Saturday, July 23, 2016

Celebrities Have Problems Too

I saw that Tom Hiddleston was quoted as saying that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift may have wondered: "Does that mean I have to kill him when his month is up?"

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Trump On NATO

That Treaty? Nevermind.

He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.

For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

I think I see why Putin loves him.

In Case Any Ambiguity Remained

Laura Ingram pulls out her Hitler salute for the conclusion of her RNC speech:

Want some context?

For older memories:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Post Soviet Russia

I am always a bit perplexed at how quick some of the loudly anti-Communist are to embrace fascism. Perhaps they see it as some kind of opposite to Communism, but I don't see it - instead it's more like another face of the same disease. Or maybe they are just more like the American Capitalists who rushed into Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany, eager to make a buck selling them the rope to hang them with.

I don't know, but some of them are quick to swallow the propaganda put out by some of the same apparatchiks (or their cousins) that used to do the same for the old USSR, and to salute the old KGB guy who runs it now. They should probably read Arkady Ostrogovsky's new history of post Soviet Russia - but they probably won't. From the Prologue:

It was after midnight and I was making final changes to this book when I learned that Boris Nemtsov, a liberal politician once groomed to be president of Russia, had been shot six times in the back on a bridge just yards away from the Kremlin. It was the most resonant political assassination in Russia’s post-Soviet history, and it did not seem real. I knew Nemtsov well— he was more than a journalistic contact. Of all the Russian politicians I kept in touch with, he was the only one I considered a friend. He was charismatic, determined, honest, unpretentious and very full of life. Now his large body lay on the wet asphalt, covered by black rubbish bags, with the cupolas of St. Basil’s behind him: his was a postcard murder.

...

Nemtsov’s murder marked the first anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its “hybrid” war against Ukraine. Now the violence ignited over the border had returned to the homeland. The war in Ukraine, stoked and fanned by the Kremlin, has not just devastated a former Soviet republic that dared to break free from its grip. It has devastated Russia itself— its sense of decency and moral fiber. It has turned xenophobia and aggression into a norm and civility into an offense.

Nemtsov was a good man who tried to stop the war. In the state media this has earned him the title of “national traitor” and “American stooge.” In the weeks before his death he was demonized on television. Soon after that hate banners carrying his image were hung on building facades with the words “Fifth column— aliens among us.”

Ostrovsky, Arkady (2016-06-07). The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev's Freedom to Putin's War (Kindle Locations 50-56). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Roots

Ali H. Soufan in the NYT:

THURSDAY’S terror-by-truck attack in Nice, France, was shocking in its outcome — 84 people killed and hundreds injured — but not in its methods. Jihadis have long called on sympathizers to transform everyday vehicles into instruments of mass slaughter.

Six years ago, Al Qaeda’s English language magazine, Inspire — the publication that taught the Boston Marathon attackers how to manufacture pressure-cooker bombs — explicitly encouraged “lone wolves” to ram pedestrians with their cars. More recently, the Islamic State’s principal spokesman, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, has called for similar tactics. Over the past few years, vehicle attacks without the use of explosives have taken place from Israel to Canada.

...

If we are serious about eliminating this threat, the West has to make some major changes. First, and most obviously, we have to recognize that the Islamic State’s occupation of large sections of Iraq and Syria is not a distant tragedy, but the driving force behind these attacks, operationally and inspirationally.

Theoretically, the United States leads a coalition of 65 nations against the Islamic State. In reality, most of these countries do little besides talk tough. Even those that do contribute in a meaningful way — and that includes France — rarely go beyond airstrikes and the occasional special forces raid. Not only has this lackadaisical approach failed to defeat the Islamic State; its failure plays into the group’s claim to be invulnerable and chosen by God. The same goes for other extremist organizations that hold territory, like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the various groups vying with one another for control of coastal Libya.

...

The West may be tired of war, but to borrow a phrase, war is not tired of us. We must refocus and redouble our efforts against the Islamic State and its ilk, even at the risk of getting embroiled in another expansive military campaign — though we should also rely on local Arab and Muslim allies to provide the ground forces. Only by destroying the Islamic State as an organization can we delegitimize it as a source for global terror.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Coup Coup Kachoo

Not likely to be good news, no matter who wins.

Ghostbusters

I haven't seen the new Ghostbusters, so I don't have any firm opinions, though I understand that it's become something of a feminist touchstone, what with the new female cast. I'm a little nervous about its prospects though, on the basis of the trailers I've seen which aren't even slightly funny.

My kids must have been perhaps 4 and 6 when we got the original Ghostbusters video. They immediately became transfixed, insisting on watching it every day if we would let them. So I've seen it several dozen or perhaps even hundreds of times. I became convinced that it was a true masterpiece, an all but perfect mix of scary, funny and sensual. The deadpan humor of Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis was critical, as was Reitman's directorial touch. The rest of the cast was also great.

