Friday, November 28, 2003

Georgia Update: Mark Ames

politics > caucasus > great game
Mark Ames returns, post-revolt, to the subject of Georgia, with some rather dire, but also realistic predictions...

"What’s next? If you take the example of Serbia, then what’s next is this: in about six to nine months, vast disappointment and disillusionment with the Velvet Revolution will set in. Burdzhanadze will be too weak to control the brutal politics, and Saakashvili, a nationalist who at one time was compared to Zhirinovsky (not apt, but he’s definitely a populist), will find that the struggle to maintain and expand his powers will take up all of his energies and enmesh him into all the ugly tactics used by his predecessors: corruption, corruption and more corruption."

Let me add that in Serbia now they can't even get 50% of the people interested enough to vote in the elections... though I hope Georgia has a brighter future...

A keyboard of gestures

animation > uncouth
Hoogerbrugge is brilliant. Wonderful animations that transcend mere black humor to become an, occasionally dark, zen exercise in shockwave. And when I say dark, I mean dark.
link via Metafilter

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Laputan logic

weblogs > excellent > more
Laputan logic is a magnificent science / history / archeology weblog with a great collection of subjects. Great stuff, such as this "Interview with Carver Mead" about Quantum Mechanics, the Copenhagen interpretation and why it isn't right ... Very interesting, as I too feel that the Copenhagen school has proven less than convincing, but the interview raised more questions than it answered (as far as this humble physicist is concerned) so I guess I'll have to buy the book, which seems quite interesting.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Commentary on Croatian elections

politics > balkan
This seems like a rational and realistic assessment of the recent Croatian elections, by a Croatian, Dragan Antulov, whose weblog, Draxblog, is a great source of commentary about Croatia and beyond... The following passage seems to capture the essence of Western media coverage of, or even western policies, towards the Balkans in general...:

Most of the world media talk about "return of nationalists" in Croatia, while some carefully talk about HDZ being "reformed, pro-European" or "purged from extremists suspected of atrocities during 1991-95 war".
I'm not optimist. This all looks like wishful thinking. After September 11th 2001 USA and the rest of Western world forgot about Balkans. Their governments consider all of the regional problems solved – Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo elected "moderate, pro-Western and democratic" governments in 2000, refugees are returning, borders are being open, market reforms are improving living standards, media is free from hate-speech, war crimes suspects are being handed over to Hague tribunal or tried in domestic courts, former warriors are becoming champions of peaceful cooperation etc. Whenever something happens that doesn't fit this rosy picture, it is ignored and disregarded as something of little or no importance. When guerrilla war continues in Macedonia, it is regarded as "glorified border smuggling". When Serbian prime minister gets gunned down, it is the "desperate act of small band of die-hard ultra-nationalists". When nationalists win in Bosnia (parties that dominate Bosnian national assembly are same ones that led country into the war) they are "reformed".
Why should victory of Ivo Sanader be treated any worse? Since his party replaced "pro-Western moderate democratic" forces on fair, free and democratic elections, it should too be regarded as "pro-Western and moderate", because everything else should indicate that West failed in Croatia between 2000 and 2003.

I couldn't agree more, and it's not only the ex-Yugoslavia that's receiving this least-effort type of analysis either...

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Another World Is Here

weblogs > excellent
A truly marvelous weblog covering, a broad range of topics, as diverse as biotechnology, lo-cost hi-tech, open-source, systems and current events, connected through the prospect of connecting people who are working for change at all levels. This is how they describe themselves: works from a simple premise: that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Who ordered this, again?

physics > interesting
The real fun times in science is when weird stuff like this comes up and no one has a clue as to what they're about:

A mysterious sub-atomic particle has been revealed that does not to fit any of the models currently used by physicists.

