Friday, November 27, 2015

Ignatius on the Coming Sunni-Shia War

David Ignatius has gone and offered up a solution to worldwide catastrophe I had not foreseen.  I thought the coming Sunni-Shia War was inevitable, and that today’s conflict in the Middle East would escalate to something like WWI or WWII, pulling in Europe and Russia, and of course, the U.S.  I saw the Bush/Cheney overthrow of Saddam as changing the balance of power in the Middle East and it kicked off the “legendary” Sunni-Shia War.  Like the breakdown in the power structure in Europe with the beginnings of WWI, a whole new order may be rising in the Middle East. 

Things now seem to be moving in that direction in the Middle East with the rise of ISIS out of another Sunni group like Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or whatever and the war that was always talked about and noted as legendary had become reality and seems to be the deciding factor in today’s Middle Eastern conflicts.  Whether it is ISIS or Syria or Iraq or Iran or the Kurds, the question is: are they Sunni or are they Shia? 

If you know that (Sunni or Shia?), you know who they are for or against.  Iran is predominately Shia – as is Assad in Syria – so they are supporting him.  Those opposing Syria are mostly Sunni.  The rebels in Yemen are Shia and Iran, which is Shia, is aiding them.  Fighting against the Yemen rebels, the Houthis who are Shia, is Saudi Arabia which is Sunni.  Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the other old monarchies which are Sunni offer moderate support to opposing ISIS because it is Sunni also and currently opposing Shia states, however they do see it as a threat to their current power status given ISIS’s claim for a caliphate state.

And this could all escalate into something much, much bigger.  However, in Ignatius’ column he offered up solutions that had solved similar problems in the past.  Ignatius offered up five times adversaries in a seemly intractable wars were able to sit down and negotiate not only a settlement to their current conflict but also set precedents that shaped history. 

One of those mentioned was the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.  Christians used to do as Muslim do today.  If you were not the right kind of Christian, you either had to change or die.  Coming at the end of the period of the Holy Roman Empire which sort of came after the final fall of Rome, this agreement marked the end of the Middle Ages.  This was followed by what is now called the Modern Era and especially the Renaissance.  I don’t know if resolving the Sunni-Shia conflict could result in a new Renaissance but you never can tell.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

The Trump Republic

Frank Rich has gone and done it again.  I don’t watch the debates because they are meaningless this far in advance of next year’s primaries.  But the constant news cycle organizations love them.   They are almost as good a news story as a sensational trial involving a young woman.
Trump is the big story this election cycle.  Not only his ability to attract crowds, poll numbers, and consternation of pundits and commentators, but his job on main line Republicans as well as Democrats.  The party’s traditional candidates as well as party bosses, hacks, and flunkies just don’t know what to do with or about him.  As Frank Rich noted, he has changed everything.
The Frankster rounds up the desperate opinions of Republican spin doctors such as Krauthammer and George Will and likens events to those in the previous rocky run up to selecting Romney four years ago.  Trump, the “counterfeit Republican”, is compared to infamous politician in history and literature.
As stated earlier and in a previous post, this may all be “much ado about nothing”, but it does make good TV, and when you live in a world of constant 24-hour TV, you got to have something to put on and the current Republican primary farce and whatever is going on in the House of Representatives is as good as it gets.
There is always the possibility that Trump has changed everything.  Given this is the season for saying something absurd; Joe Biden should have gotten in.  Frank Rich points out that Trump is saying what a lot of Republicans think and feel but would never say in public or use euphemisms to infer what Trump is saying bluntly.  The rank and file that do the 1%ers’ dirty work are eating it up.
This road show would really be something to watch should Trump not only get his party’s nomination but also win the Presidency.  Hillary has too much baggage to win and just about any Republican ought to be able to beat her, but they have a way losing what should be easily winnable.  Watching Trump deal with Congress would be better than any reality TV.
A big question hanging out there is the Republican Party headed the way of the Whig Party.  The demise of which led to the creation of the Republican Party in the 1850s.
That would be something to see, and of course, it would all be on TV, this time.     

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Loss of Anonymity – Déjà Vu All Over Again

