July 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


How to Deal With North Korea (MARK BOWDEN,  JULY/AUGUST 2017, The Atlantic)

[T]he U.S. has four broad strategic options for dealing with North Korea and its burgeoning nuclear program.

1. Prevention: A crushing U.S. military strike to eliminate Pyongyang's arsenals of mass destruction, take out its leadership, and destroy its military. It would end North Korea's standoff with the United States and South Korea, as well as the Kim dynasty, once and for all.

2. Turning the screws: A limited conventional military attack--or more likely a continuing series of such attacks--using aerial and naval assets, and possibly including narrowly targeted Special Forces operations. These would have to be punishing enough to significantly damage North Korea's capability--but small enough to avoid being perceived as the beginning of a preventive strike. The goal would be to leave Kim Jong Un in power, but force him to abandon his pursuit of nuclear ICBMs.

3. Decapitation: Removing Kim and his inner circle, most likely by assassination, and replacing the leadership with a more moderate regime willing to open North Korea to the rest of the world.

4. Acceptance: The hardest pill to swallow--acquiescing to Kim's developing the weapons he wants, while continuing efforts to contain his ambition.

Let's consider each option. All of them are bad.

1 | Prevention

An all-out attack on North Korea would succeed. The U.S. and South Korea are fully capable of defeating its military forces and toppling the Kim dynasty.

For sheer boldness and clarity, this is the option that would play best to President Trump's base. (Some campaign posters for Trump boasted, finally someone with balls.) But to work, a preventive strike would require the most massive U.S. military attack since the first Korean War--a commitment of troops and resources far greater than any seen by most Americans and Koreans alive today.

A nuclear strike on Pyongyang would not require any troops and rather limited resources.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Paralegal robot reviews patent documents (STEPHEN RYNKIEWICZ, 7/17/17, ABA Journal)

New software helps patent lawyers draft applications that are more likely to pass muster with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, as well as respond to official letters from examiners.

TurboPatent Corp. on June 28 launched artificial-intelligence products that compare patent claims with past applications to make predictions about patent eligibility.

White collar jobs are easily machined out.  The trades are hard.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


New U.S. Citizens Mistakenly Receive Congratulatory Letter From Obama (Conor Beck, July 17, 2017, Free Beacon)

Newly minted U.S. citizens customarily receive a letter from the current president of the United States welcoming them as Americans, but some new citizens recently received a letter from someone no longer in the White House: Barack Obama.

Donald does not welcome them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:27 PM


Don Jr.'s Russia Meeting Reveals the Power of the Global Magnitsky Act (Rob Berschinski and Adam Nagy, July 17, 2017, Just Security)

When Donald Trump Jr. sat down with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya last June, he hoped to receive information from the Russian government that would, in the words of an intermediary, "incriminate" his father's political opponent Hillary Clinton, according to his recently released emails.

We don't know exactly what was discussed, as details about the meeting are still emerging, and Don Jr. and the Trump administration have been less than forthcoming. We do know that in addition to Veselnitskaya, the president's son (plus his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and his campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort) met with Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer. For his part, Akhmetshin has told the Associated Press, "Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats."

But Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin had something else on their agendas too: A sales pitch for why Donald Trump, if elected, should gut a previously little-known 2012 law, called the "Magnitsky Act," which holds human rights violators accountable for their actions.

As investigators are no doubt examining, it's possible that the Russians raised lifting Magnitsky Act sanctions in a quid pro quo related to helping Trump win the election. We don't know yet. But putting the lurid details and explosive ramifications of the Don Jr. meeting aside, the episode points to the power the United States wields in standing up for human rights and the rule of law, and the lengths to which repressive governments will go to evade accountability. Given that Congress recently expanded the Magnitsky Act to apply globally, the import behind the law that brought the Kremlin to Trump Tower is one worth detailing. 

There's a reason Vlad worked so hard to elect Little Finger.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


A New Theory on Why We Haven't Found Aliens Yet (Robert Hart, 7/17/17, Slate)

Now, three researchers think they think they may have another potential answer to Fermi's question: Aliens do exist; they're just all asleep.

According to a new research paper accepted for publication in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, extraterrestrials are sleeping while they wait. In the paper, authors from Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute and the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade Anders Sandberg, Stuart Armstrong, and Milan Cirkovic argue that the universe is too hot right now for advanced, digital civilizations to make the most efficient use of their resources. The solution: Sleep and wait for the universe to cool down, a process known as aestivating (like hibernation but sleeping until it's colder).

