Friday, October 13, 2006

No, tear gas isn't really good for you

Aside from this story about Kwame Brown, there wasn't a funnier story this week than this one (courtesy of Armscontrolwonk) that explains:

"Nuclear volleyball

Intelligence photographs of North Korea’s nuclear test site showed technicians playing volleyball this week near the tunnel where a nuclear device was unsuccessfully set off on Sunday.

The facility where the test took place was identified by U.S. officials as a North Korean science and technology research center near the town of Kilchu and the northeastern coast.

Very high-resolution satellite images obtained by the Defense Intelligence Agency showed the volleyball game being played near dormitories at the facility.

The Japanese intelligence agency also had access to the photographs, and according to U.S. defense officials, they reported that a sports activity so close to a nuclear site was inconsistent with post-nuclear testing precautions, since the underground tunnel where the test took place was located several hundred yards away. "

This news, combined with the findings that the "nuclear explosion" was much too small to have been what the Koreans want everyone to believe and that there is absolutely no radiation anywhere to suggest there was a "nuclear" even, give creedence to the theory that they faked it.
Or, maybe it was lost in translation. Maybe when the Koreans said, "We detonated a nuclear device" they really meant to say, "We packed 500 pounds of conventional explosives around some nuclear material and blew it up, just to see what would happen."

At any rate, the intel work will play itself out, but what's really interesting from my perspective is this: If they faked it, what happens to the new UN Sanctions? Seriously. The world is acting pretty damn fast to condemn and punish a rogue nation with a long history of being, shall we say, less than honest. Do we actually have any proof that North Korea tested a nuclear bomb aside from their word?

I think the answer to that is a pretty clear no. So, before we start throwing out UN resolutions and ratcheting up our defenses and putting more pressure on, let's get down to brass tacks: Did the North Koreans actually test a nuclear bomb or not. Until the answer to that questions is definitively yes, I think we ought to pause on the punishment. Even serial killers get the benefit of the doubt.

Tea leaves and Cuba

There really doesn't seem to be a lot of concern in the US that there could be a regime change underway in Cuba (or already completed), but it is an issue being talked about down here.

(As an aside I saw a fantastic ad for a newspaper on Transmilenio this morning that read like this:

Quire ver o entender?

Took me a sec to figure it out, but how clever.)

At any rate, I watched an interview on Caracol (the news station for Colombia) where an American was being interviewed by one of the oldest and most famous of television reporters in Colombia. It was a fascinating interview (in Spanish, as well) and while much of it doesn't stand out in my collective consciousness, two bits do.

First, Castro has cancer. There seems to be little doubt of that. A variety of US sources are now reporting this as the official intelligence opinion of the CIA. For examples, look
here, here, or here (for an official Cuban denial).

While there is some reasonable doubt about the cancer claim, old men don't go having serious intestinal surgery unless it's absolutely necessary. This story will play out in due time and whether it's cancer or something else, it appears that Castro's time on this earth is nearing an end.

Second, and perhaps more interesting, is that it appears the power transition has been completed. Raul Castro has an apparent strong hold on the government and, interestingly, the interview I saw suggested that he actually is a more effective governor than Fidel (who was a great orator, but couldn't organize his way out of his own closet).

I find this tidbit very interesting because for years there has been talk of a transition crisis after Fidel's death. In fact, when discussing communist countries with hereditary leaders, the West has always suggested that transitions are particularly dangerous. I'm not an expert in that area, but I've always felt that those thoughts were essentially overblown. When the old tyrant dies, eveyone wins (except the public) because there's a ton of things to divy up. Fighting for power pretty much goes against self-interest because if you go about things in a peaceful manner, you'll inevitably get more of the pie than you had before. So, transitions generally seem to be more about who gets what, than who is the President, Vice-President, etc. (And that, folks, is about as unscientific of an explanation as one could have.)

At any rate, if the pre-transition transition was effortless and smooth, then I have serious doubts about the risks of a post-Fidel Cuba falling apart into a Mogadishu type situation.

