The Silicon Mind

Find everything here. And maybe some stuff in between.

SM's Popular:
Antonio on Religion and Exclusivity.
Michael on Small Arms.
Antonio, Michael Belinsky, Mike Maio

Friday, February 03, 2006


This blog has been discontinued until further notice. Either no one has time to post, or no one cares enough to post. If this project gets revitalized, we'll let you know.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

John Bolton

(also found in: The Dartmouth)
"Sending [John Bolton] to New York would be like sending Nixon to China … it will be more like sending the bull into a China shop," Senator Joseph Biden, D-Del., said at the hearings of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations regarding George Bush's nomination of Bolton to be the U.S. representative to the United Nations.

John Bolton is the worst possible candidate for the job. Before I explain, a little background on Bolton is necessary.

Bolton has served the last four years as the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs.

He has been involved in the unilateralist Proliferation Security Initiative, the unsuccessful Moscow Treaty, and the G-8 global partnership against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

He is an expert on non-proliferation and a loyal follower of the Bush Administration.

Taking all that into account, Bush's nominee has made almost as many momentous fumbles as the President.

He is quoted as saying that "there's no such thing as the U.N." He claims that the international community can only be led by the world's last remaining power, the United States. He believes that we do not need the approval or support of other nations; we only get their support when it suits our interests.

Throughout his career, Bolton has displayed such blind hubris. Even his supporters, such as Ambassador Kirkpatrick, have stated that he "is not a diplomat." In short, John Bolton is one of the most vocal critics of the United Nations and has no loyalty for the institution to which he is being nominated.

Fortunately, I am not alone opposing his nomination. Every Democrat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has indicated his or her intent to reject John Bolton's nomination. Further, 59 former diplomats stand against Bolton. They sent a letter to Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Richard Lugar expressing their opposition, which can be found on

Notably, Ambassador Kenneth Yalowitz's signature is absent from the list. Perhaps this opinion piece will prompt him to voice his opinion.

The imminent reform of the U.N. will require strong U.S. leadership. While Bolton is a strong leader, he lacks proper direction. A man who believes that there is no such thing as a U.N. is no one to reform the U.N. towards more relevance.

While Kofi Annan's reform proposals include enlarging the Security Council, Bolton believes that the Security Council should only have one permanent member, the United States.

Even worse is Bolton's view on international law. Specifically, he says that "Treaties are 'law' only for U.S. domestic purposes. In their international operation, treaties are simply political obligations." Imagine Bolton voicing these views at the U.N. He would tell the world that the U.S. is not bound by international law, that it needs no allies, and that if it were up to him, the U.N. wouldn't exist. Such is the nature of the beast we are sending to represent U.S. to the world.

Let me summarize. The U.N. is a forum of cooperation and diplomacy. John Bolton is a unilateralist. The U.N. needs reform. John Bolton is fundamentally opposed to expanding the power of the world's most accepted peacemaker. The U.N. needs a leader. John Bolton will coerce and will not be followed. The U.N. is an instrument of cooperation and a beacon of hope for a more peaceful and less tense world. John Bolton sees the world as full of danger, not full of hope.

Ultimately, the U.N. embodies all which John Bolton is not.

In his style and rhetoric he will alienate, not reconcile, the U.N. delegates.

At a time when the Bush Administration is mending bridges with the world it cannot afford a bridge-burner to act as its voice to the international community.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Concerning Content

For those who read this, I have to apologize for the dearth of content over the past few months. The three of us have been very busy with work, college, and other such things, so we haven't really gotten a chance to write anything for this. Hopefully as the workload lightens up a little bit (which it will be for me in the relatively near future), we'll be doing a lot more with this. Sorry again.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"Diplomacy is the art of saying "nice doggie" until you can find a rock."

