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Showing posts from July, 2014

Arctic Meltdown ...

... is hardly happening this year. After the gigantic record melt of 2012, many expected that such spectacular melts would become the new norm - but it hasn't happened - yet anyway. 2013 was the largest minimum ice area since 2005 (though still less than anything earlier) and 2014 is currently tracking well above it. No doubt the denialist crowd will find this yet another "proof" that science is nuts, but the fact is that weather remains variable, on a year to year and even decade to decade scale. the culprit - if you can call it that - this year has been cloud cover, high pressure, and wind pattern that have favored ice compaction rather than export. Of course we still have six weeks left in the melt season, so the final script isn't yet in. Meanwhile, Antarctic ice is at record levels, for essentially unrelated reasons.

The Difference

Reading, as I frequently do, a certain blog which must not be named, I notice a posting on the Israeli situation. The author recommends, and appears to endorse, this post by Ali A. Rizvi. I mostly agree with the latter, especially this first sentence: Are you "pro-Israel" or "pro-Palestine"? It isn't even noon yet as I write this, and I've already been accused of being both.Just to put it on the record, but for historical and family reasons I am "pro-Israel" but I am also pro-truth and anti-myth. Not only that, but I believe that Palestinians are people too and deserve a chance at a decent life. Is there a way to achieve that and still keep Israel safe? I don't know, but I agree with Rizvi that the current path is not that way. However, if Israel holds itself to a higher standard like it claims -- it needs to do much more to show it isn't the same as the worst of its neighbors. Israel is leading itself towards increasing internatio…

Israel's Real Friends

It's one of those classic ironies that the fiercest battles over Israeli policies take place between those who both consider themselves friends of Israel. These camps might roughly be described as the liberal and conservative camps. The liberal camp thinks that the current Israeli government is pursuing policies that are likely to be suicidal in the long run. The conservatives seem to think that any criticism of Israeli actions is treason to the cause, and Jew hating anti-semitism. Of course Israel has plenty of real enemies, and many of these would not be placated by anything less than the disappearance of Israel as a state. But, argue the liberals, there are lots of people in the middle, who are not deeply hostile to Israel, but are increasingly offended by the images on television. Of course that is point of the Hamas provocations - say the conservatives, truthfully enough. No issue between the liberals and conservatives is as divisive as the settlements in the West Bank.…

Argumentation II

One of the most fruitful traditions of Judaism is argumentation. The Talmud can be read as a gigantic series of arguments, and, at least in some places, rabbinical students study in pairs, the better to sharpen their argumentation skills. The analytic abilities honed by this kind of culture have been put to good use in the larger world - helping Jews reach the top of nearly every occupation. Even in the arguments over Israel, the sharpest points of each side are frequently made by Jews. The following curious anecdote was published in the Jewish Journal: On a JetBlue flight from Florida to New York on July 7, just before the IDF launched its Operation Protective Edge, an argument over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict broke out between two passengers that got one of them, a Jewish doctor from Queens named Lisa Rosenberg, kicked off the flight before takeoff. Later it emerged that the passenger with whom Rosenberg argued, who on the plane had identified herself as a Palestinian, was…

Israel's Support in the World

A former commenter was scathing in his denunciation when I suggested that Israel was losing friends in the world. From the NYT:A 2013 Pew poll found vastly more unfavorable feelings toward Israel outside than within the United States, which registered a 27 percent unfavorable view of Israel and a 57 percent favorable view. In contrast, 44 percent of people in Britain had an unfavorable view of Israel. Unfavorable views of Israel were held by 62 percent in Germany, 65 percent in France, 66 percent in China and in the 80 percent to 90 percent range in Arab and Muslim countries.But Nigeria is still with them - or was two years ago.

Making Friends and Influencing People

In the age of the internet, the business of war is even more damaging to reputation than ever. People don't like to see kids and hospitals blown up. The good news for Israel in this new Pew poll is that Americans remain solidly behind Israel, blaming Hamas more than Israel by a margin of 40% to 19%, with the rest going with "both" or don't know. The bad news is that those 18-29 reverse this, blaming Israel more by 29% - 21%. Blacks and Hispanics blame Israel more as well. Not sure what the comparable numbers look like in Europe, but rumors would seem to indicate that the numbers are worse for Israel there. For now, it looks like Israel has a comfortable margin of US support, but its margin for error is endangered. A recent Gallup poll had the maybe even worse news for Israel, with support looking solid only among Republicans, over fifties, and the most educated.

