Apr 28 2009
Serious and all as the current swine flu outbreaks are, there is always going to be room for satirical humour:
Apr 28 2009
Serious and all as the current swine flu outbreaks are, there is always going to be room for satirical humour:
Apr 23 2009
Hey, that’s what it says here in Ireland’s paper of record. Apparently there’s a community out there who feel it’s time that we left our petty mess behind and sought communion with our galactic neighbours (maybe they can give us a dig out as well — that’s just my opinion).
Forget “eco”. The most urgent prefix today, the X-Conference suggests, is “exo”. We need to evolve into an exoculture. We need to be exoconscious, to reframe our minds for interstellar relations and interdimensional experiences.
“If we live off-planet, we have to change our mind and bodies,” says Rebecca Hardcastle, a hypnotherapist and exoconsciousness coach from Phoenix, Arizona. “Your emotions, life force and what you’ve been taught is a belief system that cords you to the Earth. We must change our frame of reference.”
Hardcastle, wearing pearls and a black dress, says she has been contacted by ET intelligence since she was three. She, and others in the exopolitical community, say we must learn remote viewing and teleportation, propagate the practice of ESP, let ETs change us, and integrate technology and consciousness so we can participate in the universe.
What’s the secret? Diet and exercise and balanced living, says Hardcastle. Yoga and peacefulness, say others.
Okay, I’ve picked a quote from what looks like one of the flakier members of the movement. It’s just quirky. Anyway, a lot of the debate is about full disclosure from terrestrial governments about what contact they may or may not have had with extraterrestrials. I’m not going to enter the debate over whether or not aliens exist, or if they have visited our little mudball. But there is something about being prepared for any such contact that I find myself agreeing with. I just wish our governments and banks had thought to be prepared for the economic slump in which we find ourselves.
Apr 05 2009
Not content with wanting to solve the economic crisis, withdraw from Iraq, win the war in Afghanistan, and transform US energy policy into one that’s green-friendly, Barack Obama is working on a world free of nuclear weapons. In two 26-minute speeches this week
the president pledged a drive on nuclear disarmament, possibly bigger than any ever attempted. He spelled out how he would accelerate arms control agreements with Russia, following his first summit meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev last week. The deal to conclude a new arms reduction treaty with Moscow, which would slash stockpiles by about a third was a beginning, setting the stage for further cuts.
In a telling nod to reality, the presidential superhero admitted this may not happen in his lifetime, which is as pragmatic as it is putting the onus of resolution on future generations. Still though, his fresh take on military and security policy is to be commended and supported as much as possible. While the threat of nuclear war is quite small — the greatest potential lies in an Israeli strike on Iran, because despite all the posturing and controversy over the US missile shield, Russia has too much to lose — the possibility of a terrorist or rogue group getting materials is quite real.
If nothing else, Obama’s grand nuclear-free plan would lead to an unprecedented level of international co-operation as nations’ policies are set aside for the greater good.
If he can get it off the ground, that is.
Sep 22 2008
The US military’s latest strategy document throws in the usual ideological threats — and apparently the “war on terror” now has an acronym, GWOT — but has a very keen on eye on future practicalities: “We face a potential return to traditional security threats posed by emerging near-peers as we compete globally for depleting natural resources and overseas markets.”
An interesting phrase, “near peers”. I’m not sure if this is a subtle slight at Russian and Chinese efforts to restablish/establish themselves as world powers, or a tacit acceptance that US power faces being equalled in the medium term.
This thinly-veiled reference to Russia and China will, perhaps, come as little surprise given recent events in Ossetia and Abkhazia. The explicit reference in this context to future resource wars, however, will probably raise eyebrows among the international diplomatic community, who prefer to couch such conflicts as human rights-based or rooted in notions around freedom and democracy.
The document, however, contains no such lofty pretences. It goes on to list as a pre-eminent threat to the security of the US and its allies “population growth – especially in less-developed countries – [which] will expose a resulting ‘youth bulge’.”
A young, growing population would mean a corresponding growth in resource consumption. It’s valid for a military to consider these sorts of threats — its duty is to protect the nation and its citizens, and so it should be prepared for as many eventualities as possible, and however unpalatable it may seem to the observer. But this is an outline of what strategies and technologies will be needed in the future, rather than a plan of campaign.
That food and water could lead to conflict should not be unexpected. The rocketing price of rice, for instance, has prompted several Gulf states to look into buying farmland in producer countries as a means of safeguarding supplies. If we hear a country saying “Oh, that looks like a nice spot to invade and grow corn”, then we need to worry. But don’t think it hasn’t been said privately.