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

New Articles

Just to inform our readers, we have published two new articles:

"This column sponsored in part by..." by Michael Maio
"Still Separate But Equal" by Michael Belinsky

Monday, January 31, 2005

Tracking Small Arms, An Overview

The nuisance of containing and tracking illicit small arms transfers has become a pertinent and dire problem in the 21st century. Political and social conflicts constantly escalate to military confrontations involving small arms and light weapons throughout our world. These weapons are responsible for most of the deaths in the conflicts in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America. According to the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) 640 million guns are currently in circulation, approximately one to every 10 people in the world. Small arms are produced by 1,249 companies in more than 90 countries. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, there are 30 million small arms and light weapons, with 79 percent in the hands of civilians. 1

Realizing and responding to the growing threat, both the efforts of the international community spearheaded by the United Nations and the regional efforts led by countries around the globe have focused on addressing the issue. Currently, the Gambia National Commission on Small Arms is examining the regional moratorium on small arms and its effectiveness in eliminating insurgent’s access to weapons and ammunition (Gambia Daily News). The Commission will also examine the effectiveness of the implementation of the Bamako Declaration, which was acceded to by the member states of the Organization of African Unity. The Declaration, signed in 2000, calls for the signatory parties to further criminalize the illicit sale and possession of small arms and light weapons and to found research bodies for the purpose of analyzing the effectiveness of current norms in curbing the illicit trafficking of small arms (US Department of State).

Also in Africa, the Small Arms Transparency and Control Regime is now in its third phase of implementation. Phase I called for the creation of a database of interstate sales of small arms in the region. The database will serve as groundwork for creating a digital, on-line register, called the Small Arms and Light Weapons Register for Africa (SALWRA), which will function much like the UN Register of Conventional Arms. Phase II and Phase III of the project have expanded participation in and contributions to this database. No taskforce has yet been charged with analyzing SALWRA’s effectiveness.

Outside of Africa, many governments have shown reluctance to instituting controls and regulations on the production of small arms. Weapons manufacturers stand firmly against marking their weapons in a way that would allow NGOs to trace the weapon to its manufacturer as opposed to its original owner. The weapons lobbies in various countries have been pushing for their governments to cease participating in small arms control treaties. As a result, there still exists no effective worldwide system to record information, even though some weapons do carry serial numbers or other identifying marks. Deadly weapons disappear without a trace on a daily basis. According to the IANSA, 8 million new weapons are manufactured every year, which fuel conflicts worldwide.

The negative response of some governments and weapons interest groups has not, fortunately, become the norm. In Paraguay, weapons destruction programs have been successfully implemented. In September of 2004, Paraguay destroyed 80 tons of ammunition, under the oversight of government officials and in cooperation with the United Nations. Now, Paraguay is trying to implement the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms and the UN 2001 Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Lights Weapons, both with the assistance of the United Nations (UN News Centre).

Surprisingly, some non-governmental organizations have also been contributing to the efforts to curb illicit trading. The Small and Medium Entrepreneurs Development Authority (SMEDA) recently recommended eight measures for safely and securely developing small arms to the weapons engineering clusters in Darra Adamkhel, Pakistan. These measures seek to address the issue from the supplier’s side, assuring that on one hand sales do not decrease, and on the other hand, these weapons do not end up in the hands of insurgents and terrorists.

Also, a unique program has been developed in Mozambique for disposing of small arms which have been stockpiled, hidden, and left uncollected from a conflict in the region which occurred over a decade ago. This program is sponsored by another non-governmental organization, the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM). People who either find weapons or possess their own weapons are urged to contact the CCM, which sends a team to secure and dispose of the weapons on the spot. Sometimes, the CCM exchanges the weapons for anything from food to sewing machines to bicycles. This program has been an immense success so far collecting 600,000 weapons and ammunition. Experts reviewing this program have pointed out that it works better than traditional buy-back programs, where weapons owners would turn in their old weapons for money and use that money to purchase new weapons. This program provides more transparency to the process by destroying the weapon on the spot.

All these programs are increasingly important and warmly welcomed by the international community. While helpful, these programs represent regional efforts and thus cannot seek to fully and completely eradicate the problem at hand. Only an international program, of the scope available to the United Nations, can seek to comprehensively address the problem. To promote peace and security, the United Nations should take the lead in addressing this problem by internationalizing these successful regional efforts.

1- Of the rest, 19 percent are in the possession of police forces and 2 percent are held by insurgents and outlaws. Bai Ousman Secka, permanent secretary. Department of State for Defense. Banjul, Gambia.

