Tuesday, February 23, 2010

You want Central Asia? You got it.

I've diverted pretty hard from the true path of this blog lately, mostly because I'm easily sidetracked and all of that. I've been working on this whole football thing for no good reason lately, and I've gotten a couple other side projects up and running and yeah...I've just gotten confused. Well, Imma gonna change that.

I had the opportunity to have a long talk (or to be technical, listen to three different talks) with a woman who does Law and Central Asia stuff for the US Government. I'm not going to get into specifics because I haven't asked her if I can get into specifics on an internet forum, and I'm going to defer to being circumspect. If you're interested in this sort of stuff, well, you can figure out how to find me. However, some of the more general issues are things worth talking about, and worth a whole lot of blog posts in the future to discuss these things in more detail.

The most important thing, that I think we all on the academic (instead of practice) side of things forget sometimes is...this stuff is COMPLICATED. I mean, obviously, there are no simple solutions. But it's not like Nazarbayev doesn't know how the Zhovtis Case looks on the outside, or that the Tajiks don't realize how daunting Roghun would be. But personalities get in the way of decision making. It's easy, from academia or think-tankistan, to forget that all of the NGOs are competing for grants, all the embassies are competing for favor, and all of the local civil servants are competing for raises. I've talked about the Rule of Law and how its not a monolith before, y'know. But even more than that, Rule of Man still exists. The entire culture in most governments, and I'd venture to say the same for the NGOs, is that the prevailing mindset isn't "What would be the legal thing to do?" but rather "How can we make what we want to do legal?" It's how groups and hierarchies tend to operate across developmental lines, and its an often-forgotten hurdle.

Another fun thing mentioned was the concept that the US things that it can throw money at any problem. This hasn't just been shown to be untrue in the Terror/Security issues, but also in corruption and development. Kazakhstan has their oil money, and its a whole 'nother thing. The woman spoke about how Norway's sovereign oil wealth fund was a really unique way to combine resource wealth with Scandinavian socialism. But as attractive as he may be, Stoltenberg isn't the sort of role model our republics are looking towards.

On that note, there's also this idea of "who is a good role model for the Central Asian Republics?" to consider. Every embassy, of course, wants the host country to be just like them. But I can think of a good, non-Murray, reason why Uzbekistan can never be the United Kingdom. So instead, there's this idea of stealing legal concepts from certain instances in history. For example, Italy's anti-Cosa Nostra initiative is seen as a good way to deal with the Mafia connections in the Former Soviet Union. As much as context is important, and of course they are, parallels exist. As I would put it: the law nerds find the parallels, us regional nerds are needed to put it into context.

Of course, there are plenty of issues with all of this, and I'm sure you can all think of a half-dozen before I've finished this sentences. But the diplomatic relationships are complex, and the neo-imperialists are few and far between. They are loud, though. Boy, are they loud. But there's plenty of stuff to chew on from an academic/research perspective. Even people doing sociology of the local level have to realize the context that their research is put in. The Afghanistan Analyst Bibliography is fantastic, of course, but its being used for less-than-purely-academic reasons. Which isn't exactly a shock to anyone.

But that brings me back to the original point. In this field (at least from my current perspective) there is rarely a "pure" study of the issues. The various and multifarious folks at work at making their dream stan a real place aren't always trying to make the legal, technically perfect, understanding a reality. They're trying to get their dream made into reality the easiest, and preferably most legitimate, way possible. Which gets into questions of "what's easy?" and "legitimate by who?" for the dreamer. So when the maddening stuff happens, and that Times article drives you to punchiness...it's all just peoples' dreams. I'm just curious how I expect mine to be so much different, more effective, and more actionable than Tom Friedman's.

Big 12: The Haves and Have-nots

I'm getting really tired of being as creative as I need to be for this, but I'm only 4 conferences in. The Big 12 has been dominated by only a few colleges for a while now. Sure one or another might stick their nose in for a year or two, but you've been talking about Oklahoma and UT for a while now. That's not going to change anytime soon. Baylor isn't going to be come a power no matter what happens. Iowa State isn't going to...wait...they went 7-6? Really? OK, yeah, weird shit may happen. But that's not going to affect the general equilibrium. Just like...EAST ASIA.

