Saturday, October 01, 2016

Dear Donald J

The US faces a variety of economic and strategic challenges in the world today, but you have chosen to spend the last week attacking a former Miss Universe for allegedly gaining weight. What are you running for, President or Meanest Kid in Seventh Grade?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Targeting Civilians

Putin and Assad have increased their targeting of civilians in Aleppo since the Kerry's farcical cease fire. Why? One theory is that they want to force the rebels in Aleppo to ally with ISIS and the other Islamic militants. Another is that they intend to kill everybody in a Grozny style slaughter.

Obama is famously non-confrontational, and he probably doesn't want to leave his successor with yet another Middle East mess, but his handling of Syria is probably his biggest foreign policy blackmark. He has two options to prevent Putin and Assad from winning, both highly dangerous:

(1)Afghanistan II: give the rebels the kind of sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons needed to shoot down the Russian and Syrian planes. Aside from the risks of escalation or retaliation elsewhere, this risks these weapons ultimately being used against us.

(2)A no-fly zone, at least for Syrian planes. Risks escalation big time!

Putin has proved pretty adroit, so far, at exploiting Obama's weaknesses. History says such situations are damn dangerous.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Are We Smarter Than Pigeons?

From the NYT today:

When the leader of a flock goes the wrong way, what will the flock do?

With human beings, nobody can be sure. But with homing pigeons, the answer is that they find their way home anyway.

Either the lead pigeon recognizes that it has no clue and falls back into the flock, letting birds that know where they are going take over, or the flock collectively decides that the direction that it is taking just doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t follow.

Several European scientists report these findings in a stirring report in Biology Letters titled, “Misinformed Leaders Lose Influence Over Pigeon Flocks.”

For people: TBD

More Stoner Foreign Policy Smarts

Former NM Governor Gary Johnson:

It was, in Gary Johnson’s own words, another “Aleppo moment.”

During a town hall-style interview on MSNBC on Wednesday night, Mr. Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, was asked by the host Chris Matthews to name his favorite foreign leader.

Mr. Johnson, appearing flustered, was at a loss to come up with a name.

He grasped at a former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, who has been critical of Donald J. Trump, but was unable to remember his name without help — or the name of any sitting leader of a foreign country.

Of course, even though I can name a few foreign leaders, coming up with one I like, much less a favorite, is tough. Justin Trudeau, Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Pope Francis? But in my case, these are senior moments. Johnson is a lot younger, and running for President. But I can name a bunch that I really don't like.

If Johnson's brain had been a bit less addled he might have changed the subject to those he didn't like. If he could remember any of them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Volker Ullrich's Hitler

Michiko Kakutani reviews the first volume of Ullrich's new Hitler biography in the New York Times. That first volume focuses on his rise to power.

How did Adolf Hitler — described by one eminent magazine editor in 1930 as a “half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool,” a “big mouth” — rise to power in the land of Goethe and Beethoven? What persuaded millions of ordinary Germans to embrace him and his doctrine of hatred? How did this “most unlikely pretender to high state office” achieve absolute power in a once democratic country and set it on a course of monstrous horror?

Ullrich is apparently more concerned with the man than some previous biographers who focused on sociopolitical matters, and that focus humanizes him. This strikes me as a good idea. Consigning great historical villains to the "monster" category is a good way of deflecting our attention from the monstrous tendencies lurking somewhere in all.

Certain themes with contemporary resonance come up in Kakutani's review.

• Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who “only loved himself” — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.” His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity. But Mr. Ullrich underscores Hitler’s shrewdness as a politician — with a “keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people” and an ability to “instantaneously analyze and exploit situations.”

• Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message. A former finance minister wrote that Hitler “was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth” and editors of one edition of “Mein Kampf” described it as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.”

• Hitler was an effective orator and actor, Mr. Ullrich reminds readers, adept at assuming various masks and feeding off the energy of his audiences. Although he concealed his anti-Semitism beneath a “mask of moderation” when trying to win the support of the socially liberal middle classes, he specialized in big, theatrical rallies staged with spectacular elements borrowed from the circus. Here, “Hitler adapted the content of his speeches to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners,” Mr. Ullrich writes. He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers. Even as he fomented chaos by playing to crowds’ fears and resentments, he offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order.

• Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising “to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,” though he was typically vague about his actual plans. He often harked back to a golden age for the country, Mr. Ullrich says, the better “to paint the present day in hues that were all the darker. Everywhere you looked now, there was only decline and decay.”

There is more, of course, and I recommend the review to both potential readers and those who won't read it. Any resemblance to other politicians, living or dead, may well fail to be coincidental.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Debate

Trump was evasive, narcissistic, bombastic and seemingly incapable of speaking in anything other than superalatives. Just the candidate his partisans seem to love.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Whatever Happened to the Rakhigarhi DNA?

There was a lot of excitement last year when it was learned that excavations at Rakhigarhi, now a small village in Northern India, but once a major city of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) had yielded ancient bones which seemed to contain recoverable DNA. These bones had the potential not only to reveal a bit more about the people of this lost civilization, but also to clarify the ancient question of the origin of the Indo-Europeans and their languages, now spoken by about half the world's population.

Mainstream archaeology strongly favors Central Asia as the IE homeland, but significant support also exists for an origin in Iran or Asia Minor. Others, mostly Indian nationalists with little background in archaelogy, support the so called Out-of-India theory, in which the Indo Europeans were survivors of the IVC. The genetics of the IVC people should shed a lot of light on these questions.

The months have rolled on, and other results of the excavation have been reported, but no DNA results. Why not? Here are three unsupported theories:

(1)The DNA has not survived well enough to be decoded. The heat and humidity of India are bad for DNA, and technology couldn't extract anything useful. A variant says that they haven't given up yet, but neither have they yet been able to yet succeed in decoding it.

(2)First conspiracy theory. The DNA definitively refutes the Out of India Theory, but this result is so unwlcome to the Indian government, which seems to think that their official patriotic mythology is at risk, is repressing it.

(3)Second Conspiracy theory: The DNA strongly supports the Out of India origin of PIE, but mainstream archaeology is outraged and refuses to believe it.

Other options?

Russians Bombed Humanitarian Aid Convoy to Aleppo. Why?

The convoy was clearly marked and had been identified to the Russian command. So why did they bomb it?

My theory is that it was a Putin gesture of contempt. Putin believes that the West is weak and incapable of the resolve to resist. He cares nothing for the kinds of humanitarian considerations that are important to Obama and Kerry. He is testing the West, perhaps in preparation for his next military adventure - perhaps against the Baltics.

Of course if the Siberian candidate is elected, we can kiss them (and NATO) goodbye.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Foundations

The Clinton Foundation has a long list of exemplary accomplishments, while The Trump Foundation seems to be a nearly pure scam, with a long list of dubious claims and practices.

So which one do we hear about? Mostly Clinton, and almost always negatively.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Planned Breakthrough

Ever since I found out that blankets can violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics I have been devoting full time to developing blanket based perpetual motion machines. Excuse me while I put my head back under the blanket.