Random thoughts, 27 May 2009


Many developments this past week regarding North Korea, including a new nuclear bomb test and multiple test launches of short-range missiles, while the rest of the world is, understandably, outraged by their blatantly warmongery. [1][*] And yes, our President was also outraged (rightly so, in this case). [2] Of course, I am not entirely sure that any non-violent means of coercion will work anymore, given that the DPRK is widely recognized as one of the most isolated political regimes in the world already. Mind you, I am not necessarily advocating violent coercion, either, as I am no fan of international entanglement on our part; on the other hand, we are already entangled in the Korean peninsula (and have been for decades). I am not, of course, surprised by the DPRK’s assertion that they are no longer bound by the cease-fire that ended the Korean War in 1953; [3] strictly speaking, the Korean War never officially ended, as no peace treaty was ever signed to codify the end of the conflict (in practice, of course, the war has been over since the cease-fire, but from a technical standpoint, the war is still on). This entire situation leads me to wonder if diplomacy is even worth the effort at this point; some analyses indicate that these “provocative” acts by the DPRK are merely saber-rattling stunts aimed at strengthening their position at the bargaining table. The fact that they routinely leave said table and refuse to abide by mutually accepted agreements leads me to believe that they truly do not intend to abide by any negotiated agreements or their government really is as schizophrenic as it appears (or both), in which case, we will never have a permanent solution short of massive regime change. [4] I wonder if it would not be more productive for us to continue developing ABM [5] systems, then sell the tech to South Korea and Japan as a way of maintaining our alliances, while avoiding the need for sending additional soldiers there. It should also go without saying that maintaining (or even expanding) our naval assets would add a layer of protection to ourselves and our foreign allies, particularly when one considers the rather successful SM-3 / Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System that is currently deployed on around a dozen of our Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers. [6]

Nearby, it appears that the Taliban may be coming around to the negotiating table again. [7] The humane side of me hopes that this turns out well for the Pakistanis; the cynical, pessimistic side of me, however, does not have much faith in this gesture, particularly in light of the fact that the Taliban walked away from the negotiations in the first place – by attacking their non-Taliban neighbors after agreeing not to do so. While parts of this situation do appear to support Clausewitz’s belief that war is merely an extension of politics, it is a little hard for me to accept that renewed negotiations will turn out well; after all, history is rife with examples of civilizations having to constantly defend themselves from barbarians, even after paying the danegeld [8] demanded by the latter. The current wisdom, of course, is to treat the Taliban as a co-equal political organization with whom we can negotiate in a rational manner; to some extent, I think this is both delusional and fallacious. The Taliban may have political aspects to its organization, but by any modern measure, they are barbarians. Engagement may lead to a temporary peace, but at what price? And what of the future cost, when the barbarians decide that they have not received enough? Sometimes, peace really is another word for surrender.

In domestic news, the President continues his perpetual campaign. [9] Sometimes, I wonder if he will ever realize that the Presidency is not merely a national popularity contest. Besides which, there are much prettier versions of these held each year (Miss USA, anyone? Okay, okay, that was a little low).

Meanwhile, the President did actually do something (hooray!), namely, nominating a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Souter, who will retire this summer. [10] Meanwhile, the GOP is trying to find ways to criticize her nomination without distancing female or Latino voters. [11] They may find such criticisms difficult, especially because it seems that Sotomayor’s supporters are already touting these specific “qualifications” as strong incentives for confirming her nomination. I suspect that said “qualifications” may have exerted some influence on her nomination, insofar as it would lead to the kind of squirming the GOP now has to do so that they can direct legitimate criticisms at her, without annoying supporters who only care about the aforementioned “qualifications,” [12] and will see any attempt to block her nomination as evidence of ongoing oppression. So much for the emergence of the “post-racial” society.