  • Texas :: India. Too many people, too much money, too much madness to throw around. Everything's bigger, everything's louder, and they have a tendency to run over everything and anything through sheer force of will. Have slip-ups and glaring weaknesses, of course. But they still tend to Orakpown through everyone.
  • Oklahoma :: China. Neck-and-neck in ascendancy with Texas. Generally speaking, have been seen as more "big time" then India/Texas, but that mostly depends on who you ask. Have had more recognition (BCS Championship appearances) and were noticed as on the up-and-up first, but also have a lot more gaping flaws. While "corrupt" is the wrong term, there is definitely something off about the program's history sometimes.
  • Oklahoma State :: Taiwan (ROC). Eerily similar to the bigger, more ascendant, program with the same history, but have been fighting a losing battle against them. While not as bad of a place as you may think, it's biggest problem is lack of recognition. How many people tell you that Barry Sanders was a Sooner? Run by economic voodoo, mostly. Also: weird rivalries you didn't know existed.
  • Texas Tech :: Indonesia. Madness. Sheer Madness. Nobody can understand each other, but it works. A dictatorial Big Man ran the place for a while, but it took openness and some very capable aerial organization to get the place cracking. Not on the same level as the big powers, but they have the resources and the leadership to sustain success. Or in-fighting and backstabbing could tear the whole place down. Either way, nobody wants to mess with 'em. All the same, all of your friends who went there told you how awesome (and awesomely weird) it was.
  • Texas A&M :: Pakistan. They fervently believe they're Texas/India's rival, and everything they do is to get even with Texas/India. Unfortunately, anyone else can see that ship has sailed, and that they oughtta get their own house in order before they start throwing stones at the others. Have this weird military fetish and do things that appear terrifying, but are actually pretty harmless. Also, some of their best-laid plans tend to blow up in their faces.
  • Baylor :: Bangladesh. It may share a history with Texas and A&M, but that's about it. No matter where the other two are, these dudes are third on the pecking order. Pretty much an after-thought. So much so that even their greatest achievements are usually misattributed to their more famous neighbors.
  • Nebraska :: Japan. Unstoppable at the end of the 20th Century...so what happened? Aging leadership, troubles with unsavory elements, mostly. New leader has no real knowledge, connections, or experience of the times when they were in big trouble, though. Have been largely passed up by the ones they only vaguely deigned as their rivals. Nobody is sure how they will react to the disappearance of their greatest asset.
  • Missouri :: South Korea. Were never a traditional power by any means, but they've made quite the niche for themselves by copying the best parts of China (the Stoops spread) and Japan (defense...based around Witherspoon). Great, meat-heavy, food...if some parts of their cuisine are a bit weird. A couple of your friends may have told you how awesome the place is and how you have to visit them there...but there's not a chance in hell its happening.
  • Kansas State :: Cambodia. A pretty awful history full of massacres and bloodshed. Really: anything they bring to the table is a bonus, we're just happy they haven't collapsed into themselves most of the time. Had a king, things didn't work out so well in the interim, so they brought him back. You're goddam right I just compared Pol Pot to Ron Prince.
  • Iowa State :: Mongolia. Known for one transcendent moment in history...and that's actually about it. Pretty flat, pretty in love with their livestock, and pretty irrelevant to the current conversation. It's not a bad place to be, though. And they're more up-and-coming (bowl game? really?) than at first glance. Watch this space (if not for the rising power, than for the spectacular collapse).
  • Colorado :: Nepal. Mountainous and kind of culturally...off...from their neighbors. At least their neighbors' official brand, because there's plenty of Buddhists (or hippies) in India and China (or Texas/Oklahoma) then their ambassadors would ever admit. All of the kids in dreads and Tevas tell you how chill and rad the place is, but they probably haven't actually been there.
  • Kansas :: Thailand. On the surface, it's an awesome place with lots of partying, general fun-kind-of-insanity, and freedom. This picture could have taken place in Lawrence or Bangkok, and I'd believe it either way. I'd also equate King Adulyadej's idea of Lese Majeste with anything from the Mangino era of Kansas. And just because I'm going to miss him:
OK, so that was kinda wimpy and short, I realize. But we'll be back up and running with the Pac-10 tomorrow, which is probably my personal favorite of this whole group. Enjoy, y'all.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Before, I'm an Activist. Nobody wants to talk with me."

"Then CNN calls me a warlord. Everybody wants to talk with me."