My favorite line: "Back off man, I'm a scientist."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

One More Time

Why does ISIS still exist and hold territory?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

NATO and Europe's Ridiculous Fantasies

The latest NATO meeting was about how Europe can continue to get the US to keep protecting it from its hungry neighbor to the East. Europeans like the idea of being protected without having to make more than symbolic efforts to protect themselves. Tiny countries with the population of a small world city think they should be able to keep their own customs, borders, toy armies and national independence without bearing much of the cost.

Europe has sufficient population and more than sufficient economic power to protect itself, but it is unwilling to make the kind of sacrifices of petty jealousies that would make it strong. What it needs is what the thirteen colonies of the original United States finally recognized they needed - a unified nation with a unified politics, economy and military.

Chances of that actually happening anytime soon would probably challenge the probabilistic fantasies of Star Trek's Mr. Spock.

If Putin's man Trump wins the election, though, Europe might find out the cost of its inability to unify.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Reforming Football

Soccer, I mean. American football is a lost cause.

More than a few fans seem to agree with me that games like the Euro Final are mostly boring, irritating, and frequently unjust. The first few minutes, when France attacked pell mell, and the final overtime, when Portugal scored, were exciting, although the referee's disastrous miscall on the Portugal handball did help set up their goal.

The problem is that the odds are stacked against the offense, and a mediocre team like Portugal can sit back protecting the goal with all hands, and with a little luck, let the better team exhaust itself trying to attack.

The following suggestion was offered to me: prohibit two or three designated forwards from defending in their own half - or maybe 1/3. This would allow teams to create a majority attack at the risk of a strong counter. With luck, this should double or triple scoring.

In overtime, soccer should take a page from hockey, and play the overtimes with reduced sides of maybe seven or eight each.

Finally, get rid of the silly substitution rule and allow many more substitutions.

Autism and Intelligence

Autism is a frequently severe and sometime crippling neurological condition which, somewhat paradoxically, seems to be associated with genes for high intelligence.

Excerpt from Bernard J. Crespi, via Tyler Cowen, self diagnosed Autist:

A suite of recent studies has reported positive genetic correlations between autism risk and measures of mental ability. These findings indicate that alleles for autism overlap broadly with alleles for high intelligence, which appears paradoxical given that autism is characterized, overall, by below-average IQ. This paradox can be resolved under the hypothesis that autism etiology commonly involves enhanced, but imbalanced, components of intelligence. This hypothesis is supported by convergent evidence showing that autism and high IQ share a diverse set of convergent correlates, including large brain size, fast brain growth, increased sensory and visual-spatial abilities, enhanced synaptic functions, increased attentional focus, high socioeconomic status, more deliberative decision-making, profession and occupational interests in engineering and physical sciences, and high levels of positive assortative mating. These findings help to provide an evolutionary basis to understanding autism risk as underlain in part by dysregulation of intelligence, a core human-specific adaptation. In turn, integration of studies on intelligence with studies of autism should provide novel insights into the neurological and genetic causes of high mental abilities, with important implications for cognitive enhancement, artificial intelligence, the relationship of autism with schizophrenia, and the treatment of both autism and intellectual disability.

There is a lot of suspicion that many prominent geniuses, possibly including Newton, Leonardo, and Dirac were on the autistic spectrum.

Hating on Republicans: One More Reason

From Paul Krugman's NYT Column:

To put it bluntly, the modern Republican Party is in essence a machine designed to deliver high after-tax incomes to the 1 percent. Look at Mr. Ryan: Has he ever shown any willingness, for any reason, to make the rich pay so much as a dime more in taxes? Comforting the very comfortable is what it’s all about.

But not many voters are interested in that goal. So the party has prospered politically by harnessing its fortunes to racial hostility, which it has not-so-discreetly encouraged for decades.

These days, former President George H.W. Bush is treated as an elder statesman, too gentlemanly to endorse the likes of Donald Trump — but remember, he’s the one who ran the Willie Horton ad. Mitt Romney is also sitting this one out — but he was happy to accept Mr. Trump’s endorsement back when the candidate was best known for his rabid birtherism.

And Mr. Ryan, after a brief pretense of agonizing about Mr. Trump, is now in full attack-dog mode on the candidate’s behalf. After all, the Trump tax plan would be a huge windfall for the wealthy, while Hillary Clinton would surely sustain President Obama’s significant tax hike on high incomes, and try to push it further.

...

But there’s one more crucial element here: We wouldn’t have gotten to this point if so many people outside the G.O.P. — in particular, journalists and self-proclaimed centrists — hadn’t refused to acknowledge what was happening.

Political analysts who tried to talk about the G.O.P.’s transformation, like Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, were effectively ostracized for years. Instead, the respectable, “balanced” thing was to pretend that the parties were symmetric, to turn a blind eye to the cynicism of the modern Republican project.