.

Almost the polar opposite, Barack Obama's father abandoned him twice and then ended up an irresponsible drunken victim of multiple car crashes. This sad behavior precipitated a search by Obama that brought him in contact with several father surrogates, notably Frank Marshall Davis and Jeremiah Wright, that it would be hard to brand as anywhere near satisfactory. (Davis was a pornographer and about Wright the less said the better.) No Mitt Romneys there.

...but the absence of any sort of parental love is most clearly reflected, not in the UR's debate performance, but in his refusal to stand for anything, so that he can be all things to all people, in order that they might love the image of him they create in their own heads.  Sadly for him, after four years even his inactions have created new images.  And folks don't love what they now see.  The clothes, it turns out, have no emperor.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


U.S. Unease Over Drone Strikes : Obama Administration Charts Delicate Legal Path Defending Controversial Weapons (ADAM ENTOUS, SIOBHAN GORMAN and EVAN PEREZ, 9/26/12, WSJ)

About once a month, the Central Intelligence Agency sends a fax to a general at Pakistan's intelligence service outlining broad areas where the U.S. intends to conduct strikes with drone aircraft, according to U.S. officials. The Pakistanis, who in public oppose the program, don't respond.

On this basis, plus the fact that Pakistan continues to clear airspace in the targeted areas, the U.S. government concludes it has tacit consent to conduct strikes within the borders of a sovereign nation, according to officials familiar with the program.

...the strikes either occur in territory over which Pakistan can not exert its authority in, meaning they aren't sovereign, or else Pakistan is an enemy of the United States, willingly harboring the targets.  In either case, the strikes are permissible under any sovereignty theory.
Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


An Unspinnable Debate : How Romney won a clear victory in Denver. (JAMES W. CEASER, 10/15/12, The Weekly Standard)

The plain fact is that many of the voters who are undecided at this point are the very ones who are sick of deadlock and partisan conflict. Partisans and "big idea" people may think what they will, but this feeling in the electorate was a significant reason for Obama's appeal in 2008. Romney captured the postpartisan mantle from Obama at the point where the president brought out what he thought was his trump card, commending Mitt Romney for initiating Romneycare. Romney took the compliment, insisted on some of the differences with Obama-care, and then showed how he had passed his program in Massachusetts working with a legislature that was 87 percent Democratic. The Frank Luntz focus group of independents found this to be one of the most appealing moments in the debate. Romney's supposed Achilles' heel, after his political ACL surgery, has turned into one of his greatest strengths.  

These two themes--a leader whose empathy comes from strength and conviction and a person whose bold plans are not in tension with a temperament conducive to bipartisanship--are the "takeaways" from last week that can put Mitt Romney on the path to victory.

While the twenty percent on either wing still imagine themselves locked in a twilight struggle between the 1st Way and the 2nd, the other 60% are just choosing which party should be managing the Third Way transition.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM



From the days of high tariffs and giant land grants to the railroads, business and government have always been tightly intertwined in this country. But, in recent decades, what you could call the corporate welfare state has become bigger. Energy companies lease almost forty million acres of onshore land in the U.S. and more than forty million offshore, and keep the lion's share of the profits from the oil and natural gas that they pump out. In theory, this is O.K., because we get paid for the leases and we get royalties on what they sell, but in practice it often works differently. In 1996, for instance, the government temporarily lowered royalties on oil pumped in the Gulf of Mexico as a way of encouraging more drilling at a time of low oil prices. But this royalty relief wasn't rescinded when oil prices started to rise, which gave the oil companies a windfall of billions of dollars. Something similar happened in the telecom industry in the late nineties, when the government, in order to encourage the transition to high-def TV, simply gave local broadcasters swathes of the digital spectrum worth tens of billions of dollars. In the mining industry, meanwhile, thanks to a law that was passed in 1872 and never rewritten, companies can lease federal land for a mere five dollars an acre, and then keep all the gold, silver, or uranium they find; we, the people, get no royalty payments at all. Metal prices have soared in the last decade, but the only beneficiaries have been the mine owners.

In other cases, the government offers direct subsidies, like those which have helped keep many renewable-energy projects afloat. Farmers, despite food prices at record highs, still get almost five billion dollars annually in direct payments, along with billions more in crop insurance and drought aid. U.S. sugar companies benefit from the sweetest boondoggle in business: an import quota keeps American sugar prices roughly twice as high as they otherwise would be, handing the industry guaranteed profits.

