Random thoughts, 20 April 2009

2009/04/20

The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more colloquially known as North Korea) now asserts that any punitive measures applied in response to their missile launch earlier this month will be taken as an act of war. [1] This is not surprising, given their SOP of rhetorical hyperbole. Additionally, even if the international community were to apply additional sanctions on top of those already in place, I highly doubt that this would yield any productive results; after all, sanctions have been in place for awhile now, and the DPRK does not appear to have been rendered more amenable to negotiation as a result. Of course, given our President’s devotion to compromise, I suspect that he will not support any action that could be interpreted as belligerent or jeopardize the chances of appeasement through negotiation. After all, we should pursue peace at any price, should we not?

Additionally, the President continues his efforts to buy support through persona rather than respect. [2] I am not entirely sure that Gingrich is correct in his assessment of the dangers of this situation, but he is correct in that this very likely will not strengthen our position on the world stage. As I mentioned earlier, being loved and being respected are not always the same thing, nor is it necessarily preferrable to be loved, if one cannot have both at the same time. I am a little surprised that the President did not apologize to Chavez for America’s legacy of hatred and oppression, given his actions during his European campaign, but I suppose that he still has some sense left.

In domestic news, the President wants his Cabinet to propose 100 million USD in spending cuts in the next 90 days. [3] Of course, this is mostly a political stunt, given the background context of Congress having passed a 3.5 trillion USD budget for 2010, much of it in support of the President’s own agenda. Just to put this into perspective, 100 million USD over the course of 90 days works out to 1.11 million USD per day in savings. The amount of money the government will be spending per day under the new budget arrangement will be roughly 9.6 billion USD – per day (3,500,000,000,000 divided by 365 = 9,589,041,095). Thus, the savings for that same period of time works out to 0.0116% of the net expenditures for the day, or slighly more than 1/100th of a percent of the expenses for the day (1,110,000 / 9,600,000,000 = 0.000116; 0.000116 x 100 = 0.0116%). To put that into a more recognizable context, if you spent 100 USD in one day, under the President’s proposal, this would amount to saving approximately 1 penny of that original 100 USD (strictly speaking, you’d be saving 1.16 pennies, but since we do not have fractional cents, I’m rounding down); okay, it is a net savings, but what is the point? With so much money being spent on a daily basis, does this amount of savings really amount to much at all? If he is so concerned with fiscal responsibility, perhaps the President should focus on making some more substantial cuts to his agenda, instead of calling for stunts like this. Oh right…he’s got his mandate behind him.

On a completely unrelated domestic note, it appears that a small percentage of gamers are “addicted” to gaming. [4] I suppose this is to be expected with any kind of human activity – there are those who can engage in such activity in a balanced lifetyle, and there are those who cannot. I’m not sure that I would support the idea of including this sort of behavior as a mental illness in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – basically, the bible for psychologists), as this seems to me to be mostly an issue of lacking mental discipline, and not something that would be inherently wrong with one’s mind. Of course, given that I tend to think of most psyciatry and much of psychology as soft science anyways (at best; at worst, I think that some of it is more akin to pseudoscience than to anything else), I suppose that this does not make much of a difference. On the positive side, at least the article mentions that the primary responsibility in such matters rests with the parents of the children in question. The other positive thing to note is that the study makes no overt effort to tie gaming with adolescent violence or criminal behavior; OTOH, I suspect that this will make no difference to the proponents of such perspectives, and that they will use this study (among others) as further ammunition for their sensationalist claims.

On a depressing note, physicist Stephen Hawking is apparently very ill. [5] Of course, I don’t know professor Hawking personally, but he has done much to advance our understanding of the physics of our universe, and for that, we are all indebted to him. He also wrote the popular book, A Brief History of Time, and, if you have any interest at all in quantum physics, it is well worth reading; Hawking has a talent for explaining highly esoteric concepts in relatively simple terms. The world will be greatly diminshed when he is gone.

Notes:

[1]: CNN article, 18 April 2009.

[2]: Politico article, 20 April 2009.

[3]: CNN article, 20 April 2009.

[4]: USA Today article, 20 April 2009.

[5]: Associated Press article, 20 April 2009.

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4 Responses to “Random thoughts, 20 April 2009”

  1. MI Says:

    WRT NK, unfortunately, appeasement may well be our only option, given our unwillingness to risk full-scale war. Invading NK would be a nightmare; and an NK invasion or bombardment of ROK would be seriously annoying. Yes, we could win both such conflicts, but the price would be non-trivial. This unwillingness, in turn, affects our willingness to punish NK in any way (e.g., via sanctions), for fear that such punitive measures might provoke NK into war.

    Getting NK to give up nukes is probably a lost cause absent internal collapse of their regime. OTOH, unless NK is irrational, we can probably deal w/ them via deterrence of various types. They probably already know that either conventional or NBC attacks on their neighbors will result in (at the very least) regime change (if not the annihilation of their country). So long as they also understand that any proliferation of their nukes to other actors (e.g., AQ) will also result in their annihilation by an enraged America, I’m not sure we have much of a problem.

    • seeker312 Says:

      My concern with the deterrent angle is that given our current PTB, we may not have the will to follow through with regime change and/or physical annihilation, if the need arises. Additionally, if this sort of behavior becomes a SOP for the administration, if they willing to give in, rather than stand fast, do we run the risk of being caught with our pants around our ankles when the crap really does hit the fan? Granted, I’m not necessarily convinced that another world war is on the horizon, but given the non-trivial spread of discontent throughout the world, either at us specifically, or at the general disparity of wealth and power, or at the economic crisis, etc, etc, it is not necessarily a far-fetched notion. After all, the Nazis came to power with promises of restoring the wealth and power of Germany after the Great War and the Great Depression.

      In this sense, the DPRK is simply a target of convenience; I am more concerned with the overall attitude of appeasement itself, as I truly believe that we pursue such a course at our peril. Of course, given that learning from history no longer appears to be in vogue with our political overlords, I suppose we will just have to learn this lesson again…the hard way. I just hope that I’m not still alive when it happens, as the last time was distasteful, to say the least.

  2. MI Says:

    I sensed NK was merely a target of convenience. I agree in the abstract about appeasement; however, in this particular case, I’m not sure there many other options.

    I’m less pessimistic about Obama et al’s willingness to follow through if need be, but I could be wrong. We’ll see.

    • seeker312 Says:

      “[one] interference is but the first link of a long chain of repetitions, every subsequent interference being naturally produced by the effects of the preceeding.” (Madison, The Federlist #44) Granted, appeasement is not an “interference,” but the principle is similar: once performed, any specific decision makes it easier to make such a decision again in similar subsequent situations. What concerns me, overall, is that the President himself seems to be going out of his way to be as inoffensive as possible among the rest of the world, but especially, it seems, towards the parts of the world that do not much care for our way of thinking. Of course, given his belief that engagement is the best means of convincing those who hate us that we really are warm and fuzzy, this is not surprising; first and foremost, I’m just not convinced that his approach will even work with nations who hate us, and secondly, even if engagement can work (again, not convinced that it can), I’m not sure that being warm and fuzzy is the correct approach. And again, we all should know how well engagement and appeasement work, based on history; but of course, history is so boring. It would be so much more fun to live through it again…


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