An Afghanistan Echo from 1986

In all the hubbub over Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s disastrous Rolling Stone profile which sparked an international furor today, I notice there hasn’t been time yet for most Beltway armchair analysts to focus on the article’s actual depiction of the state of American policy in Afghanistan.

To sum up: grim.  The quotes from McChrystal’s team reinforce the assessment – there’s little confidence on display. (Here’s the full article in pdf, it’s worth the read.)  As the RS article’s last lines put it: “There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word “victory” when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.”

Is that an unfair assessment, too bleak? I’ve been a fairly consistent supporter of the Afghanistan war since the inception, but even I was struck that a “senior military official in Kabul” is quoted in the article saying: “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here.”  So even hypothesized success of McChrystal’s current surge would result in more troops, not less, heading for the fight – a decade in. 

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Fighting Social Ills with Social Media

This week I’m traveling in Mexico as part of a unique State Department delegation, bringing American social-media professionals together with Mexican public and private efforts working on building civic society. In particular, the trip is focused on bolstering civic participation efforts aimed at countering the enormous spike in narco-violence in Mexico, including the state of Chihuahua, whose capital Ciudad Juarez we visited on Monday and Tuesday.  I’m joined on the trip by colleagues from Facebook, Google, AT&T, MIT Media Lab, and several other leading social-media professionals. Continue reading

Libyan Strongman Ditches Government, Keeps Female Bodyguards

qaddafi-lion-of-the-desertWell, Muammar Qaddafi’s back in the news.  I know you were wondering what was up with him. After all, according to his Wikipedia bio the dashing desert prince is now the world’s longest-serving head of government (thanks, Fidel!).

The U.S. electorate may have just taken a turn to the left, with even George W. Bush sanctioning a massively larger role for government through the Wall Street bailout. But I was tipped today by an astute observer (she’s @krbstr on Twitter) that Qaddafi has announced a breathtakingly libertarian plan “to distribute the proceeds of oil wealth directly to the people and abolish government ministries,” according to a Financial Times story (“Qaddafi Debate Signals Change“). More below on the controversial proposal, but first a personal note.

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The Nimitz Class Data Center?

Just an observation: We were discussing this week with a Navy 3-star the status of Microsoft’s work in mega-data-centers.  We brought up the combined-container strategy we’re using and how this provides a hyper-flexible platform for large data center scenarios, in obvious ways – lots of computational power available for web-scale hosting or anything smaller. 

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Is It Even Possible to Connect the Dots?

FACT: Among the inspired ideas of polymath Danny Hillis (pioneer of parallel computing) was establishing the Long Now Foundation, whose projects include the millennial Long-Now Clock (“the world’s slowest computer”) and the notion of “Long Bets.”  A Long Bet is an “accountable prediction,” meaning one that has a specified end-date and a testable, wagerable, proposition.  One of the early Long Bets posted wagers $2,000 that “By 2020, no one will have won a Nobel Prize for work on superstring theory, membrane theory, or some other unified theory describing all the forces of nature.”  That particular bet is one of many signs of scientific skepticism about string theory.

ANALYSIS: Even without the ease of hyperlinks, old-fashioned newspapers foster serendipitous connections between articles, particularly if you’re reading a Sunday morning paper with lots of sections. Sunday the Washington Post did me a service by placing in different sections a couple of articles which I connected, about intelligence “failures” and about stock-market prediction, leading me to some web-surfing about the questionable validity of string theory and some related observations about the difficulty of predicting human behavior.

In the Outlook section, the Post has an opinionated and thought-provoking op-ed piece by Mark Lowenthal, one of the most “intelligent” individuals in the recent history of the U.S. intelligence community (after all, he was the 1988 Jeopardy grand champion, as well as a former assistant director of CIA).

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