I've been hard at work at my College Football project (as well as my Getting Hired project) so I've been writing a lot less here. But this link dump from Pruned is worth your attention.
  • An awesome American case where a beach that has had its sand taken and dumped elsewhere is suing to take possession of that sand (and the new beach it has created).
  • US Military Bases are now being treated as pristine environmental grounds. By the military, even. Because DHS has made Climate Change a threat and all.
  • And this is the first time I've heard of it, because I'm not exactly in the one-man-play business, but Tings Dey Happen looks awesome. Playwright-journalism about the Niger Delta. John Robb is probably giddy at the thought of it. Seriously, is this joint still running? Anyone know where I could catch it?
  • Finally, from the always-awesome BLDGBlog. LEDs on helicopter blades. The future? It's here.
So that's all I have for now, plus the football. Hope everyone else's week is a bit less hectic, and enjoy the mockery of NGOs etc. below.

Big One and Little Ten: The Big Televen.

You might say the Big Ten is a great place to be. When you think of it, you think of powerful teams, cold weather, and industry. And then you look at the teams and you say, "wait, it turns out I was thinking of the year 2000." The Big Ten is a 20th Century power in a 21st Century World. They ain't bad, sure, but they ain't what they used to be. In other words, they be North America. Of course you think of the US and Canada first, but then you look at the rest of the roster and think, "maybe these guys ain't too tough." Onwards...
  • Ohio State :: United States of America. Goes without saying. King of their own mountain, have been for a while now, and no real signs of stopping. Of course, when you're right doing well is usually when the floor drops out from under you. They've been bloodied and embarrassed a whole lot this decade, relying on some iffy leadership. Definitely peaked in 2003 (remember, that's when the bowl game was). Ever since, there's been backbiting, hubris, and unforseen upsets. They say they still have everything in control, but there's a definite feeling of being on the downslope in a couple of years. Mostly due to recruiting stumbles (natural resource issues).
  • Penn State :: Canada. Usually not mentioned in quite the same breath as their neighbors, but really have every reason to be. Way newer to the scene than is generally thought, and have generally been quite successful, if not on quite the same plane as OSU/USA. Like their food as fat laden as possible. Love their tradition and duochromatism. Led, titularly, by an old fogie who might be a zombie, and definitely has incompetent kids.
  • Iowa :: Nicaragua. Competently getting by on machismo and duct tape for a while now. Never thought of as a traditional power on the same scale as some of the other guys, but certainly have done better than most of them. Still known more for crime than for any of the decent things that have gone on. Did you know Managua is the biggest city in Central America? Did you know that Iowa's the winningest program outside of Ohio State - Penn State - Michigan this past decade? Weird, huh?
  • Northwestern :: Costa Rica. I mean, I wouldn't raise a family there or nothing, but they're usually good for some fun a few months every few years. Much like Welsh-Ryan, Costa Rica depends on foreign investment and visits in order to stay standing. Led by a man who everyone seems to genuinely like and appreciate. And really, what's Northwestern most known for? That's right -- not having a defense.
  • Wisconsin :: Jamaica. Treated with a bit more respect than they probably have historically earned, and if you look at the right stats, seem a bit like Canada/Penn State (Still ostensibly part of UK, bad sports, worse food, but great music scenes). Program is on shaky foundations, and most people who like the place are from elsewhere (mostly Ohio). In fact, a whole lot of their fanbase is douchey frat-brahs who listen to terrible music and are have hair-gel issues.
  • Michigan State :: El Salvador. They'll talk your ear off on how they're so much better than Mexico/Michigan, or at least should be mentioned on the same level. But they're not. And the more you think of it, everything you thought you knew about El Salvador was actually from some place else. San Salvador is marginally more interesting than East Lansing, but that's mostly due to the earthquakes. President may be supporting roving Death Squads, which sounds like something Coach Dantonio would do.
  • Purdue :: Dominican Republic. Better than the worst (Guatemala, Haiti, Dominica) but not on the same level as the best. Beat who they beat, lose to who they lose to, and 5-7 wins. Mark it. Like Tiller, Trujillo stayed well past his welcome. Like Tiller, Trujillo casually massacred those that confronted him (see: Brees, "basketball on grass" years). Fitting for an engineering school, there is a "Dominican Chernobyl" which just about everyone gets lead poisoning.
  • Minnesota :: Guatemala. If you ever want to launch a coup, remember...it can always get worse. I'm sure that deposing Glenn Mason / Jacobo Arbenz made sense at the time, but since? It's been civil war, madness, and the bottoms of the polls. They have all the resources for a resurgence, but don't count on it any time soon. All the best Minnesotans/Guatemalans usually make sure to get the hell out of there.
  • Illinois :: Haiti. How did this happen? Mismanagement, outside influences, and just plain bad luck. People may believe in their leadership, but it'll just break your heart in the end. And if this doesn't describe the Zook era, well, what does?
  • Michigan :: Mexico. Just because they look similar to how they did 10 years ago does NOT mean they're the same bunch from 10 years ago. Bombed out, depleted, and getting worse. Nobody really in charge, brothers fighting brothers in the streets, the [Detroit Free]Press calling out any and everyone. Consistently picked up by their richer neighbor...and the worst part? All their countrymen crossing the border for greener pastures.
  • Indiana :: Grenada. Never really relevant until they get picked on by one of the big 'uns. Actually kind of pretty and has lots of things going for it. But they'll never really kick it with the top of the food chain here because their focus is just on the wrong sport.

