Stephens on Obama's Betrayal of Israel

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Warning that, "The Democratic Party is on the cusp of abandoning the state of Israel", Brett Stephens of the Wall Street Journal goes on to consider how radically the stand towards Israel by Democrats has changed. For example:

That means the GOP is now the engine, the Democrats at best a wheel, in U.S. support for Israel. The Obama administration is the kill switch. Over the weekend, a defensive White House put out a statement noting the various ways it has supported Israel. It highlighted the 1985 U.S.-Israel free-trade agreement and a military assistance package concluded in 2007. When Barack Obama must cite the accomplishments of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush as evidence of his pro-Israel bona fides, you know there is a problem. [links in original]
Stephens does concede that the current administration has done a few things for Israel -- before demonstrating that these measures pale in comparison to Obama's betrayals.

Congressional Democrats have the opportunity to make sure these betrayals belong only to the administration. Will they heed Stephens's wake-up call? I have no idea, but his article is also a wake-up call for anyone concerned about what our country might soon do to a staunch ally. Read the whole thing.

-- CAV

Pareto and the Prepared Mind

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

It's a simple and powerful idea, but it is also harder to use than it seems like it should be. And what idea is that? The "80/20" rule. Statistician John Cook states it as follows:

[The rule] says that efforts and results are often very unevenly distributed. You'll get 80% of your results from the first 20% of your efforts. For example, maybe your top 20% of customers will provide 80% of your profit. Or when you're debugging software, often 80% of the bugs will be in 20% of the code. Once you become aware of it, you'll see 80/20 examples everywhere.
As Cook elaborates further, the principle (also called the Pareto Principle) applies, even if the actual percentages aren't exactly eighty and twenty. Cook goes on to list four reasons the rule might be difficult to apply. For example:
We're unclear how inputs relate to outputs. It may be hard to predict what the most productive activities will be. [link in original]
I see two common threads uniting his four reasons: (1) ignorance regarding various aspects of achieving the goal, and (2) lack of discipline. Cook explores what we can do about the former problem in the link directly above. The latter problem requires introspection and a committment to being clearer about why one is working on a problem. Might the most productive part of taking advantage of the Pareto Principle be best summarized by, "Keep your eyes on the prize?" Being clear about what one wants at the outset, being sensitive to signs that something is or is not working, and remembering to periodically check what one is doing and why are all important.

These are all good habits regardless of whether the Pareto Principle applies to a given endeavor.

-- CAV

Memo to Us the People: Stop Empowering Drivel

Monday, March 02, 2015

Seemingly every time I check the sports pages these days, I find a story about someone going through contortions to build an NFL stadium in Los Angeles, or to prevent someone else from doing so. Perhaps the pick of the litter so far has been the most recent, about a fifteen-page incantation cast on behalf of sports conglomerate AEG by a wizard known as Tom Ridge. Says a writer at Dead Spin:

The 15-page report (which you can review in full right here) is an incredible read, full of scary and baseless predictions from a supposed expert on terrorism without an iota of data to support its conclusions. Paragraph after paragraph of shit is thrown against the wall, with Ridge and AEG hopeful that invoking words like "terror" and "Al-Qaeda" alone will be enough to stop the Inglewood project.
To call Ridge's argument "asinine" is to miss the sewer for the poop. Consider the greater context of his remarks: The context that makes such a document publishable as something others will have to take seriously -- rather than as a parody of a bad student paper in an underground magazine at a high school somewhere.

We are in the middle of a war against Islamic jihadists, but our government won't declare war or even name our enemy. The government does acknowledge a problem -- but only to the extent it needs to in order to boss around law-abiding citizens, such as by forcing us to be treated like prison inmates every time we seek to board an aircraft. Or by spying on our electronic communications. Or by keeping us from building things They Who Must Not Be Named might randomly try to attack. Rather than "leaving smoking ruins and crying widows" in nations that aid Islamic jihad, our government is busy creating excuses to limit our freedom.

This is hardly surprising, given the deliberate misuse of government voters have been calling for more and more loudly in this country ever since the 1930's. For every problem, people seek a government solution, and for every annoyance, there are cries of, "There ought to be a law." This has predictably led to our current mixed economy and straw-grabbing justifications for dispensing favors by the likes of Tom Ridge:
A mixed economy is a mixture of freedom and controls -- with no principles, rules, or theories to define either. Since the introduction of controls necessitates and leads to further controls, it is an unstable, explosive mixture which, ultimately, has to repeal the controls or collapse into dictatorship. A mixed economy has no principles to define its policies, its goals, its laws -- no principles to limit the power of its government. The only principle of a mixed economy -- which, necessarily, has to remain unnamed and unacknowledged—is that no one's interests are safe, everyone's interests are on a public auction block, and anything goes for anyone who can get away with it. Such a system—or, more precisely, anti-system—breaks up a country into an ever-growing number of enemy camps, into economic groups fighting one another for self preservation in an indeterminate mixture of defense and offense, as the nature of such a jungle demands. While, politically, a mixed economy preserves the semblance of an organized society with a semblance of law and order, economically it is the equivalent of the chaos that had ruled China for centuries: a chaos of robber gangs looting -- and draining -- the productive elements of the country. [bold added]
It is in this context that we even have to consider the blatherings of a Tom Ridge, and it is this context that we must end.

