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I enjoy video games. As a child of the 90s I grew up with them, and as they’ve matured in the ensuing years (in every sense of the word) the culture has now absorbed them to the point that I can still say I enjoy them as a man in my mid 20’s without being labeled a socially-withdrawn malcontent. I just wish to give you some context as to why I would wish to use this space to highlight the recent (and hopefully temporary) implosion of the PS3. Thanks to a hardware glitch which is variously being blamed on the system’s clock/calender having a Y2K-esque, leap year triggered meltdown to corrupted trophy information, most of the consoles currently in use can neither access the PlayStation Network nor even play many games on or offline. As these are two of the system’s primary functions, this makes this particular glitch rather disconcerting. This isn’t due so much to being denied the ability to play, as while this is certainly annoying everyone’s fairly certain Sony will either have this fixed fairly soon or have their programmers commit mass suicide. It’s more due to the way in which this underlines the dark side of having a console that integrates so much with the internet. The benefits of such a system are many, as for the first time in my gaming life I’ve been able to play online with a great degree of reliability. However the recent fall of PSN has uncomfortably reminded us all of just how fragile this arrangement is: remove internet connectivity, and everything else goes straight to hell. Offline games won’t work if they can’t sync trophy info or confirm copyright validity, undermining one of the main reasons people bought the damn thing in the first place.

It also underlies the fact that, as consoles grow to have more capabilities in line with PCs, they’re also becoming plagued by many of the same issues. A large userbase and internet connection makes it both a target for hackers as well as a way for companies to impose the same internet-mediated copy protection assurance that plagues many PC games. Until recently consoles were thought to be an oasis from such shenanigans, but as always the internet brings with it the potential for both good and evil. As for corporate shenanigans, the cynical part of me wants to think this is some kind of veiled forced obsolescence plan on Sony’s part as only the older “fat” models of the PS3 are afflicted, but then given even debug models used by developers and the press are also screwed this would stand to leave them joining the rest of the user base in screaming for Sony’s blood in the event a fix is not forthcoming by this evening, and stands to lose all parties an amount my friend Kevin from Saint Superman characterized as “a hojillion dollars”.

At any rate, I’m happy as long as I can still mute other players on my microphone, though I’m hoping PSN is fixed soon enough for that to even be an issue.

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Between My travels, my job, and the atmosphere’s many attempts to destroy Washington DC, the Blarg has been on a temporary hiatus that will continue until next week when I finally get a free moment to myself.

I know I wanted to get a full workup on the SotU up by today, but just had a very severe brush with career doom. After a reassuring chat with my boss I’m still in the process of coming down off the adrenaline rush of fear. Regularly scheduled blogging will resume monday.

Happy new year/decade everyone! I’m still around and currently working on finishing a post on the Ashura Uprising in Iran I had started a few days ago. I’d have been here sooner but I rang in the new year in the traditional fashion of being drunk off my ass among friends. In the meantime I wanted to ensure the survival of this blog and notify everyone that the british have already figured out the most awesome possible name for the last decade.

As most coverage of the green revolution has been pulled from prying western eyes the story has pretty much shriveled up and blown away with most western observers reaching the conclusion that, though the power struggles between hardline and ultra-hardline elements within the government continues, the moderate voice of the people has been effectively silenced.

However, bits of information continue to leak through and a story in Time reminds us of a truth we had largely forgotten: Iran continues to hate its student population. The government is giving orders to expel thousands of students and is considering shuttering the entire system for the fall as students, wont to protest as they are, are now returning to Tehran and other major cities in the largest numbers seen since June. While they not pose a direct threat to the government’s survival the last thing either of the surviving factions now maneuvering for power in the wake of the june “election” wants is more images of the streets filled to bursting with popular protest. And though the likelihood of protests successfully boiling over and ousting the regime is quite low, let us remember the first revolution was centered on Tehran University.

In short, the saga of Dune is far from over…

Let’s just forgo the usual apologies for tardiness and get right to it, shall we? The announcement that Obama is, if not scrapping, then at least reevaluating the current deployment plans for the missile defense shield is interesting in that it casts the upcoming talks with Iran in a new light. First, it reminds everyone that we actually need Russian cooperation to either leverage the Iranians into an agreement or make them suffer if they don’t play ball. For those who may have forgotten, Russia has a veto in the UN, which is the preferred venue for the delivering of useless bitchslaps sanctions.  However, as George Friedman writes, Russia actually has a number of very compelling reasons not to want to play ball.

