Friday, August 31, 2012

Bits and Pieces - Republican Climax Version

The climax of the last night of the Republican Convention was Clint Eastwood's appearance. The audience applauded much more ehthusiastically than they did for Mitt Romney's almost equally disjointed snoozer. Especially for "I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen. Something that I think is very important. It is that, you, we -- we own this country." That got the wildest applause of the night. It was clear that, to the audience, "we" referred to the mostly white people in the hall of proper beliefs and values.

So here's the video and a transcript of Eastwood's comments. The comments look more reasonable in print than they sounded in delivery. The Administration's response: Questions on this sould be directed to Salvador Dali.

Voter suppression in South Carolina.

We expect the lies that the Republicans are shoveling out, and that makes the shoveling easier.

Update: Interesting observation here. This would account for the enthusiastic reaction to "We own the country."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ban Ki-Moon Outsmarts Them All

Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a big deal over UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's trip to the Non-Aligned Movement's summit in Tehran. He tried to get a social media wave going telling Ban not to go. That didn't work. And you might think that a politician capable enough to become Prime Minister might understand that public pressure on another politician is likely to result in the opposite of what the pressure is intended to achieve. (Note to students: Work out the analogous situation for one politician urging another to go to war for the first politician's priorities.)

The Iranians have been hoping to make hay with their presidency of the NAM, which was formed to present a counterweight against both Western and Soviet influence during the Cold War. As such, it has frequently been critical of Western actions. So this would be a great setup to boost Iran's status (President: Cool!) and to get out some criticism of the P5+1 and support for Iran's nuclear program.

So, contrary to Netanyahu's wishes, Secretary-General Ban is now in Iran. But he is not going to allow Iran to make his presence part of their advertisement for themselves. He has criticized Iran's human rights record. He has met with the Supreme Leader, along with Jeff Feltman, the UN Under Secretary for Political Affairs, who until last May was the US  Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. This has reporters all a-twitter with the thought of backchannel negotiations, which of course are possible but would be denied by all parties at this point. There's no way to know.

Ban is also discussing the situation in Syria with Iranian officials and is reported to have urged the Supreme Leader to get serious about the negotiations with the P5+1.

There is real value in this kind of face-to-face discussion. A thought that comes to my mind is how useful it might be for Iranians and Israelis to talk to each other. Not calling names through the media, but sitting down around a table. Probably won't happen soon.

Update (8/30/12): Wow. Ban came down hard on Iran's anti-Israel pronouncements. Plus Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi (Mursi in this account) called on NAM members to back the rebels against the Syrian government, Iran's ally.

Cross-posted at The Agonist.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bits and Pieces - Republican National Convention Edition

The worst of Hayek and Rand:

The problem with this sort of economic determinism is that it is Marxism in reverse, with the problems of the original kind. Planning by finance capitalists replaces planning by the party elite. Marx’s old dream, the “withering away” of the state, is the centerpiece of the Ryan budget: cut taxes on the rich, claim that cutting government functions and the closing of unspecified loopholes will balance budgets, and thereby make the state shrink. Just like the Marxists of another era, the Republican ticket substitutes mythical thinking about the economy for loyalty to the nation.
And more.

Today's blogospheric guessing game: Did David Brooks mean this as a takedown of Romney or is he just trying to pre-empt all these descriptions of Romney before others use them?

Romney was a precocious and gifted child. He uttered his first words (“I like to fire people”) at age 14 months, made his first gaffe at 15 months and purchased his first nursery school at 24 months. The school, highly leveraged, went under, but Romney made 24 million Jujubes on the deal.
 And more.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bits and Pieces - August 24, 2012

Mapping the origin of the Indo-European languages. Via Language Log, which I have recently discovered. Highly reccommended if you're interested in languages.

Dr. Rubidium looks at the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. It turns out that not all the members are like Todd Akin.

Yiddish curses for Republican Jews. Via Paul Krugman.

Check out the economic impact of the presidential candidates' plans at Via.

A larger-than-life figure brought down to size.

Added later: A critique of pure gold.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Iran Already Has a Deterrent

No, I’m not going to argue that Iran has nuclear weapons.