Prisoners of Events

Yuval Diskin's interview linked below implies the Israeli public opinion pressured Netanyahu into invasion of Gaza. Putin's meddling in Ukraine has caused his popularity at home to skyrocket. George Bush got a big boost from his Iraq war. The Iraq-Iran war of the eighties consolidated Khomeini's grip on power in Iran. Wars are popular, especially at first, before the bills come due. The other side of this is that they are usually easier to get into than out of. Six year's later Obama is still struggling to extract himself from Bush's wars. Putin lately seems pretty unsure of his Ukrainian adventure, but any retreat now might collapse his power at home. Meanwhile Israel continues to ratchet up the bloodshed in Gaza, with very little sign the Hamas is about to collapse. Can Israel stop short of a reoccupation of Gaza that's likely to be much bloodier and more costly to it and it's reputation? TBD.

Overthrowing Dictators

The dubious logic behind Bush's adventure in Iraq was that if an evil dictator was overthrown, democracy would flourish. The supposed exemplars of this notion were post WWII Japan and Germany. This naive expectation ignores the fact that neither Japan nor Germany was a complete stranger to democratic institutions and that the Allies, mostly the US, imposed long occupations on both defeated nations in which democratic institutions were carefully nourished and deviations rigorously suppressed. Bush's slapdash attempts predictably failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the time since has seen a number of more or less spontaneous dictatorial overthrows in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt as well as a failing attempt in Syria. Most of these have been disasters. The pattern is hardly different in the dozens of former colonies that were turned loose with superficially democratic institutions by the European powers. With very few exceptions, democracy has failed in them. This should remind u…

Gaza Interview

Via a blogger who must not be named, this interview with Yuval Diskin, former Israeli security chief. It's depressing reading, revealing the intractability of the problem and the lack of leadership on either side. Violence breeds violence, and it's hard to see how it stops before one side (mostly likely the Palestinians) is wiped out. Demilitarizing Gaza by force may be appealing despite the carnage, but then what? Diskin: Diskin: Israel didn't have any other choice than to increase the pressure, which explains the deployment of ground troops. All attempts at negotiation have failed thus far. The army is now trying to destroy the tunnels between Israel and the Gaza Strip with a kind of mini-invasion, also so that the government can show that it is doing something. Its voters have been increasingly vehement in demanding an invasion. The army hopes the invasion will finally force Hamas into a cease-fire. It is in equal parts action for the sake of action and aggressive …

Scott Aaronson and Andrew Sullivan on Gaza

Scott:Hamas is trying to kill as many civilians as it can. Israel is trying to kill as few civilians as it can. Neither is succeeding very well.Andrew:My old sparring partner, Jeffrey Goldberg, has been busy pondering why Hamas has sent hundreds of rockets – with no fatalities – into Israel. He argues that it does this in order to kill Palestinians. It’s an arresting idea, and it helps perpetuate the notion that there are no depths to which these Islamist fanatics and war criminals will not sink. It also helps distract from the fact that Hamas itself did not kill the three Israeli teens which was the casus belli for the latest Israeli swoop through the West Bank; that Netanyahu had called for generalized revenge in the wake of the killings, while concealing the fact that the teens had been murdered almost as soon as they had been captured; and that Israeli public hysteria, tapping into the Gilad-like trauma of captivity, then began to spawn increasingly ugly, sectarian and racist a…

The Uses of Argumentation

One thing people do a lot is argue. It's ubiquity suggests that it has significant adaptive value. To my mind, the most important component of this value is the Platonic argument: argument as a tool for discovering the truth. That principle is the basis of our legal system as well as a critical component of scientific reasoning - the idea of testing a proposition against the alternatives. A related, but quite distinct, purpose is persuasion, or getting others to sign on to a course of action one wishes. A couple of other common uses, IMHO deservedly in lower repute, are point scoring and proclaiming tribal affiliation. The aim of point scoring is to make somebody else look bad, while proclaiming tribal affiliation is the verbal or literary equivalent of the gang tattoo. "I'm a conservative, so I don't believe anthropogenic climate change is real," for example. Even though real world arguments often contain all four of these elements, I think it make sense…