Lots of Internet buzz about facial recognition and how it scaring privacy geeks.
Just over the Internet horizon you can have on your IPhone or other communication device an app for facial recognition.  It’s already out there in a sort of beta form, but it’s going to get a whole lot better.
If anyone has ever been arrested and ID’ed or tagged in several photos on any social media, that person will be identified to anyone who points their device at a stranger and runs the app.  At a party, business meeting, or just walking down the street, that person’s name will pop up on the device of whoever runs the app.  And, any other information on that person will be readily available.
The anonymity of being lost in the crowd is going away as surly as Key West’s days are number due to Global Warming.  But unlike earth’s warmer climate that has not happen in millions of years, living in a world where everybody knows who you are was the way it was for most of our ancestors’ lives.
Only a few hundred years ago, most people never traveled more than 50 miles from where they were born.  Anyone you ran in to not only knew you, they knew your family’s history, too.  They knew all about you – as you did them.
Even today, anyone reading this who grew up in the same small town their parents and grandparents did, know exactly what I’m posting here.  You can’t walk down the street of your small town and go into any store that you and your family’s history and reputation doesn’t go with you.  So, anyone who moved from that small town and is currently living the city, as unknown as any out-of-towner back home, has a special understanding of the loss of Internet anonymity.
Our world society seems to be returning to yesteryears when we all lived in the same community or one just over the hill.  Social media has taken on a whole new meaning, but that “meaning” is déjà vu all over again.  The days of knowing everyone you come in contact with is not too far in the past.

We seem to do OK then, and will probably do just as well – if not better – in the Internet community “where everybody knows your name.”  In this info is a click away world, life will be different from those older days when most people struggled to feed, clothe, and house their families, but knowing everyone around you will be the same.  And they will know you, too. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Middle East – Voting with Their Feet

Toward the end of the Cold War, as people tried to abandon their home and lives in communist East Europe and go west to free market economies, pundits referred to them as voting for communism with their feet.  Communism when compared to Western Europe’s free market economies was just not providing as good a standard of living for even those at the lowest levels of the workforce.  This became more and more evident in the latter half of the previous century.
You’d think that an economy in which no profits were removed by capitalist, workers reaped the rewards of their work, and the government had absolute control to make business decisions would out perform the capital grubbing, worker exploitive, free market economies.  But that was not the case.  By the 1970s, it was obvious to anyone that even a janitor, factory worker, or any common laborer had a higher standard of living in the west than those in the workers’ paradise in the eastern communist countries.
And so they choose to leave and start a new live in the east.  And we are seeing it happen again in the Middle East.  Obviously, people are leaving the Middle East for other reasons than their economic standard of living, but the movement of such masses may be saying the same thing.  Even during the worse of Saddam, Gaddafi, the changes of government and military takeovers in Egypt, or the revolution in Iran, we have not seen such as exodus of Arab speaking people from the Middle East.  Is this the same indicator as it was for the exodus of people from communist East Europe?
Only two types of government seem to work in Arab countries.  Monarchies, set up at the end of WWI and the fall of the old Turkish Empire, such as Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have remained stable and the citizens have prospered.  The other form is military dictatorship – some good, some not so good.
A third relatively new type of government, the religious state or theocracy as in Iran, seems to be working.  They had a change in leadership and there was no mass exodus of people fleeing oppression.  And while Iran is more Persian than Arab, it is deeply involved in whatever is going on in the Middle East.
Egypt seem to be headed toward a religious based state after its first freely elected president and the party of the Muslim Brotherhood began moving the country that way, however, the military took over and Egypt is back to the way it had been before the rising of the “Arab Spring.”  Once again, there was no mass exodus while this was going on.
Of course what is new in the Middle East is the coming of the legendary Sunni-Shia War.  This mythical conflict that has been brewing since the death of the Prophet Mohammed was suppressed by the Ottoman Turks after they took over.  But the Americans’ overthrow of Saddam seems to have brought it on and turned a myth into a fact.  Whether the conflict is with Assad in Syria, against ISIS, uprising in Yemen, or undue Iranian influence in Iraq, the division is usually along Sunni-Shia lines.
The message seems to be choosing one side or the other or you and your family dies.  The other choice is to leave and that’s what we are seeing coming out of the Middle East.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Trump – The New Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart had been a pain in Fox News’ ass lo these many years.  But he quit “The Daily Show” this summer, and the afterglow of his reruns were darkening when Donald Trump rose up to take on his role if not his banner.
He is obviously different from Jon Stewart but the effect appears to be the same.  Megan Kelly had been a frequent target of Stewart, and now here she is in Trump’s crosshairs (crossed hairs?).  Trump is stirring up the GOP way better than Stewart ever hoped to do.  They are at a loss on how to respond.
At least the Fox News gang could run out the old liberal bias meme against Stewart when he criticized their supposedly “fair and balanced” reporting.  But Trump is one of their own – he’s Republican, a successful conservative business tycoon.  And since he is running for President, he’s got a whole new attention gathering stage from which to take pot shots at Fox.
The old truism, which has been floating around the Internet that “Fox News used to work for the GOP, and now the GOP works for Fox News”, may no longer be true.  Not only that, Trump has totally reworked the GOP’s primary run-up status quo.  Jeb! and the rest of the gang are trying to recoup, recover, and re-strategize their campaign.  As much as he would have liked, Stewart was never able to do that.
Seems the overall consensus among pundits is that were Trump to win the GOP primary, he would probably lose the general election.  His nomination is Hillary’s best strategy (hope) of winning.   Or the other pontification is that he will ruin it for the GOP by running as a third party candidate.  Maybe Trump will do to Jeb! what Perot did to his dad in 1992.
However, given current events, tweets, and clickbait, Trump may do to the general election what he is presently doing to the GOP’s method of selecting its next nominee – and the coverage of it by news media as well.
And we still got six months to go before voters start turning hype and spin into facts.
Smart decision by Stewart to get out, now.  Trump’s Tweets and blurbs would have out tongued-in-cheek Stewart’s satirical reporting of the Republican primary and Fox Newspeak coverage of it.