And because I spent formative years in Indiana...
  • Notre Dame :: California. Go on and on about being able to compete at a national level if they were independent, but as time goes on, that seems less and less likely. Still reaping the benefits of the 1980's, but I'm not sure how much longer that's going to last. There's a whole lot pointing to things getting worse more than get better. They'll need some help in the next couple of decades from somewhere, sure. But they'll probably just stay independent until they float off to sea. Where some believe they have been since time immemorial.
Whew, alright, another one gets done. This one more culturally insensitive and falsely assertive than most. But never fear, because the Big 12 is getting the beachfront sunshine they don't know what to do with next.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

This is Syracuse: The Big East as Africa

It's easy to make fun of the Big East. They haven't brought any big names, there aren't any places we think of as national powers, and they seem like a bunch of podunk colleges in a non-football part of the country. But every so often, we get the Mike Vicks, the Pat Whites, and all. But usually its a lot of Wannstedt and losing bowl games. And yes, all of those schools leaving for greater pastures is just colonialism writ-large.
  • Cincinnati :: Ethiopia. A lot more impressive historically than you may realize, and have come blistering into relevance as the region around them crumbles. Are a big part of the reason why the region around them crumbles. Great food. Kelly/Selassie would've been a worldwide phenomenon had he been anywhere else and done the same thing. Certain parts of the city look like refugee camps.
  • Pittsburgh :: Libya. What's more surprising then the fact that the guy who runs it is still in business is that he's really not doing as bad a job as you think. No matter how ridiculous he looks. They're doing better than you'd think, though not as good as they could, due to great natural resources/recruiting hotbed. The plain green flag is just like the Heinz Field endzone.
  • West Virginia :: Nigeria. Synonymous with scams, poor education, and general zaniness, but actually incredibly successful and have been for a while. Recruit well, have good natural resources, and have been the cream of the region for ages. Have massive identity issues, though. Home to a bunch of gun-toters who do their best to cripple the economy. Morgantown and Lagos are the only two places I can think of where I could see this:
  • Rutgers :: Sudan. You don't like 'em. Nobody really does. But they are one of the biggest in the region (42 million people, akshuwaly)and suddenly are acting like it. When they started throwing their weight around in the mid-2000's, everyone got grumbly, but noone actually DID anything. There's a lot more going on there than you think, but we were all happier when it was a sleepy backwater.
  • Connecticut :: Equitorial Guinea. Did you know Equitorial Guinea has the highest GDP per Capita in Africa? Could you guess that this is just because most of the wealth lies in the hands of a few? Does this sound just like the state of Connecticut to you or what? Not really known for anything other than being a source of embarrassment for great powers. Full of people who don't like you.
  • South Florida :: Uganda. Always sort of relevant, but most famous for being run by a complete and utter lunatic. With meteoric rises (AIDS education/#2 in the polls) and catastrophic downfalls (Groethe-ism/making homosexuality a capital offense) they're certainly fun to watch. But when you watch 'em, you never forget you're dealing with a young program/country from Tampa/Central Africa.
  • Louisville :: Zimbabwe. It wasn't so long ago that it was a decent place. Solid middle class, burgeoning economy, long line of stud quarterbacks. It looked like the sort of place where you could put some stock into. Mugabe/Kragthorpe had all the pedigree (Oxford Education/Tulsa turnaround). But they left the place a seething, teeming, mess. The whole world was happy that Charlie Strong/Tsvangirai got their chance. But good look, folks. You're gonna need it.
  • Syracuse :: Somalia. Who the hell is in charge here? Sure, Siad Barre and Pasqualoni looked bad at the time, but have you seen what happened since you forced them out? Good lord, there's nothing good coming out of Upstate New York or the Horn of Africa these days. They actually used to be great places, and have awesome statues representing those times. But when you bring in a Duke Basketball Player / the Islamic Courts Union for stability, you're not exactly hoping for great progress.
Next up: the Big 10.

