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Month: January 2003

Pinned hopes

I’m sort of having trouble wrapping my mind around this one.

I just got my birthday gifts from my Mom. Among them was something I was actually given thirty-three years ago: a pair of gold diaper pins from Tiffany & Co. with my initials monogrammed on them. Inside the little Tiffany box is a note: “For Bryant, with love from Uncle Alex.” That’s apparently Alex Haley; yeah, the one who wrote Roots. (Not actually my uncle.)

So surreal.

Reading, texting, 'rithmetic

Sure; when there are easy ways to send text messages around on little tiny devices, students will cheat. I wonder how you keep that from happening in the Steve Mann vision of always-on cyborgs? You’d have to actively jam the devices, since communication inside the classroom is as much a problem as access to the Internet. Or just retool to an open book system, which might be much better.

Oh yeah

I should note that my tentative approval of the current multilateral diplomatic efforts should not be taken as approval of the rumored methods by which the war might be prosecuted. Nor am I unaware of these issues. It is simply necessary that any war plans include a serious, concerted effort to minimize the impact of the war on the Iraqi people, for all kinds of reasons.

But if we condemn the possibility of torture on the part of the US — and I do — we must be at least as concerned with Saddam’s practices. That’s not just propaganda. Saddam is well documented as a torturer.

To recap

The theme of US policy over the last few days, despite Bush’s tough talk in the State of the Union, has in fact been multilateralism. (Which is driving some people nuts.) I think the most important speech delivered in the last week was by Colin Powell at Davos. That’s the administration speaking for an international audience, not for a US audience, and that’s where we need to look for the administration’s real position.

Powell’s speech directly addressed the concerns that (as I’ve said here) are the real reason we haven’t seen an international coalition forming to dethrone Saddam. “Afghanistan’s leaders and Afghanistan’s people know that they can trust America to do just this, to do the right thing. The people of Bosnia, the people of Kosovo, of Macedonia — they too know that they can trust us to do our jobs and then leave.” I.e., we’re not going into Iraq in order to set up a satrapy.

Good. Those are the words the world needs to hear. I don’t know if I’ve been wrong and that’s been the policy all along, or if Bush has decided it’s not worth pushing too hard, or if this is just a smokescreen. I think the latter is least likely. I hope the first is true. Either way, I’m very pleased to see us addressing the real concerns. Let’s stop pretending that opposition to the specifics of the war is equivalent to support for Saddam. Those two stances are sometimes linked, but they are not always linked.

Powell also said what needed to be said about Euro-American relations. “Differences are inevitable, but differences should not be equated with American unilateralism or American arrogance. Sometimes differences are just that — differences. On occasion, our experiences, our interests, will lead us to see things in a different way. For our part, we will not join a consensus if we believe it compromises our core principles. Nor would we expect any other nation to join in a consensus that would compromise its core principles.” You can have differences with America without being an enemy. No more of this “You’re with us or against us” crap. Thank you.

This also leaves open the possibility that the US may disagree with core principles. He didn’t say “we’re your friends no matter what.” That, to me, is the right stance. It’s not unconditional alliance, but it’s not alliance based on obedience no matter what.

He said a lot of other good, intelligent things too, but I’ll leave those for another day, or go read it yourself. It was an excellent speech. It’s kind of sad how much time we all spent poring over the State of the Union, considering that Powell’s speech was almost as important, and it’s been all but ignored. I’m especially pleased that he didn’t forget about Indian and Pakistan, and I call your particular attention to his acknowledgement that NGOs are conducting their own foreign policy.

Onward. The big news this morning was the open letter signed by eight European nations. I find this heartening. It would not have happened unless the US had been engaging in serious diplomacy behind the scenes, and it represents a move towards accord. Again: it would not be happening if Bush didn’t want, for whatever reason, to gain multilateral consensus on this war.

And, finally, Powell is going to drop by the Security Council on the 5th to present evidence — as I, and others, have been saying needs to happen. These aren’t the actions of a country that doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. These are the words and actions of a country that understands the necessity for trust and multilateral action vis a vis Iraq. It’s about time, and it is not too late.


I upgraded my back end database this morning, in the hopes that it would clear up some of the posting problems I’ve been having lately. Please let me know if you experience any problems, particularly when posting comments.

You'll believe a man

It seems worthy of note that Rick Veitch did a fill-in issue of JLA this month. It’s a one issue story, so you could even pick it up and read it if you don’t read JLA. Although it’d be kind of pointless if you’re not a comics fan, but we can’t have everything. Veitch is one of those guys who slips back and forth between alternative comics and mainstream superheros; I guess you’d say he’s an alternative comics writer and artist who happens to like the superhero genre a lot. Kind of a psychedelic orientation. I really liked his JLA.

Source material

OtherWorld Creations has, as it were, bitten the bullet: it’s the first D20 Modern scenario set in Iraq. Man, they gotta be hoping that when this sucker hits shelves it feels both relevant and not overly painful.

I guess stuff along these lines sells well enough, since Holistic Designs did well enough with Afghanistan D20 to warrant Somalia D20. Historically speaking, GDW made a mint on their Desert Shield Factbook, but lost most of it on their Gulf War Factbook. Loren Wiseman attributes the good sales on the former to being the only available book on the topic at the time. “The second was ‘just another Gulf War Book.’”

Bad taste? Enh, not inherently tasteless. Depends on how it’s done. I’d find an adventure in which the PCs bayonet hordes of Iraqis to be tasteless, but I’d find an adventure in which the PCs bayonet hordes of hobbits to be kind of tasteless too. More so the former, admittedly, since it’d more directly cater to real world unpleasantness.

But really, you just never know when you’re doing modern scenarios. A few years ago, Greg Stolze wrote an excellent adventure called “Fly to Heaven” in which a terrorist attempts to crash a commercial airline into the middle of Chicago. There’s some Stolze commentary on the whole question here.

Future perfect

Who knew the Pentagon had a futurist? Wired interviews Andrew Marshall, who has been Director of the Office of Net Assessment since Nixon. Interesting stuff. My favorite quote:

A friend of mine, Yale economist Martin Shubik, says an important way to think about the world is to draw a curve of the number of people 10 determined men can kill before they are put down themselves, and how that has varied over time. His claim is that it wasn’t very many for a long time, and now it’s going up. In that sense, it’s not just the US. All the world is getting less safe.