Deterrence goes beyond nuclear weapons, although the discussions of the Cold War seem to have inextricably combined the two words into “nuclear deterrence” and substituted the combined concept for the more general single word.

Deterrence is convincing others that it would be a bad idea to attack you. That can start at the personal level with male swagger or the legal protections that surround all of us. For countries, it’s more complicated. Military might, including nuclear weapons, is an obvious component, but there are other deterrents. With all the money the United States owes China, an attack by either side seems a nonstarter, even if there were a reason, which there isn’t at present. And there are legal protections in this arena as well. Although international law doesn’t function in the same way as the personal protections, it provides a normative framework that makes attacks by one nation on another less likely.

The last week has seen another burst of attack threats from Israel against Iran. The full purpose of these threats can’t be known; softening up public opinion in preparation for an attack; urging the United States to attack before Israel does or to enact further sanctions on Iran; making Iran more fearful of an attack; or the leaders’ personal anxiety run amok. Probably all of these have some influence.

The net of those attack threats, however, seems to be that there won’t be one any time soon. Public reactions from American officials ranged from dismissive to undercutting. Israel ratcheted up its rhetoric one more notch, and the result was nothing. No promise of attack by the US, no threats of worsened sanctions, nothing. At least in public. The uproar over a US intelligence report that may or may not exist almost certainly has provoked an angry US response in private.

The ratcheting up has its consequences. Don’t ask a question if you don’t want to hear the answer, it’s been said. The latest level of Israeli bluster implies a question: Will the US do what Israel wants? The maxim refers to all possible answers to a question. Israeli leaders would have been happy if that question had been answered “Yes.” But other answers are possible.
Pressure on Iran to deal with the world’s concerns about its nuclear program has relied on a certain degree of ambiguity in the threats of force. That’s not the only source of pressure; sanctions are important, too. Last week’s outcome removes some of the ambiguity in those threats: Israel cannot attack Iran by itself, and America will not join now. Israel’s limitations were communicated by the panic and fear evident in many of the Israeli actions and statements. America was explicit that its preferred track, for now, is diplomacy. Israeli officials asked, and the answer was not the single one they were counting on.
That takes some of the pressure off Iran.

If we look further out at the question of whether America would ever attack Iran, it seems doubtful. America does not need another war in the Middle East. And there’s Iran’s deterrent.

That deterrent is the probability that an attack on Iran would give them the reason to develop nuclear weapons and a level of international support for that action. There would be other consequences as well: an Iranian missile attack on Israel, a rapid rise in the oil price, and knock-on effects in the already unstable Middle East. Mark Hibbs points out today that an attack would imperil the IAEA inspectors in Iran. All those are part of Iran’s deterrent. It’s in effect already, and they don’t even need to complete a nuclear weapon.

Cross-posted at The Agonist and Nuclear Diner.

Bits and Pieces - August 20, 2012

Doug Saunders makes an important point about how we too often conceptualize the Middle East.

American stereotypes mapped via Google autocomplete.

Here's a really good description of how summer camps help kids grow. I still recall my camp experiences in very much this way, but never got far enough outside them to be able to explain them the way this article does.

Why are there no popular political songs? Or are there and I'm just not paying attention?

New world record set at mobile-phone-throwing contest. Do the Finns still do their wife-carrying contest too?

I'm not particularly sympathetic to Julian Assange's latest assault on international media. Part of it seems to depend too heavily on the stereotypic "it wasn't really rape" arguments that would seem to dovetail with Todd Akin's assurances that if you get pregnant, it wasn't really rape. Here's something from someone who seems to have done some legal research, as opposed to most of what I've been seeing on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

This Is Pretty Desperate

Also sort of incredible.

The anonymous official is most likely (again) Ehud Barak, or possibly someone close to Barak or Binyamin Netanyhu.

Here are the ransom demands:

First of all, Obama must repeat, publicly (at the UN General Assembly for instance), that the US will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons and that Israel has a right to defend itself, independently. Jerusalem would view such a statement as a virtual commitment by the US to act, militarily if needed, and would likely cause Israel to reconsider the unilateral military option.

