fredag, december 31, 2004

Hearts & Minds of Injun Country

The Economist has an article from an 'embedded' reporter of the American army's anti-insurgcency tactics and behaviour towards the Iraqi civilian population. Well, it's not really news; they're have been many other stories about this, and they all tell the same tale: a behaviour can be summarized in one word as jackbooted. In fact, even senior British army officers in Iraq have accused their colleagues of viewing Iraqis as 'untermenschen' (of course, when they don't even listen to their own officers back in Washington...)

Arbitrarily rounding up people and sending them en masse to prisons where many are tortured is more characteristic of a South American Junta than of an open and free society, the goal supposed to be achieved in Iraq. Such flouting of basic human rights are supposed to be the price yo be paid to enforce 'law and order'. Yet, Iraq is now one the most crime-blighted countries on the planet: Baghdad is the capital with the highest murder rate in the world, twice that of second-runner Bogota (76/100,000 vs 39/100,000); and if kidnappings were a cottage industry in Colombia, they are on a Fordist scale in Iraq.

Against that, US PR efforts such as painting schools or handing out frisbees, laudable as they are, seem pathetically inadequate when such demands about basic state functions and due process are unfulfilled; case examples for the State Failure 101 course.

Furthermore, those tactics are directly counter-productive in military terms: total lack of human intelligence for the Americans, rampant infiltrations of collaborators by insurgents, resulting in events such as the Mosul suicide bombing.
Considering how casually American soldiers talk about most of Iraq as 'bandit' or 'Indian' country, the 'fort in the Far West' mentality seems to have get so entrenched that talking about them digging themselves deeper into trouble is not a metaphore but literally true...

torsdag, december 30, 2004

Turkey and Europe

Mrs Tilton of A fistful of Euros writes an excellent post about Turkish EU membership, one of very best thing I've read about the subject. Go read the whole thing.
In other news, the Turkish Lira is to loose six zeroes.

tisdag, december 28, 2004

Tsunamis, Asteroids, and Not Behaving Like an Ostrich

One of the most tragic aspects of the Indian Ocean tsunami is that many lives could have been saved if there had been a warning system. The cost of such a system, a few million dollars, would be negligeable in regard of the devastation of such events, rare as they are, with some estimates putting the death toll above 50,000.
One irrational part of human nature seems to take precautionary measures only after disaster has struck. Though it was another cry-wolf event, the reports about 2004 MN4 a couple of days ago are a darkly ominous coincidence.
Given that even a rock the size of your bed has the explosive energy of tactical nuke (and indeed more than thirty such stones strike the Earth each year; try different sizes for yourself), I hope we will have an efficient warning system before the cataclysm happens.

Animated Gif of Tsunami (Source: NOAA)

Is Orange the Colour of Dawn or Dusk?

Viktor Yushchenko's victory is greeted as good news, and indeed it is. "We have been independent for 14 years but we were not free ... now we can say this is a thing of the past. Now we are facing an independent and free Ukraine." Thus Yushchenko to his supporters. Many Ukrainians also hope that now their country will leave Moscow's orbit, and join the EU sooner rather than later.
It's been a humiliating setback to Putin's ambitions to maintain a Russian sphere of influence in the "near-abroad", as obviously demonstrated by the sour tone in some Russian media.
Putin's a despot, but more of the enlightened kind like Peter the Great or Katherine II than Stalin or Ivan the Terrible, and like for them, the expansion of Russia's borders, which now are more or the less same than in the early XVIIIth century, is a major long-term goal. And like them, his view of the long-term is at least several decades; so, to quote another historical character, "this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning".
My opinion is that serious negotiations about Ukrainian membership in the EU should start as soon as possible; ideally, its adhesion should be simultaneous with Turkey's. And if Russia wants influence beyond its borders, it can join the EU too like everybody else.

lördag, december 25, 2004


Jag haben una kurwa rigolo tunga discovero, Europanto; palabre l'europantese ist också kurwa facile. Jag know es ist inappropriate och ein settimana trop tôt por wünsch paz sur het terra, ma noël ist också about paz och amor, so peut-être det would be meno krieg om tutti sprachte det, since nieman would capisce if ils were dissade.
Jag hope vous alles got somechose nice, that vous hade ein bueno moment con ihre kin, och no haben übermangiare lutfisk, plum pudding och dinde aux marrons.

Glücklich noël och merry nieuw año!

torsdag, december 23, 2004

Subconscious Check

Me and some of my friends consider ourselves to be players, gamers and gamblers; we'll play anything from parlour games to no-limit texas hold'em through backgammon, boardgames, and every kind of computer game.
Yet to me, chess is still the game of kings and king of games. So I was pleasantly surprised when I visited Daniel in San Francisco to discover that he's become as an enthusiastic café chess player as a backgammon one. And while I had improved my own backgammon skills to beeing a match to him and beating him for the first time ever, he'd done the same with his chess skills.
I've lost three times in a row to him, now as White as well; what bothers me is that my subconscious still seems to regard him as some rookie sucker. Like in this last game, he has an open column with a rook on it and his dame and a bishop on a diagonal aimed at my king's castle on the right flank.
Now that's an extremely delicate position, which requires some very serious defensive thinking. Against someone with skills matching yours, you're definitely the underdog.
That happens quite early in the opening play, a real mongrel bastard between a Black French and a White half-Indian Dame Gambit.
So what do i do about that? Not very much. I happily go on with building up my offensive on the left flank. Now i'm a rather aggressive player, and ideally I want every move's primary objective to be storming the enemy king; if I've got to defend, I prefer moves that have a strong secondary attack potential.
Counter-offensives that take the pressure off me and back on the other side are my bread and butter at chess, but I was deluding myself when thinking Black's underdevelopment compensated that powerful threat to my king.
However, what I find most admirable in how Dan played this game was that he won not by materializing his advantage, but by psyching me out.
My king's predicament was like a cocked and loaded pistol to your head, and so far my attacks just hindered the trigger from beeing pulled. Eventually I manoeuvered my dame into checking his king and forcing an exchange, thus putting the safety catch on the gun; removing the rook would then be akin to taking the bullet from the chamber. At the very least it would make it easier to jam the barrel by draging something on that column.
It was then he pointed out I could take the rear pawn of his pawn chain. Now taking a pawn for its own sake is worthless in itself, and one of the most common cause for defeat for many a rookie. Nevertheless, I was conned; because it made me saw the opportunity of unravelling his whole right flank in a series of forced moves, with at least a bishop, a knight and a couple of pawns as booty, as his rook was boxed in by his knight still on its starting square.
So I was distracted enough not to see that this second rook would then be free to mate me in three moves...
There's a poker saying, "poker's a people game played with cards, not a card game played by people". I was bluffed, and bluffed real good; a much more personal defeat than merely beeing outmanoeuvred on the board.
This what makes gaming more than a fun way to spend some good time with your friends; it's a way to following the socratic "know thyself" adage, as you just have to assess objectively the personal strengths and weaknesses in your play, and ultimately in yourself. Homo animal est quod ludit.

fredag, december 10, 2004

What I Saw

Since the end of the festival I 've been taking a course that's rather demanding timewise, so therefore the dearth of posts. The exam is on wednesday, so hopefully I'll be able to write more after that. Or rather, finishing all the drafts I've started.
Writing is great fun, but I feel very much a beginner. I suppose it'll be better when I will have begun for a longer while. That's all for today, except for this list of films I saw during the festival.

Other Worlds





The Machinist

Uncovered: The War on Iraq

Donnie Darko - Director's Cut




Comme Une Image

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Three Extremes