Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Drawing NZ’s national security strategy

What does drawing have to do with geopolitics? To outline the machinery of the world system one must discard symbols and draw what one can see - to perceive things correctly - and focus on the shape of the negative space.

If I were to draw a person, I would draw a circle, then two smaller eye ovals, a triangular nose, and double line for a mouth, then tubes for arms and legs. That’s probably why all my drawings look like they belong on a refrigerator. A book by Betty Edwards titled The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain explains why my eyes are probably working fine - it’s the cognitive shortcuts ruining the figures.

Mrs Edwards calls this the "tyranny of the symbol system," because it dictates the strokes, forcing the hand to draw symbols instead of what is seen. Her more nuanced point isn't simply that people draw using these symbols, they perceive their entire world this way. They don’t see the shape of a head because it was never important to do so. The symbol of a head - the cognitive shortcut - is drawn instead.

Drawing what we see requires practice. The aim is to perceive things correctly: without the aid of symbols. The first lesson is to draw something upside down. Focus on the lines, not what you think the object is. Notice how a face becomes a series of shades, patchwork and curves under the pencil.

And when drawing a chair, the mind focuses on the shape. Since the drawing is 2D, negative space predicts the spaces between the chair are just as real. One should be able to draw a chair by sketching everything else except the chair. It forces the artist to concentrate on the shape and contents of the negative space.

What does it have to do with New Zealand’s geopolitics? Right now, this country’s foreign policy establishment is organising New Zealand’s first National Security Strategy. It may come as a surprise the government hasn’t already been operating from such a structure, but that’s not the most insightful question.

Instead, consider how it was possible New Zealand made it to 2016 without such a strategy. Assume the lack is the negative space, around which the edges of the physical object become observed. The object coming into view can be described as the pile of default assumptions about the existence of New Zealand as a nation state. There are many, but one object is more important than the rest, and it is rarely discussed. Draw what you see.

The establishment concentrates on how New Zealand must create an independent foreign policy, from the bottom up, in which the interests of this country are supported. It asks how New Zealand can cooperate with its South Pacific neighbours or include itself within the rules-based international community, among other goals. All of which are the default, unquestioned building blocks for this security strategy.

But this is like starting a 100m running race at the 70m mark and forgetting how to ask why this is possible. Almost every high-level policy paper places New Zealand’s economic health front and centre. It has gotten to the point where the security strategy itself is subordinate to the maintenance of trade ties. This is not a bad thing, but it is a priority decision which could only be made in a state of luxury not afforded to most other countries.

The negative space reveals why New Zealand has survived for so long without a written strategy. The object at the edges is the US Navy. The US may be hated for its actions around the world, but every day on the world’s oceans its tireless fleets conduct patrols keeping open the sea lines of trade and communication for every country to use without concern for security. It does this quietly and without fanfare.

New Zealand, possessing one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones in the world and a tiny population of just over four million, simply does not have the resources to maintain these sea lines of communication by itself. Or, put another way, if it did spend money on such a project, it wouldn’t be able to support its present population size.

This country is rich because it can spend an inordinate amount of money on investment and infrastructure. The US stations tens of thousands of troops in South Korea, Germany and Japan as well. Those countries are now some of the richest in the world precisely because they do not need to fund a strong military to defend their interests. The US does that for them.

Draw what you see. In drafting New Zealand’s National Security Strategy, Wellington should practice painting the lines and shading to avoid the distracting cognitive shortcuts. It may be tough for a young and impetuous country to realise it isn’t independent after all, but no matter how poorly the picture is drawn, the object always exists. And it exists in only one form.

A strategy which doesn’t begin from the assumption that Washington’s will is the underlying force guiding all of New Zealand’s foreign policy decisions - as London was before it - is either naive or arrogant. One can hate the object or love it, but the object remains. New Zealand can wiggle belligerently within the boundaries set by the US military but ultimately cannot create its own box. It would be folly to try.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Sitrep - 24 August, 2016

This week, China launched an “ultra-secure” and “uncrackable” communications satellite into orbit to prepare for experiments. Beijing hopes its Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) system will be the first of a constellation of communications satellites by 2030 all using quantum entanglement communications technology.

A few days later, the Russian space agency announced it too had launched a similar satellite. Quantum communications relies on a theory of physics in which two small particles are “entangled,” meaning they share the same properties. When one particle is measured its corresponding particle’s position is instantly known, so when coupled with a binary code it could facilitate instantaneous communication and extremely powerful computation.

However, the technology is not proven, which is why China’s experiments are important. If they are successful, the technology could create unbreakable communication, so although few details are known, it is likely the US has a similar programme. China’s long-term funding for such expensive projects could also be in doubt as the gigantic economy slows.

The past week also highlights Syria’s conflict, now in its fifth year. US F-22 jets intercepted Syrian fighter-bombers in the northeast of the country after the aircraft targeted Kurdish rebel forces in the region. At the time, the Kurds were being trained by US special forces, who reportedly radioed for assistance. The intercept was the closest the US has come to directly engaging in the civil war.

The Islamic State (IS) is showing concern for its hold on Syria’s seventh-largest city of Deir ez-Zor by reinforcing the town. Regime troops still hold an airbase on the outskirts, which has been surrounded for two years, but rebel and Kurdish groups are slowly advancing on the city. If IS loses the city, it will be sliced in two, separating its de-facto capital of Raqqa from Mosul in Iraq. IS must be expected to fight hard to keep Deir ez-Zor.

Meanwhile, regime troops pushed back a recent rebel counteroffensive which hoped to break the siege on the northwestern city of Aleppo. The commercial hub was surrounded by regime forces earlier in August but small rebel pockets in the city still persist. Although rebel groups have shown unusual unity in defending the city, Russian airstrikes supporting a reinvigorated regime advance give President Bashar al Assad the upper hand in the fight.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

A humble remedy for a world falling apart

Maybe those whining about the world falling apart in 2016 are on to something. The sentiment suggests plenty of friction in the world system, which is bad, because friction leads to war.

The large cogs of the world system are showing signs of strain. True, the US goal of worldwide democracy is still on course. The few countries not yet following post-Christian liberal democracy are slowly turning to the light. But it’s becoming clear the fundamentals of democracy are incompatible with the demands of global empire. One (or hopefully both) will buckle eventually.

Exacerbating all this is the internet, which is as disruptive as the discovery of the New World was for Europe. The internet changes what it means to be powerful. Some say it is akin to the invention of language itself, given its effect on human cognition. But in either case, the technology is dissolving the very concept of the nation state – the building block of the world system since 1648.

Peering a little lower still, 3D-printing introduces another new disruption. The 20th century’s great invention was containerisation which birthed globalisation. In 2012, there were over 20 million intermodal shipping containers in the world. Now, 3D-printing could be reversing globalisation by making it possible to create products at home, at any time.