College Football and Regional Geopolitics: a Unified Theory

"I have a soft spot for schools with no control, they're fun. Like, Oregon is the Iraq of colleges, and I am completely ok with this."

That is how great conversations and ideas get started. After making fun of Oregon's troubles with my friend who works in the terror department of this country of ours. We've realized that College Football, with its lawlessness, decentralized, mess of a system, is similar to the international system. There's winners and losers, sure. But nobody's really decided who is which, besides whatever they call themselves.

So let's go through all of the BCS conferences (plus the Mountain West and Western Athletic, because they pretty much count) and line them up with regions and countries. Because it's not like I have anything else to do tonight. And thank goodness for Yahoo! Sports so I don't forget anyone.

First off...The ACC :: Eurasia
Hereby defined as Central Asia + Russia and the Former Soviet states. Because the ACC is too big for just the few Central Asian Republics. But still, remember around 2004 when the ACC was supposed to be ascendant due to the new connections with Miami, Boston College, and Va Tech? Well, 2004 was the last time Nabucco was actually possible. And the Shanghai Cooperative Organization looked like a real thing. Of course, both might be happening in the future, and the ACC might become a power conference. But until then, there's a lot of steppes and Noontime 17-14 games.
  • Clemson :: Estonia. They really think they're part of Europe (the SEC), and really think they belong as a respected nation. But come on, we like having you close because you're a place to party. You haven't exactly set yourself apart from the Latvias and Lithuanias of the world, have you? Talinn is a pretty place to spend a weekend with your Limey drinking buddies, and so is Clemson. But you know what you feel like afterwards? Yup.
  • Boston College :: Georgia. Hey, wait a second. Georgia is in the Caucasus? There's a team from Boston in the ACC? These are the geographic technicalities that confuse the people making decisions. All the same, both have great cuisine (katchapuri = cheese covered bread covered with a raw egg. Seriously.) and drinking cultures. Both are mediocre afterthoughts that are fighting a losing battle with their neighbors, though their fans will never admit it. Both are led by a spaz who took power strangely.
  • Florida State :: Turkmenistan. If there was ever someone to compare to Bobby Bowden, it would be Niyazov. Solid gold statues (that rotated to face the sun), naming months after family members, and oh yeah, calling yourself "Father of the Turkmens." My personal favorite is when he wrote a book, and then put on a mosque, "The Koran is God's book, but the Rukhnama is a great book." They also lie and get caught, and if one place compares to a flaming gate of hell, its Tallahassee.
  • Wake Forest :: Lithuania. Well, when was the last time you thought of Wake Forest? Not particularly interesting, Zappa/Aaron Curry aside, but you could pick a lot worse of a place to be. 4-8 wins, a mediocre bowl, and hanging out in Winston-Salem? At least you get to laugh at Turkmenistan.
  • North Carolina State :: Moldova. There's always that one team in North Carolina you forgot. There's always that one country in Eastern Europe you forgot. Sure' there's wine, but if Tom O'Brien isn't the coaching equivalent of voting the Communists back to power, I don't know what is.
  • Maryland :: Latvia. They had that early 2000's upswing, everything was looking great, and they even made it into the Orange Bowl / European Union. And then what? Bam!
  • Georgia Tech :: Kazakhstan. Internet-humor sensation. But they're steadily doing great things, getting into BCS games and chairing the OSCE. If it's a bit unconventional, it still works. Still screw up sometimes in the limelight, though.
  • Virginia Tech :: Uzbekistan. Sudden rivals with Ga Tech. Run by a crazy old man who believes in a strong defense. Around 2005, terrible things happened in thereabouts.
  • Miami :: Russia. Just because they're more like Russia c. 1988 then c. 1998 doesn't mean they're back. It just means it's not the cesspool it used to be. Finally got the upper hand with their rival BC/Georgia. The people who pick them to be huge in the next two years are the ones who don't really know what they're talking about. Good drug scene. Run by a man who was a badass in the '80s but never smiles. Ever.
  • North Carolina :: Azerbaijan. Locked in an inextricable slap-fight with Duke/Armenia. But at least these guys have petroleum/Butch Davis. For another few years, at least. Baku is a lot like Chapel Hill in that its glitzy and fun at first, but you start to realize it's built on a house of cards and endemic poverty to keep the upper crust happy. Kurban Said/Essad Bay/Lev Nussinbaum is kind of the Lawrence Taylor of the Orientalist world (why would a Jew become a fervent fascist? Because his mom had an affair with Stalin, destroying his childhood. Pretty good reason, actually).
  • Duke :: Armenia. Again, the fight with NC. Have a name brand that way outstrips anything they've accomplished. The best things they has rest somewhere else (Spurrier/Mt. Ararat and Van). But they've been thrown a lifeline from Europe recently (Cutcliffe/Turkey accords), and they're gonna ride it for all its worth.
  • Virginia :: Kyrgyzstan. Don't even have the fun sort of craziness their neighbors have. Just repression, poverty, and 5-7 seasons. Will talk on and on about their history and natural beauty, and they have a point, but that doesn't mean much nowadays. At least they had stability (Grohmentum) for a while. But now? Who the hell knows.
This took longer than expected. Next up: the Big East!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mississippistan