Religion and Exclusivity

It's interesting,they say love overcomes all. In real life, this is obviously not the case, regardless of how many feel-good movies à-la-The Prince and Me or whatever the most recent film is along those lines. But I want to address a particular aspect of love not overcoming all, and that is the point of religion.

What a sticking point that one is, eh? Eddie Izzard jokes, in Dress to Kill, about how the British royal family always marries internally (the specific line was `Are you a royal family? Are you a royal member? Well, then you can marry me 'cause you're same gene pool, and our IQs will go down the toilet.'). Now, naturally, the part about IQs going down the toilet isn't an apt description about what occurs when religious intermarriage occurs. It's been happening for long enough that, were it to be the cause of intellectual reduction, the human race would most probably have returned to the trees by now.

Nevertheless, most people who are faithful to their religions will, from my personal observations, not marry outside of their religion or a reasonably similar one. What do I mean by reasonably similar? Though less common than Jewish-Jewish marriages, a marriage between a Jew and a Christian is probably more common than that between a Jew and a Muslim.

Why, though? Why this exclusivity? Why would someone make a decision on a relationship based on religion? It's an interesting question, and I'm willing to try and put forth an answer. Namely, children.

Not all couples want to have children. But, those that do want to (note that I say want to, not actually necessarily have) and who plan ahead in life will see the obstacles to be overcome when it comes to children, especially when the relationship involves two diametrically opposite religious views (i.e., one of the two believing in some variant of montheism and the other being an atheist). Because what do you teach your child? Do you take them to Church? Naturally, the religious person will say yes. But what about the atheist? Does he not care about his child being `brainwashed' (because that's what most of us probably consider Church as a vehicle for; I certainly do1)?

The ideal compromise would be, of course, for each member of the couple to agree to teach their child their own point of view. Faced with both of them, the child's world view would be more complete and, as he or she matured, he or she would be able to follow the path that seemed most logical to him or her. Unfortunately, some people don't trust to the process of gradual learning and the later process of choice. After all, humans are naturally evil. Thus, if given the choice, they will go the evil way. At least, that's one way to look at it.

Me, I'm of the view that humans are naturally rational. If it seems rational to them that religion is an appropriate explanation, there we go. If they perfer science, there it is. And if they go for both, that's equally as acceptable.

Regardless, the ideal compromise is probably rarely one that will be seen. The atheist will, of course, not have a problem with it - he or she would have taught the child at home anyway. But the religious person is so used to the presence of Church that they will most often not like that compromise, or simply outright refuse to go for it.

In the end, the choice is one for each individual relationship. But this is, in my opinion, one of the worst obstacles to be faced with. In fact, it is beyond that: it is at the same time the most divisive and most useless of obstacles to a relationship. Because the above compromise exists, and it is an easy one to follow. Really, what causes it to fail is insecurity in one's own beliefs. In one's faith. Which is an interesting failure, really, since the very foundation of religion is faith.

1- Brainwashing means, of course, consciously trying to eradicate other ideas through the use, in the case of the church and the mosque and other such places, of hazy words such as `evil' and scary places such as Hell and nifty incentives such as Heaven - ways to get around solid proof. Granted, religion itself is not based on proof, and that is part of the idea - you have to have faith. But then again, that could almost be perceived as yet another contrivance. The point is, one who truly has faith in their beliefs does not need another to explain what Jesus or his disciples meant or what Mohammed may have tried to say. In my eyes, the truly religious (not the evangelicals, mind you, the religious - there is, in fact, a difference) can interpret the Word of God, as put forth by whatever holy book they may have, on their own, and will understand that there are others who will not agree with their interpretation. Their agreement is inconsequential. With true faith, one can be self-assured in one's interpretation.

You do have to admit that an atheist talking theology is rather amusing...

Monday, January 24, 2005

What Model UN Does Wrong

Model United Nations is a powerful institution designed to educate young men and women in several critical areas. It teaches them about negotiation, the difficulty of working in an international body, and, most importantly, how to see the world through the eyes of another country and often another culture.

These are skills that, especially in the United States, are lacking. But, like any system, there are things wrong with the Model UN system as I have seen it implemented here in the US. The key to all of these flaws, for the most part, is one word - `competition'. Competition is at the same time what drives Model UN and what pulls it down. It is what keeps it at its fairly good level without leting it excel or disappear into insignificance.

