Those demned Sunni Shiites

April 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — for those unused to the word, and potentially troubled by it, demned is a cussword much favored by The Scarlet Pimpernel ]

The Prophet said “War is deceit” according to Sahih al-Bukhari, the most highly respected collection of ahadith — as did Sun Tzu before him, writing “All warfare is based on deception” according to one translator. I shouldn’t have been surprised, therefore, by this reversal of understanding reported by journo Richard Engel, captured, then released, then very surprised himself by what he later discovered about his captors:

SPEC DQ the Sunni Shiites


  • Both quotes, which we can call “before” (upper panel) and “after” (lower panel) are drawn from Richard Engel’s New Details on 2012 Kidnapping of NBC News Team in Syria
  • Binoculars on the Middle East

    April 15th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — current assessments — Iran trumps Saudi, AQ beats IS ]

    SPEC who is winning



  • Cambanis in Foreign Policy, Iran Is Winning the War for Dominance of the Middle East
  • Gartenstein-Ross & Moreng in Politico, Al Qaeda Is Beating the Islamic State\

  • Both are worth reading.
  • Recommended Reading

    April 15th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    Have not done this in a while as real life has eaten most of my blogging time, but here goes with a focus on Friends of Zenpundit!

    Adam Elkus, is writing on tech and society for Slate:

    ….Tesla’s Elon Musk and the famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking have become standard-bearers for the growing fear over artificial intelligence—but perhaps the most fascinating element here is that their warnings focus on hypothetical malicious automatons while ignoring real ones. Musk, in a recent interview, mused aboutwhether we would be lucky if future robots enslaved us as pets. Yet today humankind is imperiled by a different type of bot onslaught from which there is no escaping, and Musk has not sounded the alarm. Perhaps that is due to the fact that the artificial menace behind this rise of the machines is not really anything we would consider to be “artificial intelligence.” Instead, to survey the bot armies marching across the Internet is to marvel at the power of artificial stupidity. Despite bots’ crudely coded, insectoid simplicity, they have managed to make a lot of people’s lives miserable.

    Charles already noted Cheryl Rofer, also a long time friend, haassessments of the Iranian nuclear deal at Nuclear Diner and at Mother Jones:

    ….The extent of Iran’s past activity on nuclear weapons was relegated to the IAEA by the P5+1 throughout the negotiations, and is a lesser provision in the fact sheet. Do we have to know all Iran’s dirty secrets to police a future agreement? Probably not.

    The Supreme Leader issued a tweet stream that seems to give his blessing for a deal to go forward, but his words were unclear enough that domestic hardliners could seize on them in an attempt to scuttle the deal. Iran’s President Rouhani has voiced his support. In Israel, even the general who bombed the Osirak reactor thinks it’s a good deal.

    Thomas P.M. Barnett is blogging a little again after a very long hiatus where he was helping get Wikistrat up, running and growing. After connecting through the good offices of Critt Jarvis, Tom Barnett had a very significant influence in the evolution of zenpundit, particularly in inspiring my research interests to move from straight diplomatic history and foreign policy to a deep dive into strategy and grand strategy. On that note, I recommend you check out How to Become a Grand Strategist (unpublished):

    There are four fundamental reasons why American grand strategy matters more right now than any other nation’s grand strategy.

    The first is that the American example is provided the source code for this era’s version of globalization, which superseded the colonial model of world integration previously pursued by the Eurasian imperial powers.  These United States represent the oldest and most successful multinational economic, political and security union on the planet, a collection of states whose integration has been so successful and so deep that we forget the fantastic journey that brought us to this present state of being.  We should not, because it is our essential gift to world history, currently finding its replication—finally—in the European context from which we sprang.  The success of that model, the European Union, has made it the second great source code for the future of globalization.  By both improving on and falling short of the original, it provides the world a much-needed contrast (i.e., “go slow” globalization compared to our “go fast” model) in these tumultuous economic times. 

    The second reason is that America currently serves as the sole historical bridge between settled Europe’s post-military, post-nationalistic achievement of stable identity and rising Asia’s pre-military, pre-nationalistic pursuit of the same.  In other words, while Europe has evolved past the great sources of 20th century conflict (militarism, nationalism, ideologies in general), Asia’s emerging powers—save for Japan—are rapidly approaching these historical phases, largely clinging to the hope that comprehensive marketization of their economies alone will so integrate their societies with the larger world as to render these traps obsolete.  The trade-off, however, is substantial for the planet as a whole, because in so rapidly integrating with the global economy, Asian nations have turbo-charged globalization’s dynamics to the point of resurrecting fears of zero-sum competitions among great powers for resources, markets and military allies in the decades ahead.  They’ve resurrected the specter of empires.

    Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye has a very appropriate post, given what haunts us on Wednesday Our Lousy Tax System 

    ….Since the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913 when Congress was granted the power to levy a tax based on income, something previously denied it, we’ve done a major overhaul of our tax system roughly every 20 years. Our last overhaul was thirty years ago or, in other words, we’re overdue. Our income tax system is like a ship. Just as a ship accumulates barnacles over time and must be hauled into drydock to be cleaned, our tax system accumulates breaks, loopholes, and so on. That’s no accident. It’s called “constituent service”. It’s built into our system of government.

    Put me down in the “complete change” column. I honestly don’t see how any progressive worthy of the name could defend our present tax system or any conservative worthy of the name would want to keep it. However, I would also put FICA, i.e. the “payroll tax”, and the corporate income tax under the ax

    Congratulations to BJ Armstrong, Editor of 21st Century Mahan, for receiving the General Roy S. Geiger Award by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for his WOTR article,“The Answer to the Amphibious Prayer: Helicopters, the Marine Corps, and Defense Innovation.”

    Congratulations to Jonathan Jeckell who received a DoD award while seconded to The State Department, presented by another Friend of ZP, Dr. Francis Park!

    In other news….

    Martin van Creveld is blogging and has a new book out, Equality: The Impossible Quest

    That’s it!

    Class distinction: these games got played

    April 14th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — who just realized the Lotto would be as hard for a machine to beat as his own HipBone Games ]

    SPEC lotto chess cheats


    A friend pointed me to the Washington Post’s story of a chess grandmaster caught cheating with help from an iPhone today, and the phrase “a simple cellphone can transform anybody into a grandmaster” struck home immediately. Not possible, I tweeted, with games of analogy, HipBone, Sembl &c, the human being, not the computer, is key — in games, intel analysis, etc. Big data crunches well, I continued, but the human mind digests!

    Y’see, I’m somewhat proud of the fact that my HipBone Games would be more difficult than Chess — more difficult even than Go — for a computer like IBM’s Watson to play at grandmaster level.

    And then my eye was caught by the parallel story of an IT specialist who goes up for trial on Monday on charges of “fixing” himself a winning Lotto ticket.

    Lotto is way downmarket compared to Chess. no? And the prize for the winner of the 17th annual Dubai Open Chess Tournament was $12,000, whereas the lucky Lotto winner’s grab netted him $14.3 million. Go figure, and use your smartphone if you wish.

    Could Watson beat the Lotto? I don’t believe it could. Does that make Lotto more upscale — more demanding, more difficult or an AI to fudge — than my HipBone Games? Maybe it does : (

    Ah well.

    In any case, human beats random number generator — score yet another win for the human mind!



  • Washington Post, Chess
  • International Business Times, Lotto
  • Moore’s Law responsible for Shades of Grey

    April 12th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — confirmed: that as the power of computing increases, all color is drained from our lives.. ]


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