Of course, there is a third issue that deserves some brief attention and that is this: Can anyone explain why the United States still sanctions a tiny island nation 90 miles off its coast that has absolutely no international significance of any kind?

And no, I'm not looking for the: "Because the vocal Cuban minority in Miami is a powerful interest group..." type of explanation. I get the politics, stupid as they may be.

Instead, I'm wondering what the OFFICIAL US government justification of maintaining santions on a harmless nation that poses less than zero threat to our national security, especially when said policy is THE TEST CASE for why sanctions FAIL to change nation behavior or induce regime change. I just can't fathom the complexity or simpliticy of the lie and I'm too lazy to look for it on my own.

(Seriously, 50+ years of failure in Cuba and we still thought it would work in Iraq? Think about this for a sec: 36 years ago there were 17 Latin American/Carribean countries with dictatorships. Only 1 has been sanctioned and demonized throughout and only one is still an authoritarian regime. If there isn't any better evidence that sanctions often cause the EXACT opposite of what a nation desires, then I don't what else could prove that sanctions are not a weapon of the state that should be used with frequency. Some day, I'm hoping that policymakers will leave sanctions where they belong - as a seldom used option in foreign affairs.)

At any rate, I'll just say what everyone else in the US (except for the Cuban minority) already knows - lift the sanctions on Cuba, normalize relations, and move on. It's over. The Cold War, that is. We put sanctions on Cuba because of a specific historical context. That context is DONE. Finished. Kaput. It's time we rectified this because keeping the sanctions in place only serves to hurt the Cuban people and keep the Castro's in power.

Student Protests

Last, I'd like to relate a personal story. Yesterday, on my way to a company at which I teach english, my bus ran into a HUGE traffic jam. After waiting 25 minutes and moving about 12 blocks (still being 14+ blocks from where I needed to be) and being late, I exited my bus and started a very fast walk. When I reached Carrera 11 with Calle 74, the tear gas hit me. My eyes started stinging, my breathing became more difficult, and all round, it was a pretty unpleasant sensation.

At any rate, I didn't know what the hell was going on. I was late, there was some noxious thing in the air (didn't know it was tear gas at the time) and I wasn't paying too much attention to what was going on.

Turns out, I stumbled into the middle of a student protest that has gotten out of hand. Once I realized that, I turned off the 11 and went up to the 9th where things were pretty much normal. Best not to be in the midst of a dangerous situation, with tear gas in the air, hostile students throwing bricks, and a mix of military and police on the march. Fortunately, I arrived at the tail end of this event, so I was never in any daner. (Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me, and I would have liked to have shot some fotos of the military guys shooting the tear gas, the students yelling and throwing bricks, and the "civilians" standing around watching it all. Classic scene.)

At any rate, since that event I have tried my hardest to find out why the students are protesting. But no one seems to know. I even when to and couldn't find a story about it anywhere.

And this, my friends, is Colombia in a nutshell. A lot of things go down here, but people pretty much choose to remain ignorant. I have a feeling there is a particular "siege mentality" here in Colombia (try explaining that one in Spanish) that results in a lot of people choosing not to know too much about a lot of things. At the same time, there's also what I would describe as a "blue collar work ethic" mentality in which a lot of people say, "hey, I didn't have it too easy either, so I worked my ass off and I'm proud of my accomplishments. Suck it up and work harder and maybe you can become middle managment too."

I'm not judging these mentalities, nor am I attributing these mentalities to the relative ignorance over the the student protests (it could very well be that the students aren't exactly communicating their demands). But what I am observing is that I find it shocking that pretty much no one has any idea why the students are protesting. I mean, when major protests shut down parts of Washington, we know about it. But in Bogota, the people pretty much just say, "ah, another day in the life of the big city."

Very strange.

Ok, I lied

This is clearly the funniest thing I saw/read all week. Trust me, you don't want to miss this.


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