Brexit and the fragmented Middle East are two data points shrinking globalisation further. Rather than coalesce, Europe is splintering again. The 19th century historian Jacob Burkhardt once observed that Europe was safe so long as she was not unified, and we can see exactly what he meant. So long as a splintered Europe adopts a better governance model, it will be fine.

What might that model look like? And might it fix this “falling apart” phenomenon? I want to paint the broad brushstrokes of a possible replacement model. While it's not my idea, I've tweaked it a bit here. The idea is a mix of modern inventions with an old government structure which was, for some silly reason, discarded in favour of the broken concept of liberal democracy.

The model centres on the reinvigoration of city-states. A casual reading of history seems to show the world abandoning the idea in favour of the nation-state. Indeed, the world is riddled with nation states. It would be a mistake, however, to assume city-states are an inferior concept, they simply went out of fashion. Not because of poor governance, but due to the invention of artillery and the invention of the scourge of world-eating ideologies – such as liberal democracy.

Containerisation and the internet are signs that a global lattice of tens or hundreds of thousands of sovereign and independent city-states, each governed by its own joint-stock corporation not beholden to its citizens’ opinions or whims, is a far better model for this connected world.

Human civilisation seems to work much better in times where it is most politically divided. Think of Ancient Greece, medieval Italy (where city-states flourished), Europe until 1914, China in the Spring and Autumn Period, Mesoamerica before Europeans and so on. Centrifugal force is a constant in history. Fragmentation is best. Small is best. Local is best. Different is best. These are historical axioms. Lessons barely worth expounding due to their obviousness.

To accommodate these axioms, the lattice can include any number of city-states, the more the merrier. The key is the conservation of sovereignty. The property of each city-state is its concern only, no one else’s. Friction generally occurs when one group of people feel threatened by neighbours. After all, no one goes to war because they want to, they go to war because they have to. So removing threats of invasion evaporates a huge chunk of friction. An unalloyed good.

The kernel of truth in democracy is its deference to personal opinion and balancing millions of these differing opinions. In global lattice, the only voting that people will do is with their feet. They sign bilateral contracts with a sovereign, and if the city-state no longer satisfies, the citizen can simply leave. But change the city-state’s rules? No chance. Democracy is the problem, not solution.

Business readers will already be painting the path ahead. Governance by joint-stock is obvious, the details flow easily from here. Historian Niall Ferguson says the joint-stock corporation is one of the most important human inventions, and in this model it helps avoid the lattice becoming the old feudal system. The feudal model didn’t work well then, and it certainly won’t work now.

Rather, the joint-stock corporation model ensures leaders are chosen based on their ability to maximise profits. The city-state will create rules to take every advantage of its real estate’s resources, and if a citizen doesn’t like those rules they can leave. With those constraints, any good CEO will organise around the imperative of minimising this exile. What other way is there to survive?

The entire model pivots on ensuring security. In a modern democracy security and liberty are sold as of equal worth. It aims to balance between the two, often erring on the side of liberty. But this is a terrible model of governance, a downward-spiralling feedback loop. If a person has ever felt unsafe on their own street, this is why.

In this global lattice, there is no such thing as too secure. Police don’t steal iPhones. Security and liberty should not be in balance, because security should always win. A successful joint-stock corporation needs to be secure. And since city-states will compete for business on the basis of customer service, public safety must be prioritised. Maybe one of the city-states will find a way to incorporate criminals for maximum profit. There’s always more rocks to be smashed.

Actually, this space is not nearly large enough to explain this model. A slight miscalculation. Never mind, these are broad brushstrokes. The goal is to remove friction, accept the trend towards fragmentation, understand the power of technology and discard the dream of democracy. Is this a better model for governance? In comparison to the present system, it certainly is.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Sitrep - 17 August, 2016

Winston Churchill once described Russian politics in the following way: “Kremlin political intrigues are comparable to a bulldog fight under a rug. An outsider only hears the growling, and when he sees the bones fly out from beneath it is obvious who won.” Mr Churchill’s observations do little to help understand the strange movements in Russia this week.

First, Russian President Vladimir Putin moved his long-time aide Sergei Ivanov to a lower position. It was the latest in a string of purges, many of whom have been replaced by his personal bodyguards. The removals show the Russian leader is concerned about becoming a target of his network of oligarchs and spies, who are increasingly feeling Mr Putin may not be the best man for the job. But his purges are haphazard, showing he doesn’t know where the threat might emerge.

Second, Mr Putin continued his patching efforts with Turkey by offering to compel Armenia – a long-time Russian proxy – to return parts of contested territory to its rival Azerbaijan – a long-time proxy of Turkey. The offer will please Turkey and help disrupt US plans to contain Russia by bringing Russia closer to Turkey. Turkey seems open to this political overture, the question is for how long.

Third, media claimed Ukrainian Special Forces attacked Russian-held Crimea, while a S-400 anti-air missile system was reportedly set up in the territory. Also, unconfirmed reports suggested a Russian brigade entered rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine while Russian military exercises continue in the region. All of this looks like preparations for war.

So not only is Russia appearing worried, and acting eccentrically, it is difficult to tell whether those movements are calculated or incoherent. Once again, though, Mr Putin managed to distract attention away from Russia’s struggling economy and paint his country as a legitimate and functioning state. But whatever is happening, whether it is true aggression or simple bluff, will be seen in due course.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Try and start a riot by begging for more

I hear publishers all the time saying: “we should listen to what readers want.” But that’s flawed logic. Here’s where I come out: readers don’t know what they want to read. How can they?

From the first day a person begins to read words, they were told what to think. Unless you work very hard to figure out new ways of thinking for yourself, the details and edges of your entire world have been painted by someone else. And in the modern world, it is only the media's palette. If people say they want cat pictures, ask whether did they came up with that themselves. Of course they didn't. They saw the idea somewhere on a news site or webpage. When people say they want more politics, did they come up with that idea themselves? Again, no. The whole concept of politics is delivered by the media as a THING to talk about. It is introduced to their minds in a specific way until the person actually believes she invented the idea herself – “I love cat pictures” or “I'm a National supporter.” People are sheep, desiring to be led. The media's job is to lead.

In fact, I think this is the heart of what’s killing newspapers. Journalists and publishers have no idea why they exist. No idea what the mainstream media is for. No clue what their role  is within a society their industry created. They honestly think their job is to “find the truth” or “deliver news,” when actually, a journalist’s job is to shape public opinion. It is to write in a specific way which discusses some things but purposefully doesn’t discuss other things.

For instance, you can vote for either Clinton or Trump – and the media will yell and scream about both to keep you watching/listening/reading. That is the framing. Understand how this is framed. Consider that what the media cannot talk about is whether voting is a good idea AT ALL. Or whether we should have a leader in the first place. Or if the concept of a nation state should be maintained or swapped for something else. Those are all assumed by the framing. They constitute the default assumption. This is what a "conversation" looks like when journalism does its job correctly (maintaining the status quo).

