After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Blogger Nightmares

The scariest nightmare of any blogger. Being a victim of your own success...

Let's hope Harry's Place can bring up the extra cash to keep going!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Quote of the Day

What is Indifference?

I don't know and I don't care.
Dave Allen

Iraq's Power Vacuum

Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times about past mistakes of the American post-war administration of Iraq and relates it to the implications of Bush pulling funding from all reconstruction projects. You can read the full article for free here.

He gives reasons for how Iraq is still not able to produce enough electricity:

Most notably, during the period when Iraq was run by U.S. officials, they decided to base their electricity plan on natural gas: in order to boost electrical output, American companies were hired to install gas-fired generators in power plants across Iraq. But, as The Los Angeles Times explains, "pipelines needed to transport the gas" - that is, to supply gas to the new generators - "weren't built because Iraq's Oil Ministry, with U.S. encouragement, concentrated instead on boosting oil production." Whoops.

and goes on to quote Muhsin Shlash, Iraq's electricity minister, to explains how America is pulling reconstruction funds and how Iraq will is unable to improve Electricity on its own:

"The American donation is almost finished," [Shlash] said, "and it was not that effective." Yet he also emphasized the obvious: partly because of the similar failure of reconstruction in the oil sector, Iraq's government doesn't have the funds to do much power plant construction. In fact, it will be hard pressed to maintain the capacity it has, and protect that capacity from insurgent attacks.

So we have a perfect mess. Iraq barely has the money to keep an already poor electricity supply in operation yet needs that electricity in order to improve security and generate more money. America is showing little inclination to help.

At times like you need to have strong leadership and effective (sometimes unpopular) decision-making. Maybe the Iraqi government can do something about it? I dont think so. Even if the new Iraqi parliament is able get its act together quickly and appoint a government there will still be several major obstacles that will not be easily overcome:

1. Iraq is effectively bankrupt. There is no money to cover security and rebuilding infrastructure, a deteriorating situation and no money to dig its way out. What remains of income from oil is lost on security or paying other countries for refining and other services that Iraq can not do because of its shattered infrastructure. Already Iraq is having trouble paying $1 Billion debts to Turkey for refining oil. What next?

2. The elected parties are mostly sectarian - there is little to unite them and much to encourage any dissenting sect to start its own insurgency. Just take the example of how sectarian militias have been allowed to thrive in Iraq. If the government placates one insurgent group, another will easily take its place. Security costs will not go down any time soon.

3. All new oil discoveries have already been franchised out to the regions by agreement in the constitution. There is no source of new oil money coming to the government.

4. Above all else the constitution all but guarantees a stalemate in government. It requires a two-thirds majority in many of its most important decisions, and all decisions must be agreed by a 'presidential council' of three, unanimously. Anything contentious will simply not pass through.

Iraq's major political forces are out of action. The government is bankrupt and unable to act. The Shi'a have thrown their lot in with this government and are forced to defend a failed enterprise. The Baathists threw their weight behind the insurgency and are reduced to assassinations and bombing. The Iraq Communist Party has disappeared as a force in Iraq. Hence no one is in control of the country - hence a vacuum.

As I warned before a power vacuum will create a spiralling civil war as security breaks down. It will also draw-in neighboring countries - Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan and spark a war on top of the world oil reserves. This is something the world economy cannot afford to allow at all costs.

The solution must be Iraqi. All patriotic forces and politicians would do well to accept that the current constitution, the American plan as well as the Baathist plan of reinstating the old order are failed enterprises that will never work. Iraq needs a new government of reconstruction one that will nationalise the oil wealth and use it to rebuild the country. One that can build a police force free of the sectarian militias and an army that is only loyal to the country not to foriegn troops. This goes against the bottom line of the Americans but it will be popular within Iraq and this is the only way to create a stabile country and prevent the situation spiralling into an international war.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bridge Blogging

I've got a new logo!
Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?
Now yours truly is putting his writing skills to the test over at Global Voices Online. I will be providing a weekly review of the Iraqi blogs every Thursday starting tomorrow.

On Asterism I really try to avoid bloging about other blogs - first because it is too easy and second I do not think it adds to the online world. But, when I did just that once I found it was fun and above all it provokes a reaction from other bloggers. And why not - when someone dis's your favourite blogger it is impossible to resist retorting. Well now I am blog-blogging for a good reason - bringing Iraqi blogger to a new audience.

One thing I have noticed; Every Iraqi blogger hates the result of the Iraqi election. I mean - come on guys the UIA got the largest proportion of the vote - there must be someone out there willing to blog in their support. No? Alright, then what can you maker of this? Is it:

a) Bloggers come from the small, middle-class, westernised section of Iraqi society.
b) The election result was falsified.
c) Like chess, Sistani issued a fatwa against blogging.
d) UIA voters dont know how to blog.
e) None of the above.
f) All of the above.