Israel is also demanding that Washington inform Iran that if significant progress in the negotiations with the P5+1 group (the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) is not made within the next two weeks, the talks will be suspended.
Israel is also urging the US and the European Union to increase the direct economic pressure on Iran.
Another demand is a noticeable reinforcement of American forces in the Persian Gulf and emphasizing, mainly in the press, Washington's capabilities to stop Iran's nuclear program.
Israel considers the gradual, cautious exposure of the Pentagon's military options and means to be just as important, as it would clarify to Tehran that the US is serious. But the focus should be on revealing these options to the American press, not to the Israeli media.
Another Israeli demand refers to the so-called "red line" of Iran's nuclear program. The Obama administration claims that it will strike once intelligence agencies identify a "breakthrough" in the development of nuclear weapons, as defined by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Israel argues that Iran must not be allowed to even come close to achieving nuclear "breakout" capability. 

For all that, Israel magnanimously will consider

The senior Israeli official estimated that should Washington accept the main demands, Israel would reconsider its unilateral measures and coordinate them with the US.

There's more at the link. But you might want to wrap your head tightly to keep it from exploding before you click.

Cross-posted at The Agonist.

Bits and Pieces - August 14, 2012

Poland investigates its secret CIA prison.

CIA declassifies how it recovered film from a spy satellite that dropped into the deep ocean in 1971.

The media has treated the shootings in Oak Creek very differently from those that happened just two weeks earlier in Aurora.  Expands on what I said the other day.

United Airlines loses a ten-year-old child and doesn't care because it's outsourced all that.

No, we're not at war with Iran.

Interview with new Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Allison Macfarlane. 

How the NRA limits research on firearm ownership. 

Added later: This is a good way to look at the "frames" at work in our national conversation.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ehud Barak's New Report

On Thursday, Ehud Barak claimed that

“apparently a report by American intelligence agencies - I don't know if it's under the title NIE or under another title - which is making the rounds of high offices," in Washington that makes the American government's concerns more urgent.

"As far as we know, it comes very close to our own estimate, I would say, as opposed to earlier American estimates. It transforms the Iranian situation to an even more urgent one and it is even less likely that we will know every development in time on the Iranian nuclear program."

By evening Washington time, US government officials were saying that nothing in their estimate had changed:

The United States still believes that Iran is not on the verge of having a nuclear weapon and that Tehran has not made a decision to pursue one, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

On Saturday, Barak repeated himself. It’s pretty obvious to me, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Richard Silverstein who the senior Jerusalem official is. From Barak Ravid in Haaretz:

As the dispute between Israel and the Obama administration over how to address the Iranian nuclear threat rages, a senior Jerusalem official has said Iran has made significant progress in assembling a nuclear warhead.

The official, who asked to remain anonymous, said new intelligence obtained by the United States, Israel and other Western countries shows that the Iranian activity around the "weapon group" - the final stage in the development of a nuclear weapon - is progressing far beyond the scope known to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The new intelligence was introduced as a last-minute update to the special National Intelligence Estimate on the Iranian nuclear program that was submitted to U.S. President Barack Obama a week ago.

Is there a report?
The existence of a report is at the center of Barak’s claim. The US statement mentions nothing about a report. Barak said on Thursday that it may be a National Intelligence Estimate, then elaborated it to an update to a recent special NIE. David Albright notes that information about the last NIE on Iran was held closely. If there is an NIE in progress, what would constitute intelligence introduced as a last-minute update? Many things, obviously, but a possibility that Barak would know about would be a contribution from Israeli intelligence.

The US response would probably be the same whether or not there is a change in the available intelligence and whether or not a new NIE on Iran is in progress. A change in the assessment would be made public only when the government felt the time was right. That calculation would include both its effect on the negotiations and any decision for war.

Given the extensive analysis that underlies the conclusions of an NIE, it’s unlikely that a single contribution would turn an analysis around. That single contribution would have to show something like an assembly plant for nuclear weapons. Even a confirmation that nuclear-weapons-related testing was done at Parchin would only tilt the conclusions of the 2011 NIE toward a greater probability that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and that would not justify war by US criteria.