The discovery either suggests that a new family of molecule-like sub-atomic particles exists, or that theorists must substantially re-think their theory of the masses of sub-atomic particles.

via baloney

What's happening in Georgia?

politics > ex USSR > chaos
Mark Ames delivers an insightful and convincing analysis of the root causes of recent events in the republic of Georgia. The article helps explain Washington's apparent difference in tone, as far as rigged elections are concerned, never mind a horrendous human rights record and Middle East style nepotism - and all this despite the American government's love for Eduard Shevardnadze...
Also by Mark Ames, an analysis of the Yukos situation, worth reading if only as a counterbalance to all sorts of naive nonsense one reads about the issue in most of the western press...

Friday, November 21, 2003

Questions for Noam Chomsky: The Professorial Provocateur

chomsky > interview
A brief interview of Noam Chomsky in the NYT (!), choice quote:

Have you ever been psychoanalyzed?

I do not think psychoanalysis has a scientific basis. If we can't explain why a cockroach decides to turn left, how can we explain why a human being decides to do something?

Ah! The rationality! That's why I like this guy.

via npat's blog

Monday, November 17, 2003

Robert Fisk: The Palestine Regiment

politics > palestine > peace alternative
"No one remembers the Palestine Regiment. Even this morning, on the actual day of remembrance, few will recall that Arab and Jew once fought together under the British flag against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Even fewer will know the extraordinary story of an Arab and a Jew who fought side by side against Hitler, and then twice fought each other as enemy combatants - in 1948 and 1967 - and of how, in their declining years, they became friends. But in a Middle East in which 'hawks' and 'doves' and 'terrorists' and 'security forces' battle to the death, their story provides an extraordinary - and shaming - indictment of both Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat. "

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

A physics of society?

physics > statistical > human societies
"From theories of pedestrian movement and traffic flow to voting processes, economic markets and war, researchers are striving towards a physics of society...
...To many physicists, the social sciences are a treasure trove of complex systems, for which there often exists mountains of data and next to no theory. They regard society as a fabulous experiment (although economists sometimes complain that the things that "econophysicists" want to do are simply not interesting). The aim of social sciences, however, has never really been just to understand, but to improve. Social science is often regarded as an adjunct and guide to policy-making. From Thomas Hobbes to Karl Marx, moral and political philosophers have used their ideas about the way society works to argue for ways of making it better. The trouble is, of course, that they seldom agree..."

This prospect I find thrilling as a physicist and it seems interesting enough as an ongoing project. What I worry about is the further pseudo-scientification of political decisions disguised as "natural laws", something that economists are already doing today anyway.
But can it work? Can a physics of society make any actual and meaningful predictions, or would such highly non-linear systems as those that constitute the engines and processes of society and its economics be as immune to detailed analysis as most naturally occuring dynamical system are? And if we can't develop a long-term predictive discipline, might these methods be able to develop a qualitative study, a coarse grained model of society? It doesn't seem too far-fetched. Thus we might never know the "societal weather" over the next few months or years, but we just might be able to describe the probable "social climate".
But what if this knowledge is used to push society towards abominable ends, what if this develops into literal social engineering? Well there are no assurances, but I seriously doubt that this is indeed such a powerful tool: again, think of how much control we have over the weather or the climate despite the advances in meteorology and climatology!

The conclusion of the article is worth quoting as it is applicable to any kind of societal study:

A physics of society cannot tell us how things should be, but it can hopefully elucidate the consequences of particular choices and policies. Physicists would be right to be wary of constructing a "utopia theory", but historian Richard Olson explains the role social physics could serve: "One way of expressing the relationship between physical and moral laws... is to say that social systems are 'softly' deterministic. Left alone, they will inevitably develop along certain lines; but the possibility of changing those lines by conscious and intentional intervention does exist. The whole point of a 'social science', then, is to explore the opportunities for and likely consequences of intentional moral action. Without the science, morality is blind; but without the morality, science is useless, pointless, and paralytic."

And, yes, sci-fi buffs might be reminded of Asimov's "Foundation" series' psychohistory...

via missing matter

Media Carta: Adbusters

politics > rights > new ones
"What we ultimately seek is a new human right for our information age, one that empowers freedom of speech with the right to access the media. This new human right is: The Right to Communicate.
WE HEREBY LAUNCH A MOVEMENT to enshrine The Right to Communicate in the constitutions of all free nations, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "
Go ahead and sign... This is an interesting proposal.