In a truly free society, builders of stadiums would pay for them themselves -- or have the aid only of investors, so random other people would not face the prospect of being nickled-and-dimed for them by vote or legislative fiat. The builders wouldn't have to seek permission from men who produce nothing to build them, if they could afford to. And we wouldn't be refusing to call a spade a spade overseas, while using the very same card as an ace-in-the-hole domestically when it comes to "justifying" the misuse of government force for the purpose of meddling in other people's business. This would all be because we would all realize that the only proper purpose of the government is the protection of individual rights.

Tom Ridge's arguments are asinine, but anyone complaining about them ought to ask himself why anyone is having to listen to them in the first place. If we want to stop hearing nonsense, we should work towards a limited government, in which such nonsense won't stand the chance of winning favors for -- or from -- anyone.

-- CAV

2-28-15 Hodgepodge

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Not "the Greatest" Intellectual Journey

He commits the common sin of treating Islam with kid gloves later on, but sportswriter Sheldon Hirsch does at least raise some serious questions about some of the more popular views on Cassius Clay:

[Muhammad] Ali's literal embracement of extreme Black Muslim ideology lends credence to [Mark] Kram's ignorant mouthpiece allegation. Ali accepted the claim (by W.D. Fard, the founder of the Nation of Islam in 1930) that over 6,000 years ago a mad scientist named Yacub bred a dominant white species ("devils") from the original black populace through eugenics and the murder of dark-skinned children. The Nation of Islam redemption story put forth by Fard stated that a spacecraft called the Mother Plane, controlled by black men, orbits the Earth. When the day of Allah's retribution comes, the spacecraft will bomb the earth and kill all the white people.
There's more, but consider the implications of the news media not taking Clay to task for swallowing such claptrap hook, line, and sinker -- on top of becoming a bigot, rather than fighting all bigotry. As offensive as the latter sin is, at least it is understandable. The former, the sin against the truth in the form of indifference, is far worse.

From the Mailbag

Here are a few interesting links sent in by readers...
  • A reader points me to a post about "Kafkatrapping". I commented on this some time back, but the email caused me to think of a variant of this mendacious type of persuasion that I don't think Eric Raymond or his commenters covered. I call it the Model R (for rational): "You will eventually accept {some conclusion I am too lazy to support with a rational argument} because you are rational." Note that the truth or falsehood of the conclusion is irrelevant: It is the fact that the person making the statement (or implication) is trying to extort agreement, rather than earn it. Note further that it is possible to say this as a statement of fact and not be guilty of attempting to bully an opponent.
  • Snedcat mails me something that reminds me of Poe's Law: A list of comments by purported conservatives regarding Vermont's new Latin motto.

    The motto, "Stella quarta decima fulgeat", means, "May the fourteenth star shine bright." Like Snedcat, I wonder how many comments are from befuddled conservatives and how many are parodies.
  • Reader Steve D. tells me of an interesting book, THORIUM: Energy Cheaper Than Coal, which also came up recently on HBL. As both sources indicated, the idea is intriguing, but you'll have to overlook the author's belief in global warming.
Soccer's Morning Raid

When I moved to Boston and learned that I could follow the English Premier League on basic cable, i was thrilled. But I assumed this was due to a peculiarity of the local market, and that, once we left, I'd either have to pay extra or do without. As a sports writer notes, that isn't the case. The EPL has benefitted greatly from the time difference between Old Blighty and the States:
[T]he biggest catalyst for the unexpected ratings boost is the opening to watch sports in the early mornings on Saturdays and Sundays. I believe these time slots without any kind of antagonist (sports competition) are the key element that hooks in viewers. The combination of a popular sport, played at a high quality with great players during a time when a majority of casual sports fans are waking up without having to go anywhere is the perfect storm for a ratings boom-which this is (all things considered).
I've noted elsewhere that, in addition to this, followers of the EPL can get a game in while the spouse (and, sometimes, the kids) are asleep, making them less likely to leave "Soccer Widows". Even if I preferred some other sport (which I don't), the time slot would make it easier to follow soccer than the other sport.