If you really want to feel powerless and tricked, try to verbalise the hundreds or thousands of default assumptions buried inside a sentence as seemingly innocuous as: "how high should the tax rate be for a middle-income worker?"

It is not a journalist’s job to tell people what to think, it’s to tell people how to think. What does that mean? Well, when people ask, “what must I consider as truth?” or “what exists?” if a journalist is doing the job correctly, the only answer should be: whatever the media says is the truth or exists.

That’s the process of constructing. And the final construction is a world in which it doesn’t matter what the media is saying, only that the media is saying something. If journalists do this job correctly, the media flourishes. If they do it poorly, we see the problems of today. A journalist’s sole responsibility is to keep the conversation going about what it means to live in a particular society and for that conversation to happen within the streams of media.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Some days it's like the world I see doesn't square with the supporting history and experiences as I know them. Like changing channels in the middle of a movie.

In a way, what we describe as life is what we see, media, shopping malls, etc. If you think about it, those are extensions of other people's minds and experiences. It's of the people who design the products in the stories, the businessmen who fund them, the people who built them and the people who are shopping there. It doesn't square with what I know because, objectively, it isn't what I know. Those things are a projection of other people.

Watching as the cyber world matures

If, as military thinkers believe, the cyber world is a new “domain” of warfare, then the tectonics of this space need outlining. On the internet, every detail and moving part is controlled by the private sector. There are no borders, only users.

One of the key differences between the physical domains and cyber is the lack of a baseline understanding of the latter. The other domains have mountains, waves, winds and solar flares, but in cyber every limiting, “natural” feature is still being organised. Those building its foundations are companies such as Google, and all construction needs materials. In this case, the material is data.

Google claims it wants to do no evil, whatever that means. And yet the company is indexing all files on every user’s computer, reporting it all back to its servers, outlining the tectonic edges. Those servers keep a user’s search history and can tie it to an individual IP address. Google claims to delete the data after a while, but why would it want to keep it in the first place?

It wants every website to feed advertisements because this allows Google not only to keep a person’s search history, but also track them as they hop between sites loading new ads. Google may not do anything with this information now, but once the domain is organised, someone will look at all this data and see potential.

Let me draw a diagram of this tectonic. Everyone has an IP address. Google, through its various software, can send a listing of the contents of any computer tied to that IP address to its servers. Google also tracks search history. As people surf the internet, Google analytics adds the browsing history connected to this IP address to a central database and to everything else that address does.

Anybody can register for Google ads. But if they do, Google can attach the IP address to a person’s real name and possibly to a bank account. Gmail connects indexed IP information to a specific userID, along with an index of all the account’s emails (it scans the emails to deliver ads).

If Google wants to know how much time people spend on computers doing a task its software could be programmed to watch and report. Perhaps Google wants to know what percentage of a hard drive stores photos. It can do that too. If a computer has a webcam, this can be programmed to wait until a person starts typing, then take a picture. Maybe it watches for other website logins, linking those with the existing IP address-indexed information piecing together a picture.

Google doesn't want to index the internet, it wants to index you. Now replace “Google” in the above paragraph with “GCSB.” It is equally concerning when a company spies on people as when the government does. Actually, it’s worse. The New Zealand bill of rights protects a citizen’s rights against the government. The only thing protecting one’s rights against Google is its various terms of service, all of which include the clause those terms can be changed at any time.

So the tectonics are outlined. Just because Google and others haven’t yet linked everything together in a giant database doesn't mean they never will. That information is valuable. And right now, Google is beholden to no one other than shareholders who want the stock to keep rising – good or evil be damned. Consider, though, how a company with this much knowledge about citizens is accruing a serious trove of actual power in all domains, not only cyber.

Google wants to run its code on every computer and webpage in existence. As the domain gets organised, with all its idiosyncrasies, there is some measure of reciprocal benefit for company and user alike. But over the long run, this indexing may not be for user’s benefit. The philosophy underpinning all this is that living in public makes people less likely to be hypocrites.

Of course, this is completely ridiculous. Hypocrisy is part of that unholy trinity – lying, racism, and hypocrisy – that only children care about. What is more interesting is how anathema hypocrisy is perceived to be. So what if someone is a hypocrite? People who want online behaviour to be public do so because they are in the majority and it is the core of Google’s project (but not only Google).

Yet protection from the majority is precisely the reason for privacy. Not putting anything online because someone assumes they are being watched, and its corollary "I've got nothing to hide," are vacuous arguments. The entire appeal of the social internet was its liberation – not only could people be their true selves, they could be anyone. This was made possible due to the difficulty of connecting a virtual identity to one’s real identity.

The Google project – the tectonic outlining – suggests people will live a conforming, repressed life online and in maybe in the physical too. Pushing back the boundaries of freedom requires those on the other side of that boundary pulling it as users push. The struggle for freedom is impossible without this dynamic.

Every black person in front of a 1960's southern bus, every marijuana smoker, every gay couple living under the spectre of sodomy laws is a criminal in the eyes of the law. In order to change laws, justice demands people be protected from enforcement of unjust laws. And that requires privacy.

That our credit, medical and work histories are available to the highest bidder is not a justification to open up the rest of our lives. This situation should be an anomaly demanding correction back to a norm. But what is that norm? How can we know when there is no baseline? As companies organise this new domain the real worry is not Google’s project, but who buys Google.

Sitrep - 10 August, 2016

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump this week reportedly asked his advisors why the US military couldn’t use nuclear weapons against the Islamic State (IS). His question was painted as asinine by the media, and questions about authorisation for using nuclear missiles quickly emerged.

But the utility of nuclear weapons is not widely understood and Mr Trump’s question is apt. Such weapons have only been used twice in combat but have been critical to keeping the peace between major powers for 71 years. The stronger a nuclear weapon, the better it is for deterrence. And the threat of using nuclear weapons is more important than their actual use.

His question about deploying them against IS draws from a classic philosophical heuristic known as the “trolley problem” in which a few people are sacrificed to save many. Such a calculation is a common reality in warfare, but in this case IS is both a state and an idea. And although striking IS might compel it to cease its fighting, it might also invigorate the jihadist narrative. There is too much unknown. Hence why the weapons will likely stay in their silos.

Also in the US, the seven-year late and $US1.5 trillion weapons system called the F-35 Lightening II received clearance for the second of its variants to enter combat operations. While there is still extra testing to be done, and its operations will be limited, the clearance represents a significant military advancement for the US and its allies.

The F-35 will replace four aircraft (F-16, F-18, A-10 and AV-8B) and serve until at least 2070. Due to cost overruns and a drop in planned sales, the airframe is the most expensive weapons system in history. It is the second operational fifth generation fighter aircraft to be built (the first was the F-22 Raptor in 2005). The US will purchase more than 2500, while Australia will buy up to 100 aircraft.