The Near Abroad: Sure they’d rather not have a nuclear Iran that close to them, but on the other hand tangling with Iran keeps us nice and distracted from deepening our ties to aforementioned soviet republics. Russia has been undertaking diplomatic (and in some cases literal) offensives in what it terms as it’s “near abroad”; the now independent countries that used to be Soviet republics. This is being done for several reasons: first,  Russia has always been an expansionist power, as history has taught them (several times) that land can be traded for time when it comes to fighting for national survival. Second, they’ve always seen themselves as having “special privileges” in the territories that used to comprise the Russian/Soviet empires. Third, wanting to counteract the prevailing view in the West that Russia is worthless and has been slowly dying since The Fall. Fourth, needing to counter what they see as American/EU encroachment on these regions, with the better part of the Warsaw Pact having already fled for the EU and NATO and the rest, specifically Georgia and Ukraine, willing to sell their firstborns just to get in line. Combined with Bush’s idiotic initial plans for deployment of missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic and all this has combined to give Putin a serious case of foreign policy heartburn. And when he is displeased, cities tend to burn.

Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down: Related to Russia’s plans for its neighborhood is the desire to keep the US nice and distracted. With our involvement in Iraq winding down and our involvement in Afghanistan on somewhat winding up, keeping both the American diplomatic corps, or  better still the American military, tied up with engaging Iran keeps us from making overtures or even guaranteeing the independence of Georgia and the Ukraine, and thus allowing Russia to dominate them more effectively. And without the US defensive umbrella Europe would be as putty in their hands, as the EU lacks either the physical ability or the political will to defend itself from a Russian military threat, especially as softer forms of power have already proven rather effective. And even the news of the shield’s reconsideration is having Moscow’s desired effect of making Poland and the Czechs in particular and Eastern Europe in general doubt the effectiveness of the US military umbrella under Obama. In short, keeping the US as distracted as possible would allow Russian hegemony to more effectively flourish.

Step 3 –  PROFIIIT: Were negotiations to collapse and the US/EU to undertake unilateral sanctions Russia could make a fortune selling refined gasoline to Iran over land. Better still, were military action to be undertaken, the Iranians have stated they would mine the Straight of Hormuz, effectively sealing off the Persian Gulf to shipping and killing OPEC dead. The inevitable explosion of oil prices would make Russia, the largest non-OPEC oil exporter, richer than God.

In sum, Russia has more of an interest in our failure than our success, and this being the case Obama had to offer them a major inducement. Obviously this can’t be publicly stated to be the case, and the administration has some cover in that they seem to simply be trading anti-ICBM missiles in Poland for countermeasures more appropriate to Iran, both geographically and technologically. But this is still an enormous diplomatic risk for Obama as the Russians are under no obligation to back us up and a lack of support in the face of such a concession would basically destroy his Russia policy, further complicate relations with Eastern Europe, and add one more complication in the already Sisyphean task of dealing with Iran.

The other reason this news casts the Iranian negotiations in an interesting new light is pointed out by Joe Klein at Swampland:

We don’t know yet….but I’ve been thinking: The Administration’s agreement to talk with Iran, in the context of the P5+1 negotiations (that is, the United Nations permanent five plus Germany), also seemed a concession to Iran. But what if it wasn’t. What if it’s attempt to paint Iran into a corner?

Basically the thinking goes that instead of asking for an outright freeze of Uranium enrichment, the US/EU come down a bit and instead allow enrichment (as is Iran’s right under the NPT) under extremely rigorous IAEA oversight as the price. Were this to be rejected, then the missile shield shift and the PR gain of being able to say “well we tried talking” would increase the pressure on Russia to participate in a subsequent round of sanctions, especially if Obama follows this up by confirming everyone’s suspicions and also throws candy at the Chinese. My main concern is that even with Chinese support the Russians are the ones who will make or break any sanctions we attempt to place on Iran, and as listed above their interest in crippling us may well exceed their interest in crippling Iran.

So much stupidity has been swirling about the newscloud in the last few weeks that, despite being in the middle of planning my second move in as many months, I am compelled to rise from the depths and respond to the challenge. I’ll tackle the flecks of foam flying from the mouths of the ravenous anti-healthcare reform horde momentarily, but let me ease back into familiar patterns by tackling a simpler topic: Abortion.