In other domestic news, the California Supreme Court has upheld the results of Proposition 8 from last fall’s elections. [13] I was not particularly surprised to hear this, of course, given that the ballot measure changed the language of the state constituion itself to preclude recognizing same-sex marriages. Of course, the court also upheld the legitimacy of previous marriages performed prior to the ban, which is both good (ex post facto laws being illegal and such) and paradoxical (technically, these marriages should not be recognized under the new language in the constitution, only they have to be recognized based on the prohibition on EPF laws). Of course, considering the paradoxical situation that now exists, both sides are gearing up for future fights over the ban. We have definitely not heard the last of this. The libertarian in me does not much care if same-sex marriages are allowed or not; frankly, it does me no harm if two rational individuals of the same gender want to live together as a married couple. From a legal standpoint, I do not think that there are many legitimate avenues that could be pursued that would lead to an unambiguous ban. Of course, the problem is that “marriage” is not a strictly legal word: it also has very specific religious connotations, which, of course, means that the “moral” aspects of same-sex marriage seep into what should otherwise be a relatively straightforward effort. Probably the best result will be that from a legal standpoint, same-sex marriages will exist, but no religion can be (or should be) required to recognize them as legitimate. On the other hand, since secular marriage is an institution based on law, it is within the legal authority of the individual states to set the rules regarding such unions. There are, indeed, laws against certain forms of marriage (incest, pedophilia, etc. [14]), so if the individual states choose to go this route, it would not bother me much, either. In all fairness, though, if such a referendum showed up on a ballot on which I was voting, I would likely support same-sex marriage, so long as the language of the referendum did not make it binding on religious institutions to accept them as legitimate (this latter condition being expressly forbidden by the Federal Constitution). I would not be a practitioner, but again, it does me no harm for others to do so.

Finally, for today’s WTF?!? moment, there’s this article from Uncyclopedia; I’m having great difficulty with it, since I do not read Morse Code, and Google translation does not have an option for translating it, either. Alas. Oh sure, I know that I could check out a letter table for Morse Code and transcribe it myself, but that’s work, people. And we all know just how much I hate doing that.


[1]: CNN article, 25 May 2009.

[*]: Yeah, yeah, I know. “Warmongery” isn’t a real word. Sue me.

[2]: CNN article, 25 May 2009; kudos to the writer for using the word “castigated;” nice to know that someone still pays attention to vocabulary lessons.

[3]: CNN article, 27 May 2009.

[4]: Given our poor modern performance in this sort of activity, I am not advocating this sort of action, either. It goes without saying that avoiding international entanglements precludes this sort of behavior, anyways.

[5]: ABM = Anti-Ballistic Missile; strictly speaking, there is a treaty in place between ourselves and the Soviet Union that precludes our development of such systems (though Bush II ignored these when he authorized the development of the National Missile Defense system, currently known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD; see here for a description (Wikipedia article)). A rather simple justification, of course, would be that the Soviet Union no longer exists, but try explaining that to Russia. They’re still annoyed about our withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, apparently.

[6]: See here and here for descriptions for the major components of the system, the RIM-161 SM-3 (Standard Missile 3) and the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (Aegis BMD), respectively (Wikipedia articles). Note that the Japanese already operates the Aegis BMD / SM-3 on some of its destroyers, probably due, in no small part, to the threat of missile attack from the DPRK.

[7]: CNN article, 26 May 2009.

[8]: Danegeld is a term referring to tribute paid by civilized governments to barbarians (mainly the Vikings) as a means of appeasement so that the latter would not invade. It did not always work. The term is also sometimes used to describe the various (ultimately unsuccessful) appeasement efforts undertaken prior to World War II, that signed away a substantial portion of Europe to the Nazis, only to see the latter invade the rest of Europe, anyways. In modern times, it is often used disparagingly in reference to any form of appeasement, particularly by those who do not support such policies. See here for a description of the concept (Wikipedia article).

[9]: Associated Press article, 27 May 2009.

[10]: CNN article, 26 May 2009.

[11]: CNN article, 27 May 2009.

[12]: Just to be clear, I don’t much care if the President nominated a person who is white, black, red, purple, man, woman, other, etc.; what most concerns me is how said individual will interpret the Constitution and its application, which is, after all, the primary reason for the existence of the Supreme Court. Being a Hispanic woman means nothing to me, as these characteristics should be of no importance in political matters; try convincing the rest of the country of that, though.

[13]: San Jose Mercury News article, 27 May 2009.

[14]: Mind you, I am not equating homosexuality with mental deviance, I am merely pointing out that states are allowed to legislate marriage; don’t get yourselves in a twist, you reactionaries. Besides, if I were trying to make such a point, I would just come right out and say it. Seriously, what about any of my previous posts indicates to you that I would intentionally obfuscate my radical viewpoints on anything?


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