Clearance of the highly capable airframe comes at an important time. Both China and Russia are developing their own fifth generation aircraft, although whether the types are true fifth generation or advanced fourth is largely unknown to the public. Also, recalcitrant states such as Iran have receiving advanced surface-to-air missiles which will limit older aircraft. Nevertheless, the F-35 may be the last manned aircraft to be built as unmanned aerial vehicles develop in capability.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

How to read poetry

Think of a poem as a mystery. The clues are in the mystery, but you have to find the clues to uncover the secret. Here's how to find the clues:

  1. Read in complete sentences, ignore the line breaks.
  2. If the language or structure sounds awkward, it's because the words are often in unusual or wrong order, or the language is old. Rewrite the sentence with the words in proper order.
  3. Read the poem out loud to get the rhyme and meter right, forget about what the poem says, how does it sound? Angry, sad, happy, wistful? Is the beat martial? My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord, or is it slow and slightly inconsistent from one line to the next, "The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,/The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes"

    It's a bit lazy-sounding, almost dreamlike.
  4. Listen for the sound of the words - hard consonants or soft consonants, high or low pitched vowels. Consider:

    I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

    It sounds like a needle scratching the sidewalk, like fast scuttling feet. Compare this to:

    "There will be time, there will be time
    To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
    There will be time to murder and create,
    And time for all the works and days of hands
    That lift and drop a question on your plate;"


    All the 't' sounds are like the ticking of a clock.
  5. Once you have three and four, you have the tone of the poem, the emotion of it. Now read it again (in complete sentences!).
Those are sort of my general rules as I remember them. You'll notice that Prufrock, in particular, doesn't lend itself well to #1 because Eliot has loaded this poem with fragments and run-on sentences. Which in itself tells you something - it meanders, distracted, seemingly random, like a certain character in the poem.

But the poem itself is explained in the first three lines:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;

Let's go, you and I together through to the end of our lives with our minds already doped asleep. The rest of that stanza describes muttering retreats and streets like tedious arguments. Things non-committal, pointless and slightly irritating.

The poem is about a man who has idled away his life on non-committal, polite society, pointless bullshit. His whole life is a muttered retreat. He's not a bad guy, maybe a nice soft guy, but he's of no consequence. When he dies at the end, he drowns - slips under to the murky depths - and not even his body is left as a reminder of his middling life.

Poems are a hard, and it should take a couple of hours to dissect a fairly long poem like Eliot's. The poet agonises over words to convey his meaning, you should do the same to understand him.

Personally, every time I read this poem I get more and more depressed, because every time I read it I'm a little older and little changed

Off the hook

“Off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone. But it is my sincere wish for the young of every future generation to have an opportunity to place a call on a rotary telephone.

There is something deeply satisfying in the heavy whir of the dial as your finger carries it around, and the heartbeat of the pulses ticking in your ears as it spins back into place. It's a device you don't plug into an electrical socket, doesn't require a battery or AC adapter, has no microchips or electronics of any kind and yet it will connect with you someone anywhere else in the world.

The rotary telephone is a reminder that once upon a time, the making of electromechanical devices was a craft, akin to watchmaking or woodworking. Someone machined those brass fittings and the wheels, oiled them, fitted them into the housing, soldered the wires to the ringer and the transformer.

When the youth of some future generation take for granted the technological marvels previous generations designed, I hope something makes them pause to consider how it all began, with the first autonomous electromechanical networked device, the common ancestor of the diversity of species of beeping, buzzing, blinking trinkets.

This is a telephone and it has a number. You spin this dial by an amount corresponding to one of the ten digits in the number you are dialing. As the dial spins back it will quickly connect and immediately disconnect the phone a number of times equal to the digit you dialed. Each disconnect click causes a single wheel in an array of wheels fitted with relays to spin in symphony the same number of times with each wheel corresponding to one of the digits in the number being dialed. The relays will close one after another, connecting through the myriad of combinations of possible circuits, connecting one swtich to another, the signal slitting over copper across countless kilometres, relay after relay, like electric gears clicking and whirring in unison, until somewhere far away a final series of relays spin closed, connecting all the previous connected lines to this final line which corresponds to a number.

And that number belongs to a telephone, and that telephone will ring a bell prompting a person you could not otherwise see or hear to lift the receiver and hear your voice vibrating along impossibly long solid copper cables uttering some variation of that very first call:

"Watson, come here. I want to see you."

Friday, 5 August 2016

Singapore PM's stern reminder: TPP worth more than petty US politics

A new study shows 90% of the investment chapter in the US-Oman trade agreement is located in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), yet no one is complaining on podiums or in newspaper editorials about that deal.

Either anti-TPP crowd is still reading its way through back-catalogues of every US FTA in existence and hasn’t yet noticed, or the TPP attracts a special hatred for political reasons. My bet's on the latter.

Anti-TPP rhetoric and general noise from the US election campaign drowns out rational debate about the deal, which is a shame because most people missed two calm warnings this week if the faltering agreement fails. Both US presidential candidates have left plenty of room in their negative statements on the TPP to make tactical political pirouettes if they eventually enter the White House. And because of those negative views, the media think the TPP is dead. That may not be the case.

Hillary Clinton says the deal “doesn’t meet her high standards,” indicating it’s her standards that could be lowered, not the details of the TPP. While Donald Trump wisely says he will only support a TPP “that is good for American workers.” That particular loophole stretches wider after the release of a paper by Todd Allee and Andrew Lang at the University of Maryland.

The two academics compared the language in the TPP with 74 existing US free trade agreements and found significant sections are lifted nearly verbatim. They find the deal is written predominantly by Washington pens, lending some truth to US President Barack Obama’s position that the strategy behind the TPP is a US goal of “writing the rules of the road” for trade in the Asia Pacific.

Their text-as-data analyses (similar to university plagiarism-detection software) show the “ten preferential trade agreements (PTAs) that most closely match the TPP are all US PTAs. Moreover, the contents of controversial chapters, such as the one on investment, are drawn even more heavily from past US treaty language,” according to the paper’s abstract.

“These revelations about widespread copy-pasting do not necessarily mean the TPP is unquestionably positive for the US. One’s (re-)assessment likely depends on how one views the earlier US agreements that are now embedded in the TPP as well as globalisation in general,” the paper’s authors told the Washington Post.

“But it now seems difficult to claim the US performed poorly in the TPP negotiations, since much of its preferred language was inserted into the landmark new agreement by virtue of a few simple keystrokes.”

Also this week, while in Washington on a state visit, Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered a sobering geopolitical warning to the US about the consequences of not passing the TPP.

Mr Lee began by saying Singapore was the first to trigger the TPP process, along with Brunei Darussalam, Chile and New Zealand. He called the ultimate deal a “hard-fought process,” an “economic big deal” and outlined how it is a remarkable achievement “all the members of the TPP at the end of this are still with us, nobody has dropped out.”

