zenpundit.com » 2013 » February » 8

Archive for February 8th, 2013

Recommended Reading

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Top Billing! Galrahn at USNI blog –Honesty can be Uncomfortable

During the panel discussion on the Chinese Navy last week at the USNI West Conference in San Diego, Captain James Fanell, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence and Information Operations for US Pacific Fleet had some “bracing” comments about the Chinese Navy. When I quote “bracing” I am actually quoting Sam Roggeveen of the Australian Lowy Institute Interpreter blog.

What makes the comments “bracing” is that they are both blunt and honest in commentary. Sam noted the Captain’s comments like this:

Fanell’s language is, well, bracing. He calls China ‘hegemonic’ and says it displays ‘aggression’; he claims China ‘bullies adversaries’ and that it has become a ‘mistrusted principal threat’. Watch Captain Fanell’s presentation from about 21 minutes into the above video, or read below for some more select quotes:

  • (China’s) expansion into the blue waters are largely about countering the US Pacific fleet.’
  • The PLA Navy is going to sea to learn how to do naval warfare…Make no mistake: the PRC navy is focused on war at sea, and sinking an opposing fleet.’
  • On China Marine Surveillance, which supervises and patrols China’s claimed maritime territory: ‘If you map out their harassments you will see that they form a curved front that has over time expanded out against the coast of China’s neighbours, becoming the infamous nine-dashed line, plus the entire East China Sea…China is negotiating for control of other nations’ resources off their coasts; what’s mine is mine, and we’ll negotiate what’s yours.’
  • China Marine Surveillance cutters have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China’s expansive claims…China Marine Surveillance is a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organisation’.
  • In my opinion, China is knowingly, operationally and incrementally seizing maritime rights of its neighbours under the rubric of a maritime history that is not only contested in the international community but has largely been fabricated by Chinese government propaganda bureaus in order to “educate” the populous about China’s rich maritime history, clearly as a tool to sustain the Party’s control.’

Sam Roggeveen is right to describe Captain Fanell’s comments as “bracing,” because it has certainly been awhile since we have seen an American in a public forum speak the truth about China in this way. While we will never see an American diplomat speak like this, nor does the opinion of a US Navy Captain carry the weight of, say, a four star Admiral; this is still very powerful commentary when it comes from a man who is responsible for the evaluation of all intelligence gathered by Pacific Command every single day. 

HG’s World – My Own Pivot to the Sea 

….This past week I was privileged to attend the West 2013 Conference in San Diego, where I was able to attend several panel discussions and a very informative luncheon where the guests were the Chief of Naval Operations ADM Jonathan W. Greenert, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen James F. Amos, and Commandant of the Coast Guard ADM Robert J. Papp Jr. who participated in a round table discussion of the future of the sea services. I have linked the video below, and encourage all to take an hour to listen carefully the their words. 

Another, panel I attended discussed the Chinese Navy and her intentions, be they a challenge or a potential partner in maintaining safe passage for all maritime global commerce. That video is also below. 

Adam Elkus at AFJ – Competition in Cyberspace 

….Network-centric warfare is a paramount example of how cyber-enabled military operations merged with mainstream tenets of American strategic culture. Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski and his collaborators married technology with an expansive geopolitical vision of American ability to determine “rule sets” in an international system that he judged to be imperiled by information-technology-enabled regional actors. Network-enabled force and flexible logistics would help the United States contain the damage from such actors, spread globalization’s connectivity to disconnected regions and deter new conflicts. These geopolitical ideas, while wrapped in metaphors from systems science and economics, are at their core very much rooted in a traditionally American brand of liberal internationalism. The United States does not trust a balance-of-power system abroad to create national security, and thus has historically sought the military capability to create favorable regional, national-level and substate political outcomes.

American military hegemony, coupled with a penchant for cyber-enabled regional intervention, is what is driving adversaries’ search for countermeasures. A military competition is underway over military cyber power. 

Steven Metz  at WPR –Strategic Horizons: Make North Korea Understand the Cost of Provocation

Dan Trombly – The Sources of Perpetual War  

Thomas P.M. Barnett –Interesting Panel on the Chinese Navy (video) 

Razib KhanJared Diamond and the Anthropologists and Against the Cultural Anthropologists 

Dan Nexon – How Reality-based is the Community?  

SWJ –“In the Service of Humanity and Civilization”? The Austro-Hungarian Occupation of Bosnia and Hercegovina (1878)

Dart Throwing Chimp –Advocascience 

Recommended Viewing:

Talk about interlocking nightmares…

Friday, February 8th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — when the world doesn’t divide quite so nicely into us and them ]

Artist credit: Toby Hazel, for link see below
Nah, not nightmarish, dreamlike abstract Interlocking Figures


Today, let’s talk about interlocking nightmares…

Consider the tugs and tensions in this article by Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst Meir Javedanfar, which appeared in Al Monitor about a week ago titled Iran, Israel and Their Red Lines Over Syria. I’ll just quote you the tail end of the piece:

Syria’s WMD stockpile falling into the hands of al-Qaeda is a red line which Iran and its adversaries in Syria must draw together, and make sure that Al Qaeda does not cross that.