Monday, November 10, 2003

US troops clash with 'PKK rebels'

iraq > turkey > big mess

I guess that this has something to do with some deal surrounding Turkey's decision to not send troops to Iraq after all, after some (fortunate for the whole world) second thoughts the American administration had on the issue, as well as Turkish fears and popular opposition to the plan.
That Turkey isn't sending troops to Iraq: good for all involved.
That the US has now targeted a major Kurdish militant group (hardly different in its aspirations than Barzani's and Talabani's parties): bad, serious trouble ahead for all involved, and especially bad news for the Kurds.

A proposal to limit the size of corporations in the EU

economy > proposals > interesting
"Rules should be made on the level of the European Union declaring an upper limit to the size of all enterprises that (want to) do business within the Union...
The intention of this proposal is nothing more and nothing less than restricting the power of the biggest enterprises.
Aiming at the European Union to take the initiative is obvious. Countries like the Netherlands, India or even France do not stand a chance: they would simply encounter the power of the transnational corporations that this proposal is confronting. The economic importance of the EU is enough to face this confrontation. Even after the ENRON- and WORLDCOM-scandals there little can be expected from the USA in decades ahead. Some sympathy can be expected from the UN but the UN itself lacks the power. "
Thought among similar lines is, sadly, scarce in the EU or anywhere...
Worth pondering I think... Though I'm all for it, anyway you cut it.

Friday, November 7, 2003


art > online > amazing
Unique flash-based udescribables. Note for example this awesome, surreal, faux-North Korean, sexual manifesto [turn on your speakers!].
via hama7 at metafilter

Khodorkovsky the oligarch

russia > economy > mafia wars
Matt Taibbi describes what's really happening between Putin and Khodorkovsky with the latter's arrest. As a companion piece I offer you this prime example of the interpretation of a mafia showdown as an ideological battle, kind of shocking in its unabashed adoration of a bloody mobster who stole everything he has ever owned, leaving a not insignificant trail of dead people behind him, written before Khodorkovsky's arrest but after the prosecutors were after him, excerpt:

I have no expertise on the story of his meteoric rise from Komsomol (communist youth) leader, to the founder of Menatep bank, to oil baron though people who have studied his career say that he has fewer skeletons in his cupboard than many oligarchs.
What I am sure of is that today, in strict utilitarian terms, Khodorkovsky is a force for good in Russia. He gives direct and indirect support to a range of organizations and individuals that are trying to raise the standards of Russian capitalism, civil society and democracy. He wants to make Russia more western, which in my view is exactly what it needs.
Whatever his past, I am convinced that he now believes in his own rhetoric on the need to promote civil society in Russia.

A hilarious read especially the part where MK includes Zhirinovsky among the forces of Russian "civil society", along with the communists and Yabloko.

Meanwhile, Pravda reports that MK might be the Russian Communist Party's presidential candidate: more proof that Zyuganov is an idiot.
Putin has suffered not an iota from all this, as the oligarchs are hardly popular among the Russians anyway: see this rather pro-Putin piece by N.Gvosdev in the National Review regarding his possible strategy.

Background reading: Mark Ames, 1999, on Khodorkovsky's rise to power:

So where did this oil magnate get his start? Did he rise up through the ranks of the great Soviet oil industry? Maybe he worked in related chemicals or the energy sector? Well, no.
Here's a wild guess: he made his first bucks using his connections as a Komsomol [Communist Youth League] leader to sell Russian girls to rich Westerners? Bingo!

Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky disinfopedia entry.
Taibbi on Russian privatization, 1999 including a 15 step guide to successful privatization in Russia.