But then shifting his tone, Mr Lee talked directly to undecided politicians in the US Senate about how economics doesn’t fully describe the importance of the TPP. The deal is part of a decades-old promise and responsibility to Washington’s Asia Pacific partners – one they shouldn’t be so quick to undermine.

“In terms of America’s engagement of the region, you have put your reputation on the line. It is the biggest thing America is doing in the Asia Pacific, consistently over many years of hard work and pushing.

“Your partners and friends who have come to the table, each one of them overcoming some domestic political objection, sensitivity and political cost to make this deal. And if at the end, waiting at the alter, the bride doesn’t arrive, I think there will be people who are very hurt – not just emotionally but really damaged for a long time to come,” says Mr Lee.

For instance, when Japan joined the TPP discussions, members were concerned the historically protectionist East Asian nation would scuttle the talks. But prime minister Shinzo Abe spent significant political capital to join the talks and convince Japanese agriculture and horticulture interests to open their markets in unprecedented ways.

The final acceptance of TPP came down to quiet, back-room talks between US and Japanese trade representatives as the two sides assured each other their liberalisation efforts would be supported politically. The last thing Japan wanted was for domestic arm-folding in the US to scorch Japan’s exhaustive cooperation.

“Several of [Mr Abe’s] predecessors thought seriously about and decided not to participate in the TPP. They came very close, they prepared the ground and walked away. But Mr Abe came through and decided to commit. Why? Because he wants to help. He wants his country to benefit and open up its markets. And [TPP] is one way to do it,” says Mr Lee.

“And then [the US] doesn’t do this. Well, it hurts Mr Abe is one thing, but it hurts your relationship with Japan, your security agreement with Japan. And the Japanese, living in an uncertain would, depending on an American nuclear umbrella, will have to say, on trade, the Americans could not follow through.

“If it’s life and death, whom do I have to depend on? It’s an absolutely serious calculation, which will not be said openly, but I have no doubt will be thought,” Mr Lee cautioned.

Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong in Washington this week
And in saying what no US politician can, Mr Lee described both the enormous responsibility of the US and the importance of the TPP from the perspective of the 11 other members. The US may not feel like it is superpower, and avoids talking about itself in such terms. But statement’s like the above show how many countries still see Washington as precisely this.

The TPP, from Singapore and Japan’s perspective, may actually be a “life and death” calculation. The continental US is thousands of miles away from the tension in the East and South China seas. The US Navy sails through those seas, but it can leave. The countries on its rim cannot leave. TPP members have to deal both with a rising China and every other Asian state responding to that rise as they build their own forces. Friction in the region is bound to increase.

Free trade agreements have been called the “rules of the road” by Mr Obama and “as important to US Pacific strategy as another aircraft carrier” by US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter. That is about as close as US officials and politicians get to talking about grand strategy.

For some reason, the Obama administration has refused to package its actions over the past eight years actions as part of an overarching grand strategy, so his manoeuvres tend to look haphazard and ad hoc. That worries allies and friends. Patterns can be deceptive, but noise is terrifying.

The fact that it takes a Singaporean leader to tell US politicians that the world relies on its responsible decisions is a reminder that letting domestic battles over who controls Washington is eminently short-sighted.

It also highlights the desire for an international trading system is as much an Asia Pacific goal as it is an American goal, regardless of whose fingerprints smudge the deal’s 2700 pages.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

What exactly is the point of abstract art?

The quickest I've ever visited a museum was the modern art gallery in Washington, DC. The building was fine, beautifully crafted, as far as buildings go. It was late in the afternoon and I was cold and hungry from biking between sites all day. But that wouldn't have bothered me. I've been more distracted at different museums before visiting this place and still managed to crawl around at a useful pace. I just didn't get the gallery. You know?

Most people have my same problem when viewing non-traditional art. They don't get it. I don't think they're meeting in the same forums discussing how to synchronise their reactions to the artwork, but EVERYBODY says they don't get the artwork. But, here's the thing, I'm starting to get it. Pieces of me a breaking off every day, and things which used to be chaotic are now full of patterns.

The point of abstract art, I see, is to explore the visual world abstractly. To abstract the subject (what the artist sees, thinks, feels) by reducing a subject to its component forms (colours, contrasts, lines, shapes) and then to reproduce those forms as the interpretation dictates. For example, if I were an artist and the subject may be a bowl of fruit, I'd look at the fruit and see curves and subtle gradual shadings. So I think about curves and perhaps about the world around the fruit as curves. Or maybe I think about the world as perceived from the perspective of the bowl of fruit, which may be more sensitive to curves, finding them more comforting and natural than the rectilinear world of man. So I paint the bowl of fruit as curves and spheres and circles, integrating one into the next. Impossible sphere lit by impossible light, curves filling the canvas, a meadow of curves.

Or...

You look at the fruit and you see curves and you despise them because curves are round and supple and soft and so was she, at first, but not anymore and now nature mocks you with its softness and its curvatures. Its rolling hills and drops of rain, her big round eyes like pools of stars, and even the planet you live on and the other planets in their turn orbiting the massive star that provides warmth and life. But she stole your life and broke your heart and now this bowl of fruit, this goddamn motherfucking, cocksucking bowl of her impudent shit fruit sits there like a Buddha mocking you lush and ripe in its reds and oranges and yellows but not lush for you, no, she grew lush for the mouth and tongue of another. So you stab your brush into the palette and you mix the blues and the whites and the blacks because you know this fruit - her fruit - was rotten and fungal and sharp like her tongue and her bosom that became a pit of razor sharp shards of glass shredding you to pieces as you fell into it. And as the tears fill your eyes covering the world with rivulets of ice, you attack the canvas like she attacked you and you paint her bowl of fruit as she revealed it you - "Acute Cubic Fruit, Infected".

So, you know, abstract art is a reduction to forms, visual, intellectual, emotional and a reconstruction of the same. But what do I know? I spent perhaps 40 minutes in that damn gallery.

The curious case of the (lack of) cyber response

The central question following the alleged hacking of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) by Russian-backed cybercrime groups is whether the US should “fire back.”

In the murky world of cyber, maybe we don’t want to know the answer. If Russia did take the files from the servers, then what exactly would firing back mean? That sounds awfully…militaristic. Perhaps a retaliatory hack into the Kremlin inner circle? Or perhaps escalating to a physical target? Where does this start? More importantly, where does it stop?

Because at this point the hack appears to be meant to manipulate US politics in a specific direction. Why the Russians would act this way takes little imagination, any country of significant size and power wants its rivals or neighbours to align with it (or at least be neutral). Political manipulation is a bloodless way to achieve this. And it’s not like the US has never dabbled in the dark arts of foreign electioneering.