Speed Dating The Universe

At a party a woman once approached Einstein and said: I've been reading your book and there are just a few things that I don't understand. What are line element, tensor, stress-energy, metric and ...". Einstein's reply: "Oh that's very simple. Those are merely technical terms." Of course, those pesky technical terms, always cluttering up the intellectual landscape. What we need is the equivalent of speed dating for science, brief little capsules that will give you - and others - the impression that you understand. If you can't boil a big idea down to a brief paragraph, what use is it anyway? For example, for DNA one might say: The instruction sheets for building plants, animals, and bacteria are written down on long strings of four different chemicals. Every cell starts out with one of these instruction sheets and teams of other chemicals that can read them and translate them into the stuff that makes brains, muscles, bones and skin (for an…

Our Israel Problem

The Middle East has been a central strategic preoccupation of the world for more than one hundred years, mostly because of oil. Winston Churchill's pivotal step of changing the British fleet from coal to oil was just the start of oil's dizzying rise to pre-eminence in the minds of of every strategic thinker. Since that time it has been a major focus of two global wars, the cold war, and numerous smaller scale wars. These factors, and the vast wealth that the oil brought to the region, profoundly disrupted the relatively backward and tribal societies that dominated the area. So the Middle East would probably be a mess even without Israel. Britain was probably the biggest player in the establishment of Israel. Motivated by a mixture of naive idealism and not as shrewd as they thought realpolitik, its leaders allowed and encouraged the immigration of Jews into Palestine. Their realpolitik backfired when the supposed "strategic counterweight" to the Arabs became a…

Shoot Downs

It's not especially likely that the Russian/Ukrainian separatists who shot down the 777 intended to bring down a civilian airliner. That said, many are comparing this event with the US shoot down of an Iranian airliner in 1988. It's perhaps instructive to compare the circumstances. At that point, the Iraq-Iran war had been dragging on for seven years, and Iran was losing. The two countries had been attacking each other's shipping and port facilities the whole time. A desperate Iran decided to widen the war by attacking Kuwaiti and other third party shipping. This presented a direct threat to world oil supplies as well as to the third party nations, and Kuwait appealed to both the US and Russian to intervene. This dual appeal was sufficient to awaken Reagan (or his inner circle) from his snooze and promise action, which came in the form of reflagging Kuwaiti tankers as American and providing naval escorts. One of these escorts, the destroyer Vincennes, was engaged b…

Planetary Scale Catastrophes

There are a few kinds of planetary catastrophes that we can reasonably anticipate, some of our own doing, like a major thermonuclear war or catastrophic global warming. There are also some that are beyond our ability to control, like a major cometary impact. It seems that we narrowly missed a bad one in 2012, a gigantic solar coronal mass ejection that narrowly missed the Earth. The damage such a "space weather" event would do is mediated by the large induced electric fields it would generate, which very plausibly would fry all sorts of electrical and electronic equipment, including power lines, generators and all those other devices our lives now depend on. The good news is that there are lots technological measures that can be taken to mitigate the worst effects of such an event. The bad news is that hardly any of them have, in fact, been implemented. Big coronal mass ejection events are not rare, like cometary impacts. We are very likely to be in the path of at le…

Raging Against The Dying of the Light

I've always been a book nut. As is the case with most nuts, there is a strongly irrational element in my bibliomania. I don't read that many novels. A lot of non-fiction is not my cup of tea. But I love technical books on subjects which I want to understand. I buy a lot of textbooks and monographs. And I've never sold one. I have also given away a lot fewer than I should have. At this point, I have a lot more books on a number of subjects than I can ever hope to comprehend (differential geometry, astrophysics, string theory, quantum field theory, general relativity, to name a few). Of course I'm also getting dumber, and I probably wasn't bright enough for several of those subjects at my best. Also, my vision is going. Obviously, a rational strategy would be to at least drastically prune the collection that clutters up my house, garage, and office. But I still lust in my heart over that new astrophysics book. Maybe that new quantum field theory book woul…