Barak’s claims are completely unspecific as to what the intelligence is. If he is going to release another country’s classified information, which is the case if indeed another NIE is in progress and he knows something about it, then he might as well go all the way if he has damning evidence and tell us what it is.

Is there any report at all? The US officials don’t mention one, and no reporter seems to have picked up the possibility of a new NIE being developed. Sadly, bluffs from Israeli officials are not unknown with respect to Iran. They have been saying for at least a decade that Iran is on the verge of having a nuclear weapon and that they must attack. Is this an attempt to force out a report that Barack believes exists? Or an attempt to put a justification for the attack he’d like to make into people’s minds?

What is Barak’s motive?
It’s bad form to leak an ally’s intelligence. It’s also bad form to make up stuff about an ally’s intelligence. Either one is likely to irritate said ally, and it’s hard to believe that Israel’s various actions since Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the United States in the spring hasn’t done some of that anyway. Ottomans and Zionists reminds us that not too long ago, the American intelligence community identified Israel as its number one counterintelligence threat.

During the spring visit, President Obama said that he “had his back” and that he “doesn’t bluff.” Many took this to mean that America would attack Iran at some point or help Israel in that enterprise. But look at Obama’s words carefully. They can be interpreted to mean an attack, and they certainly lean in that direction. But he does not speak of an attack. He also warns Israel against “a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim.”

What if Obama promised Netanyahu in private much, much more conditional support than most commentaters have inferred? The two nations’ “red lines” are different: Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons for the US, and the much more nebulous “zone of immunity” for Israel. It’s clear from that interview and subsequent events that the US insists on pursuing negotiations and sanctions before any attack can be justified, and it’s also clear from Thursday’s statements that the US believes that there is time to continue that direction.
What if Obama told Netanyahu that any attack on Iran before the US red line is reached will receive no support from the US? The US has not always supported Israel’s wars. In 1956, the US opposed the plan of the UK, France, and Israel to take control of the recently-nationalized canal.

There seem to be two people who want a war with Iran: Netanyahu and Barak.

Did Barak think he could smoke out a report or encourage war hawks in the administration to get behind it? This administration doesn’t have many war hawks, and there has been little of this kind of stepping out of line. It’s possible that Barak could have misjudged or simply overplayed his hand.

Emptywheel takes this to be a straightforward leak to and by Israel, a laundering of another accusation toward Iran in a runup to war. In other words, the US and Israel are in collusion. But she admits that the later US rebuttal doesn’t make sense in that context. I think there is one way that it might, and that would be to make the US look like a bystander if Israel is about to bomb Iran. That interpretation still puts the US in the position of undercutting Israel, though.

Could Barak’s outburst be a Crazy Nixon ploy? Is he, in other words, trying to show Obama that he will leak classified information, do anything, in order to pave the way for an attack on Iran? And, incidentally, show the Iranians and everyone else that he’s about to attack? The continuing bluffing that Israel has indulged in means that subsequent bluffs have to be stronger. The problem with a Crazy Nixon ploy is that it is Israel that will be hurt in a war of its own making, through both Iran’s retaliation and world opinion.

There is a ring of desperation to Ehud Barak’s actions over the last week. A leader who was confident that the US would unconditionally back Israel in a strike against Iran would not have to cite secret (and perhaps nonexistent) reports. He would coordinate and act. The desperation seems to imply that no longer-range plan for a joint attack on Iran exists. Such a plan could be used to pressure for action behind the scenes.

The Times of Israel reported yesterday that Netanyahu and Barak are days away from deciding to attack (as they have been in the past). Today the same newspaper reports a speech by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which he says that all the talk of an attack “contribute nothing to our ability to deal with the threat that Iran poses for Israel.” Haaretz likewise plays down the need for war.

So the back-and-forth continues. The noise out of Israel is likely to make negotiations harder and increases the possibility of a misstep.

I wrote this up a day or so ago. Here are some further links on this story.

Ben Caspit is getting tired of the empty bluster, but you wouldn't know that from Jodi Rudoren's piece in the NYT. Looks like Rudoren is going for the Judy Miller Award.