The tax code, too, is a useful tool for helping businesses. Domestic manufacturers collectively get a tax break of around twenty billion dollars a year. State and local governments give away seventy billion dollars annually in tax breaks and subsidies in order to lure (or keep) companies. The strategies make sense for local communities keen to generate new jobs, but, from a national perspective, since they usually just reward companies moving from one state to another, they're simply giveaways.

More subtly, government boosts business profits via regulation. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


How Hugo Chávez Became Irrelevant (FRANCISCO TORO, 10/05/12, NY Times)

Brazil's remarkable success in reducing poverty speaks for itself. Building on a foundation of macroeconomic stability and stable democratic institutions, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was Brazil's president from 2003 to 2010, oversaw the most remarkable period of social mobility in Latin America's living memory.

As millions of Brazilians rose into the middle class, Mr. Chávez's autocratic excesses came to look unnecessary and inexcusable to Venezuelans. Mr. da Silva and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, have shown that a country does not need to stack the courts, purge the army and politicize the central bank to fight poverty. Brazil proves that point, quietly, day in and day out.

It isn't just democratic institutions that have suffered from Mr. Chávez's radicalism; it's the economy, too. Venezuela's traditional dependence on oil exports has deepened, with 96 percent of export revenue now coming from the oil industry, up from 67 percent just before Mr. Chávez took office. Nationalized steel mills produce a fraction of the steel they're designed for, forcing the state to import the difference. And nationalized electric utilities plunge most of the country into darkness several times a week. The contrast with Brazil's high-tech, entrepreneurial, export-oriented economy couldn't be more stark.

For all of Mr. Chávez's talk of radical transformation, Venezuela's child mortality and adult literacy statistics have not improved any faster under his government than they did over the several decades before he rose to power.

With oversight institutions neutered, the president now runs the country as a personal fief: expropriating businesses on a whim and deciding who goes to jail. Judges who rule against the government's wishes are routinely fired, and one has even been jailed. Chávez-style socialism looks like the worst of both worlds: both more authoritarian and less effective at reducing poverty than the Brazilian alternative.

And the region has noticed. The key moment came in April 2011, when Ollanta Humala won the Peruvian presidency. Long seen as the most radical of Latin America's new breed of leaders, Mr. Humala had run on a Chávez-style platform in 2006 and lost. By last year, he'd seen the way the wind was blowing and remade himself into a Brazilian-style moderate, won and proceeded to govern -- so far, successfully -- in the Brazilian mold.

Now, in a final indignity, Mr. Chávez is facing a tight re-election race against Henrique Capriles Radonski, a 40-year-old progressive state governor who extols the virtues of the Brazilian model.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


The Things They Carried: At The National Wife-Carrying Championships : In which the author learns the Estonian Carry, meets America's foremost competitors in one of the world's weirdest sports, and nearly dies. (DAVID WANCZYK, 10/04/12, The Classical)

Wife-Carrying is, honestly, mostly Estonian. If only because The Estonian Carry is the sport's answer to the Fosbury Flop: both stylistic signature and agreed-upon best practice. There is no official technique in wife-carrying--Piggybacks, Fireman's Carries, and Honeymoon Threshold Lifts are all legal. But every champion has used the Estonian Carry, most notably the Estonian Uusorg brothers, the most decorated spouse-hauling athletes, and rivals of Miettenen's for international supremacy. At the farthest opposite end of the prestige spectrum, I also would need to master this Baltic carry for my own turn on the Wife-Carrying Championship course.

Since the North American Championship was my first attempt at extreme sports with my wife--they'd given us a wild card entry--I wasn't sure I could convince her to dangle near my rear as I traversed a slippery ski hill. She'd agreed to participate because I'd made some claim about Immersion Journalism, but we'd yet to get to the touchy subject of head-ass-ground proximity. I turned to the Castros for advice.

"Tell her, 'Look, you might be a little dizzy, but just hold on'," Lacey said. "Go right into the Estonian."

Dave added: "You'll put her on your back. She might not like it at first. But it'll be good."

I was convinced, but I was not really the one who needed convincing. Megan and I needed to practice, so before the competition, we took to the field between our apartment and the public library. It was dark. I popped her up on my shoulders and chugged up a hill. Right then, the local book club let out and we were bathed in the accusing glare of a dozen pairs of headlights.