Tell me please!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Quote of the day

A bit of silliness on the comments page at Harry's Place:

Some interesting bits, but reads more in the style of 'a day in the life' than a piece of investigative journalism. I do, though, question how awake the reporter was:

a colorful array of goods such as children's pajamas and parsnips

Parsnips? Don't get me wrong, I love them, but aren't they practically beige?

Posted by Ian at January 22, 2006 06:14 PM

Parsnips? You can butter them with fine words.

Posted by Old Peculier at January 22, 2006 07:31 PM

No, you can't. I asked me granny.

Posted by Don at January 22, 2006 08:13 PM

But can your granny suck eggs?

Posted by Old Peculier at January 22, 2006 08:37 PM

Friday, January 20, 2006

French nuclear whale moves on

credit: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Obscured by news of a whale floating through Central London is the speech by Chirac about France's Nuclear Policy:
Jacques Chirac said yesterday that France was prepared to use nuclear weapons against any country that carried out a state-sponsored terrorist attack against it.

In a speech aimed at defending France's €3bn-a-year (£2bn) nuclear arms programme, the president said the country's nuclear strike force was "not aimed at dissuading fanatical terrorists", but states who used "terrorist means" or "weapons of mass destruction" against France.

Now this has had some bloggers think that Chirac is aiming his comments at Iran (e.g Shuggy) or Algeria (e.g. Dymphna). Both are wrong. The real target is Britain and America. Here is why...

Now that the Soviet threat is gone what are medium-sized countries going to do with their rather expensive nuclear weapons? In global terms France is a fly compared to America's Russia's and China's Nuclear bears. France could just scrap them - but that would be like admitting defeat and inviting the nearest big power to come and roll over you.

Britain gave up the ghost long ago and franchised its bombs (and large parts of its foreign policy) to the Americans. France didn't and it is now the biggest country in Europe with its own independent nuclear deterrent. In European terms that makes France the big boy in the playground as Britain is stuck by the fence holding its mummy's hand.

Further, one should remember the war in the former Yugoslav republics. Nato led the European response - but above all America led the Nato response. America gave a very clear signal to Europe that it is completely unable to protect itself from the Milosevics of this world without US muscle.

Now Chirac is telling the European countries they can stuff Britain and stuff the American-dominated NATO.

Let Nuclear France protect your backyard for half the price.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Didn't last long did he?

Those of you who are following the circus that substitutes for a trial of Saddam may have spotted this little item on Reuters:

Saddam judge stands by resignation: court spokesman

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The chief judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein is standing by his resignation and efforts by Iraqi officials to dissuade him were not expected to reach a conclusion on Monday, a spokesman for the court said.

Those of you who think this is not significant should read what John Simpson was quoted on the BBC web site. The BBC seemed fairly sure that the Judge was only pretending at the time because the news item was changed later to remove that quote. Fortunately for us the Tehran Times copied the item:

The BBC's world affairs editor, John Simpson, who has attended the trial in Baghdad, says Judge Rizgar knows his resignation will be a terrible blow to the whole project of bringing Saddam Hussein to justice.

He may be hoping that public opinion will now swing behind him.

If you still dont think so read John Simpson again swooning over the judge:

Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin is a quiet, polite, highly intelligent man, who wants the world to see that he dispenses a very different kind of justice from Saddam's own courts. ... It would be easy to shout Saddam down, or silence him, but that would be to return to the habits of the past. Instead, the judge listens courteously to what is said. And it works.

What are they going to do without him?

Maybe it could be a new job for Ahmad Chalabi who failed spectacularly to get any seats at the election? He certainly could do less harm there than in the oil ministry.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Israel and the Religious Far-Right. With friends like these...

Here is an odd piece of news..

US TV host sorry for Sharon slur
US TV evangelist Pat Robertson has apologised for saying Israeli leader Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution for leaving the Gaza Strip.
Earlier this week, the ministry's spokesman Ido Hartuv said Israel would no longer be signing a contract with Mr Robertson to build a biblical theme park by the Sea of Galilee.

The actual thing he said was:

"You read the Bible: This is my land, and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he's going to carve it up and give it away, God says no, this is mine".

Now this is not odd for who said it. This kind of outburst is entirely within character. Only last year Robertson had to apologise for urging the US to kill Chavez.

No, what is odd is this - a Christian is dictating to Israel how they should carry out their own policy and not on political grounds but on religious grounds. That is God owns Israel [OK so far - any Christian can happily announce that God must have some stake in every part of the Earth they believe he created]. But it goes on... God created the state of Israel, drew the 1967 border of Israel, put Jews in charge of this and threatened them to keep that border on pain of death. Worrying.