According to Clonan, the document also looks at hi-tech options for fight wars and conducting military exercises. The space-based perspective might sound like science fiction, but is unsurprising. Any military would want to use all the assets at its disposal — and orbit allows all sorts of perspectives and observation options.
It is also indicative of a drive to reduced US casualties. Mobile-operated drones and such have been mooted and occasionally deployed for some time, although with mixed results. However, the use of hardware over personnel is more PR friendly, as well as a possibility for reducing the used operating budget on pesky things such as food and water. We may not be in Terminator country just yet, but it would mark a major shift in military composition and operation.
If it comes to pass, of course,
Nov 19 2007
Gideon Rachman, the FT’s chief foreign affairs columnist, says “the challenge for the US now will be to avoid sliding straight from imperialism to isolationism”. The imperial idea became fashionable in 2003, he notes, when it was driven by the likes of Dick Cheney and other conservatives. It has declined in popularity since.
Imperial analogies still fascinate America. But the latest American books on empire are markedly less optimistic than the ones appearing a couple of years ago. Cullen Murphy’s Are We Rome? – which made the best-seller lists this year – argues that the US is in danger of emulating Rome’s decline and fall by succumbing to Roman-style corruption and arrogance. America needs to rediscover its civic virtues.
Rome is the empire to which most parallels are drawn, which is a fair enough point when you consider how much Roman imagery and ideas have been incorporated into American institutions. Rome, however, did not fall because of “corruption and arrogance”, though these did play a role in its decline. Economic mismanagement and rampant inflation were major contributors to the empire’s collapse — and these are lessons from which the US (and other world powers) can learn.
The conservatives who embraced the word “empire” a few years ago were being deliberately provocative. If America was indeed in something like an “imperial” mood in 2003, it simply meant the US was determined to use its economic and military pre-eminence to change the world. If that involved invading, occupying and reshaping whole countries, so be it.
Four years on, “imperialism” looks a lot harder and less attractive. America’s generals fret publicly that their formidable military machine could be “broken” in Iraq. The fiscal deficit is mounting and the dollar is falling.
However, Rachman points to a future for Amercia’s global position — because it is so tied to the world’s economic well-being.
China, India and even a resurgent Russia are emulating America by trading their way to greatness. Their ruling elites are directly enriched by globalisation.
I wonder if the story will change in 10 or 15 years’ time. Will China have overcome most of its internal problems and truly emerged as a world power? Will India be hot on its heels? Or will the impending climate catastrophe lead to an entirely different world order?
Nov 17 2007
From the Associated Press:
The Earth is hurtling toward a warmer climate at a quickening pace, a Nobel-winning U.N. scientific panel said in a landmark report released Saturday, warning of inevitable human suffering and the threat of extinction for some species.
As early as 2020, 75 million to 250 million people in Africa will suffer water shortages, residents of Asia’s megacities will be at great risk of river and coastal flooding, Europeans can expect extensive species loss, and North Americans will experience longer and hotter heat waves and greater competition for water, the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says.
The potential impact of global warming is “so severe and so sweeping that only urgent, global action will do,” Ban told the IPCC after it issued its fourth and final report this year…
The report is important because it is adopted by consensus, meaning countries accept the underlying science and cannot disavow its conclusions. While it does not commit governments to a specific course of action, it provides a common scientific baseline for the political talks [in Bali next month].
Maybe I’ll soon have to change the name of this blog to Tiny Underwater-Yet-Arid Planet.
Nov 01 2007
Greens means compromise. Harry’s in fine form: “As the saying goes, you say tomato, I say total and abject capitulation.”
How to educate yourself online. Sure, we’ve all been wandering the net for years, but now and then it’s good to get a refresher.
Tesco employee suspended over Facebook. He tracked a customer down and sent her naughty pictures.
And you thought you had a bad day… You didn’t get arrested after crashing your car, getting shot and stripping off.
A friend of a friend bombed Bali. That’s one way for a politician’s speech to make the papers.
Sep 17 2007
The United States is stepping up its operations in Africa, which it sees as the next major front against terrorism.
Using the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, for the past two years America has been sharing weapons and tactics with nine amiable nations in central and west Africa. This, along with humanitarian schemes such as well building, aims to promote cooperation between the U.S. military and African armies in and around the Sahara in an effort to make the zone less hospitable to terrorist groups.
Writes Scott Johnson of Newsweek:
Sgt Chris Rourke, a US Army reservist in a 12-man American Civil Affairs unit living in Dire Dawa, in eastern Ethiopia, says it comes down to this: ‘It’s the Peace Corps with a weapon’.
