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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Because he said so 

Will the committed internationalist set (EU, UN) ever learn the lesson that you can't take a dictator at his word? The two posts below illustrate that the EU doesn't get it, and this does the same for the UN.

DAMASCUS, Syria - President Bashar Assad reiterated his commitment to withdrawing all Syrian troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon, a U.N. envoy said Saturday, adding he would present a timetable for the pullout at the United Nations (news - web sites) next week...

Roed-Larsen said the meeting was "very constructive" and he was "much encouraged by President Assad's commitment to the full implementation" of the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for Syria's immediate withdrawal from Lebanon.
Well, that settles it! Call off the protests and go home, people of Beirut. Assad is committed to granting you your wish.

Get ready for the inevitable shock and dismay from Roed-Larsen and others at the UN when Syrian troops remain in Lebanon. How could a dictator not be an honest man?

UPDATE: New Sisyphus has a different view. Is the UN singing the administration's tune?
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Iran says no 

That didn't take long.

Iran has rejected a new US policy offering economic incentives to the Islamic state to give up its nuclear enrichment programme.

"No pressure, bribe or threat can make Iran give up its legitimate right" to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, said an Iranian spokesman.
This action is option 3 from my post below. My prediction: The EU will cling for dear life to the negotiating table in spite of its obvious futility, and the US will once again ignore their naive foreign policy advice.

I'm glad that's out of the way so quickly.
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Friday, March 11, 2005

Carrots for Iran - More than meets the eye? 

It was announced today that the President has decided to support the three big EU countries (France, Germany, and the UK) in offering incentives to Iran in exchange for a promise to give up Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. I think there's more to the story than the "sharp shift in policy," as the Washington Post calls it. I'll get into that in a minute, but first the details:

President Bush has decided to back European allies in their plan to offer economic incentives to persuade Iran to abandon any effort to build nuclear weapons, a sharp shift in policy for a government that had long refused to bargain for Tehran's cooperation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced today.

The decision, reported in a statement released by the State Department, culminates an intense negotiation over recent weeks that brought U.S. and European leaders together in their approach to Iran after a long split. By agreeing to try incentives first, U.S. officials believe they will later gain European support for taking the matter to the U.N. Security Council if talks fail.
Some of the implications of this deal are obvious. First, it's a chance to mend fences with Europe by coming over to their side of the issue. Second, it's a chance to present a united front to Iran as the EU and US adopt a common policy.

But here's where I break with some of the more hawkish commentators who believe that the deal is an unnecessary risk. I see three possible outcomes in the near term, each of them a no-lose situation for the United States.

1) Iran promises to halt nuclear weapons research and uranium enrichment. Then, Iran actually does as promised. This accomplishes the administration's goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. I consider this the least likely outcome.

2) Iran promises to halt nuclear weapons research and uranium enrichment. Then, Iran breaks the promise, and refuses unfettered IAEA inspections, while foreign intelligence services continue to observe indications of continued activity. In this case, the US can say to the EU, "We tried doing it your way, and it didn't work. Now it's time try our way." EU opposition to sanctions would be hard to maintain under these circumstances. If the EU tried to oppose sanctions, they would be revealed as the cynical underminers of US policy that they are.

3) Iran does not promise to halt its programs. In this case there would be absolutely no rational basis for the EU to oppose sanctions.

Either way, we win. Either the goal of a nuclear-free Iran is achieved, or the EU's day in the sun as a Western policy leader will effectively be over and the US will have more leeway to pursue things its way. Unless Iran plays ball, the EU's playing-nice approach with the mullahs will be seen, to all the world, as a collosal failure.

It's a no-lose situation. All that remains to be seen, in my view, is whether, and for how long, Iran will maintain the appearance of compliance.

UPDATE: It might not take long to see how this plays out. Or, it might.
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Thursday, March 10, 2005

ChoicePoint files have (gasp!) errors 

Several people get their personal ChoicePoint files and find them filled with mistakes. Some ridiculous, some possibly damaging. ChoicePoint, as it turns out, has no mechanism for correcting the errors. It makes me wonder what they think they know about me. Click the link below to read the article. I would post some snippets, but the entire thing deserves reading. If you're like me, your jaw will drop and then you'll wonder how such an inept company can sell such awful data and still have any customers.

Link

Hat tip: Boing Boing
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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A proposal 

I've got a great idea. Why don't we stop storing sensitive personal information on networked machines? For that matter, can we stop it from being collected and commoditized in the first place?

First ChoicePoint, now this:

NEW YORK - Using misappropriated passwords and identifications from legitimate customers, intruders got access to personal information on as many as 32,000 U.S. citizens in a database owned by Lexis Nexis, the company's corporate parent said Wednesday...

In the Seisint breach, information accessed included names, addresses, Social Security and driver license numbers, but not credit history, medical records or financial information, Reed Elsevier said in a statement.
Phew, what a relief that is.

How many lawsuits will it take to shut the entire data collection industry down? I would love to find out.

In the here and now, it's time for a private-sector Privacy Act and harsh penalties for companies who allow citizens' information to fall into the wrong hands.
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Monday, March 07, 2005

Large Hadron Collider to hasten world's demise 

Some really cool research in particle physics will be enabled by the completion of the Large Hadron Collider, a... well, large particle accelerator in Switzerland. Today the 27-km tunnel got a key component.

The first of some 5,000 magnets that will bend particles at near light-speed around a huge tunnel under Switzerland has been lowered into place.
What is the purpose of this behemoth? To probe particle physics at previously unreachable energies. The work done there could reveal a lot of important things, including the extra dimensions predicted by string theory and the Higgs Boson.

But I'm worried about bigger things than extra dimensions and the God particle. I'm worried about black holes.

Researchers may even find new dimensions and generate mini-black holes.
Mini black holes? What's to keep their intense gravity from drawing in other nearby matter, growing until the entire earth is swallowed? Wouldn't it be the ultimate irony if the neutral Swiss, who have diligently stayed out of Europe's wars since the 17th century, end up destroying the planet?

In all seriousness, as an extreme layperson when it comes to such things, I'm looking forward to seeing what the LHC can do. And don't worry, the black holes will be too tiny and weak to persist for more than a tiny sliver of a second.

Just don't tell these people.
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