Understanding the new hypothesis first requires wrapping your head around the idea that the universe's most sophisticated life may elect to leave biology behind and live digitally. Having essentially uploaded their minds onto powerful computers, the civilizations choosing to do this could enhance their intellectual capacities or inhabit some of the harshest environments in the universe with ease.

The idea that life might transition toward a post-biological form of existence is gaining ground among experts. "It's not something that is necessarily unavoidable, but it is highly likely," Cirkovic told me in an interview.

So they're advanced enough to convert themselves into nothing more than bits of information, but unlike us primitives they don't communicate said?  Priceless.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


On 'Whataboutism' And Its Moral Hazards (BEN SHAPIRO, July 12, 2017, Daily Wire)

Moral Relativism. This is the dangerous form of "whataboutism," and also the most common. This is the actual message underlying Trump's tweet: Hillary got away with it, so why shouldn't I be able to get away with it? This ignores two facts: first, Hillary most certainly did not get away with it in the minds of the American public, which is why she's not in the White House; second, wrong is wrong. The Right now engages in a fantasy whereby the Left's dishonesty somehow justifies conservative dishonesty -- hey, if Hillary's corrupt, what's the big problem with the Trump campaign soliciting information from the Russian government?

In this case, whataboutism is itself dishonesty -- it's pretending to care about the sins of the Left in order to justify the sins of the Right. It actually throws into sharp relief the hypocrisy of the Right: we complained endlessly and justifiably about Loretta Lynch meeting secretly with Bill Clinton, but we're fine with Donald Trump Jr. meeting secretly with Natalia Veselnitskaya; we ripped President Obama's "flexibility" hot mic moment, but we're fine with President Trump saying that America has killed people just like Putin; we correctly targeted Clinton over Chinagate, but now we're happy to use Chinagate as an excuse to avoid talking about Russiagate. This isn't conservative. It's not even moral. Kindergarteners learn that "but he did it, too" isn't an excuse for bad behavior.

The Right often embraces this form of "whataboutism" because many people believe that fighting the Left requires tossing out morality of means in favor of morality of ends. Fight fire with fire! Since that was the animating principle behind much of the conservative support for the Trump campaign, this form of "whataboutism" has also become the most common form.

They're only defending Donald because they share his nativism in the first place.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Beauty and the Imagination : The imagination is a gift from God, given in His own image, to conceive of a Glorious Reality that does exist, that we cannot yet fully see... (Aaron Ames, 7/17/17, Imaginative Conservative)

The capacity to create and experience beauty is dependent upon this interaction between imagination and wonder. For, in seeing a beautiful sunset, the imagination allows the mind to transcend the individual physical realities of the sun, the landscape, the colors, etc., and to see it all as one interdependent whole, and so to wonder and delight in such beauty.

Or, consider listening to Beethoven's 5th, in which the imagination perceives the many instruments, all playing independent parts, as one complete whole, as if it were only one instrument, and so one sound. Yet, in truth, it is many instruments, and many sounds. And, so it was that surely Beethoven must have conceived the beauty of his symphony in the imagination before it was ever put to paper or played. And surely the harmonious beauty of the created world was in the Mind of the Grand Composer before it was composed:

Beauty... can be appreciated only by the mind. This would be impossible, if this 'idea' of beauty were not found in the Mind in a more perfect form.... This consideration has readily persuaded men of ability and learning... that the original "idea" is not to be found in this sphere (Augustine, City of God).

Open the door to the imagination, and you will open the door to Eternal Beauty.

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), a Swiss theologian and priest, who upon completing his seven volume work entitled The Glory of the Lord, concluded that "beauty is the word that shall be our first." Indeed, in the opening story of Genesis, God creates harmony out of chaos, and the lush Garden of Eden can only be described as beautiful. Likewise, Revelation returns to the Garden, only it is even more beautiful than before. What is the connection, then, between the beauty we see in the world around us and the Transcendent Beauty of God?

What is it in a serene and picturesque landscape that seems to overwhelm us? What is it in a carefully composed melody that brings us a deep sense of joy? Skeptic Anthony O' Hear attempts to answer this question:

In experiencing beauty we feel ourselves to be in contact with a deeper reality than the everyday.... Art can seem revelatory, just as it does seem to answer to objective standards. It can seem to take us to the essence of reality, as if certain sensitivities in us... beat in tune with reality. It is as if our... appreciation of things external to us... are reflecting a deep and pre- conscious harmony between us and the world from which we spring (Anthony O'Hear, Beyond Evolution).

