Syria and Assad, and related questions

There is some pressure from some countries, including the US, (and I think Saudi Arabia) to remove Bashar Assad from leadership in Syria. There has been pressure from some countries, including Russia and Iran, to keep Assad in power. The situation is complicated because some of ‘our’ rebel groups are against ISIS but also against Assad, and ISIS is sometimes against Assad (I think. I said it was complicated.)

Now I would like to ask this dumb question: how well has the removal of dictators worked out, especially ones removed with US assistance?

A related dumb question is, how well has the installation of puppet/dictators worked out, especially ones installed with US assistance?

I will give a short list of examples, and encourage you, o reader, to look them up if you are unfamiliar with them. Here goes:

  1. Chile and Pinochet
  2. Cuba and Fulgencio Batista
  3. Iran and the Shah
  4. Iraq and Saddam Hussein
  5. Libya and Muammar Gaddafi
  6. Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega and Oliver North and the Contras

The first three are essentially US installations. At one point the Shah fled Iran, but US operatives there made it possible for him to return. Pinochet was installed in Chile as a result of Nixon and Kissinger not wanting Salvador Allende to succeed, so this is also a deposition instance. Cuba had the result of the later revolution of Fidel Castro. So installing Batista didn’t work out all that well either.

The latter three are examples of removing or preventing someone from power. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was imho despotic, but it worked a lot better than the current chaos.

Libya is a mess after the removal of Gaddafi.

Daniel Ortega was prevented from the presidency of Nicaragua by Colonel North’s manoeuver, where US arms were sold (illegally) to Iran and the money used (illegally) to fund the Contras in Honduras who were attacking Nicaragua.

At one point Nicaragua took the US to the international court, which ordered them to un-mine the harbour, stop the funding, and pay massive reparations. To quote Noam Chomsky from memory here: since the US ignored this ruling, it ‘drops out of history.’

Many years later Daniel Ortega was successfully elected. Amazingly, Oliver North published an article shortly before this, roughly saying that the US should be actively campaigning in this foreign country to prevent this.

I mention Nicaragua because it is an example of later blow-back from an intervention. Ortega probably remembers the US / Contra insurgencies.

This was also a key moment in the invention of intervention techniques: when the Contras weren’t as successful as the US wanted, they were advised to go after soft targets: schools, hospitals, and markets. This tactic is in continued use today; witness the bombing of hospitals run by MSF in Yemen and in Afghanistan.

There is a seventh example, but it is messy. Somehow the US got Panama to separate from Columbia as a distinct country. Then they established the Canal Zone and Manuel Noriega. This quote from Wikipedia:

From the 1950s until shortly before the U.S. invasion, Noriega worked closely with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Noriega was one of the CIA’s most valued intelligence sources, as well as one of the primary conduits for illicit weapons, military equipment and cash destined for US-backed counterinsurgency forces throughout Central and South America. Noriega was also a major cocaine trafficker, something which his U.S. intelligence handlers were aware of for years, but allowed because of his usefulness for their covert military operations in Latin America.

Of course, the US can be fickle, and this was Noriega’s reward:

In 1988, Noriega was indicted on drug trafficking charges in Miami, Florida, and shortly thereafter, in the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama he was removed from power, captured, detained as a prisoner of war, and flown to the United States. Noriega was tried on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering in April 1992. On September 16, 1992, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison (which was later reduced to 30 years).

Noriega’s bad luck didn’t end there; for the rest, see the Wikipedia article linked above.

My point?

We have here seven instances of interference with a foreign country’s leadership. In no case can, imho, a case be made that the result was good overall.

So, why do we think removing Bashar Assad will have a different result?

The definition of insanity is, repeating the same action while expecting a novel outcome.

Are we nuts?

Norian Love: The Dawn or the Dusk

This is a copy of a review done on of Norian Love’s book of poetry.

thirty relaxed and/or tense personal poems, an exploration of relationships

Four stars

As always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later.

From the opening poem, A Student’s Qualm, you will find nice writing and a lot of rhyming that is perfect or very close, and never feels forced. While Love does not always rhyme, he can certainly do so when he wants to.

For a relaxed, free-verse poem, go to the next entry, Breezy.

Most of the poems are about relationships, including The Morning After, After which is an introspection toward the end of a failing relationship.

A personal favourite here is Nancy’s Heartbeat, which includes this: “I wish you thought about me /If only for a moment /And before that moment /Comes and goes /I wish that you would hold it….”

In contrast, the poem Forward Play is more complex, beginning thus: “Inserting my hyphenation into your monologue /As you resist that painfully relaxing submission /I have you were I’ve wanted you to be….”