Putin's War Yet Again

Putin continues to wage a cross border war against Ukraine - or what's left of it. In addition to shipping heavy weapons to the separatists (including the long range missiles that brought down the 777, Russian artillery and missiles rain down on Ukraine from Russia. It's curious that Putin has chosen this half measure of cross border warfare rather than all out invasion. Perhaps he thinks the fig leaf of stopping short of massive invasion will keep Europe from any significant response, and he could be right. Or perhaps he is just playing for time, hoping some suitable deal can be worked out. For the moment he remains popular and home, and credulity of the Russian public, and Putin's fellow travelers, seems capable of swallowing any nonsense from their bare chested hero. It seems history may not quite be over yet.

Oil and the Free Market

As a dynamical system, oil prices have long displayed a rather unstable behavior. A number of factors have contributed: a long history of exponential growth in demand, the long time constant of the feedback of prices on supply, and the unpredictable nature of the discovery of new oil resources. As a result, oil prices and oil supply suffered from dramatic swings, and as the world became more oil dependent, these swings wrecked every widening paths of economic destruction. One of the first to clearly realize this was John D. Rockefeller, and his answer was the Standard Oil Trust. Besides giving him and his investors immense personal profits, Standard created safer standardized oil products and regulated production to maintain stable (and high) prices. Motivated in part by Ida Tarbell's scathing exposes, the Trust was ultimately dismantled, and consumers got lower prices but also an unstable market. The ferocious competition unleashed that drove down prices also resulted in a …

Learning Physics

Rhett Allain, physics prof, wired writer, and blogger has an article entitled: What do you need to learn upper level physics? YMMV, but I found it spectacularly uninformative, so I decided to see if I could do better. Firstly, compared to some other academic disciplines and professions, physics is heavy on technique but relatively light on memorizing facts. It also very "vertical" or hierarchical, in that it's built layer after layer one on top of the other, and you often need the lower layers to understand the upper layers. And by "techniques", I mostly mean skill at solving physics problems. The foundation is mathematics. You can't really begin to study physics at a formal level until you are competent in high school level mathematics: algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. At that point the student can tackle the basic subjects of physics at an elementary level: mechanics, electromagnetism, thermal physics, and waves. Simultaneously one sh…

Putin's War

So far, Putin has waged a pretty successful PR campaign to persuade the much of the world that the Ukrainian war is anybody's doing but his - a plot by facists and the West. That view found plenty of subscribers among the "everything is America's fault" and professional Obama haters, but it's much harder for him to deny that he his systematic escalation is responsible for the Malaysian air shootdown. He is the guy who has been supplying the separatists with advanced weapons, "advisors", and other support, probably including the crew that shot down the 777. James Miller: President Putin has been recklessly escalating the crisis in eastern Ukraine since he was embarrassed and outmaneuvered by the Ukrainian president three weeks ago. Allowing a passenger jet to be shot down is the act of an increasingly desperate man. The Kremlin ordered tanks, heavy weapons and Russian fighters to pour over the border stoking up the crisis until tragedy struck. We…

Putin Screwup?

Josh Marshall on Ukraine:Were it not for the hundreds killed, it would also be comical the ridiculous series of events Vladimir Putin's reckless behavior led up to this morning. For months Putin has been playing with fire, making trouble and having it work mainly to his advantage. Certainly in the context of Russian history and nationalist aspiration reclaiming the Crimea is a vast accomplishment. But the whole thing blew up in his face today in a way, and with repercussions I don't think - even with all wall to wall coverage - we can quite grasp. Find extremists and hot-heads of the lowest common denominator variety, seed them with weaponry only a few militaries in the world possess - and, well, just see what happens. What could go wrong? The audio tapes posted by The New York Times might as well be from some future Russia-based version of Waiting for Guffman or Best in Show, a comical rendering of rustics and morons stumbling into an event of vast carnage and international…

Another 777 Down

If, as some circumstantial evidence suggests, the Malaysian 777 downed in Ukraine was shot down by the Ukrainian rebels that Putin has outsourced his imperial designs to, with a weapon that he gave them, Europe may decide it might actually need to get serious about economic sanctions. From Dylan Scott: The leader of the pro-Russia rebel group that controls the area where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed on Thursday reportedly posted a warning on social media just as news about the commercial jet was breaking. "We did warn you — do not fly in our sky," it reportedly said. According to Mashable, Igor Gorkin, also known as Igor Strelkov, said that "a plane has just been downed" on VK.com, Russia's Facebook-like social network, around the same time that Flight 17 went missing. Strelkov "deleted the post when he found out it was actually a commercial jetliner carrying 295 innocent people — not a military aircraft," Mashable reported.It's also p…

Oh Dear!