Back in May, gallup released a poll that allowed the right to sleep comfortably at night whilst still dealing with the trauma of the Obama presidency. This poll said that for the first time, a majority of Americans identified themselves as “pro-life”, and because hugely generalized labels are always accurate, the right was desperate for something to cling to, and the media was unable to resist sensationalizing it concurrent to the Obama/Notre Dame flap, the story caught. Amy Sullivan over at Swampland pointed out then that the result might have simply been an outlier, as such things are wont to occur even within scientific polls, and lo she’s been proven right. Another gallup poll asking the same question last week shows that the sudden pro-life majority has melted back into the aether from whence it came.

But what could explain such a phenomenon? Surely it couldn’t be that while Americans enjoy wrapping themselves in the fuzzy blanket of being pro-life in order to preserve their moral superiority, they actually do support abortion, even if only in limited circumstances (largely the usual rape/incest/life-of-mother trifecta that most reasonable people subscribe to). Amy links to a post from Mark Silk that backs this up in that it’s advisable to look at people’s actual views, rather than the label they adopt to describe them, before declaring victory in the culture wars. On the other hand, it does open an interesting question up for debate: with these results in hand, what exactly does pro-life even mean any more?

The right wing may return to its regularly scheduled sulking.

Though the rumors of this blog’s demise have been exaggerated, the rumors of my laziness have not. I’ll be honest: I became extremely dissatisfied with my readership level compared to the effort I try to put into many of my entires here, and combined with the looming prospect of a move (now completed), I decided to take a break before returning and launching another PR offensive. The rebirth is still some time off since the internet at my new place is not yet up, but given recent events I would be remiss not to comment.

Revolutions have an odd way of often devouring themselves from the inside out. The Russian Revolution was supposed to usher in communism, but instead unleashed dictatorship and set the blueprint for communist revolutions throughout the Cold War. Africa and Latin America are littered with tales of freedom fighters turned bloodthirsty tyrants. It would now seem the 1979 Islamic Revolution is no excpetion. Having been unplugged from the newsfeed thanks to my recent move, I’ve been absolutely devouring any and all coverage of the Green Revolution and my impressions are threefold: first is that the supergovernment (the mullah’s who do the actual governing behind the republic’s democratic facade) have dealt themselves and their regime a serious blow by undermining their legitimacy (for an excellent overview check out this article from The Times, and this one from the Guardian). To raise the hopes and expectations of the possiblity of Ahmadinejad’s electoral defeat only to slam the door in the naiton’s face has succeeded only in closing off a critical safety valve. It’s common knowledge even in Iran that any election there is hinky at best, but even the motions of democracy are important in making the people feel as if they participate in their own government even if the substance doesn’t back it. And the regime can counter criticisms by, as so many other democracies-in-name-only, claiming their government is backed by the will of the people. With even this pretense gone the curtain has been pulled back and the Iranian people are now face to face with what their government really, truly is and it repulses them enough that they’ve been galvanized into mass action, showing an impressive display of coordination despite the regime shuttering cell phone and text messaging services nationwide (911 be damned, we have an election to steal) and closing off access to twitter and most social networking sites. Of course they may have forgotten that such things were hardly necessary when they overthrew the shah 30 years ago, and technology is hardly a requirement when the people are being fueled by an anger at their government not seen since the waning days of the Pahlavi dynasty.

On the flipside, there’s a very strong likelihood that, like the Hunagrian Uprising, Prague Spring, and Tianamen Square before it, the Green Revolution could collapse under the weight of the forces being thrown against it, both physical and political. While armed militias roam the streets and savagely beat protestors, today supreme leader Khameni has applied a political fig leaf to his earlier full throated endoresment of Ahmadinejad’s victory and announced the guardian council will in fact investigate the results. The likely outcome is perhaps a slight downward adjustment of his vote total, but will still certainly be high enough to avoid a runoff. However, even if Mousavi is declared the winner (unlikely as it would be that the government would admit to that degree of “mistake”) the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic has been dealt a serious if not crippling blow, and thus unless the US and Israel play into the mullahs’ hands by launching an attack, thus allowing them to stoke the flames of nationalism as they did in the war with Iraq, any likely outcome will result in at the least a dilution of their power as this election makes it unlikely another conservative president will be legitmately elected, at most possible overthrow of the entire rotten complex if the current protests continue and escalate.