This is part of the interpretation of the Bible that is sweeping around some Right-wing Religious circles in America. Creationism is only the thin end of this wedge. The basis of the theory is taking the Old-Testament very literally. From interpolating the dates ( e.g. taking days to mean years) in the Bible you come to the date of the creation of the Earth by God at around 3900 BC. Now according to an even more literal interpretation of Daniel [8:13,14] it predicts that non-Jews will take over Israel for 2300 years and then the Jews will take it back. If you take the defeat of Darius by Alexander the Great in 330BC as the start of non-Jewish rule of Israel - you are surprisingly close to the date of the 1967 War 2300 years later. Hence proof (!) of the Bible.

Pat Robertson is therefore tying the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, where Israel annexed the West Bank and Gaza Strip to living proof of the Bible. Now if Sharon was so stupid as to give bits of Israel to the Palestinians this would go against the proof Bible and hence God will be a little miffed to say the least.

Here is the ominous part; if you take 1967 as a biblical event then you will also come to the conclusion that the Rapture is around the corner. Rapture sounds like a nice word but it isn't - just try Googling to see what I mean. Here is the basic story - all the Christians will be taken for a seven year holiday in Heaven while God stops suppressing Evil and lets the Devil rake bloody vengence on the whole world. The Jews would be given a chance to convert first or perish with the rest.

Now one should be rather worried given that such theories are bouncing around a little too close to the man with his finger on the American Nuclear button and his Defence Secretary and Israel really ought to be more selective on what kind of people it encourages to build theme parks.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The failure of the Iraqi Secular Parties

To understand why the secular parties failed so spectacularly and why they had such high hopes in the first place,one must go back (at least) to 1958.

Here, in the true spirit of blogging is a brief, poorly informed, and one-sided view. To be refined in the comments section.

What America and the secular parties that supported America had been believing in all along was a repeat of the 1958 revolution - but this time with a pro-American government.

In 1958 a group of military officers brought down the monarchy and so doing started a revolution in which the whole government of Iraq was rebuilt from the ground up. Much like the aftermath of this war. The significance lies with the broad response of the parties and the people. Without any foreign intervention the people did not start destroying their country or killing each other in a civil war. The parties formed a new government, agreed a new constitution and nationalised the oil industry to create a truly independent Iraq. The people, in their masses backed the Communist party - not the religious parties or the tribal parties or the nationalists.

And there lies the seeds of the fantasy that the pro-American secularists have built around themselves. They believe simply by being secular the people will once again flock around them.

The other problem is that certain elite Iraqi secular politicians have always felt the need to be a client for a more powerful state. After 1958, the Communist leaders returned to Iraq from exile in the USSR and were given power on a plate. They never had to earn it from the people - never really understood what power was about or why they earned it. The Communists could have taken control of Iraq in 1963 but, after an order from the Soviet Union, they did not. Following the coup which brought the Saddam's Baathists into power, the Communist party agreed, again at the behest of the Soviet Union, to serve in Saddam's government. When Saddam had finished with them of them he had them rounded up and executed. With the fall of the USSR the Communists simply transferred allegiance to America.

Many exiled Iraqis became increasingly cut off from Iraq. I remember that during the height of military industrialisation of Iraq in the 80's there were some groups still arguing that Iraq could not produce screws! While in reality Iraq was designing and manufacturing rockets that could hit Tehran. They developed ideas that were completely disconnected from needs of the Iraqi people. Some would go as far to argue that Iraq should have been bombed even more by the Americans during the Kuwait war!

The last big delusion was what I call the WWII factor. The exiles believed that America was seeking to create a new Germany or Japan out of the wreckage of Iraq. This is quite obviously false. America allowed and industrial society to grow in Japan because Japan was too small and isolated to ever be a challenge to American power and America needed Japan as a buffer against China. America needed Germany industrialised because Germany was the front line against the USSR. All America needs from Iraq is a military base and cheep oil. The Iraqi people don't even show on their radar. Further, an industrialised Iraq sitting at the heart of the oil producing region and at the centre of Asia would create a power that would rival America and Europe.

Now to the failure:

Inside Iraq, any opposition or even political dissent was brutally repressed and enforced with a very effective network of informers. A whole generation grew up not allowed to discuss politics or even to understand their history. One friend from Iraq did not have a clue what happened in 1958. This cut a whole generation off from party politics. The only organisation outside the government were the mosques.