or, "Rockwellian Dystopia"

It turns out there are parts of this country that have incredible, soul-crushing, poverty. The Clipse can explain it better than I can (Thanks EDSBS!)



So my journey to Mississippi to visit a Teach For America HS buddy went well. Good food, good camping, but my God the poverty. Really the only thing that I can equate to it is Turkmenistan. Not Georgia, not Azerbaijan. But that arid joint on the Caspian.

There are highlights, though. A dog actually chased my car while I drove down the road, like in Gary Larson cartoons. And you can see stars stars so many stars at night. That's pretty wonderful. The whole bucolic Agrarian Diplomacy ideal did exist to a certain extent.

However, the poverty was pretty amazing. What really made me take a step back was the lack of anything to do in town. The kids Dan teachers are done with school at ~4:00 PM. Apparently a bunch have jobs, sure. But there's still weekends and all. There wasn't a movie theater, a bowling alley, or even a park to be seen. There's really nothing to do except sit around. It's not like any self-respecting teenager is going to go to the Public Library. And even if they do, Lexington's is hardly Salt Lake City's.

The difference between Mississippi Hill Country and Delta country was interesting. The drive into the bayou is pretty cool...you basically just turn a corner in the road and all of the sudden everything is flat. Dan used the term "moonscape" but I'm not sure that's quite it. It was just...void.

The formation of identity around country music is pretty weird. There's this concept of "This is the music of my people" that forms a feedback loop to a certain extent: Country musicians should look a certain way and sing a certain way and all of that, or they're not country musicians. They're -- gasp -- pop stars. Thankfully, Military.com can fill us in on the deets (that's one of the worst-written articles I've ever seen from a real source, btw. It's like bleacherreport for White Nationalism). And race relations are obviously way more tendentious and complex than I can explain in this blog. Things are weird. And terrible. They'll likely remain that way, no matter what Teach for America does.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Carpetblog is back!

My yearning heart-strings did not take long to get responded to. Carpetblogger is back up, seemingly in Texas. Her website is a lot cleaner and less goofy, though. Still, I'm incredibly pumped to see her back writing. As I've mentioned a bunch, she's really an inspiration to me, blogging-wise, and if she's reading this, she should know that its my full intention to buy her a coffee of appreciation at some point.

Also, I finally got around to finding Chris Herwig, who took amazing photos of Soviet Bus Stops in Central Asia. So check those pictures out, its some awesome stuff.

I should have somewhat of a gameplan - life division this time next week. Which is exciting. Keep reading me on Registan until then.

Anthony Perkins's son can take it from here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

No Mere Frontier

Stumbling into this project, as well as looking at the maps Mr. Foust put up in his last post, got me thinking. The Rewilding is exuberant, exaggerated, and almost entirely academic at this point, but it is interesting:
A Marshall Plan for the environment, rewilding promotes the expansion of core wilderness areas on a vast scale, the restoration of corridors between them (to fight the “island” effect of isolated parks and protected areas), and the reintroduction or protection of top predators.
The first thing I thought of, however, was this. And this. The dams and irrigation canals will outlast their uses as well. It almost seems as though a place like Kazakhstan, with all of the resource extraction focused in one spot and the rest of the country open, is the dream for folks like Ms. Fraser. Especially when Foust's map of Marjeh looks a lot like California City.