-- CAV

Friday Four

Friday, February 27, 2015

1. Once again, I was amused enough by a beer's name -- Long Strange Tripel -- to give it a try. And, once again, like the folks at Beer Advocate, I was very impressed. Boulevard Brewing Company offers the following explanation of the name:
Lately it occurs to us that if, back in 1989, you planned on starting a brewery in the back of your carpentry shop, you'd been wise to seek out someone like Harold "Trip" Hogue. A collector of ancient Volvos, Trip was well qualified for the make-do engineering required to coax recalcitrant equipment out of retirement and into making the first Boulevard beers. Today, he is our longest-tenured employee. We offer this rich, golden Tripel in grateful tribute to dedication, everywhere.
In addition, the brewers describe its sensory profile, among other things:
A golden-amber colored, full bodied beer with an intense fruity aroma of bananas, a prominent sweet malt flavor containing a hint of toffee, and a low to medium citrusy hop flavor and bitterness.
Boulevard is located in Kansas City, which is among the places my wife is interviewing for a permanent position, so I may have already performed a vital piece of research about my future home...

2. I swear I'm not slowly transforming my Friday post series into a myth-busting campaign, but this was too good to pass up:
... My all-time favorite Eleanor Gould query was on Christmas Gifts for Children: the writer had repeated the old saw that every Raggedy Ann doll has "I love you" written on her little wooden heart, and Eleanor wrote in the margin that it did not, and she knew, because as a child she had performed open-heart surgery on her rag doll and seen with her own eyes that nothing was written on the heart.
I'm not sure which aspect of this I relished more: the silliness of the myth or the method of debunking it.

3. A LEGO fan has exhaustively analyzed prices per brick over time and written up his results. He concludes:
If all the signs lead to the price of LEGO not increasing over time, then why is there a common belief that it has? I have a couple of hypotheses:
  1. Children who were bought LEGO as gifts are now old enough to buy it for themselves and for others as gifts and they are surprised by the price.
  2. The advent of collectible LEGO sets and the internet has driven the secondary market of LEGO through the roof. [minor edits]
His economic analysis, although very interesting, is not the only reason to stop by. There's lots of other interesting historical background, too.

4. Inter alia, from a post on mumbling as data compression:
This kind of linguistic data compression is not limited to pronunciation: It also drives decisions about whether to utter or omit certain words. You're far more likely to specify that your neighbor is a female police officer or a male nurse than if the genders were reversed. Since most police officers have been male and most nurses female, historically, gender is fairly predictable in the usual case; precious cognitive energy is reserved for the anomalous cases, where the words male and female are more useful.
Oops! The author forgot to mention that data compression in speech also offends egalitarian sensibilities. Obviously, this insidious practice must be stamped out!

-- CAV

EPA: No Power for You

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Terry Jarrett, a former Commissioner of the Missouri Public Service Commission and former Chairman of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners' (NARUC) Committee on Critical Infrastructure, has sounded the alarm regarding a plan by the EPA to reduce carbon dioxide emissions due to coal-burning electricity plants:

Under new regulations from the EPA, many of these plants would be effectively forced out of operation. And to date, no one is saying how that power will be otherwise produced. Wind, solar, and natural gas have all been suggested, but none is capable of providing reliable and affordable electricity like coal can. While some states are able to rely on alternative sources such as wind and hydropower [sic], that simply isn't an option for much of the country.

The importance of coal in generating electricity was demonstrated very clearly last winter when coal-fired plants worked overtime to heat homes and businesses during a deep freeze. In fact, American Electric Power, a major utility company, reported that 90 percent of its coal plants slated for retirement under pending EPA rules were running at full speed just to meet peak demand. [bold added]
These rules, as violations of property rights, would be just as wrong even if there were sufficient power generation capacity to replace the plants. Furthermore, such rules would still cause power rates to skyrocket -- as even proponents admit -- already reducing our standard of living.

-- CAV

The Greatest Thing Since...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "It's the greatest thing since sliced bread." But do you know the story behind that time- and finger-saving invention? I didn't until recently:

Despite early praise [in trade journals], when it came time to sell the machine to bakeries, [Otto] Rohwedder was scoffed at.

For several months, nobody showed any interest in the device, which, at five feet wide by three feet high, was perceived to be too bulky and too complex for everyday bread production. On a last-resort whim, Rohwedder asked his friend Frank Bench, a baker on the brink of bankruptcy, if he'd give the slicer a shot. Though it was a substantial investment, Bench reluctantly agreed.

"When no one else in the world would give my father's machine a try," Rohwedder's son told the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune years later, "Frank Bench did."
And Bench was handsomely rewarded, starting with 2,000 percent increase in his bread sales within two weeks.

I consume little bread myself, so I was somewhat surprised to learn that Americans get an average about a third of their caloric intake from bread. Based on that figure, the labor savings represented by this invention is enormous, But don't take my word for it: A letter-to-the-editor that appeared in the New York Times regarding a wartime ban on sliced bread illustrates that quite well. Needless to say, the ban elicited such an outcry that it was quite short-lived.

-- CAV


Today: Fixed a typo.