Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Syria – Let's Be Smart (and fool everybody)

Kevin Drum pointed me to this video from Fareed Zacharia. It contains a short history of the Middle East, and a short history of American intervention in the Middle East. It's pretty simplified, but pretty much on target.

Unfortunately, President Obama has pretty much painted himself into a corner by saying Assad's use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" that would have "consequences." As Assad has apparently used chemical weapons, it looks like there will be consequences. But what?

Drum quotes the LA Times:
In two major episodes in 1998, the U.S. government unleashed a combination of bombs and cruise missiles against its foes — Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq. In a more distant third case, in 1986, the U.S. bombed Moammar Kadafi's Libya.
The bombs and missiles mostly hit their targets, and the U.S. military at the time declared the attacks successful. But in the end, they achieved little. Two years after the U.S. bombed Tripoli, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 passengers and crew. Investigators later concluded that the U.S. attack was a primary motive for Kadafi to support the Lockerbie bombing. Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people in attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Hussein kicked out international weapons inspectors and survived despite sanctions until a U.S.-led invasion deposed him in 2003.
...."If the U.S. does something and Assad is left standing at the end of it without having suffered real serious, painful enough damage, the U.S. looks weak and foolish," said Eliot Cohen, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a former State Department official in the Bush administration, who has long been skeptical about reliance on air power.
"This is the fundamental problem," Drum says.
All the evidence suggests that Obama is considering the worst possible option in Syria: a very limited air campaign with no real goal and no real chance of influencing the course of the war. You can make a defensible argument for staying out of the fight entirely, and you can make a defensible argument for a large-scale action that actually accomplishes something (wiping out Assad's air force, for example), but what's the argument for the middle course? I simply don't see one. It's the act of a president who's under pressure to "do something" from the know-nothings and settles on a bit of fireworks to buy them off and show that he has indeed done something. But it's useless. The strike itself won't damage Assad much and it won't satisfy the yahoos, who will continue to bray for ever more escalation.
 John McCain and Linsey Graham, who never saw an intervention they didn't like (and think we should still be in Iraq),  are among those yahoos.


Monday, August 12, 2013


Was up early this (Monday) a.m., so stuck my head out the front door to see the Perseid meteor shower. Overcast skies. (Sigh)

But there's still tonight and tomorrow morning, when I'll be 80 miles from downtown Chicago. The weather forecast is for generally clearing skies, so tomorrow morning looks good.

Perseid is considered an intense meteor shower, because it produces 90-100 meteors per hour. This is a good year for watching it, because the moon is not full. Here's a video of the 2010 shower.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Critical Thinking

A couple of years ago, a young woman from Texas announced to me that she was "against critical thinking." Noting the look of dumbfounded confusion that is a sort of trademark of mine, she explained further, "I think people are too critical about things, and always finding fault. The world would be a better place if we weren't so critical."

Ah. Just so. I had no idea where the comment came from, but was content to let it rest there.

It wasn't until months later that I learned that "critical thinking" was a political issue in Texas, and the state Republican Party had actually taken a position against it. As the woman's husband was active in GOP politics, her remark suddenly had a context. In the Texas GOP's view, critical thinking had "the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

Well, it depends on the parents, I guess. As a child, our dinner table was a debate club, and I think my parents liked it that way. Somebody who had opinions had better watch out – there was bound to be somebody at the table who had facts! It was no holds barred, but I can remember only one low blow. I had just shredded my sister Kay's position on a critical issue of the day (was it Quemoy and Matsu?) when she leaned across the table, studied my face, and asked, "Do you know you have a booger hanging from your nose?"

I mean, really. Talk about an ad hominem attack.

I've been thinking a lot about critical thinking lately. Let me just say that, contrary to Texas, I think critical thinking is a good thing, generally. Actually, I don't think there is any other kind that actually qualifies as thinking. There are articles on the internet about it, and a Wikipedia entry that purports to list its components. Several of them are useful.

I got to thinking about critical thinking again when I saw this remarkable interview [below] of the author Reza Aslan about his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. If you haven't seen it, you must. Thanks largely to the interview, the book is now #1 on the Amazon best-seller list, which is a good thing.

