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    Its Biden

    For anyone who was listening to the web rumors last week, the selection of Joe Biden as Obama’s VP came as no surprise.  Perhaps news had leaked out through some lower-level staffer, but the buzz has been humming Biden’s name for at least the last five days.  Let’s hope that similar rumors about McCain and Lieberman are thoroughly baseless.

    Was it a mistake not to pick Hillary?  Politically, I think that it was.  Hillary would have solidified his support among Democrats and pulled in her share of independents, and given the ticket an insurmountable sense of inevitability.  But Obama could probably not have trusted Hillary to be a low-key and subservient vice-president.  It remains to be seen whether Obama will pay for the arrogance of planning his presidency before winning the election.

    The word on the street is that Biden has a Hawkish foreign-policy record backed by long experience in the Senate.  Supposedly, this will shore up Obama’s perceived weakness as an inexperienced quasi-pacifist liberal.  But in choosing Biden, Obama, commits himself to drawing a harsher portrait of himself – demonstrating a little bit more fire in challenging America’s enemies in Afghanistan, Russia, or wherever.

    McCain’s job now, will be to attack Obama for his latest image makeover.  He will argue that Biden’s hawkish stance is inconsistent with the softer, friendlier, “new” politics that Obama had been promising heretofore.  He will also have to widen his attack to the effect that Obama is an empty, plastic politician, pleasant to watch, but ultimately a substanceless and calculating man who projects what he thinks the people want to see, rather than what he believes.

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    Point 5 of the Ceasefire agreement:

    Russian military forces must withdraw to the lines prior to the start of hostilities. While awaiting an international mechanism, Russian peacekeeping force will implement additional security measures

    I think it is clear by now that the fifth point has been interpreted into near meaninglessness by Russian forces.  Russia has repeatedly lied about plans to pull out of Georgia – since perhaps August 17, the Russians have promised that the next day would be their last in Georgian territory.  Some officials now laughably suggest that it may take “weeks” to remove forces that invaded in a few days.  Announcements with specific details of Russia’s future plans appear to indicate an “occupation-lite”.

    News stories on the conflict frequently have a line about how

    Russia and Georgia signed a French-brokered, six-point cease-fire agreement last weekend that allows Russian forces to establish a buffer zone inside Georgia within a few kilometers of South Ossetia.

    But this seems to not be quite the case.  The ceasefire, as far as I can tell, contains only the six points that were noted earlier.  Russia merely claims a right to maintain troop patrols in previously designated ceasefire zones – and wherever the hell it wants to outside those zones – ignoring that doing so conflicts with at least the spirit of the current ceasefire agreement.

    Why is Russia dragging its feet?  Perhaps it hopes that it can implement a Larry Craig-style agreement with the world: promise to repent and reform until the media loses its interest.  Or maybe Russia hopes that a prolonged withdrawal, or marginal occupation, will undermine the Saakashvili government until it falls, restoring a pro-Russian administration and justifying a longer stay in the region.  Maintaining egregiously illegal posts within Russia will certainly provoke violence, and if Georgia or citizens acting independently try to remove the checkpoints, Russia will certainly take it as a violation of the ceasefire.

    The US and Europe need to put far more pressure on Russia than exists now.  I’m not sure what can seriously be done.  Kicking Russia out of the G-8 is constantly bandied about.  I would suggest a high-profile ambassador to the region, someone who can scream at Russia and keep the media spotlight on their duplicity.  Some sort of economic sanctions need to be talked up at least to prod Russia into action.  And absolutely, we need to implement the “international mechanism” that will deny the Russians a legitimate role as “peacekeepers” in the region.

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    Nonsense Continues

    A few days ago I predicted that there would be problems implementing point 4 of the ceasefire agreement.  Well apparently Russia agrees.

    Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said NATO’s accusations were “biased.”

    Lavrov said NATO was taking the side of Georgia, whose forces he said had failed to withdraw to their barracks.

    “They blame us as if there were no requirements for the Georgian side in the six points” of the cease-fire agreement, he said. “I mean the requirements to bring back their troops to the places where they are on a permanent basis.”

    Wow.  I wish I had the full comment in front of me so I could figure out what exactly he is talking about.  Is he upset that Georgian troops have not yet returned to their positions on the fronts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, clearly impossible so long as Russians soldiers occupy the northern half of Georgia?  Or perhaps the complaint is that the Georgians are violating the ceasefire by taking up defensive positions around Tblisi, not their “permanent bases”.  Chutzpah indeed, if Russia is actually pointing to this as a punishable violation of the ceasefire.

    Point 4 of the ceasefire is obviously intended to deny Georgian troops the right to occupy Abkhazia or South Ossetia.  Russia’s complaints betray its eagerness to occupy Georgia. It is grasping at straws for a justification that the west will accept.  It isn’t going to find one.

