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Okay this re North Korea this morning from WotR

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — from Korea hands vs nuclear wonks ]

Okay, the title of this piece intrigued me: Korea hands vs nuclear wonksVan Jackson at War on the Rocks today.

Okay, I mostly like wonks, but hands have on-the-ground awareness that beats the hell out of book-footnoted research and chat with like-mindedd others, so to my mind, Korea hands would naturally beat nuclear wonks (Cheryl Rofer and friends explicitly excepted), no contest. Anyway, neat, interest-grabbing title. I therefore clicked to see the piece, and while my own opinion was not affirmed, I found this:

I ranted about this a bit on twitter over the weekend, but what we’re witnessing is an open split between the United States and South Korea over North Korea policy. It’s not the first time; this happened in the early years of the George W. Bush administration too. Both sides have an interest in papering over differences in public, but the rift is there. The question is why.

Nuclear scholars see the emerging differences in the alliance as strategic “decoupling”—North Korea’s growing nuke threat is leading South Korea to search for security by other means because U.S. reliability shrinks as U.S. territory falls within range of North Korean missiles. South Korea would be hard-pressed to have faith that Trump would be willing to let Seattle eat a nuke in exchange for Seoul not eating one.

But Korea scholars see a more familiar pattern in the current divergences between South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and President Trump. The breakdown of the U.S.-Korea alliance in 2002 and 2003 was about as bad as it’s ever been, it was due entirely to the politics (on both sides) of North Korea policy, and it was years before North Korea had a functional nuke.

So we all see a fissure opening up between allies, but what’s the best explanation for it? If the nuclear scholars are right, and the fissure is a function of North Korea’s growing nukes, then the alliance is in big trouble, because the nuke problem is on-trend to get worse not better.

If the Korea scholars are right, then the alliance is in a bad place but the situation is recoverable. South Korea’s president is just being a political opportunist, in this interpretation, and once the domestic mood in the South shifts against him (or North Korea), then the alliance will be in a better place.

Either way, we’re effectively out of the nuclear crisis from last year. It would take a major miscalculation or act of violence by someone to bring the crisis roaring back. Unfortunately, that’s entirely plausible.


Two points-of-view — the view from two points, two perspectives — distinct but not necessarily opposed, ie capable of binocular vision, if the balance between the two lenses is adjusted to the perceiver’s taste.

Binocular vision, adjusted to balance the inputs from the two lenses, is — if nothing else — an opportunity for dialectic, or for the HipBone approach (stereophany — see Meditations for Game Players, vii).

Binocular — stereoscopic — dialectic vision is a central aspect of my interest in polyphony, the capacity to hear twwo or more points of view at once. F Scott Fitzgerald once said, much to my delight:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Then there’s Sir Lawrence Freedman, in The Meaning of Strategy, Part II: The Objectives:

For Beaufre, strategy was the “the art of the dialectic of two opposing wills using force to resolve their dispute.”

Strategy! Dialectic! Stereophany!


And now, back to N Korea and Van Jackson with all that in mind..

I’ve taken into account two viewpoints in my “binocular” discussion here — but Jackson offers a third possibility at the very end of his piece:

Either way, we’re effectively out of the nuclear crisis from last year. It would take a major miscalculation or act of violence by someone to bring the crisis roaring back. Unfortunately, that’s entirely plausible.


WHat do you think, Zen, Scott, Tanner, Cheryl, Michael??

The great northern thaw

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — okay, methane, yes, for starters — now add some radioactive waste and anthrax to the brew ]

Two recent items that caught my eye:

Tablet DQ Thaw raindeer and radioactivity


  • USA Today, Global warming could ‘unfreeze’ waste buried in old Greenland military base
  • The Atlantic, Siberia’s Deadly Anthrax Outbreak
  • **

    More generally, we non-expert interested folk have known for a while — assuming, say, we read the New York Times piece, As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks, back in 2011 — that loss of permafrost was hazardous to planetary health:

    Experts have long known that northern lands were a storehouse of frozen carbon, locked up in the form of leaves, roots and other organic matter trapped in icy soil — a mix that, when thawed, can produce methane and carbon dioxide, gases that trap heat and warm the planet. But they have been stunned in recent years to realize just how much organic debris is there.

    A recent estimate suggests that the perennially frozen ground known as permafrost, which underlies nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere.

    Temperatures are warming across much of that region, primarily, scientists believe, because of the rapid human release of greenhouse gases. Permafrost is warming, too. Some has already thawed, and other signs are emerging that the frozen carbon may be becoming unstable. [ .. ]

    If a substantial amount of the carbon should enter the atmosphere, it would intensify the planetary warming. An especially worrisome possibility is that a significant proportion will emerge not as carbon dioxide, the gas that usually forms when organic material breaks down, but as methane, produced when the breakdown occurs in lakes or wetlands. Methane is especially potent at trapping the sun’s heat, and the potential for large new methane emissions in the Arctic is one of the biggest wild cards in climate science.


    Okay, now we can also think about rotting reindeer carcases and radioactive waste.