What countries do with intelligence to protect their national interests is not a concern here. All countries spy, and in 2016, all countries use the internet to spy. Most of this spying is kept understandably away from the public eye, neither the spy nor the spied-upon wants to admit when they are breached or when they breach. But everyone assumes it happens.

Why Russia left sufficient bread-crumbs for the media to trace is an interesting question. Russia is a sophisticated and careful espionage adversary, if it wanted to keep the action behind the curtain, it could have. But the most important question is what the hack exposes about how Washington thinks about cyber. It has no idea what the appropriate cyber response must be to a breach or attack.

By the way, it is crucial in this debate to get the nomenclature correct: not every breach is an “attack” and not every cyber action is offensive. Sometimes a breach is simply espionage, and no one wants to shoot back simply because users were snooping where they shouldn’t.

This question of response goes to the heart. In one sense, the cyber domain is well-understood. The internet is the medium over which most communications and business processes travel. It is as integral to the world system as ocean travel. Yet unlike oceans cyber is opaque about what it means to do something bad and what enforcement really looks like.

The greatest concentration of cyber firepower anywhere in the world is located midway between the cities of Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington, DC at Fort Meade. The National Security Agency (NSA) and Cyber Command work in tandem to produce cyber tools. The legal parameters governing each are strict: NSA is responsible for espionage while Cyber Command is a military branch.

Its tools are more than capable of reaching out and touching the enemy anywhere, at any time, in ways unprecedented in the history of warfare – provided the enemy is connected to a digital network.

One example is the suspected joint US-Israel operation to sabotage the Iranian nuclear centrifuge facility at Natanz in 2010. It was a small, very public taste of how focused, careful and effective NSA capabilities are. Although the destruction was an unarguable geopolitical good, consider that it was really the sabotage – during peacetime – of what Iran could at the time only call its national infrastructure.

That’s a big deal. Yet the attack still occurred, and no one in Washington or Jerusalem appears to have cared because the cyber domain is entirely unregulated. They did it because could get away with it. And Russia would have felt the same when it broke into the DNC files. It certainly felt the same when it shut down infrastructure in Ukraine and Georgia using cyber during warfare.

So even though there is a clear danger to the digital world, countries are armed to the cyber teeth and limited cyber war has already occurred (arguably beginning with the Natanz sabotage), the US was at a loss this week for how to react to a clear cyber violation by a known adversary. That is incredibly frightening.

What will a modern, Western populace be comfortable with its government doing in the cyber world? More importantly, will that populace, which every year becomes more suspicious of government power and more possessive of its online privacy, allow its government to conduct accepted international practices such as espionage?

Washington hesitation last week shows they simply do not have an answer. Without that, the US republic is in a dangerous spot. Americans should know only four other countries are having this debate. All other nations have decided what their answer is, and it certainly isn’t “I don’t know.”

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Everything falls apart

These social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and yes, even Reddit, are all artificial, in the sense that someone's online identity can be constructed to form whatever identity the person wants. More importantly, though, these things are useful as a way to exclude others.

Do you want to see a real, organic, exclusive social network in action? Here's a list of the top three law firms in New Zealand. You'd be amazed by how many people in those firms know each other personally or went to school together.

Computers have turned from dream machines into glorified fax machines. "Teh social" is all anyone talks about these days - perhaps because it doesn't require any specialised knowledge. The great Cambrian explosion of possibilities has made way for Twitter updates about puking cats.

In the long run, the internet is going to reflect human civilization and culture the way every other medium has. The net's early adopters were smart, innovative people posting on forums and those people have been spoiled by a web skewed heavily to their tastes. The huddled masses had not yet begun to create their own content en masse. But now that they have and, well, the internet looks like everything else.

This is a true "long tail" story of the internet - for any individual, only a tiny part will be important and worthwhile, while the vast majority is viewed as uninteresting. The fact that the corporations are looking to the mass appeal digital products such as Facebook should come as no surprise either - look how quickly corporations embraced television and filled it with noise.

If you want better content or a more utopian internet, educating and raising future users to want better content is crucial. You need to want the future generations to desire utopia in every aspect of their lives. People have to want freedom along with its attendant chaos more than they want the comfort and security which comes with ceding control to others.

What Lanier represented in the 1990's was the possibility of a utopian future actually coming to pass, at least online. You can't blame him for trying, or dreaming.

Sitrep - 3 August, 2016

Two suspected Russian hacking groups accessed private email servers of Democratic National Committee (DNC) – the governing body of the US Democratic Party – before releasing them to activist website Wikileaks. US law enforcement is investigating the breach, but private cyber defence companies and the intelligence community say with “high confidence” the Russians are to blame.

The files were embarrassing for the party, but not strictly classified. They do however show a willingness of the Russians to engage in manipulation of elections in a foreign country, although just what effect the leak will have on the elections is unclear. The main issue for the US government is deciding how to react.

Clearly, the cyber world is without structured laws, almost any action can be undertaken without fear of reciprocity. But while the US has already conducted sabotage on foreign infrastructure, and Russia has attacked Ukrainian and Georgian infrastructure during combat, just how Washington should respond to a Russian cyber operation is a worrisome grey area. It is a debate the US needs to have.

In Syria, a re-branding exercise changing the name of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham gained international attention this week. The decision to drop the Al Qaeda brand was a conscious one, supported by the Al Qaeda core itself, which shows a certain flexibility and unification within the jihadist group, rather than discord.

Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is under increasing pressure from US and Russian airstrikes, both of which will coordinate attacks more tightly in the future. Its connection with Al Qaeda was seen as a liability given that the US targets only jihadist groups in Syria, not rebels. Dropping the name and mixing with rebel groups is a way of defending itself from Washington.

US aircraft have been unwilling to strike rebel positions, and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham’s cooperation with rebel groups was always a concern. But since the US is bound by law and respects the stated claims of groups, the murky Syrian conflict just became more opaque. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is one of the most respected fighting forces in Syria, and rebels will not appreciate US airstrikes on their positions. So it appears the group has set a neat trap for the US.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Donald Trump is simply an uncouth progressive, and here's what to do about it (Part 2)

V

If I'm correct (and I haven't yet been proven wrong about the last post) then the default assumption for the modern American state, and its fundamental disease is the system of voting. One should always be suspicious of default assumptions. If you as an individual didn't come up with an idea yourself, or if the media is suggesting you move in that particular direction (this article excluded, of course) or if everyone else thinks some idea is "obvious, duh" then you are being lied to and someone is making money from that malfeasance. You have been warned.

So, if the above is true and both the Republicans and the Democrats are a distraction, then the very act of voting is part of the broken system and requires tweaking with a screwdriver. Or, more appropriately, bashing with a sledgehammer. If the voting system itself is broken, then results of a voting process cannot affect that system negatively and will only support it.

At this point, we also have to assume the process of democracy is torn at best and criminal at worst. I'm perfectly happy to be shown how actual democracy can work within some utopian society with a population magnitudes smaller than presently living, but that situation would be as far removed as possible from what we presently call "democracy" before the universe wraps around on itself.