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    Fuse Riddle

    This is one of my favorite problem solving riddles; most of my friends have probably already heard me ask it. Since only my friends, at best, read this space, posting it is obviously just a bid to get a little content up. But here goes!

    You have two fuses (they look like pieces of string) that are rated to burn from end to end in 30 minutes. The fuses are perfectly accurate, but because of their strange construction, they do not necessarily burn evenly from one end to the other. For example, a fuse may burn a tenth of the way through in the first twenty minutes, and then the remaining nine tenths in the last ten minutes. Or it could burn evenly through – you can’t know for sure. Given two of these fuses and a box of matches, how could you time exactly 45 minutes? Note that you aren’t trying to detonate any bombs, you’re just trying to measure a span of time!

    Feel free to post answers in the comments. And no, the answer doesn’t involve a watch.

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    Discouraging Ceasefire

    The current ceasefire regime has proved pretty toothless so far. The six points agreement are:

    1. No recourse to the use of force
    2. Definitive cessation of hostilities
    3. Free access to humanitarian aid
    4. Georgian military forces must withdraw to their normal bases of encampment.
    5. Russian military forces must withdraw to the lines prior to the start of hostilities. While awaiting an international mechanism, Russian peacekeeping force will implement additional security measures
    6. Opening of international discussions on the modalities of lasting security in Abkhazia and South Ossetia

    Point number 5 is the most confusing. Assumedly, the grant of authority to Russia to “implement additional security measure” was intended to refer only to the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia already had existing “peacekeeping” operations. But since signing the ceasefire, Russian troops have remained in central Georgia conducting “clean-up” operations.

    A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said troops will not completely withdraw from Georgian territory until they have finished cleaning up ammunition, weapons and booby traps left behind by Georgian forces.

    In other words, in implementing the ceasefire, Russia will continue to dismantle Georgia’s military and possibly civil infrastructure. This is not looking like a good-faith cessation of hostilities. I’m guessing that there are going to be obstacles across the board.  When Georgia tries to implement the fourth point of the agreement Russia will likely dispute where Georgia’s “normal bases” are, and the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are likely to creep outward.

    There doesn’t seem to be a ready solution to this crisis.  The annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia into the democratic government of Georgia are now on indefinite hold, perhaps impossible.  The best the west can probably do is press for the Russian “peacekeeping” forces to be replaced by a sizable neutral (eastern European?) force.  Hopefully this can check Russian manipulation of the regions’ politics and put up a bit of a buffer on the border.  We’ll see if Russia is willing to entertain that subject.

    But thats about all that we can do – or at least are willing to do.  Perhaps the reason that our press and military is so reluctant to challenge Russia’s current “ceasefire” behavior is that doing so would only demonstrate how little control over the situation the US has.

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    Bad Analogies

    In an apparent attempt to explain why America is still a greater evil than Russia, Andrew Sullivan writes,

    Just imagine if the press were to discover a major jail in Gori, occupied by the Russians, where hundreds of Georgians had been dragged in off the streets and tortured and abused? What if we discovered that the orders for this emanated from the Kremlin itself? And what if we had documentary evidence of the ghastliest forms of racist, dehumanizing, abusive practices against the vulnerable as the standard operating procedure of the Russian army – because the prisoners were suspected of resisting the occupying power?

    Making, of course, an analogy to Abu Ghraib.

    But for all we know, Russia is doing all these things to activists, rebels, and dissidents across Russia. There is little freedom of press in Russia, and dissenters are frequently jailed. In Russia, if you did have evidence of appalling prison abuses, you would do well to keep them to yourself, lest you join the inmates.

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    Happy Olympics

    In the spirit of the Olympics, and in order to test my ability to embed YouTube videos in my blog, I’d like to present to you a video of one of my favorite Olympic moments – the Mens 800m run from the 1972 Munich Summer Games.


    UPDATE: Look, it works!

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    Red Background

    I changed the background from black to red and the site is looking a little less dismal. I’m liking it for now, but I may give up on the current default-based layout for some other design.

    UPDATE: Hmmm, is it too bright?  I keep setting it darker, but that road ends back in black.

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    I’ve got it stuck in my head that if I just get the right theme on the blog, that I’ll be finally ready to start regular updates. This is probably nonsense, but I updated the blog yesterday to WordPress 2.6 and also downloaded a few themes. I’m thinking of playing around with the delight or antique themes.

    I’m wary of blogs with too much white in the background – probably silly as my favorite blog is the quite bright Volokh Conspiracy. But my current background is definitely too dark – the black parts especially. If you’d like to find a nice WordPress theme for me to modify, you can take a look here. Whatever I end up with, I’m going to keep the current Commentarius banner in one form or another.