If al-Qaeda does persistently try and the only other viable option to avoid this scenario is to transfer Syria’s WMD to Iran, than the West may have no option but to accept. That is an infinitely better scenario than al-Qaeda getting its hands on such a weapons. Al-Qaeda is a suicidal non-state actor with nothing to lose by using such weapons, however the opposite is true about Iran. As unpleasant as it may be, this is one scenario which the West should not draw a red line around.



** ** **

Image source:

Toby Hazel, Interlocking Figures

Don’t ask me — I’m a Qualit!

Friday, February 8th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — Christmas pudding UK circa 1950, math, banks, and moral authority ]


As I recall, the plum pudding served in our family on Christmas day was not only rich in raisins, sultanas, currants and candied peel, it not only had brandy poured over it and a flame swiftly set to it, it was not only served with brandy butter…

It also had, somewhere within it, a silver coin — I understand these were originally related to coins of healing and the Royal Touch — and one of us, my sister and I, would be the one to find it in our slice. So equality of opportunity was important, both of us wanted to have an equal chance at winning the coveted prize.

Or perhaps I should say, equantity? Because believe me, the quality in each and every slice was just fine.

All this by way of saying that yes, I understand that quantity has its uses.


In Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street a while back, Felix Salmon proposed the upper (and more colorful) of the two equations below, suggesting that it was the root cause of the financial failure of 2008:

Comes now Chris Arnade blogging on Scientific American for the defense, claiming that The Real—and Simple—Equation That Killed Wall Street was the lower of the two equations (the one in black on white).


Arnade writes of Salmon’s Wired article:

It was not the first piece that made this type of argument, but it was the most aggressive. Since then it has been a common theme in the media that mathematics, especially obscure advanced mathematics, is largely responsible for the catastrophe that doomed the world to the last five years of recession and slow growth.

This theme plays on the fallacy that danger always comes from complexity. It’s a fabrication that obscures the real causes, that makes it easier to say, “Hey, it wasn’t my fault, I was blinded by science.”

The reality is much simpler and less sexy. Wall Street killed itself in a time-honored fashion: Cheap money, excessive borrowing, and greed. And yes, there is an equation one can point to and blame. This equation, however, requires nothing more than middle school algebra to understand and is taught to every new Wall Street employee. It is leveraged return.

What is leveraged return? It’s the return on assets using borrowed money.

I am depicted as the fellow with glasses and a squint, squeezed in between the two equations. When I recover from my discombobulation, I will push my glasses up high on my brow and say, Don’t ask me — I’m a Qualit!


And now we Anglicans have a new Archbishop who, well, as the Guardian puts it, Archbishop of Canterbury accuses banks of hypocrisy over bonuses:

Two months ago HSBC was also fined a record £1.2bn over allegations of money laundering for Mexican drug barons. Regulators said HSBC had allowed at least $881m of drugs money through its accounts.

Taking evidence from HSBC’s two top bosses – its chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, and chairman, Douglas Flint – the archbishop said: “I’m increasingly baffled at the discussion we are having. What is it essentially about bankers that means they need skin in the game [bonuses]? We don’t give skin in the game to civil servants, to surgeons, to teachers.

“There’s a whole range of people who don’t have that. It seems to me that you are putting huge effort into a values-based organisation and yet at the end of the day, particularly for your most senior staff who are most important as regards setting values and culture, you seem to be saying the only way you can motivate them to any significant extent is with cash.”

The bankers, who said they wanted to turn HSBC into a bank of “courageous integrity”, insisted it was necessary to pay bonuses because they provided incentives that could be clawed back if mistakes were later uncovered.

Don’t you love it? Courageous integrity!


As Rochefoucauld said:

Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.

It seems it is a small price to pay, quantitatively speaking — a rounding error. From a qualitative perspective however, it is a Faustian price — as Wikipedia (following Britannica) has it, it is:

a situation in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success

Ooh — it’s a question of having or surrendering moral integrity about one’s own claim to integrity! A self-referential paradox if ever I saw one…

Christianity (since we’ve just been quoting an Archbishop) sets the matter sub specie aeternitatis in Mark 7.6:

He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

A small price, or the ultimate? Quant? or Qualit? The choice is always ours.


So you see why I’d rather be a Qualit than a Quant.

But even so, finding that silver coin in my Christmas pudding was pretty special, from a quantish point of view. The brandy butter, more qualitish IMO, was even better.

** ** **

Sources for header:

Qualit logo
Quant logo

Sources for SPECS:

Wired‘s equation
SciAm‘s equation

Switch to our mobile site