Thursday, April 23, 2009

ICG report on the Gaza stand-still

Efforts should focus on an outcome that meets [Fatah and Hamas'] immediate needs. Neither wants to give up the territory it controls, so for now let them keep it. That should not prevent forming a government that helps rebuild Gaza, gives Ramallah a foothold in Gaza and Abbas the greater legitimacy he needs to deal effectively with Israel – and with his own people...

Words matter, but actions matter more. The international community should judge the government on... willingness (or not) to enforce a mutual ceasefire with Israel, acceptance of Abbas’s authority to negotiate an agreement with Israel and respect for a referendum on an eventual accord. Hamas’s position on whether a Palestinian state would recognise Israel will matter only once that state exists. Prior to that, it is academic.

Sage words. It's hard to believe it's been two years since the last National Unity Government.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

More on my driver rating system idea

I witnessed an unusual traffic accident yesterday: what began as a typical rear-ending took a bizarre turn when the 'rear-ender' reversed at high-speed and rammed the 'rear-endee' again!

As I navigated the Ottawa Police Web-site later in the day, their instructions for submitting traffic complaints got me thinking about my driver rating system idea again: specifically, note how much information is required regarding the timing, the other driver, their vehicle, etc. Now, admittedly, I glossed over how a particular identifier would be represented as one of many potential vehicles in proximity with you, but, setting that aside for the moment, a lot of the information the police are looking for could be automatically generated; the process would also be more timely, and possibly even safer, if you compare it with the scenario where a person is trying to relay all that information over a handheld cell-phone while driving.

On the point of representing particular identifiers on a person's appliance, the balance between the cost and complexity (and safety) is at the crux of the problem: ideally, the system would visually represent the makes, models and positions involved, updating the information every few seconds, on a sizable screen that can be centrally located in the vehicle's dash. However, at a minimum, a multi-line text display of license plate number, make, model, colour and direction (with respect to your vehicle: so, front, back, left, right, etc.), updated regularly, would suffice. (You wouldn't want to rely on the license plate alone, since the vehicle could be screaming through an intersection on a path perpendicular to yours; also, straining to read a plate in your rearview mirror could be a serious distraction.)

One final point on the subject of this system being a target: all the contact information that the police require from the person reporting the incident shouldn't be included in this system. Depending on how drivers are issued their RFID tag and associated identifier, the DMV system or a separate system could be queried by police using the reporting appliance's identifier. That way, people who want to know the address of everyone who drives down their street need access to more than this system.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Canada in Afghanistan: Mixed Messages

"This is antithetical to our mission in Afghanistan," Harper said in an interview with CBC News... "Making progress on human rights for women is a significant component of the international engagement in Afghanistan. It's a significant change we want to see from the bad old days of the Taliban," he said.

The Canadian government has been making these sorts of statements since we first committed soldiers to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. It makes sense, at first blush: even the pacifists have difficulty arguing that improving the lives of young girls isn't a worthy cause. However, returning to this simple message too often runs the risk of pushing the primary purpose of the mission -- that is, the destruction of al-Qaeda's safe havens in the region, and the regime that tacitly supported them -- out of the public discourse. And while this may be of little consequence initially -- in terms of public support -- should the simple, secondary (or even tertiary) purpose ever noticeably diverge from that primary purpose, serious problems can arise.

And that's what Harper was dealing with today: a relatively small change in Afghan politics gave rise to existential questions about our mission in that country. Don't misunderstand me: I support the notion of fundamental human rights, and I think the details that I've read about this new law violate some of them; however, Afghanistan is hardly the only country to enact such laws, and it isn't close to being the worst.

Add to this the clear indication of how Harper's interview might have gone, had his government stayed on the AQ-busting message:
"It is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States because of proximity," Obama said. "This is not an American mission, this is a NATO mission. This is an international mission."

Now, Obama's message may not have brought the promises of extra soldiers that he'd hoped for, but he needn't worry about the cries from human-rights groups (or worse still, from grieving families who feel misled) derailing him. Nor need he fear his statements haunting him later: he's correct, and will be seen as consistent as he continues to push his administration's new strategy for the region.