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Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Mrs. Zen gave me one of these nifty iPod Nano devices for Christmas. 

I am not a huge music fan which is why I paid little attention to the iPod when it first came out.  However, the advent of podcasting and intellectual opportunities like Stanford on iTunes have made me reconsider the utility of owning one.

My drive to work is fairly long and Chicago talk radio is, with the exception of the excellent Steve Dahl and Dr. Milt Rosenberg ( who is on later at night), quite mediocre these days. Secondly, I expect to spend more time the next few months on the treadmill to lean out after this holiday’s  celebratory prime rib dinner and excessive consumption of adult beverages. I have time to fill with something substantive when reading is either dangerous or simply inconvenient.

After playing around with the Nano today for the first time, I think I’ll be using more of the functions than people who primarily want it for music related applications. After I load perhaps fifty or at most, a hundred, songs, I would gravitate to podcasts, audiobooks and videos stored on a short term basis. Perhaps a few photos though the idea of whipping out your iPod to show ppl pics of the kids strikes me as too much work.

This being a tech subject and with my being a non-geek, I welcome comments from those who are.

The Dreaded Christmas Meme

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

I have been tagged twice over with the dreaded Christmas meme by Shane and Sean; thus coercing me into doing a goddamned Christmas post…”You’re a mean one…Mr. Zenpundit…”.

The rules are as follows:

1. Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share Christmas facts about yourself.
3. Tag seven random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. Wrapping or gift bags?

My personal history speaks of incompetently and downright oddly wrapped packages that look like a form of Ape may have also kicked the gift around the primate house for a few hours. Mrs. Zen has therefore relieved me of such duties to spare herself personal embarrassment at family gatherings.

2. Real or artificial tree?

Real tree. Always. I have fond memories from my boyhood of my father chain-smoking and swearing like a NCO, trying to fit some gnarled trunk into the tree stand with the aid of a hacksaw, a hammer and one of my mother’s sharper kitchen knives. I knew that when I heard the words ” YOU….MOTHER….BASTARD!!!” thundering down the hall that the time to trim the tree was not far off.

3. When do you put up the tree?

It varies.  This year we put it up a week ago and…like my father of old….I had to get out a saw.

4. When do you take the tree down?

In recent years after New Year’s Day. I confess to having once waited so long that I threw out a tree that was in mid transition between green and brown. Once on the curb it spontaneously burst into flames.

5. Do you like egg nog?

Yes. Don’t be knocking the Nog around me.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?

One year, in the era of “Pong” but prior to the advent of Atari I received some kind of primitive tank video game that we plugged into an old black and white television. Despite the graphics amounting to objects being represented a few big pixels, it was briefly the talk of the neighborhood until after playing it for four  or five hours straight it shorted out and smoked.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?

No. My grandmother did, I believe.

8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?

My father’s widely disliked second wife ( he is now on # 3) once gave me and my 1st wife a large ceramic pig. As there could be no discernable reason for this gift other than as an editorial statement, I re-gifted it to her on her next birthday. She got the message.

9. Mail or email Christmas cards?

Mail but I have been remiss in doing so this year.

10. Favorite Christmas Movie?

“It’s a Wonderful Life” and that claymation ‘toon with Burgermeister Meisterberger

11. When do you start shopping for Christmas?

“Twas the night before Christmas….” which is why Mrs. Zen has relieved me of this task as well.

12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?

The big holiday dinner in its entirety.

13. Clear lights or colored on the tree?

Colored and preferably twinkling.

14. Travel at Christmas or stay home?


15. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning?

Both. Big day is Christmas.

16. Most annoying thing about this time of year?

The woman today with the enormous behind who got into her minivan and almost backed into me ( me, not my automobile) and then gave me the finger. I pointed and laughed at her which seemed to cause her some degree of distress.

I tag the following lost souls:


Lexington Green

The Lounsbury

Dave Schuler

Tom Barnett


Jeremy Young


Third Post in Nuclear Policy Series: Wizards of Oz

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

See the introductory post here.

Blogfriend Shane Deichman of Wizards of Oz, who is also a nuclear physicist, warmed to the challenge put forward by Cheryl Rofer. An excerpt from Shane’s post:

Bloggers for Nuclear Policy” 

“One thing that becomes clear, touring the various historic sites around Oak Ridge, is the magnitude of effort needed to manufacture nuclear weapons. This is not something where a couple centrifuges can be turned on in a basement and voilà! you have material to build a bomb. The undertaking is complicated, laborious and time-consuming — and this is a good thing. The skill sets needed to preserve and maintain a credible stockpile are scarce — and this is not so good of a thing (I’ll cover this in “stockpile management” below).

This creates a taxonomy of “Nuclear Powers”:

  1. Those that have it
  2. Those that want to have it
  3. Those that don’t want it
  4. Those who can never make it

Obviously, those in the first category want to preserve their “exclusivity” — because after all, the logic of nuclear warfare is that you can never logically use them. This led to policies like the Baruch Plan after World War II (which the Soviets rejected because, in their opinion, it would have preserved the U.S. nuclear monopoly) and today’s proper emphasis on nuclear non-proliferation (a great success to date, in my opinion).”

Read the rest here.