That citizens are encouraged to vote and told there is no other way to operate as a "good" society, should clue us to the parameters of the box in which they have been placed. All boxes have edges. The key to discovering one is in a box is simple: when one bumps up against its cardboardy walls. Your choice then is clear: stay inside the box, forget the box or try to find a way out. I am addressing the latter option.

But if the entire modern system of government in a given developed country (yes, that includes New Zealand) is run on an American-style liberal democratic structure, then where is safe? Where is "outside"? If we are inside a box we cannot see, taste, hear or touch, then how did we get inside such a box? And is there even an outside to get to?

VI

All good questions. The truth is, there is no outside. In 2016, there are only two kinds of countries: either full democracies (based on the American-style liberal democratic parliamentarianism), or countries on their way towards becoming full democracies. To see this is correct, think about why and against whom the "international community" leverages its wars and sanctions. Are any of those nasty people democrats (it doesn’t matter if the upper case “D” is used or the lower case). No, of course they aren’t. Democracies don’t go to war against each other, everyone knows that!

So here we can start to see the box's edges. We know we cannot shrink the box because there is no way to stand outside and push. But being inside is not always a terrible thing, as some disbelieving Germans knew when forced to participate in Nazi Germany's war machine. From the inside, a person has a unique advantage to interrupt the system which would be unavailable to anyone on the outside (the enemy).

Simply put, the most dangerous action any of us can take in such a corrupt system is still with the individual citizen. It is a measure of power no governmental system can remove or steal from its subjects: the supreme personal power of inaction. The ability to stand still when every media message, police baton, public shaming or bullet compels the person to act in a certain direction. No one can take away this power. They will try, and you might believe the lie for a while, but the power is always with us.

This sounds like fighting talk, and fighting leads to pain. Everyone wants to avoid pain, so they’ll probably avoid fighting too. But understand that in this world, people aren't afraid of pain. Pain, after all, is limited and fleeting. It dissipates with time and can be numbed. What people are scared of - because they have been trained to be scared of it - is the act of fighting itself. Getting into confrontations is considered by progressives to be the worst thing anyone can do. Confrontational people are called criminals, anarchists, hateful and all manner of ugly words. And no one wants to be associated with a criminal.

This is a clever, effective, time-tested method of social control: split the populace between the rule-followers who desperately avoid fighting, and the rule-breakers who see nothing wrong with self-autonomy (because self-autonomy requires no outside authority, it is a "dangerous idea"). Throw in an institution whose sole job it is to maintain the idea of criminality as a societal negative in the minds of the rule-followers - otherwise known as the police - and a press which keeps reporting who are the rule-breakers and the terrible consequences for rule-breaking, and one has the recipe for a modern society.

As a bonus, the police ensure the rule-followers don’t turn into rule-breakers and join up with the other rule-breakers and decide one bright day to overthrow the rule-makers. It's perfect. The creation of a soggy meadow of fault and fear to trap everyone’s wandering feet.

VII

But rule-followers shouldn’t be concerned. I'm not telling you to fight. I'm not telling you to confront. I am only suggesting you stand still. I'm telling you to that the only fix here is to deprive the system of oxygen. It relies on the individual for the defence of the system. It wants the default assumption of all citizens to believe democracy and progressivism are the best ways of human government.

If the structure had to keep telling us this by blaring it from the street corner or in every newspaper, then it wouldn't work - it wouldn’t “stick,” as they like to say in advertising. Because if you have to say it, it's not true. The best propaganda is recited by the people, defended by those people and organised by those same people. This the process of complete and true psychological capture.

Realise, however, that in allowing the people to buckle their own chains the system has made a fatal mistake. There's a tightrope it has walked for decades, hoping a breeze doesn't unbalance its cautious steps. The modern government relies on the citizen to maintain the efficacy of democracy inside their heads. There are no "democracy lessons" to achieve this save oblique references hidden among media. It depends on each of us for its sweet oxygen.

Without the psychological capture of the citizen, the system cannot function. No system can function. Its efforts of capture are impressed from the earliest days of a person's schooling, through to the last days of university and beyond. This capture flows through the multinational corporations, the libraries, the NGOs, the press, your parents, your friends, the faces on a currency, the fact that currency exists, in cars driving on one side of the road not the other, with the language we speak and in what connects the "international community" we so venerate. It is this capture of every societal institution including, and most especially, our minds.

Understand that to achieve this psychological capture, we have also been mistakenly given controlling power. All we have to do is stop. To stop believing. To cease assuming and to not move when we are told to move. There is no need to kill, deport, enslave or arrest any progressive because once their system is starved of oxygen, the power once held by the psychology of the democratic system will flow to those who stand still. The progressive ideologues will then have two choices: either pull out the guns and batons or shrivel up and accept defeat.

VIII

If citizens stand still, the status quo must force them to act and it is here they will expose themselves for what they really are: a totalitarian, theocratic regime controlled not from the top down, but from the bottom up. They know the tightrope is stretched thin and may snap at any moment. They also know this rope is held by weak psychological capture. The great fear is that citizens could one day simply decide not to hold it any longer. So if politics is broken, democracy a sham and this progressive agenda unstoppable - will you drop the rope? Do you want change, or the illusion of change?

The first task is to understand we are in a box. The second is to discover its walls. Third is the realisation that there is no outside the box (yet). And finally, comes the task of doing no task at all until the box is dissolved. This means no politics, no media, no activism, nothing. Any participation in the structure of government - until its present controllers are no longer able to leverage its form - is to be considered maintenance of the very problem we are trying to expiate. The task of doing no task at all - the key safety valve - is to seize power, but not to hold power. The goal, if one is convinced the game is beyond repairing, is not to control this system, it is to dissolve it.

How should one spend their time in the interim? Waiting, as one may be doing, a lifetime for the system to asphyxiate. Spend this time by thinking of a better way of constructing government that does not rely on democracy, internationalism, Christianity or progressivism. Something truly new.

Or maybe uncover the old and incorrectly discarded. Ask whether there are ideas of government which were removed when modern democracy emerged that were better suited and less volatile for humans. Think about how a return would look like, how it might decrease friction in this world. Read history to discover those old ways of thinking, the heresy tucked deep within libraries and Google. Become an archaeologist of forgotten ideas.

Assume nothing is true, and everything is false. Start there.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Donald Trump is simply an uncouth progressive, and here's what to do about it (Part 1)

I

In the next two pieces, three questions will (hopefully) be answered.

  • First, what are Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump’s political beliefs? 
  • Second, what does it mean to be a president of the US in 2016? 
  • And finally, if democracy is so weakened, what do you expect us to do about it, Mr. Smartipants?

There’s an old saying in advertising: if it looks like the argument is about to be lost, change the conversation. Would it surprise anyone to discover this is precisely what is happening?