Friday, August 07, 2015

2016 GOP Primary >> Repeat 2012 Primary

It would seem a Monday morning critique on Friday after the GOP primary debate would led one to believe Trump won and will maintain his position in the hearts and minds of those who that take part in polls.
And the crowd goes while!
The news crowd, that is.  Republicans will not go to vote until next February and we will have a feeding frenzy among the press until then.  Fox News will probably fare best, but then it’s preaching to the choir.
In the run up to the 2012 primary, between August 2011 and February 2012, the lead in the polls that had been dominated by Romney up until August, went to Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich.  Rick Santorum would take the top spot during the February primaries, but then Romney held it for the rest of the primary season.  Romney was the candidate most of the pros thought would get the nomination – because he was always the number two when not number one.
With a larger field this time around, it will be interesting if not sickening to watch and see if history repeats itself.  Conservation of habits is at the heart of conservatism.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rise of the Robots and Artificial Intelligence

Lots of posting of late about robots with artificial intelligence (AI) taking over the world.  Throw in recent movies and television shows and you got a sever case of AI paranoia.  I’m not saying the bad or even worse scenarios are not possible, it’s just that what gets me is how wrong we have been in the past at predicting the outcome or even eventual impact of some new idea or technology.
Let’s review our predictions, theories, and really bad guesses:
One of the oldest misconceptions was the sun, moon, and stars above us and our egotistical earth centric concept of what we were seeing.   Our observations and math were accurate; we just couldn’t explain it.  Ancient cosmic observation sites such as Stonehenge that is over 5,000 years old are still accurate but its builders could not explain why.  Supposedly learned men all over the world came up with almost totally wrong theories to explain it in many different civilizations.
Although much evidence is available that shows many did not accept this theory of earth being the center of the universe, it was not until Galileo in the 1500s that the more correct sun centric solar system began to emerge – and he had to pay for that.  At least they got the moon right; the earth is the center of its orbit.  Hopefully those predicting the future of robots and AI will have a better success percentage.
The ancients also predicted or painted a scenario in which we flew in the air like birds and swam in the oceans like fish.  It was their theories or prophecies of how that would be achieved that were so wrong.  In it, we had wings like birds on our back like angles.  I especially like Mercury flying around with little tiny wings on his ankles.  And let’s not forget Pegasus, the normally structured horse with wings.  We would need chest muscles the size of refrigerators to have wings on our back – give me a break.
The function of lift to weight meant nothing to them.  Are there functions of intelligence that we know nothing about – that is until we see it artificially created?
The same is true for the ancients speculating about us swimming the seas.  We are both flying our skies and traveling our oceans, but we are doing it in a “way more” different way than those who speculated about it ever foresaw.  Should we expect any less in AI robots?  
There are all these unexpected developments once a new idea or technology goes into practice.  One of the unpredicted and dominant social practices, today, is our time zones.  That was instituted when cross-country rail service became common.  Communities had timepieces and knew the rough time of sunrise, sunset, and noon, but no communities agree.  Travelers in those days had to reset their watch when going to a new community.  Railroads changed all that.  To be successful and on time, everybody had to be on the same time system.  Travel became so fast, time zones had to be set up going across America because a train could past though several in a short period.  I don’t know if anybody saw that coming.
When Edison developed the first electric light and then the generator to supply it with power, and then decided to sell it to the public, electric lighting was the primary product.  However, with the change from Edison’s direct current to alternating current -- another example of unexpected change in a technology's development -- greater power and distances where available.  All manner of electrical appliances where developed.  Lighting is minor in a residential user’s electrical demand.  Wouldn’t it be funny if today’s posting on the thoughts and fears on the future of AI would be as minor as the electrical demand for lighting is today compared to when Edison and then Westinghouse (Tesla) were trying to set up our first electrical distribution system? Ha Ha!  Right?

So, pay little notice as to what you see on the future of AI and robotics.  It’s probably as wrong as it has been in the past.  But it may very well be a game changer.  It is that the game that is changed will be newly defined.
Who knows?  Maybe the new AI, after awakening and determining what’s going on around it, will finally do something about global warming.  Now that is going to scare a lot of people.