    I can’t see Russia from my house, but it looks as though the Russians have the reindeer anthrax issue well in hand, and the “once top-secret subterranean U.S. nuclear base in northern Greenland” with its “radioactive coolant, PCBs, and raw sewage that the military originally believed would stay entombed for millennia” seems to pale in comparison with the possibilities of methane discharge — Cheryl Rofer could no doubt estimate the comparative risks far better than I — so this post is not intended as a scare-alert, but as yet another example of a category that interests me way more than most — which is why I’d like to direct it:

    Attn: Department of Blindspots and Unintended Consequences


    Four angles plus one on reading Trump

    Sunday, July 31st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — on the need for an analytic open mind — or hedging one’s bets? ]

    I suppose we have to start with Trumpian Fundamentalism — by wbich I mean, taking the literal meaning from whatever he says. This view is simple, even simplistic.

    One down, three to go.


    There’s Lt. Gen. Flynn‘s view:

    In the linked Politico article, Flynn is quoted thus:

    Former Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn says he’s trying to get Donald Trump to be more precise in how he talks about foreign policy, but he defended some of his hardline proposals as simply opening offers in negotiations on world affairs.

    “First of all, I don’t agree with everything that he said. But he’s an individual who’s willing to take on a challenge,” the retired lieutenant general, a former President Barack Obama appointee who advises Trump on foreign policy, told Al Jazeera English’s “UpFront.” “The other aspect is there must be more precision in the use of the language that he uses as the potential leader of the free world. There has to be more precision, and those are the types of pieces of advice that I’m trying to get into him to say [to] be more precise, be more conscious about what you say about foreign policy issues because they are complicated.” [ .. ]

    In Trump’s defense, Flynn said the real estate mogul sees the world from the perspective of a global businessman and suggested the billionaire’s bombastic rhetoric is just a starting point for negotiations.

    Trump’s strategy is to “start really, really high and really, really hard, OK?” Flynn explained. “And then, be prepared to get down to where you think you can actually negotiate.”

    This view has the advantage of following a business model, and Trump may or may not be anything else, but he’s surely a businessman. It also leaves a lot of room for “play” between his stated intentions on the one hand, and what he’s liable to settle for when talk comes to signature on the other.


    Third, there’s Trump’s ghostwriter’s view:

    Schwartz‘ tweet was quickly paired — for instance — with:

    This angle has the advantage of psychological plausibility.

    How can I put this kindly? The poet Rumi is quoted as saying “Many of the faults you see in others, dear reader, are your own nature reflected in them.”



    I gather there is or was until fairly recently a US submarine defensive system called a MOSS (mobile submarine simulator) MK70 — a decoy launched from a torpedo tube which Wikipedia tells us [1, 2] lacked an explosive warhead but was “able to generate both an active sonar echo and a passive sound signature recorded to be extremely similar to that of the launching submarine” — thus effectively simulating a full size submarine.

    I learned this today after looking up “chaff” in the belief that Trump may simply be scattering all manner of provocative yet contradictory statements in his wake, with a view to confusing the hell out of his enemies — whether his fellow Republicans, his presumptive Democratic opponent, or potentially hostile state and nonstate actors abroad.

    Call that the Kim Jong Il factor — and consider by way of analogy Why it’s sane for Kim Jong-il to be crazy.


    And quintessentially?

    Those were my four original angles — but thought of Trump and Kim Jong Il reminded me of talk of Trump and Vladimir Putin — and I can’t really leave this topic without noting blog-friend Cheryl Rofer‘s recent writings on the subject:

  • Cheryl Rofer, Trump and Russia
  • Cheryl Rofer, Trump’s Russian Deals
  • Cheryl Rofer, What Trump Has Said About Russia
  • Cheryl Rofer, Donald Trump: Fellow Traveler Or Useful Idiot?
  • **

    In my view, reading Trump comes close to qualifying as a wicked problem:

    A wicked problem is one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. Wicked problems cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented. The term was originally coined by Horst Rittel.

    Wicked problems always occur in a social context — the wickedness of the problem reflects the diversity among the stakeholders in the problem.

    Perhaps this explains in part why there’s such considerable polarization in our various responses to Donald J Trump and his many tweets and speeches.

    For more on wicked problems:

  • Jeff Conklin, Wicked Problems and Social Complexity
  • The epigraph to Conklin’s chapter is from Laurence J. Peter, and reads:

    Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.

    I have to say, I feel that way a lot these days.

    Surrealism and surreal reality

    Sunday, April 24th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — perception and plutonium ]

    The sureralist master and master surrealist Salvador Dali here invokes optical illusion to illuminate the fickle nature of our perceptions of (non-surreal) reality:

    As for reality itself, it has its own form of surreality — in this case, the dismal facts of plutonium stockpiles and their disposal, and their implications for politics (not to mention its conceivable / inconceivable continuation by other means).

    All of which is unpleasant to conteplate, seldom discussed, and thus itself a form of perceptual illusion:

    FWIW, I see a visual connection between these two images, although that may ba a personal quirk not shared by others. Again, a quirk of perception?



  • RFE / RL, As Putin Swipes At U.S. Over Plutonium Disposal, Nuclear Cooperation Takes A Hit
  • Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner, Plutonium Disposal Difficulties
  • Nemesis is teh “unanticipated consequence” of hubris

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a veritable rule of thumb ]

    Swiss Army Knife


    Let me steer clear of both foreign policy and presidential candidates, and simply quote Cheryl Rofer from her recent twitter fusillade re Neil deGrasse Tyson:


    Humility has as many applications as a Swiss Army Knife.

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