Austin Merrill notes much the same. Having come across the US military while on assignment in Timbuktu
The Special Forces team — while I was with them — spent more time caring for sick children and planning how to improve villagers’ access to drinking water than it did coaching Malian soldiers at target practice.
America is trying to win the hearts and minds of people who might otherwise be opposition — or worse, a threat.
The US has offered what it considers appropriate aid in different countries. While things like inoculations were important in Mali, Humvees were vital to help Kenya “combat terrorism”. Meanwhile, reservists and national guardsmen in Ethiopia are building schools and bridges “to wrestle key local leaders, clan elders and unemployed youth over to their vision of Ethiopia’s future” (Newsweek).
Soon a dedicated strategic command, Africom, will be set up to centralise and expand US international interests on the continent. The agency would combine military, economic and aid programmes in one office and could launch as soon as October, although a host nation has yet to be decided. Critics say it could cement American relations with less-than-savoury regimes such as Ethiopia, which is touted as a base for the command.
The Pentagon says Africom will bring its hearts-and-mind campaign closer to the people; critics say it represents the militarisation of US Africa policy. Already, the United States has identified the Sahel, a region stretching west from Eritrea across the broadest part of Africa, as the next critical zone in the war on terror and started working with repressive governments in Chad and Algeria, among others, to further American interests there.
The continent is home to several terrorist groups, most notably the loose coalition in north Africa that is al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which formed in January and has claimed responsibility for recent bomb attacks in Algeria. As such, it is understandable that the US would want a major base nearby.
However, many in the region would oppose this because of concerns about imperialism, be it economic or political. Fears of a conflict with China — which has more consulates and embassies on the continent than the US does — also exist.
The timescale involved is sure to provoke opposition. This isn’t a short or even medium-term operation.
General Charles Wald, who has pushed the idea of an Africom-style organisation, has said avoiding another Iraq or Afghanistan is the ultimate goal.
This needs to be a different approach to what the military does. It ought to be capacity building and governance building. There’s a lot of money going into Africa, and a lot of people care. But it’s just not being coordinated properly. It’s time to start facing the fact that we’ve got to do this in a holistic, synergistic way. It’s going to take time—50 years at least. (my emphasis)
The US military has tried to allay such fears on the Africom website. Meanwhile, Ryan Henry, US principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, has tried to downplay concerns of a 21st century Scramble for Africa.
The command is focused on African solutions that are led by Africans… We do not see this command getting involved in operations. There will be no new troops assigned to Africa as a result of this and there will be no new bases associated with it. We think the solutions to Africa’s security problems need to be indigenously developed in Africa. Some outsiders can help, but they can’t do the heavy lifting.
Nonetheless, he is quite open about the US using Africom strictly for its own interests. AP security correspondent Mark Trevelyan writes:
Despite the emphasis on developing indigenous African security, Henry did not rule out the possibility that Washington would intervene with its own forces if it had intelligence pinpointing a top al-Qaida figure in an African country.
“It would depend on a myriad of circumstances. If we thought that someone was going to unleash an attack somewhere in the world that was on the scale of 9/11 or greater, we’re obviously going to do something about it,” he said.
America has already acted on its al-Qaida suspicions. During the 2006 Somali civil war, when the Islamic Courts Union ruled much of the south, US gunships attacked ICU positions. This was because of a belief that the union was backing, or at least had ties to, al-Qaida. After backing local warlords against the Islamists, the US supported an Ethiopian invasion of the country. A coalition of Ethiopian and Somali government forces defeated the courts, although a guerilla campaign can not be ruled out. Somalia is still a shambles.
Unfortunately, by accepting the deployment of Ethiopian forces outside that nation’s borders the US has encouraged wider regional tensions. Eritrea was accused of sending soldiers to support the ICU, and its conflict with Ethiopia has smouldered for years, occasionally erupting into all-out war. Tensions between Ethiopia — which fought a war with Somalia in the 1970s — and Somalis within its borders also complicate the situation.
The Ethiopian government’s record on human rights is getting increasingly worse. Allying itself to such a regime will only undermine the moral and political credibility of Africom, especially if the organisation is based there. However, the US will likely feel the benefits of having an ally in a strategic area outweighs such concerns. It has happened many times before.
Resolving this regional mess would presumably be a priority for Africom. Whether or not this would include working with African Union peacekeepers in Somalia or be limited to police training is unclear at this time.
It will be interesting to see what focus Africom takes: will it prioritise military training and support, or will it get more involved in humanitarian duties? Will it be effective? Can it be effective?