From Forbes, I learned that Paul Krugman had been "publically eviscerated" by Harvard prof and Wingnut court jester Niall Ferguson. It sounds painful and potentially fatal. I certainly hope that the culprit has been brought to justice. I guess Fergie must not have been satisfied with the results of his three part critique of PK in the HuffPost, which must have led him to the alleged physical violence. I can't say that I was very impressed by his ïntellectual "points" most of which concerned Krugman's predictions about the Euro, assuming the ECB failed to change its evil ways (It did, a point that seem to escape the Ferg).

Israel's "War Crimes"

For me the phrase "war crime" is somewhat redundant. War is murder, to start with. There are degrees, of course. By most accounts, Israel appears to be trying to murder mostly Palestinians it has some reason to suspect of trying to do them ill. Of course, by this point, there are probably few if any Palestinians in the Gaza prison who wouldn't do them ill if they could. The pretext for this war was the murder of three Israeli teenagers. That, very likely, was a Palestinian "war crime". For Palestinians, one problem is that their efficiency at war is not one thousandth of that of Israel. The gruesome strategy Hamas has adopted is to provoke the murder of their own people to the point at which the rest of the world gets angry at Israel. They have been modestly successful in that, but it's far from clear that it will do them any good. It's not clear that Israel's alternatives to playing defense and selective assassination are any better. One c…

If You Close Your Eyes...

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I read that climate skeptics are trying to rebrand themselves as "climate optimists." I can think of a few alternative designations, but rather than be bitter, let me just wish them well and suggest a theme song:


Not Enough Magic: 1-0

Messi merely mortal, after all. A very good game, with chances for both teams, but I have to think that the better team won.

Netherlands 3 - Brazil 0

Bizarre officiating, but Brazil was clearly exposed as a mediocre team without Nemar. Maybe not even that good. It's tactics were also dubious, pressing high early, and thereby exposing their weakness in the back. Another big triumph of for the new Northern European style soccer. Peter Pomerantsev has a nice Daily Beast article on the end of an era in soccer - the era of Messi, tiki-taka, and Barcelona with the rise of the Soccer machines just offstage, right. Medically he might never have made it. At 11, back in his home town of Rosario, Argentina, Messi was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency. “Every night I had to stick a needle into my legs, night after night after night, every day of the week, and this over a period of three years,” says Messi. But his steel factory worker father and cleaner mother struggled to keep on raising the 1,500 dollar a month treatment. His first Argentine team, Newell’s Old Boys, promised to pay, but couldn’t make good on the promise. “Ev…

Citizen Koch

Citizen Koch is a fair and balanced account of the activities of two public spirited brothers. With their joint wealth of something like 100 gigabucks, they can and do spends tens and hundreds of millions of dollars on their advocacy actions. Most of those advocacy actions are directed at destruction of unions, disenfranchising African Americans and other low income voters, increasing corporate power, destroying environmental and other regulations and rallying their fellow super-rich to protect and perpetuate the American plutocracy. Despite the title though, the documentary is mostly about a couple of series of events, one heavily influenced by Koch money and the other influenced mostly by corporate money. The first was Scott Walker's election as Wisconsin governor, implementation of the Koch program, and a subsequent recall election which he again won, partly by outspending his Democratic opponent 8 to 1, fuelled by Koch and other out of State money. The second was former Re…

All of Me

Commenter TE recently remarked that my posts on string theory reminded him of Lumo on climate. This got me thinking about what the heck I might actually have said on the subject. There is a whole potful of posts, many mentioning ST only peripherally, going back to 2005. It is collected here: Wit Wisdom and Foaming Mouthed Rage of CIP on STOh well.