For a long time in the US, the difference between a Republican and a Democrat has been in name only. They were portrayed as opposites for no reason other than to create the illusion of dissimilarity. But most people don’t buy that con anymore. Few still think the traditional “left” and “right” political spectrum matters or represents the real world. Indeed, as I have pointed out in other articles, most educated people don’t care for politics, preferring to defer to the “science of government” more commonly known as centrism.

Of course, the path this idea leads down is the fortification of the permanent government, and away from “government by the people, for the people.” To a populace discontented with politics, it would be too much and too far to consider the implications of centrism, although they do desire a new form of structure which better reflects the world. After all, the victory of centrism is the inevitable death of democracy: if all decisions are made by unelected officials, then of what use is the facade of voting or elections. That is unacceptable for most people, even educated people.

So a new form of divisional structure is needed. And, ready as always with an answer, arrives The Economist. The centuries-old magazine’s editorial staff appears to be stacked with globalist economists (globalist is a synonym for progressivism). It has tagged the “new political divide” as being not between the artificial, indefinable, and hopelessly reductive terms “left” and “right,” but rather as an impressive clash between globalism and nationalism. It places Mr. Trump’s “anti-trade tirades” as “the gravest threat to the free world since communism.”

But this is wrong. The truth is, citizens of this earth will never be free until they are free of globalism. The fix suggested by The Economist is a way to more overtly differentiate those who are part of the glorious progressive movement, pushing forward into the utopian future, and those who either think nationalism is fine the way it is, or know there are better ways to form government than destroying all hierarchies and introducing democracy to the world. Maybe it's because I'm in New Zealand that I can see what’s going on, but I'm starting to think it's not that people can't see, it's that people don't know there's anything to look for.

II

What do I mean? The author (authors? It’s hard to tell with that barely-veiled opinion magazine) says a vote for Mr. Trump is a vote against the globalist agenda. More importantly, voting for the man will place the voter firmly against the liberal agenda of the so-called political left. The author is under the impression that there are two ways of thinking - two ways of politics - in the US. They are mistaken. One sees a Republican and believes that party constitutes an equal and opposite force pulling for control over the country's direction. This could not be more wrong.

Donald Trump is simply an uncouth progressive. He sounds strange but everything he thinks, desires, plans and wants for the US is identical to Mrs. Clinton’s desires and plans. This is true because they are both adherents of a post-Christian ideology. In 2016, there is simply no other way to run for president. In fact, there's really no other type of “good, patriotic” American.

In the US, there is only one party: the party of the progressives. Call them liberals, leftists, democrats, globalists, whatever. They are only progressives. There is no other way to exist in the modern US. Progressivism is Christianity without the supernatural. There is no difference between them except for about 100 years. The political programmme and perspective that we think of as progressive is at least descended from the programme of a religious sect. Unsurprisingly, this sect, best known as ecumenical mainline Protestantism, is historically the most powerful form of American Christianity.

Since the 1960s, the two forms of American Christianity have merged back into a single force, what in earlier times would have been called a theocracy. Progressives occupy all major positions of power in the US, including the universities and the press. Progressivism is always and everywhere the ideology of the civil service in a modern democratic state. And in a modern democratic state, elections do not rotate power, they are worse than irrelevant. They actually serve to hide the reality that the civil service controls all.

Progressivism is best understood as a post-Christian ideology with roots in British Puritanism. The puritans were kicked out of England by King Charles I and eventually landed in America hoping to start new lives. From there, they slowly split between those who adhered to the supernatural and those who didn’t. But at no point were the tenets and utopianism of European Christianity scooped from their brains. Rather, the slowly evolving puritans developed an entire structure of government based at first on democracy, but which later moved to become the rule of unelected technocrats with the trappings of democracy. The name for this structure in the ancient world was "priesthood". We call it something different, but the effect is the same.

III

Is being a progressive like being a Christian? Why shouldn't it be? Each is a way of understanding the world through a set of beliefs. There is one big difference between Christianity and progressivism: Christianity is what we call a "religion." Its core beliefs are claims about the spirit world, which no Christian has experienced firsthand. Whereas progressive beliefs tend to be claims about the real world - about government and history and economics and society. To doubt progressivism is to doubt the American idea itself. People have to understand it is as American as apple pie.

Of course, much of progressive thought claims to be a product of pure reason. Is it? Thomas Aquinas derived Christianity from pure reason. John Rawls derived progressivism from pure reason. At least one of them must have made a mistake. Maybe they both did. Has anybody checked their work? One bad variable will bust the whole proof. There is one difference, though. To be a Christian, you have to have faith, because no one has ever seen the Holy Spirit. To be a progressive, you must only have trust, because you believe that your worldview accurately reflects the real world - as experienced not just by your own small eyes, but by humanity as a whole.

When the progressives took power in the progressive era, they held onto the concept of democracy but worked to remove its effects. The concept of centrism was introduced ensuring the civil service retained power no matter who was heading the executive branch. The Democrats then became the party of the civil service, so whenever a Democrat is in the executive the whole system works smoothly trending towards the utopia of full equality, the tearing down of the ancien regime and the building of the kingdom of heaven on earth. The perfect Christian hope for the world.

The Republicans will not get in the way of this lofty goal because they too represent Christian values (although, a bit more aged than the progressive's). But the Republicans are useful for the progressives in one major way: they supply a pretend enemy for the Democrats. This makes it look, to the citizens, as if true democracy is in play. A neat trick. Every four years the election process constructs two sides of the same coin.

The voters, few of whom understand these dynamics in much depth, assume the election is essentially controlled warfare for ultimate power. It is anything but. If the Republicans win, the progressive agenda is not discarded! No, no! It only runs a little slower while the civil service and the true-believer progressives in the press run interference, call the president names, impugning and belittling him until the Democrats can return to the office and speed things up again. Not that it matters to the progressive project, but appearances are crucial not to give the game away.

IV

I write this because people should realise what's going on here. There is no democracy in the US (at least, not in the sense of what most people believe democracy is) and there hasn't been democracy in the US for a very long time. Nothing will change with Mr. Trump in the executive because his party is a fraud, a tool, of the progressive ideology. The Republicans should be disbanded so the truth of the one-party state can finally be exposed and the sham of democracy can be discarded.

If the world really is choosing between globalism as the progressives want, and nationalism (I am always suspicious of binaries) then the concept of centrism makes sense. After all, of what use is an uninformed and, frankly, uninterested populace being encouraged to participate in governance if there are no more borders and everyone is equal? Some may appreciate the progressive “agenda” and fully back its vision for the world. Others probably see it as a totalitarian, post-Christian, pseudo-atheistic theocracy bent on world domination with no significant opposing force between it and its utopian goal.

For those people, the question now becomes: how might this be stopped if Mr. Trump represents only a slightly slowing momentum of this incredible world-eating ideology? How indeed.