Sep 03 2007
North Korea has agreed to declare and disable all its nuclear facilities by the end of 2007. Who says diplomacy and the right aid package can’t get results?
The DPRK may be part of the “axis of evil” but it’s a fairly quiet part right now. After all the understandable concern when it tested a nuclear bomb one might have expected a more hostile confrontation between the two.
True, there were some hairy moments, but promises of oil and food seem to have won the day — to the point the US is looking at taking Korea off the list of states sponsoring terrorism.
Bryan over at Hot Air, while pointing out that the deal deserves some measure of skepticism, notes that the DPRK is in trouble: famine, flooding and economic woes abound. World Vision said the flooding was so bad this year’s rice harvest was destroyed, along with bridges and powerlines.
It’s possible Korea can no longer afford to maintain its nuclear programme, although dictatorships don’t have a track record of such concerns.
There are lessons here that can be applied to Iran. The deal shows just how successful negotiations can be when needs are clearly identified and dealt with; in 2006 Bush vowed to give diplomacy “every chance” in Korea, and the results are there for all to see.
Korea’s woes do not exist in Iran, so there’s no clear incentive on the Iranian side to ender into proper talks. Ahmadinejad is the other factor. There is unlikely to be a resolution so long as he and his ilk are in power. But that doesn’t mean a proper forum can’t be set up to resolve the issue diplomatically.
Hans Blix has suggested a guarantee that Iran will not be attacked and a normalization of relations with the United States as the cornerstone of an agreement. It won’t be enough in and of itself but would be a start.
At the height of the nuclear row, there was speculation of and backing for a military strike against Korea, much as there is talk of planned offensives against the Iranian military. Such speculation came to nothing and eventually petered out as the diplomatic effort gathered momentum despite the occasional setback. However, I can’t rule out the chance that the threat or fear of attack had a bearing on Korea’s diplomatic amiability.
I also have a slightly more cynical theory: the US administration could not have sold strikes on Korea to the public because it’s just not on their radar. Judging by this video, some Americans’ grasp of geography is tenuous at best:
(Part of a longer montage here.)
All levity aside, the prospect of a deal in North Korea does raise the possibility of a peaceful solution in Iran. I would put forward the promise of investment in the Islamic republic’s oil and gas fields. Direct US finance would be problematic for the Iranian government, but cash through a third party (perhaps the UN or EU) might work.
Let’s see what happens.
Sep 01 2007
Russia plans to start building a base on the Moon by 2027. It aims to land cosmonauts in 2024 and have the facility finished and staffed by 2032.
The former superpower had suggested being part of a joint expedition with NASA, but after this was apparently rejected — although the US agency said in April that it had not received any such proposal — the decision was taken to go solo.
The first step will be finishing work on the ISS, followed by refurbishment of the Soyuz craft. How cosmonauts are going to get to the Moon has gone unmentioned. It might be using thisKliper craft, but there’s just as likely no plan in place at all.
Unless the government rows in behind the federal space agency, Roskosmos, this proposal will never get off the ground (pun, dire as it was, most certainly intended). The agency only has an annual budget of $1.3bn, compared to NASA’s $16.8bn.
In 2005, NASA estimated its coming lunar programme could cost $104bn over 13 years (Apollo cost half that over eight). There’s no reason Russia can’t come up with a way of doing it more cost-efficiently, but doing it on the current budget seems idealistic at best.
It will inevitably turn to space tourism to raise funds. Five have flown so far — each paying $20m-$25m a pop — and one Russian gentleman is set to go into orbit in 2009. It also charges NASA somewhere in the region of $20m per person per flight on its Soyuz capsules to the space station.
Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov has said launches of foreign satellites and other commercial services are expected to generate $800 million in sales for Russia’s national space and rocket industry in 2008. This would be useful hard cash for a lunar programme, especially with the timeframe the agency has in mind. It’s unlikely to be enough though.
Collaboration would be the easiest and most efficient avenue to take, but without NASA on board that seems dead in the water. Russia is considering developing satellites and such with several Arab countries, but it’s fair to say these do not have sufficiently developed space programmes to be technically useful in a lunar expedition. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute financially.
Russia isn’t the only nation with the Moon in its sights. China — which sees a successful space programme as a major tool in establishing its international reputation and prestige — and Japan are planning lunar flights by 2022 and 2025, while India might steal a march on both with a mission by 2020.
India is to spend $1.5bn over five years developing the requisite technology, and what it can achieve in this timeframe and on this budget will indicate if Russia can achieve its goals.
Ultimately, the more resources dedicated to lunar exploration and occupation the better. Earth won’t last forever…