Plus, it looks like American rhetoric is being dialed up:
“This is an irresponsible and unprecedented act,” said an American official. “Something like this has never happened…that secret intelligence would be revealed either deliberately or unintentionally to the media. It’s exceedingly rare that a defense minister of a U.S. ally would speak out to the media about the existence of such a report, and bring forth details from it in order to advance his own political agenda.”
Thanks to Steve Hynd for e-mail/Twitter conversations, which are why this post appeared first at The Agonist. It's also at Nuclear Diner.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Bibi Netanyahu tells Ban Ki-Moon how to do his job.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Just Wondering

Fareed Zakaria's being accused of plagiarism and apologizing for it brings a related question to my mind.

There are lots of Big Names who appear on television, write books and columns, maintain Facebook pages and tweet every twenty minutes. How much of that do they themselves do?

I blog, tweet, maintain a few conversations on Facebook and via e-mail, and have several other things to keep me busy, some involving writing. I produce one or two blog posts on a good day and perhaps a dozen tweets, including retweets.

Are the Big Names producing all the material that has their Big Names on it? Could overworked interns be part of the plagiarism problem?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Bits and Pieces - August 9, 2012

Most of the noise takes place on the anniversary of the atom bombing of Hiroshima. Today is the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.

What would happen if a Tea Party-oriented militia took over an American town?

Mitt Romney, Tzipi Livni has something to tell you about the Palestinians.

Why the Iran oil sanctions are biting.

Turkey's relations with Iran are cooling.

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the United States has a highly classified report, possibly a National Intelligence Estimate, on Iran that backs up what Israel has been saying. Divulging the existence of such a report is forbidden, and it's extremely bad form for a supposed ally to speak so publicly. Or it's possible that Barak is lying in an attempt to put yet more pressure on the Obama administration. The Israelis have made so many claims about Iran for the last decade that it's hard to tell. Whether there really is a report or not, this doesn't increase US government love for Israel.

Update: Here's the US rebuttal. No change in evaluation that Iran is nowhere near having a nuclear weapon.

In other news, here's James Hansen's latest paper.

Thought Experiment

Let's say that a Sikh nationalist attacked a suburban Milwaukee Baptist church on a Sunday morning, killing six people and wounding a number of others, including a cop who was trying to rescue the wounded. Let's also say that said Sikh nationalist, who had to be killed during the action, was a member of two rock bands that composed music putting forth his group's racist views. He was also active on message boards advocating the ethnic superiority of Sikhs and the development of private militias. He had amassed the usual armory in his apartment. He had been trained in firearm and explosives handling.

What would the news look like today?

Extra credit: Substitute Muslim for Sikh in the paragraph above.

How it works for right-wing extremist groups.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Mathematical Set Theory, Please, Boing Boing

Maggie Koerth-Baker pens a very long post in Boing Boing to opine on what she thinks Christian fundamentalists have against set theory. She admits that her knowledge of set theory comes from classes in anthropological linguistics, which, the last time I looked, wasn't mathematics. It's mathematical set theory that the Christianists are opposed to, and Koerth-Baker cites the reason:

"Unlike the "modern math" theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute....A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory." —
She slogs through some of her old textbooks and struggles with the multiplicity of infinities and figures that infinity has something to do with God and all, so that must be what the Christianists deplore. But it's simpler than that.

Mathematical sets are nice neat little things, the finite variety anyway, and the infinite ones aren't much messier. But we can just look at the "arbitrary and relative" finite sets to see that their laws are not "a creation of God and thus absolute."

A mathematical set contains numbers or number-like objects and operations. The choice of both is (somewhat) "arbitrary and relative," in that you have a finite number of objects in the set, chosen by the set's maker (not God), unlike the infinite natural numbers and the infinite number of fractional and irrational numbers between integers. The operations are also chosen by the set's maker (not God). So you could construct a set in which 3 times 5 does not equal 5 times 3. It's all in the definitions.

So you have these odd little (and sometimes infinite) number systems in which things don't go according to intuition, presumably God-given and absolute in fundamentalists' minds. But sets show us the internal workings of mathematics, and they are useful for a variety of things, many pretty abstract. I've always looked at them as fun games and small laboratory experiments.