Central Asia is still seen as the great open spaces that brought us Attilla, Cengiz, and the rest. It's pretty telling that one of the most respected think-tanks on Central Asia is called the Silk Road Institute. I like to imagine S. Frederick Starr in a kaftan and chapka, sitting in a yurt drinking kumis.

The truth, of course, is that the Central Asian Republics are all firmly in the 21st Century. Kazakhstan is mostly urban, complete with weird architectural follies. Astana was described to me as "what the moon will look like when it's colonized" which could go just as well for Ashgabat. As romantic of a sort as we all can be when we talk about our favorite parts of the region, we know that we're going to be going into governance, security, and resources to make a living in the field. No more National Geographic covers, methinks.

Somehow, Mongolia has been able to keep up their pastoral allure in a way that Kazakhstan has not. No Yale Law professors doing Slate articles in the Altai (which reminds me: if any Italophones want to review this for me, I'll be pretty much eternally grateful). I've written a bunch on Branding in the past, and its something I think is a huge and relevant issue for these Central Asian Republics. Caught between poles, I think Kazakhstan is attempting to use its OSCE chair to brand itself as a modern power with a unique past. We can all argue about the veracity of that image here, but if it gets argued in US press, even if by cheerleaders, its a huge boon to Kazakhstan's self- and world-image.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Danger Room gets out-Wired

Danger Room gets a lot of love, for completely deserved reasons, for its coverage of the tech-side of war. Just sometimes it lacks the tech-side of peace.

BLDGBlog can show what architects can do in tight spots. Build-it-quick defenses could make the Hescos unnecessary, and thus the FOBs obsolete, in forward locations. This would allow the military to get closer to the people its trying to protect. COIN and all. And it's not like those defenses were making any Afghans happy, now, was it?

Could you imagine what Aga Khan could do with something like the Disaster-proof house?

Could these become the building blocks for a new generation of houses that are durable, affordable, energy efficient, and sustainable? InnoVida hopes so. The panels have an R-value of 5.88 per inch, with a total tested wall R-value of 14.6 for a 2.5-inch panel, or 23.7 for a 4-inch panel. “R-24 gives it an insulating factor greater than a refrigerator, whereas a regular wall has an R-value of 6 to 9,” says Sanchez.

The other major benefit--particularly where disaster relief is concerned--is that the houses can be built quickly. The average InnoVida house can be built in a quarter of the time it takes to build a conventional house, according to the manufacturer. And because all panels are made to order, the building and manufacturing processes produce very little job site waste, air pollution, or natural resource consumption. Finally, the flat-pack homes can be built with no heavy equipment (forklifts or cranes) and only a few skilled workers.

Sanchez estimates that a 1,250 square foot house could be built for $50,000 to $60,000, depending on the market and site conditions.

The Defense Industry is insular and slow-thinking. They tend to either react to old issues or create solutions to bizarre, non-existent, ones. Architects and designers find the simplest solutions to the least elegant of problems. They ought to get a lot more listen-to.

I've already written a bunch tonight and am in no mood to write more, so I'm going to leave this up as more of a thought-piece. The tools are out there to have a cleaner counter-insurgency theory. They just need to get into hands that listen (purposeful mis-metaphor alert).

And if any Central Asia nerds are reading this and find their way into Saint Louis, get the Muntoo at Sameem's. You can thank me later (or by buying me a plate of it yourself).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Roghun Rage

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have been feuding over energy rights, gas rights, and other natural resources for a bit now. Over the weekend, though, things took another step in the direction towards weird. Shots were almost fired, reportedly, over a cow.

By its actions, the Tajik side severely violated generally accepted international norms and bilateral agreements to keep the inviolability of the state borders. The intrusion could have been described as an armed invasion…

The detainee admitted that he must have stolen cattle from Uzbek citizens under his commanders’ instructions. According to him, they had to do this because they had not been supplied with food for a long time.

That is, in case you couldn't gather, the Uzbek National Security Service's official presser. The Tajik version is much more along the lines of "A cow wandered over the border, a Tajik guard ran to grab it, and they both were detained." And Alpharabius asks "Has a war ever started like this?" to which I can only answer, "Yes. Sorta."