The secular parties came to a blank slate but one which the religious parties had a head start. Given their uncritical support for the occupier and the complete lack of a support base or even any idea how to earn a new base not even the biggest advertising budget could win you any votes.

The pro-American secular parties are offering Iraq more occupation and nothing in return because America is offering Iraqis nothing. To offer Iraqis something concrete would mean to take control of the oil and use its money to reindustrialise Iraq. But that would also mean to cut your ties with the Americans. You can't have it both ways.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Asterism grows

First I start getting links from other blogs, then I get visited by from holy Google searchbot, then I start getting comments(!), Now Informed Comment has (albeit indirectly) copied my ideas . Now I can say I have a real blog. All I can add is if you like what I say - please tell your friends and link to me - I want to see my Technocrati rating break the 400,000 barrier!

Expect more in the future.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Reaching Enlightenment

I have a morbid facination of watching someone's view of the world fall apart. This is why I keep visiting the pro-American Iraqi blogs. One day reality will hit and hit hard. These kind of blogs are usually stuffed full of enough optimism and propoganda to keep the pro-war bloggers on a high for weeks.

First Healing Iraq went down - it jumped from admiring President Bush to a rather sad closing post on the day of the costitutional election that simply said " I voted against".

Now we have the spectacle of the right-wing darling " Iraq the Model" bloggers undergoing a paiful rebirth. Swinging from:

Thursday, March 24, 2005
Iraq is definitely better nowadays than it was under Saddam despite all the sacrifices we had to give in the last 24 months ....

Saying that the post-liberation years have brought the worst to Iraq is a mere joke and carries all the signs of mental disorders or total ignorance.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Right now we're in facing a big crisis that leaves us before two possibilities; either the Sunni agree to be part of the government and we get a parliament with 200 Islamist members (Sunni and She'at) in the face of 75 secular members, 50 of them are Kurds who won't care much about this parliament or the rest of the country since they have their own parliament and government in Kurdistan (which is going to include Kirkuk in the near future of course).

Those 200 Islamists will just have to diminish the 25 liberal members and that's not going to be difficult at all in four years, I mean one year was enough for the Islamists to burn offices, assassinate and intimidate the liberals and seculars.

The second possibility isn't brighter than the first, probably the rival parties will enter another conflict in which words will not be the only weapon, we will also hear the democracy of mortars and RPGs speak loudly.

and ending with:

Thursday, January 05, 2006
I think this is the darkest image we have conveyed from Iraq in more than two years but it is a fact that it hasn't been this bad in Iraq ever since the 9th of April 2003.
The general sense of the public opinion in Iraq is that our politicians who we trusted proved to be unqualified for the responsibility.
Everyone I meet says he feels betrayed by the politicians who keep frustrating us with their incompetence and internal fighting over power.

Oh dear. And some people call Riverbend a pessimist!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Reaching Enlightenment


It seems blogger has a serious problem getting email updates - 2 days to publish a email - whats going on guys??? Anyway, I have cut this one and you can read/comment on the one above.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Quote of the Day

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.
Michaelangelo Buonarroti 1475-1564

Good advice for blog writers!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Be very afraid

Cleaning up a recent spyware infection for a friend highlighted to me what will probably be the major technology issue for 2006. He had spyware on his fully updated and secured computer that would simply not be detected by the usual software - Norton/MS Anti-spyware etc. Worse; this spyware loaded itself automatically from a compromised web site. The only way I could remove it was to scan the few dedicated anti-spyware bloggers and use a removal tool that a hacker put together.

It turns out that the vulnerabity was in Internet Explorer and known about since May and Microsoft did nothing about it until well after viruses using this hole had infected thousands of computers.

Now it turns out there is another even more dangerous flaw in Windows. According to Eric Sites, VP of Research & Development at Sunbelt Software:

Until Microsoft releases a patch for this .. bug surfing the web, reading your email, and chatting via IM is like playing Russian Roulette with your computer.


Now lets look at this in context.

In 2003 Microsoft vowed to sort out the security once and for all. They spent upwards of $200 million on developing and promoting security of Windows to restore a reputaiton that was badly destroyed after a series of high-profile virus attacks. We (the computer users), forked up to $4 billion on Anti-Virus software last year.

Yet after all this money is spent... it took Microsoft 6 months to issue a patch for Windows. And one month after viruses started spreading, none of the major Anti-Virus/Spyware companies had a removal tool. Someone is being taken for a ride. If ever there was an argument for open-sourcing the operating system, here it is.

Now a new threat appears. It is the hybrid of Spyware, Viruses and Phishing. Simply put, there is no money in writing plain viruses - but Spyware is a billion dollar industry. And it will come flying your way on a host that still too big and vulnerable to keep up. Be afraid - be very afraid.