Many of us could hardly disagree with such an interpretation of the experience of the beautiful. Yet, while O'Hear is happy to admit the transcendence of such experience, he strangely concludes:

If this feeling is not simply an illusion... it may say something about the nature of reality itself, as responsive to human desires.... But how could we think of an aesthetic justification of experience... unless our aesthetic experience was sustained by a divine will revealed in the universe, and particularly in our experience of it as beautiful? It is precisely at this point that many or even most will draw back. Aesthetic experience seems to produce the harmony between us and the world that would have to point to a religious resolution were it not to be an illusion (Beyond Evolution).

In a similar way, Karl Barth relays the story of Baron Friedrich Grimm, a skeptic and agnostic, who after attending a young Mozart concerto exclaimed:

I have now for the first time in my life seen a miracle.... I truly fear that this child will turn my head if I hear him again; he has shown me how difficult it is to preserve one's sanity in the face of a miracle (Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart).

Barth noted this peculiar quote from a skeptic because he himself assumed the experience of Mozart to usher him into an eternal, transcendent, beautiful world: "Whenever I listen to [Mozart], I am transported to the threshold of a world which in sunlight and storm, by day and by night, is a good and ordered world" (Karl Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart).

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


U.S. Secret Service rejects suggestion it vetted Trump son's meeting (Arshad Mohammed and Howard Schneider, 7/16/17, Reuters) 

In an emailed response to questions about Sekulow's comments, Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said the younger Trump was not under Secret Service protection at the time of the meeting, which included Trump's son and two senior campaign officials.

"Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time," the statement said.

According to emails released by Trump Jr. last week, he eagerly agreed to meet Veselnitskaya, who he was told was a Russian government lawyer. Veselnitskaya has said she is a private lawyer and denies having Kremlin ties.

On Friday, NBC News reported that a lobbyist who was once a Soviet counter-intelligence officer participated in the meeting, which was also attended by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the president's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

The meeting appears to be the most tangible evidence of a connection between Trump's election campaign and Russia, a subject that has prompted investigations by congressional committees and a federal special counsel.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Saudi Arabia Pushes for Wind Energy Project (Shuja Al-Baqmi, 7/17/17, Asharq Al-Awasat)

Energy and industry ministry offices released a statement on receiving bids for the "Dumat al-Jandal" energy project in Al-Jawf province, expected to let out an average of 400 megawatts (MW) of electricity produced by wind turbines.

Requests to qualify for the 400 MW wind project in the north of the kingdom will close on Aug. 10, and proposals will be received from Aug. 29. Bidding closes in January next year, the ministry's Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO) said.

Saudi Arabia plans to develop 30 solar and wind projects over the next 10 years as part of a $50 billion program to boost power generation and cut its oil consumption. The country will produce 10 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2023, Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said in April.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Understanding Iranian threat perceptions : Rather than perpetuating mantras about Iranian expansionism, the United States and its regional allies should take a closer look at the origins of Iranian threat perceptions.
(Seyed Hossein Mousavian, July 14, 2017, Al Monitor)

Broadly speaking, six factors have shaped Iran's threat perceptions since 1979.

First are the challenges of the 1980s, namely the Iran-Iraq War and separatist rebellions in Iran's Kurdistan and Khuzestan provinces, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. The United States and allied Persian Gulf littoral states played a decisive role in exacerbating these crises, including by buttressing separatists and providing Saddam Hussein with every means of support, including ballistic missiles and chemical weapons, which were used to deadly effect. Toward the end of the war, the United States also directly attacked Iranian oil platforms and even shot down an Iranian civilian airliner.

Second, Iran has faced a military buildup on its borders since the Islamic Revolution. Iran is not only ringed by US military bases, but US-made weapons regularly flow into the region -- especially the Persian Gulf. Under Barack Obama, the United States sold Saudi Arabia roughly $115 billion worth of weapons, which is more than any previous administration. Donald Trump is poised to outdo his predecessor. Yet Iran spends one-fifth of what Saudi Arabia spends on defense -- despite having twice the population. Even the United Arab Emirates, with a native population of 1.4 million, has double the military spending of Iran.

The third factor is the unparalleled sanctions Iran has been subject to since 1979. Even as Iran is carefully abiding by the historic July 2015 nuclear deal, Congress is pushing through a set of sanctions. Such sanctions have long been promoted by Israel and Saudi Arabia, who wish to cripple Iran's economy.

Fourth comes covert warfare in the form of cyberattacks, assassinations and the propping up of terrorist organizations like the notorious Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. Such tactics are set to be stepped up with the recent creation of a special CIA unit focused on Iran under the leadership of the ultra-aggressive Michael D'Andrea. Indeed, every US administration has since 1979 pursued an "all options on the table" policy against Iran.

The fifth factor involves Saudi Arabia's confrontational stance toward the Islamic Republic while apparently establishing a strategic relationship with Israel.