For a fabulous love poem, turn to Moment of Adoration, where we find this: “Beautiful rouge lips pressed gently against mine /When it happens it feels like we have just paused time /Let’s stop the world from moving if only for an hour /And call it daylight savings while we’re in the shower….”

For a long and interesting narrative, turn to Exes. There’s no way a quote can give you a feel for this poem, but the title is a clue.

Another love poem is The Scent of Forever, where we find this: “If passion weren’t so minuscule a verb /I’d refer to our work as an act of it /I hold you in my dreams /And forget you in my nightmares….”

These poems are not all simple, as in Soul Mate, where we find this: “She explained to me, “Success is just like suicide.” /“If at first you succeed, then prepare to be crucified.” /After we talked, she quietly removed that block /And told me to use her, and so I started to— nonstop /And I fell in love with holding her all over again….”

Other favourites here include Fairy Tale and The Rose. And, for interesting social commentary, turn to Nuclear Family. The title could be intended as a pun.

Given all that, how do I come up with four stars? I try to be consistent, and my personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. This is nice work. Star counts are subjective, and your rating may be higher. Definitely recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

South America: watch for UNASUR

Panama and Mexico are there as observers. Only French Guiana has opted out.

All the rest of South America is creating UNASUR, a sort of Schengen-like zone.

This should be instructive for several reasons:

  1. Will our Latin neighbours do better than the European Union in managing free trade and free movement of people and capital?
  2. Will this new ‘bloc’ have an impact on the widely hyped (and secretive and feared) Trans Pacific Partnership? (This was a pet project of Canada’s previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who kept all the details secret while claiming we could not afford to be left out.)
  3. Will this new bloc include TPP-like proposals that allow an international company to sue a national government (successfully) for passing laws that merely reduce its profit potential?
  4. Some of the countries south of the USA are in, to put it nicely, financial difficulty. Argentina is in trouble. Venezuela is close to broke. Even Brazil has inflation challenges. Will our southern neighbours do better than the EU did in managing Greece (and Spain and Portugal and Cyprus, to name a few)?

Comments, anyone?

Volkswagen, Software, and diesel emissions

I wrote computer code in the long ago, so I checked with more current programmers and developers and confirmed what most of us would suspect:

The Volkswagen emission scandal (diesel emissions are only controlled during emission testing) could have been caused by several possibilities, including these:

  1. The code in the emissions control computers/chips was never intended to work. While this seems unlikely, Bosch has gone on record as to having told Volkswagen not to use one version of this code in the real world.
  2. The code in the emissions control computers/chips works, but has ‘decision points’ in which the code decides to emit after all. Such conditions could include steering inputs, abrupt acceleration, et cetera.

In the first case, a fix will be a real chore to produce. Emissions reduction depends on reading many sensors, vehicle conditions, et cetera, which are possibly just not allowed for in the code. This is the worst case scenario and has, imho, the largest potential for damage to Volkswagen, as this emission ‘system’ has been in production for a long time. Not having it work, more or less at all in real driving, is a huge liability with potential for market share loss as well.

In the second case, it’s a matter of how the code is implemented, exactly. I have seen and known people who patched in-chip code and it can certainly be done. Catch is, how re-programmable is the chip(s) involved? are they EEPROM? Do they have room set aside for patch code? (Normally this is the case for this kind of hard/soft code, as patches are likely to be required.)

It will be interesting to watch this play out and see what the effects are. If Volkswagen can fix the code, a revolving recall should be enough: either replacing or patching the computer chips involved.

If Volkswagen cannot quickly fix the code, and needs time to create a ‘real’ emission control version, I think they are in deep doo-doo as governments and users will conclude that they are fundamentally unreliable vehicle manufacturers.

Another version of ‘helmet’

When a cyclist in Toronto gets injured, it is often reported with the extra sentence, ‘and he/she wasn’t wearing a helmet.’ This is of course nonsense; the expensive helmets worn by motorcycle riders is meant to prevent concussion if you simply fall off the bike. It won’t protect you in a crash at speed. Bike helmets are far less protection than a Shoei. Simple as that.

Well, after the disaster at the hajj, I found this comment on BBC News:

Spokesman Maj Gen Mansour al-Turki told the Associated Press that some were foreign nationals who lived in Saudi Arabia and carried out the Hajj without the required permits.

In other words, some of the risk was created by not carrying a piece of paper.

A study of Saudi Arabia is recommended to any reader who vaguely wonders what on earth is going on there. It is unlike any country I have ever visited, for sure, and I am for sure not going there. For Muslims, this is not an option. If possible, they should make the pilgrimage once in a lifetime, minimum. It is an act of faith, faithfulness.

What really happened, imho, at the hajj, is this: the military who normally control traffic were busy in Yemen, and less-experienced soldiers were manning the crowd. They made a simple mistake, opening two sources of throng meeting at a single intersection.