But definitely not God-given.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Bits and Pieces - August 6, 2012

Nation's sane people to nation's insane people: "Please stop shooting us." Apparently that's too much to ask. Is there commentary that the Sikhs should have been armed and shot the guy down, or doesn't that apply to brown people? And, um, gun control.

Speaking of people who are trying to kill us, Felix Salmon looks at a graph of crazy computer trading and comes around to believing that we need a financial-transactions tax to stop this insanity.

I posted a link the other day to Bradley Strawser's views on drone warfare. Strawser says the Guardian got him wrong in several ways.

Long article by Frank Pabian and Sig Hecker on a possible North Korean nuclear test and related matters. Back in the spring, when everyone was excited about the possibility of a test, I figured that there wouldn't be one. On another topic entirely, I've been saying to friends that I think an Obama landslide in November is a distinct possiblity. Now Michael Tomasky agrees with me. I need to start saying my more outrageous thoughts on this blog. And yeah, I know they don't count if I didn't post them. None but those two just now.

Curiosity and the Future of Space Exploration

The Curiosity team did it! Curiosity Rover landed safely on Mars and sent back a photo. The landing sequence was extremely complex and had to be controlled from the spacecraft because the transit time for signals between Earth and Mars is too long for the ground crew to control it.

This success was the product of a NASA team. NASA oversaw the project and contracted parts out to many organizations.

But we have continued to privatize government functions, and so there is an insistence on "privatizing" the Space Station. NASA does the preparatory, money-losing work, and then private industry moves in to take the profits, which seem to be primarily from rich people who want yet another thrill. Of course, the "privatization" will be on government money
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) today won a $440 million contract with NASA to develop the successor to the Space Shuttle and transport American astronauts into space.
SpaceX has docked a craft with the Space Station. So maybe they can do this. Anyone want to bet that they will find that they need more money to do it?

And then there's Kickstarter and SkyCube, a much more modest project. Send in your ten bucks to get a piece of it!

It may be a good thing to have multiple funding models for space projects. But NASA and the government have really succeeded with Curiosity.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Bits and Pieces - August 2, 2012

I am loathe to get into the arguments on drones. It seems to me that killing fewer people with a more precisely targeted drone is better than wiping out a town with a less-precise missile. There are issues of responsibility - who makes the kill decision and how that fits into the conduct of war - and of tactics - whether it's a smart thing to do in a particular situation. I'd like to see more discussion on the subject. I'm pretty close to this guy in my thinking.

I agree with Stephen Walt: this seems like a really bad idea.

And, speaking of desensitization, I find these photos desensitizing, although their maker is trying to make a point about desensitization. And a photoshopped version of a famous Far Side cartoon that they reminded me of.

I don't have much sympathy for Jonah Lehrer. I didn't realize, until a friend pointed it out to me this week, that Lehrer wrote this article, which, upon my first reading, seemed like one of the dumbest I had ever read in the New Yorker. More here from someone who actually dealt with him. Look guys (I use the term advisedly), there are plenty more smart people out there, some of them female. Give them a chance and let Lehrer find a nice job proofreading or maybe teaching science in a private school.

A photo tour of some of the Manhattan Project sites that may become part of a national park. Mostly Oak Ridge and Hanford.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Bits and Pieces - August 1, 2012

Surveillance makes all sorts of animals crabby. I've really wanted to photograph the curve-billed thrashers in my yard, and now I've got one. The birdcam is an automatic camera that I set in strategic locations. The thrasher is sitting on the birdbath.

Roger Cohen's review of Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup, by Christopher de Bellaigue, is one of the more helpful things I've read in understanding Iran. Probably should read de Bellaigue's book, too.

A map of Poland and the Baltic States in 1920. Some insights there, too, on why Latvia has been less successful than its neighbors. The Treaty of Tartu, signed between Finland and Estonia on one side and the Soviet Union on the other, was concluded in October 1920, and moved the boundary further east on the south side of Lake Peipus. The map may have been published earlier.

How about a hotline telephone between Washington and Tehran?

I'm not going to do a lot of campaigning. Regular readers know I'm going to vote for President Obama in November. But David Rothkopf nails what Mitt Romney needs to do after his awful foreign trip.