The truth is obviously somewhat clouded and somewhat irrelevant. Both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are running out of the sorts of resources they want, and if they're not cow-stealin' desperate, they're still looking at things as a zero-sum game.

Tajikistan's attempts to move forward with Roghun, ~40 years later, through nationalization is bold, sure. And even if Rahmon only wants to get two turbines done with, that's still likely two turbines-worth more than the people of Tajikistan are able to spend.

It's a tough line to walk. I'm sure he's getting tired of reading stories like David Trilling's year-in, year-out no matter how good the pictures (and reporting) are. I'd like to think he earnestly believes that if Tajiks just tighten their belts a bit more and put in the money, they'll be able to go ahead without outside funding, at least for a bit. At least until Uzbekistan's self interest gets quieted, I suppose.

At the same time, Roghun funding makes a convenient excuse/scapegoat any time Rule of Law questions come up, as they have from time to time. The outside world historically doesn't like a nationalizing state leader, whether or not the country is less than 15 years past a civil war. There's enough Tajik experts on the internets these days to let us know if the local reaction differs from how NewEurasia puts it.

Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are both trying to build themselves up and want to use all of their resources to do it. They just happen to have issues over whose resources are what. But the squabbling seems more to save face and instill pride than it does to solve issues. I don't mean this as a prayer for mutual understanding and cooperation, but rather a statement of fact. The best foot forward for both countries is with each other. There's no Party Boss for 'em to impress anymore.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

An Aria di Dispiacere for Nabucco

Many thanks to the good folks of Eternal Remont ("The floor of the Moscow Metro with a sweet candy coating.") for bringing this to my attention: The director of the Nabucco Pipeline has given up on the uniting ideal behind the Nabucco Pipeline.
"Nabucco is not designed to substitute Russian gas…Nabucco is designed to offer complementary alternative gas quantities.”
No, that's not what it was designed for. It was designed to give Europe an energy source independent of Russia. That's why it's called Nabucco.

This was all dead on arrival anyways when Turkmenistan signed on to give Iran 20bn m3 of gas annually. Or maybe it was dead on arrival when it turns out that Turkmenistan may not have enough gas to keep Russia and Iran (and, you know, itself) supplied after some reserve estimation went awry. And it definitely looked toast when Blue Stream became a reality.

All of the sudden, Europe is balancing between Nigeria, Russia, or Iran for its energy needs (other sources exist, of course, so if you want to convince me that Indonesia or something is the secret, just wiki and reply). It's been effectively closed out from Central Asia unless it deals with one of the two latter.

I hate the sort of journalism that talks about the "door to Central Asia" and some such tropes, but unless Europe gets creative, it looks like it doesn't have the key. And if some folks in the Caucasus start reading Global Guerillas? Then let's hope that creativity comes all-the-more quickly.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Even Hipsters Can See a Bad Idea

I'm running around currently with school stuff, but with Danger Room linking to Registan and all, there's an outside chance my readership is going to increase or something. Cold War Kids will only be applicable for so much longer (and apologies for zagging in the opposite direction of Baloji).



  • Joshua Foust, co-conspirator #1 over at Registan, turned my head to this piece eviscerating 60 Minutes' little ditty on how super-cool American Special Forces are and how shady Afghan Special Forces are. Basically: random killings are alright, FOBs are awesome, and our imperialism is good for everyone involved (unless you're on the wrong side of a bullet). And he lashes out on the language issues and the Imam killing that happened recently. I'm not one to generally side with the Private Military Dudes, but ISAF has some major egg on their face. It basically looks like nobody knows what the hell is going on, from the outside. Yipes.

  • Oh, and some pissed-off interpreter killed two servicemen. And an airstrike killed four of "Our" Afghans. So, um, yeay ISAF-Afghan Relations!


So yeah, I'm really not a pessimist. I really want this whole War on Terror thing to work out for the US and the whole Peaceful Earth thing. But until then, I'm not sure things are going to magically fix themselves. I've been down on the "military solution only" thing for a while just because it seems that taking a military solution to a really complicated, multifarious, messy problem like Afghanistan (or any Central Asian Republic, for that matter) is just going to cause lots and lots of issues. So I'll keep on throwing links against the wall until then. Just know: I'm on your side. Really.