Post Empirical

One of the latest, and IMHO, lamest defenses of String Theory seems to be post empiricism - the notion that physics may not need all that experiment stuff. Peter Woit has an article on the subject at Scientia Salon and also on his blog. The comments are only on Scientia Salon, with the result that they are more plentiful, but to my mind, of much lower quality than usually found on the blog. It's a real problem for fundamental physics that particle physics experiments may have run their course, at least for a generation or two. If the upgraded beam LHC sees nothing but a generic Standard Model, it may be tough to persuade governments to fund a next generation collider. At the moment, there are two deep fundamentally unexplained phenomena in physics: dark matter and dark energy. Particle physics seems likely to have something to say about dark matter, but who knows? In the most pessimistic case, we may be approaching the limits of what a civilization of our scope can learn ab…

Messi vs. Machine

I expect that Germany will be the favorite after it's demolition of Brazil, but Argentina looked pretty solid against Netherlands. Germany has lots of good players, perhaps even a great one or two, but Messi can't be discounted. I'm rooting for Argentina, but then I'm a sucker for underdogs. Can they score? The fatigue factor can hardly be discounted. Robben looked notably less potent in the game against Argentina, and Germany has an extra rest day after a walkover. Argentina had a very tough 130 minutes vs the Orange.

The New Mexico Monsoon Has Arrived

Yes, it's here at last. Our rainy season, such as it is. We have been seeing hints, for a couple of weeks. A little verga here, a New Mexico six inch rain* there. With any luck, the desert will bloom, the rabbits will proliferate, and the coyotes will get something to eat besides cats and small dogs. So today we had real rain, not Rains of Ranchipur** rain, nor even streets a foot deep in sand washed out of the desert rain, but enough to water the lawn. And yes, in southern New Mexico, this counts as news. * Drops six inches apart on my windshield. ** I've never seen this movie, but the trailer made a great impression on my youth. I watched it as a preview to one of the Westerns I got to see for 35 cents on Saturdays. It certainly seemed to be raining a lot. I don't seem to remember anything about any of them.

FIFA News Flash!!!

Because of the intense heat and humidity in Qatar, not to mention the intense humiliation suffered this year by Brazil, FIFA has ruled that the preliminary running around on the field will be dispensed with at the 2022 World Cup. Instead, all matches will go directly to the deciding penalty shoot-outs.

The German (football) War Machine II

Ken Early, writing in Slate, looks at the Brazilian debacle.On Germany's reaction to defeat at Euro 2000: Rather than write it off under the heading of “these things happen,” the Germans decided to act. Clubs in the first and second division were told they had to set up standardized youth academies as part of a broad reorganization of the national football structure. The idea was to make sure that the next generation of German players would be better than the last. Year by year, the new generations of German footballers were equipped with the technical and cognitive tools that we saw dismantling Brazil at the Mineirão. The coordinated movement that looked like some uncanny telepathy is really just coaching. Over the last five tournaments Germany have reached a semifinal, a final, a semifinal, a semifinal, and now another final, after what might be the World Cup’s greatest ever victory. Germany’s plan is working. Of course, Germany is the spiritual home of planning in a way that…

High Interest: Who Loves Ya, Baby?

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Paul Krugman looks at the numbers, and surprise, surprise - it's the rich, particularly the ultrarich, and of course the rentiers especially.

Another %*#(!@$ Penalty Shoot Out

Have I mentioned what a stupid way this is to end a soccer game? Yeah, maybe I did.

Soccer Wars: The German Way

World Cup watchers may have noticed that several of the best American players were German Americans who grew up in Germany. Bloomberg has an article on the German soccer machine. It reminded me of why Germans continue to scare the hell out of me. Brazil certainly underperformed on Tuesday and throughout the World Cup. Its wins have all been lucky, barely, or both. But Brazil didn’t just fall apart against Germany (although it certainly did fall apart). Germany beat them with the precise and inspiring soccer it’s played all month in Brazil. This is not an accident, a golden blessing of a generation of talented fussballers. It follows a 14-year plan to find all the kids among 80 million Germans who can really play soccer, train them young, and get them attached to a professional team. ... The Guardian wrote a great piece on the German program last year, or you can read the DFB’s own chest-thumping self-assessment from 2011. Germany’s standardized national program starts teaching th…

It Wasn't Really That Close

Germany 7 - Brasil 1.