Although Aslan admits there are no new ideas or insights in his book, his popularization will bring a lot of people up-to-date on the last 200 years of fascinating scholarship about Jesus. For many, it will challenge their fixed beliefs and undermine their parents' authority.

The interviewer, Lauren Green, is a former Miss Minnesota who attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. It would be very embarrassing if they actually gave her a degree.

By the way: Am I the only one who thinks it's kind of funny that the lion that represents Jesus in C.S. Lewis' book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, is also named Aslan?

This Guy's a Real Piece of Work

From Talking Points Memo, an altercation between Anthony Weiner and his Republican opponent for New York City mayor, George McDonald:
Weiner and McDonald, a 69-year-old entrepreneur, got into it prior to the forum, and local news station NY1 captured footage of a portion of their exchange. 
"Don't put your hands on me ever again," said McDonald.
"Really? What's going to happen if I do? You're a tough guy now?" Weiner asked.
"I am. I can defend myself," McDonald responded. 
Weiner then told McDonald to get his "anger issues under control."
"I don't have any anger issues," McDonald said. 
"But you do, grandpa," said Weiner.
The AARP objects to Weiner calling McDonald "Grandpa," but it's offensive way beyond that.  I half expect the next Weiner campaign video to look like this.

I wish Anthony Weiner would just go away. Aside from that, I hope his wife's friends are planning an intervention.

Monday, August 05, 2013

David Brooks' Meritocracy

[See update in comments section, below. Virginia Ted called it: it was a satire. Luckily, the email I got from a guy in Nigeria is definitely the real thing.]

Since the names were deleted, the following should be taken with a grain of salt. There's no way for me to determine the authenticity of this email (and frankly, I'm a little suspicious). But it's sure worth a read.
From: xxx@xxx.com
To: xxx@xxx.com
Sent: Fri, 09 Dec 2011 13:35:13 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Great Job Opportunity - PLEASE READ
As some of you may already know, I have been interested in the world of finance for some time. After a series of summer internships, however, I have somehow found myself without a full-time job offer for the upcoming year. Fuckin' Obama's fault for strangling this economy.

Luckily, due to the tough job market, my dad has agreed to let me access my trust fund early (mid 7-figures) to start a relatively small hedge fund, ___ Ventures, after graduation. I'm emailing you guys today to let you know that, for the rest rest of the year, I will be recruiting 2 full-time employees and 1 intern to help me get this off the ground.

With my financial expertise, help from my powerful father and connections, and a skilled team, I have no doubt that this fund will rise quickly to prominence. We'll all get filthy rich and, inevitably, bag hot slampieces. If possible, I'd love to give all 3 of these positions to my [fraternity] brothers.

Although you would technically be working for me, I like to think of it more as a team effort. I know that my education and background qualifies me to lead a venture of this sort, and I would really appreciate your support. Below are the job descriptions. If interested, please email me a resume, cover letter, and paragraph describing why you would be excited to work with me.

Position 1: Lead Investment Analyst
-Because I will spend most of my time networking, raising money, and handshaking with industry bigwigs, I need someone with a strong quant background to take care of the majority of actual analysis.
-Finance experience preferred but not required
-Compensation: Low six figures with benefits

Postion 2: Office Manager/Secretary
-Although this may not sound like the most prestigious role within a fund, someone needs to hand the day-to-day operations and while I and my Lead Investment Analyst conduct strategies to make us all rich. This person would also be in charge of hiring hot secretaries for us to ogle (and possibly slam) during the workday.
-Detail oriented person needed
-Compensation: $70,000 base with benefits (like working close with a slampiece)

Position 3: Intern/Pledge
-This position is available to all sophomores and juniors. Think of it like pledging my hedge fund (so xxx and xxx need not apply)
-I will judge this position primarily based on how hard you pledged and how I rate your slampiece pulling ability
-Compensation: $25/hr with a good opportunity for full-time employment post graduation.
I'm really excited to get this going, and I hope some of you will be joining me. Let me know if you have any questions at all.
 From Jezebel. Steve Benen quotes Jonathan Chait:
I've never even been slightly tempted to think, "screw it, let's give communism a try," until I read this email.
It reminds me a little of Trading Places.