Thursday, November 6, 2003

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

politics > latin america > chavez
"On April 12th 2002 the world awoke to the news that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had been removed from office and had been replaced by a new interim government. What had in fact taken place was the first Latin American coup of the 21st century, and the world's first media coup..."
The website of the award winning documentary on last year's coup against Chavez in Venezuela, and the local plutocracy's use of the media to distort the surrounding events.
Unfortunately no excerpts or order forms...

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Milosevic trial part II: Former British foreign secretary calls Milosevic a 'pragmatist'

This is the second of a fascinating series of recent testimonies in the "forgotten" trial of Slobodan Milosevic. Lord Owen's testimony seems to me to be a defense of Milosevic. David Owen, who served as an EU envoy to Yugoslavia in the early 1990's, accuses Milosevic of not stopping the war when he could have in the early days, but concedes (and this is what's important as far as the tribunal is concerned) that he had little influence over the Bosnian Serb army by the time of the Srebrenica massacre.
It seems that the titles of the story in the British media are quite misleading, as sampled both in the BBC and the Guardian coverage.
From the BBC story:
But Lord Owen also gave some support to Mr Milosevic's claims that he had less control by the time of the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995.

and from the Guardian:

But he depicted Mr Milosevic, facing genocide charges for his role in the war, as a pragmatic nationalist who made a "massive mistake" a decade ago in not exerting what influence he had. Lord Owen, a former foreign secretary, spent three years mediating in the Balkan conflict...
..."Milosevic is not fundamentally racist... He is a nationalist, but even that he wears very lightly. He's a pragmatist who wanted the Serbs to be in the majority. I don't think he was an ethnic purist."

[comment: he concurs with Markovic's opinion mentioned in the last post, "pragmatist" being polite english talk for Markovic's "somebody who was ready to use everything at his disposal to secure power for himself"]


Lord Owen testified that in April 1993, Mr Milosevic had expressed concern about a confrontation between Muslim and Serbian forces at Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 Muslims were murdered in 1995.
"He feared that if the Bosnian Serb troops entered Srebrenica there would be a bloodbath, because of the tremendous bad blood that existed between the two armies," Lord Owen said.

Belgrade's (anti-Milosevic) B-92 reports the following:

Owen also said that Milosevic was neither a racist nor an advocate of ethnically pure states and did not want to expel all Muslims from the Bosnian Serb Republic.
However, he added, the former strongman of the Balkans probably had a long-term goal of uniting all Serb territories in one state.
Unlike Milosevic, said Owen, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman openly demanded the annexation of a significant part of Bosnia to Croatia, saying that Bosnia could not survive as an independent state.

I'm waiting for the full transcript to be published in the ICTY website, and might return to this story soon.

Milosevic Trial part I: Ante Markovic testifies

politics > former yugoslavia

Extended excerpt from the transcript of Ante Markovic's testimony in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic in the ICTY. Ante Markovic was the last "prime-minister" of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This excerpt backs up what a lot of people have known for a while. Namely that the division of Bosnia was decided by the nationalist leaders of Serbia and Croatia together...:

Q. And can I now move to Karadjordjevo and the March 1991 meeting between Tudjman and the accused. Following that meeting, did you have meetings with both Tudjman and the accused where they spoke of that meeting?
A. Yes.
Q. There are two ways of dealing with this: You can either, as it's set out in your statement, deal with the way in which their accounts to you had elements in common; or, whichever is most convenient for you, you can tell us item by item -- not item by item -- person by person what the accused and what Tudjman said to you. Can you give us an account of what you were told.
A. As I had received information about the topic discussed in Karadjordjevo, that is, the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina between Serbia and Croatia, and that Milosevic and Tudjman had agreed to carry out this division, and also there was talk of the dismissal of the Prime Minister, Ante Markovic, because he was in the way of both of them in implementing this division of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At my initiative, I had a meeting with Milosevic in Belgrade and with Tudjman in Zagreb. According to my custom, I spoke to both of them very openly. The results of these talks were that both of them confirmed to me that they had agreed to divide up Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milosevic told me this very soon. Tudjman needed much more time to admit this and to say that they had reached an understanding about it.
They did not have identical interpretations of this agreement.
Milosevic said that Bosnia and Herzegovina was an artificial entity created by Tito, that it could not survive, and that most of the Muslims were in fact Orthodox who had been forced to change their religion. When I asked him directly or, rather, I asked both of them directly, "Do you think --" that's what I said to Milosevic, "Do you think that this will be so simple? Do you think you will be able to do this without bloodshed, without blood up to the knees?" Milosevic said he didn't believe that.
He said that Bosnia and Herzegovina anyway has a majority of Serbs and Croats in the population so that there would be no conflict, and that they had envisioned an enclave for the Muslims, the two of them, and that the Muslims could live in that enclave.
I asked the same question of Tudjman. I said to him, among other things, "Do you think that people who will be born and who will die to the sound of gunfire, that this will not transform Bosnia and Herzegovina into a kind of Palestine? How many victims will there be? How much destruction? How much will be ruined?" Tudjman thought this would not be the way things would happen. He said, "Europe will not allow a Muslim state in its heart. We will gain the support of European. And as for your fears that there will be war there, all I can say is Bosnia fell silently," because in history Bosnia once fell without an armed struggle, so there is this saying in our language that Bosnia fell with a whisper. Tudjman said that the Muslims were anyway Catholics who had been forced to adopt Islam. So each of these men admitted and thought this was something quite normal. Tudjman even asked for my approval and support that Bosnia and Herzegovina should be divided.

So this was a deal, between two people determined to break up Yugoslavia. Two people who proved to entertain totally unrealistic expectations about what would follow.
The whole of the testimony is tremendously interesting, as it points to preperations between Milosevic and Karadjic in creating Bosnian Serb militias and contains this shocking testimony of the most murderous cynicism that personal ambition can induce:

[Markovic]...First I talked to Milosevic and asked him whether he could see what was happening in Vukovar and Dubrovnik. I asked him how he could allow Dubrovnik to be shelled, a famous place like that, important for the culture of this country and for world culture. Milosevic replied, "Who would be crazy enough to shell Dubrovnik? Dubrovnik isn't being shelled." But it was clear, you could see on television that it was being shelled.
I then asked Milosevic to go and see Tudjman, wanting Tudjman to confirm to Milosevic that what I was saying was true and that Dubrovnik was being shelled. I repeated my statement. He replied in the same way, saying that this was impossible, that it couldn't be because were this the case, he would know about it. And Tudjman replied to this quite calmly, "Well, you see what Milosevic says." He didn't say anything in favour of an intervention against the shelling of Dubrovnik.
Q. The inference that you drew from this as a politician on the ground at the time?
A. Well, it imposed itself logically. The conclusion was that Milosevic did wield influence, quite obviously, on what was happening, and Tudjman didn't find it to be in his interest that Dubrovnik should not be shelled, and Vukovar either, or rather, it suited him in the sense of winning over arguments for his emancipation or for his secession and having Croatia recognised.

And finally please consider this assessment of Milosevic's nationalism, which is IMHO very accurate and illuminating:

Q. In all your conversations with the accused - and I think I've probably come to the end of questions about that topic - were you able to discern whether he was a Serb nationalist, in your judgement?, or not?
A. No. No. Slobodan Milosevic used everything he could to ensure power for himself and power over people. And if that was nationalism, well, then he used nationalism. But in principle, he wasn't a nationalist. He was quite simply somebody who was ready to use everything at his disposal to secure power for himself.

Israelis angered by EU 'threat' poll

ultra-nationalism > Israeli
The recent Eurobarometer survey that sparked the whole fuss (its a 3.6 MB pdf file, this will take a while unless you have a fast connection). It's mainly about EU reaction to the US invasion of Iraq (mostly negative) with the question in question at the end of the survey.