Ukraine: Now What?

According to David M. Herszenhorn, writing in the NYT, Ukrainian separatists have retreated to a couple of big cities, and the government is making gains. For the moment, Putin has pulled back and does not seem to be helping the separatists. KIEV, Ukraine — Separatist rebels retreated Monday from positions in eastern Ukraine, apparently blowing up bridges, and began building barricades in the two largest cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, in anticipation of a final stand against advancing government troops. While separatist leaders have complained bitterly about being sold out by their allies in Moscow, Ukrainian officials said Monday that they had succeeded in sealing the previously porous border with Russia, stopping the influx of new weapons and fighters. The action on Monday came after a series of surprising successes by Ukraine’s underequipped and underfunded military, which in recent days has driven the rebels from some strongholds that were seized early in the three-month rebelli…

Is Life a Talent Contest?

The nature vs. nurture debate continues. Vox has a new article by Joseph Stromberg discussing results of a study that purports to discount the so-called 10,000 hours paradigm, promoted by Malcolm Gladwell, among others. That paradigm suggests that expert performance at almost anything requires about 10,000 hours of systematic practice. Stromberg's article has a photo of Argentine futbol star Lionel Messi, with a caption that claims he didn't get as far as he has just by practicing a lot. My gut response is, tru dat, but he didn't get to where he is without practicing a lot, probably much more than 10,000 hours. The study is a meta analysis, looking at 88 other studies that looked at effects of practice time, and found that relatively small percentages of success in various endeavors could be explained by practice time with perhaps 25% in games, 21% in music, 18% in sports, to almost zero in professions. In most cases, practice times are "as remembered" but …

Oil Shocks of the 1970's.

There were two great oil shocks of the 1970s, in 1973, due to the Arab oil boycott after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and in 1978, the withdrawal of Iranian oil accompanying the revolution. The net effect of the first was to give the oil exporting nations full control over their resources, including the ability to break contracts at will. The second was a catastrophe mainly because of an induced panic, due disruption of supply agreements and inventory buildup by everybody from countries to consumers - American motorists, for example, went from keeping their gas tanks 1/4 full on average to 3/4 full - billion of gallons of gasoline withdrawn from the market at once. Perhaps the central fact at the heart of these crises was the US transition from oil exporter to huge oil importer. Many had warned of this threat, including President Jimmy Carter, but when the catastrophe hit the prophet had no honor in his own country. The US was burdened by efficiency destroying price controls and al…

Doh!

A new poll shows American voters rating Obama the worst president since WWII - and Reagan the best. Enough to erode what little faith I had in the American voters. Americans may just be too dumb to survive as a nation.

1 January, 1978: Ironic Prelude to a Revolution

President Carter and spouse decided to spend News Year's day with the Shah of Iran and his wife, because they liked the company as well as for reasons of international politics. The Shah has recently relaxed his hawkish views on oil prices, and was regarded as an essential prop against the soviet Union. Carter also wanted to show his gratitude to the Shah for his progress on human rights and his switch of position on oil prices, which was seen as a major concession on the part of the monarch. Moreover, the President was regretful and embarrassed over the rioting and tear gas that had greeted the Shah’s arrival on the South Lawn of the White House, and he wanted to clear up any misunderstandings, within Iran and outside the country, and firmly underline American support. So, at a New Year’s Eve banquet, he rose to offer a memorable toast. “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world,” he said. “This i…

Belgium 2 - US 1

Belgium's field players were clearly superior to their US counterparts, so the US lost despite Tim Howard's heroics. As usual, the US can't manage possession. Not only was Belgium winning nearly every challenge and fifty-fifty, but we couldn't pass accurately at all. It's somewhat puzzling that despite our large population, huge number of youth players, and substantial resources, we can't play better soccer. Of course it's true that the best US athletes go into (American) football and basketball, but those elite super athletes in the Pro leagues are mostly not suitable for soccer. Lebron might be all but unstoppable in the box, but can anybody imagine him running 90 minutes in the heat and humidity? The potentially great US soccer players were probably really good high school wide receivers, defensive backs, and basketball guards who were too small for the Bigs. I also suspect that US youth soccer is too organized and too badly organized. The reall…