Retro- Authoritarianism….So Old, it’s New

Friday, December 21st, 2007

TIME magazine, as most are no doubt aware, named Russian President Vladimir Putin as it’s 2007 “Man of the Year.  The editors explained their choice in a way that also attempted to  articulate Putin’s stabilitarian “siloviki ideology”:

“But all this has a dark side. To achieve stability, Putin and his administration have dramatically curtailed freedoms. His government has shut down TV stations and newspapers, jailed businessmen whose wealth and influence challenged the Kremlin’s hold on power, defanged opposition political parties and arrested those who confront his rule. Yet this grand bargain-of freedom for security-appeals to his Russian subjects, who had grown cynical over earlier regimes’ promises of the magical fruits of Western-style democracy. Putin’s popularity ratings are routinely around 70%. “He is emerging as an elected emperor, whom many people compare to Peter the Great,” says Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center and a well-connected expert on contemporary Russia.

Putin’s global ambitions seem straightforward. He certainly wants a seat at the table on the big international issues. But more important, he wants free rein inside Russia, without foreign interference, to run the political system as he sees fit, to use whatever force he needs to quiet seething outlying republics, to exert influence over Russia’s former Soviet neighbors. What he’s given up is Yeltsin’s calculation that Russia’s future requires broad acceptance on the West’s terms. That means that on big global issues, says Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and former point man on Russia policy for the Clinton Administration, “sometimes Russia will  be helpful to Western interests, and sometimes it will be the spoiler.”

Putin’s rule can ( and typically has been) analyzed from the perspective of Sovietology and Russian history. Articles feature the usual, superficial, observations that Russians like a strong vozhd (supreme leader) in the tradition of StalinAlexander III, Nicholas I, Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible; that Putin’s regime is a Cheka-KGB front (  actually, KGB veterans are among the most competent and least ideological technocrats of the Soviet era officials – who would YOU hire ? The guys who ran Soviet agriculture ?); that Russians yearn for a return to the Cold War and so on.  While there is some truth to these statements regarding the Russian national character and unhappy history, to use them as a fundamental explanation of Russia’s current political system is mostly rubbish.  The truth is that Russia’s liberal and democratic parties self-destructed and discredited themselves among Russian voters in the waning years of Yeltsin’s tenure and that Putin enacted a moderately nationalist  and anti-oligarchical agenda that catered to the tastes of the vast majority of his countrymen. When Putin centralized power in his hands as a quasi-dictator, he did so in a political vacuum.

This pattern is hardly uniquely Russian. We have seen populist, plebiscitary yet police state regimes long before Vladimir Putin’s New Russia. Napoleon Bonaparte was the modern innovator, abolishing the decrepit Directorate and constructing a regime that offered a little something for everybody who wanted a glorious France; his cabinet included Jacobin Terrorists, Monarchists, Girondins, aristocracy, bourgeosie and the chameleon-like Talleyrand. Napleon made use of “new men” and flattered the old nobility even as he created a broad class of “notables” and answered the desire of the French for both greatness and order. Propaganda was used liberally but so to were the police-spies of Fouche to cadge Napoleon’s impressive plebescitary majorities out of the electorate. How different, functionally speaking, is Vladimir Putin? Or for that matter, Hugo Chavez ?

We  could go back still further to the Caesars – Julius and his canny heir Augustus. Both men understood well that truly revolutionary changes in a political system were most placidly accepted when cloaked in the guise of adhering to old forms and restoring order and normality ( it must be said though, that Octavian understood this better than his martial Uncle). After periods of disorder, want or uncertainty there has always been many people who are all too willing to trade liberty for economic security.

Whenever authoriarianism has the added attraction of marshalling competence and cultural values behind it’s standard, democrats should beware.


Thomas P.M. Barnett – “Putin Positions himself as Russia’s Lee Kwan Yew

The Guardian – “Putin, the Kremlin power struggle and the $ 40 bn fortune

The Russia Blog – “Why Russia Loves Putin

Michael Barone – “Putin: Odd Choice for Person of the Year

Second Post in Nuclear Policy Series: The Glittering Eye

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Please see the introductory post here.

Blogfriend Dave Schuler lost no time in taking up Cheryl Rofer’s challenge. An excerpt from his post at The Glittering Eye:

Nuclear Weapons Policy in the 21st Century

“Let’s begin this discussion with a premise and some facts. First, the premise. Nations work actively and rationally to extend their power and influence and to avoid losing power or influence. That’s consistent with Napoleon’s dictum cited above: the two great levers are fear of loss and hope of gain. Now the facts.

Worldwide there are approximately 32,000 nuclear weapons (source: Nuclear Threat Initiative). Of these more than 30,000, roughly 95%, are in the possession of either the United States (roughly 10,000) or Russia (roughly 20,000). For the United States if all nuclear weapons everywhere were to magically vanish from the face of the earth very little would change. The U. S. would continue to be the wealthiest country in the world. It would continue to have the biggest GDP in the world. It would continue to have the strongest military in the world. It would continue to wield great social influence. It would continue to be the world’s sole superpower.

The situation is different for Russia. Without nuclear weapons Russia would continue to be an enormous, sprawling country with a populous heartland and a remote sparsely populated hinterland, not unlike Canada in that respect. It would have a GDP roughly that of Canada’s, too, although with a significantly larger population it would be a good deal poorer than Canada. It would have no warm water ports which substantially limits its ability to project ports.

Although its role as a regional power is inescapeable it would not be a world power.

Russia will never relinquish its nuclear arsenal. To do so would relegate it to third class status. “

Read the rest here.

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