First of all, let me point out two obvious things:
1. There are no ultra-nationalists in any nation, from Zhirinovsky followers, to Kemalist generals, to Ann Coulter fans, to Ariel Sharon, to the folks we have around here that claim Greece's "natural" borders are somewhere near Ankara, to Serb, Croat, Albanian and what have you maniacs, who when faced with international disapproval of their plans and, more importantly, of their actions, don't claim an international conspiracy of anti-"X"ites and start shrieking hysterically about the "enemy", as all fascists do when confronted by reason. That the radical Zionists react similarly is no surprise.
2. There is no doubt, in my mind at least, that highest among the nations who really are a danger to world peace should be India and Pakistan which not only have nuclear weapons but frequently sound like they're over-eager to use them against each other.

Let me point out also point out some, apparently, less than obvious things:
Of the countries making the top 5 "most dangerous" according to Europeans, one is in blatant and repeated defiance of UN resolutions, in unlawful occupation of foreign territories which it has proceeded to settle (West Bank and Gaza), was until recently occupying a third of a neighboring country (Lebanon) - where it had committed crimes against humanity - and attacked another (Syria).
Another of the countries has recently invaded two other countries, the latest in total defiance of the UN and public opinion almost everywhere, and has installed an occupation government, against fierce local resistance.
The other two among the top-5 are not to my knowledge involved in any actions even remotely comparable as to their international unlawfulness, nor does any sane analyst believe that they would launch an attack against any country unprovoked, especially Iran.
Iraq is in fifth place, which probably indicates that the question was interpreted differently by different people.

So if anything, European public opinion has been rather moderate on condemning both Israel and the US as threats to world peace. Indeed the poll shows that US government and corporate media propaganda has less effect in the European populations than desired - at least on this issue. Ranking Israel as the number one threat to world peace, is a sign of being in touch with current events.

Thus when Prodi:

"... expressed his concern about the findings, saying that they "point to the continued existence of a bias that must be condemned out of hand".
and added that:
"... To the extent that this may indicate a deeper, more general prejudice against the Jewish world, our repugnance is even more radical," Mr Prodi said in a statement.

... it's total bullshit. This isn't "anti-semitism" any more than the inclusion of Iran and North Korea in the list is "anti-Iranianism", or "anti-North Koreanism". Prodi knows this, and for him to play into Israeli propaganda by condemning the views of a majority of EU citizens (who gave him the right or the authority to apologize on my behalf? How dare he assume that my opinion of the Israeli lunatic nationalists is in any way informed by anti-Semitism?) is absurd and improper.

As for the "Israeli mission to the EU", which had the gall to state the following:
"We are not only sad but outraged. Not at European citizens but at those who are responsible for forming public opinion",
I reserve nothing but the kind of contempt I have traditionally reserved to all similar type of nationalist/racist mouthpieces be it apartheid government spokesmen in South Africa or Indonesian army representatives in East Timor. One thing we still have in Europe is the ability to form our own opinions in defiance, often, of the propaganda machines and media brainwashing.

And may I add that I'm not only sad, I'm outraged that, according to the Guardian, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, ("dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement, educational outreach and social action"), "has begun ordering a petition to condemn the European Commission and demand the EU no longer be represented in the so-called Quartet group trying to mediate an end to violence between Israel and Palestine."
I think the SWC should try a little harder to preserve the memory of the Holocaust by pressuring the Israeli government to abandon its policies of plunder, ethnic cleansing and murder in the West Bank and Gaza, instead of morphing into Israeli apartheid/racism apologists. I can't think of a more inappropriate tribute to those that were murdered by the Nazis than blind support to a person that has expressed his racism clearly and eloquently:
"I don't know something called International Principles. I vow that I'll burn every Palestinian child (that) will be born in this area. The Palestinian woman and child is more dangerous than the man, because the Palestinian childs existence infers that generations will go on, but the man causes limited danger."
Ariel Sharon, In an interview with General Ouze Merham, 1956.

Calmer discussion of the issue at Fistful of Euros...

Correction June 18 2004: Reader Hayyim Feldman has noted in the comments that the quote I attributed to Sharon is fictional. A little research (which I should have done in the first place) shows that this is indeed the case. I apologize for the error - that was lazy research.