Mention of the US and Israel brings me to my third conclusion: Ahmadinejad’s disputed election is in terms of diplomacy the best possible outcome for almost everyone outside Iran. The neighboring Arab autocracies can point to the current troubles of the Islamic Republic (whose very veneer of democracy they find threatening) and tell their people of the perils of elections. Israeli likudniks can milk this endlessly to build support for a preemptive strike, although to his credit Bibi has so far avoided rising to the bait. And unlike with Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s preceding reputation makes it easier for Obama to walk away from negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions should things go pear shaped. Whereas the election of Mousavi would have allowed them to drag out negotiations further under the veneer of a “change” president like Obama himself while behind the scenes the mullahs would continue enriching uranium, and leave Obama in the quandary of having to undermine a relatively liberal leader in a country where such leadership is percieved to be desperately needed. This lack of strategic grasp of their situation can be placed next to the sky high rates of unemployment and inflation and rampant corruption on the list of the regime’s inept failures.

Whatever happens next, Iran has reached a point of no return. The curtain has been torn away, and the people now see their government for what it is. Without even the pretense of popular legitmacy the regime cannot, and hopefully will not survive in the face of a people already well schooled in the overthrow of dicatorship.  To paraphrase Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen (and elevate myself into the stratosphere of geekery), why should they save a government they no longer have any stake in?

Real Clear Politics is reporting via The Fix that Senator Arlen Spector is set to leap from the closet and officially switch from Republican to Democrat, giving them the vaunted “magic” 60 if Al Fraken is EVER allowed to take his senate seat and giving Mitch McConnell the second most thankless job in America.

Then again this whole thing is likely the result of several factors: GOP voters in his district are pissed about his support for Obama’s budget and his role in the “Gang of 3” that allowed its passage, the party itself hates its moderates and covers this thinly out of sheer necessity, and h’e facing a rather difficult primary challenge. Whether he’ll do any better as a democrat remains to be seen, but in the meantime, welcome aboard.

Reactions from the GOP are ranging from Sam Brownback’s “stunned” to Michael Steele’s blatant sour grapes. Olympia Snowe claims to be “devastated“, but going by the article I can’t tell if she means Spector’s switch or the attitudes in the party that lead to it.

In his own words:

I have been a Republican since 1966. I have been working extremely hard for the Party, for its candidates and for the ideals of a Republican Party whose tent is big enough to welcome diverse points of view. While I have been comfortable being a Republican, my Party has not defined who I am. I have taken each issue one at a time and have exercised independent judgment to do what I thought was best for Pennsylvania and the nation.

Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

When I supported the stimulus package, I knew that it would not be popular with the Republican Party. But, I saw the stimulus as necessary to lessen the risk of a far more serious recession than we are now experiencing.

Since then, I have traveled the State, talked to Republican leaders and office-holders and my supporters and I have carefully examined public opinion. It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.

I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary.

I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.

I deeply regret that I will be disappointing many friends and supporters. I can understand their disappointment. I am also disappointed that so many in the Party I have worked for for more than four decades do not want me to be their candidate. It is very painful on both sides. I thank especially Senators McConnell and Cornyn for their forbearance.

I am not making this decision because there are no important and interesting opportunities outside the Senate. I take on this complicated run for re-election because I am deeply concerned about the future of our country and I believe I have a significant contribution to make on many of the key issues of the day, especially medical research. NIH funding has saved or lengthened thousands of lives, including mine, and much more needs to be done. And my seniority is very important to continue to bring important projects vital to Pennsylvania’s economy.

I am taking this action now because there are fewer than thirteen months to the 2010 Pennsylvania Primary and there is much to be done in preparation for that election. Upon request, I will return campaign contributions contributed during this cycle.

While each member of the Senate caucuses with his Party, what each of us hopes to accomplish is distinct from his party affiliation. The American people do not care which Party solves the problems confronting our nation. And no Senator, no matter how loyal he is to his Party, should or would put party loyalty above his duty to the state and nation.

My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.

Whatever my party affiliation, I will continue to be guided by President Kennedy’s statement that sometimes Party asks too much. When it does, I will continue my independent voting and follow my conscience on what I think is best for Pennsylvania and America.

In related news, the “Magic 60” is still pretty much meaningless.

As much as I continue to insist that the legenary 100 Days are just another construct the 24 hour newsmedia uses to simulate a horse race in the absence of an actual campaign, I remain powerless to ignore it. And so I give you this rather good article from the Politico on the little century about a week from its conclusion (and the inevitable orgy of analysis from all corners of the Newscloud).