Why do students do Model UN? What is the interest in going somewhere for the sheer reason of arguing with others or cooperating with them? Why bother? Because you can win something. Because you can be proud that you got the top, or second-best, or whatever, award. And sometimes, because you're in a class that requres it and you need that class or can't drop it this late into the game.

This is a dangerous set of motivations. The reason is that it inhibits the system of the UN itself from materializing in the committee room. Now that I've been both a delegate and an assistant director, I have a few perspectives that I didn't before. And, because I've been speaking extensively with a Conference Director, I am also acquainted with some of the faculty-side limitations that exist.

The most amusing thing the Conference Director told me was that certain teachers would be upset if the Awards section of our website wasn't accurate. You see, the problem is that most of these conferences are called something-MUNC. The poor faculty advisors are mostly under the impression that this means `Model United Nations Competition'. In fact, it tends to stand for `Model United Nations Conference'. Quite a difference.

The United Nations is driven by a (usually unequal) balance of national and international interests. The problem is that, at a Model UN conference, the balance is not between national and international interests, it is between cooperation and clearly differentiating oneself from the supposed `competition'.

I should relate an experience that pertains to this. A few months ago, I was Assistant Director on Security Council at a Model UN conference. We had some very good delegates, but only two or three who stood out, and one who was very enthusiastic. We ended up giving him the top award in the committee, or the second-best. Regardless, he deserved none of the top three, and it was due to utter lack of alternatives that we chose him. Why didn't he deserve any of the top three? My director and I went about committee, and specifically unmoderated caucuses, a bit differently than most directors usually do. Most directors tend to stay seated and maybe look around every once in a while. We decided that we would get up and walk around and mingle with the delegates to follow the discussion and resolution-writing process from beginning to end. Amongst other things, this would allow us to know exactly what people were talking about when they addressed the committee in formal debate.

What I found, in the end, was that this particular delegate, when I was watching his group, could not focus on others. In speaking to the various delegates, he seemed to be speaking directly to me because he would look at me as he spoke and occasionally glance at the other delegates. He was constantly focused on me. I can't think of anything more annoying, when someone is trying to convince me as a delegate, than that delegate not looking at me. And this didn't only happen once; he consistently did this every time I was watching the little group he was talking to. Three or four times I had the urge to reach out and shake him by the shoulders and yell, `YOU'RE NOT TRYING TO CONVINCE ME!!! YOU'RE TRYING TO CONVINCE THEM!!' But naturally, I didn't. I'm too careful a person to do that.

This time around, I can't even remember which country he represented. I'd seen him a year before at the same conference, that time as the delegate representing the United Kingdom (and I'd already decided I didn't like him; he's one of those that will let others come up with ideas and then take the pats on the back). I think this time he was the Russian Federation. Regardless, he was one of the Big 5.

This little anecdote illustrates everything that is wrong with the way some people approach Model UN. Our faculty advisor naturally wanted to win awards, but he didn't pressure us into doing that - he pressured us into doing our research and into being good delegates. He realized that if we did this, we could get awards. And he knew those of us who could do it well. My senior year, we went to a conference, and we had, essentially for the first time, what we call a `stacked delegation' - one where our faculty advisor had tried to fill it with people who he knew were good at it and would make excellent impressions. He told me at some point that he wasn't particularly happy that he had to do it, but in order to compete with other schools who were doing it, he had to.

We did well at that conference, of course, but the question is, should that change have been necessary? What is this obsession with winning that causes people to consciously cripple some of their delegations in order to make one that will be able to crush others? It entirely defeats the purpose of model UN. And it is this, perhaps, which annoys me the most. As a director, I have to continuously make sure that everyone is sticking to their country's position; however, I also have to keep an eye out for those who will take others' ideas and pretend that they were the ones who came up with them. If I fail in that job, I only fuel this hypercompetitive environment that feeds actions counter to what should be happening.

There are those who will say that politics is cutthroat, and this is just an example of it. There are those who will say that there are probably plenty of examples of stealing someone else's thunder in the real UN as well. But how can we expect to get rid of corruption and cutthroat politics if we foster it from the very beginning? The answer is simple - we can't.