Pretty funny stuff from Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker [via Jack]:
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Dr. Stephen Hawking’s recent statement that the black holes he famously described do not actually exist underscores “the danger inherent in listening to scientists,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) said today.
Rep. Bachmann unleashed a blistering attack on Dr. Hawking, who earlier referred to his mistake on black holes as his “biggest blunder.”
“Actually, Dr. Hawking, our biggest blunder as a society was ever listening to people like you,” said Rep. Bachmann.
“If black holes don’t exist, then other things you scientists have been trying to foist on us probably don’t either, like climate change and evolution.”
Rep. Bachmann added that all the students who were forced to learn about black holes in college should now sue Dr. Hawking for a full refund.
“Fortunately for me, I did not take any science classes in college,” she said. Bachmann’s anti-Hawking comments seemed to be gaining traction on Capitol Hill, as seen from the statement by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Science Committee, who said, “Going forward, members of the House Science Committee will do our best to avoid listening to scientists.”
In the 1960s, most of the people of my generation supported Israel. Israel was the "David" in the midst of "Goliath" neighbours who had vowed to destroy Israel.
Most (or at least many) of us were probably influenced by Israel's struggle for existence from 1947 - 1973. We hoped that after 1973, treaties and peace would emerge.
But in the 41 years since then, Israel, in an attempt to defend itself against suicide bombers, rockets, and continued threats, has been losing the propaganda war. The continued expansion of settlements in the west bank has not helped Israel's position. And even though Israel withdrew from Gaza, hoping to promote more of an atmosphere of peaceful co-existence with the Palestine Authority, Israel is once again struggling in the propaganda wars.
Here is what I mean. Older people still support Israel's actions. But the younger ones, generally less aware of the 1947-73 struggles, oppose Israel's actions. From Gallup,
This table concerns me. Compare the responses of those 49 and under with those 50 and older. Clearly I am in the latter category, and I really find it difficult (if not impossible) to understand how people do not see Israel's actions as justified. But maybe that's simply a sign of my age and historical experience.
But what will happen as we old farts tire and die out? If Israel cannot persuade younger people of the justification of its actions, in another decade or two, it could lose the support of many countries that strongly support it now.
In the late 1980s, in addition to becoming enamoured of the writings of Bill James and of sabremetrics, I also made a point of reading some of the less stats-oriented books about baseball, including Roger Angell's The Summer Game, George Will's Men at Work, and Philip Roth's The Great American Novel.
I don't often agree with much that Maureen Dowd writes, but I love this piece of hers in the NYTimes about Roger Angell, who wrote the Boys of Summer (and many other lengthy pieces about baseball). Some excerpts:
In person, the writer is less “Angellic” — the adjective coined to describe his beguiling writing — than astringent. He has spent most of a century, from Ruth to Jeter, passionately tracking the sport as a fan, but he also proclaims himself a “foe of goo.” He much prefers the sexy “Bull Durham” to the sentimental “Field of Dreams.” He sniffs at being called “the poet laureate of baseball” and winces at a recent reverential Sports Illustrated profile. “It made me sound like the Dalai Lama,” he says. “My God, I’m just a guy who happened to live on for a long time. I’d rather be younger and writing than all this stuff.”
... “I didn’t write about baseball because I was looking for the heart and soul of America. I don’t care if baseball is the national pastime or not. The thing about baseball is, it’s probably the hardest game to play. The greatest hitters are only succeeding a third of the time. If you take a great athlete who’s never played baseball and put him in the infield, he’s lost.”“Baseball is linear — it’s like writing,” he says. “In other sports, there’s a lot going on at the same time. You can’t quite take it all in.”
Could soccer ever take over as the national pastime? “I don’t know,” he replied. “I felt I was being waterboarded by The New York Times with the World Cup.”
Roger Angell is being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend.
Bryan Caplan has some wonderful insights into the classic novel about youth and unhappiness, Catcher in the Rye [CITR].
1. Other than losing his brother Allie, Holden has no external problems. He is a rich kid living in the most amazing city in the world. Rather than appreciating his good fortune or trying to make the most of his bountiful opportunities, Holden seeks out fruitless conflict. If you still doubt that happiness fundamentally reflects personality, not circumstances, CITR can teach you something.
2. Nothing on Holden's Five Factor personality googles. I say he's high in Opennness, low in Conscientiousness, high in Extroversion, low in Agreeableness, and high in Neuroticism.
3. Although I was a teen-age misanthrope, anti-hero Holden Caulfield is more dysfunctional than I ever was. My dream was for everyone I disliked to leave me alone. Holden, in contrast, habitually seeks out the company of people he dislikes, then quarrels with them when they act as expected.
4. Even if Holden's enduring antipathy for "phonies" were justified, it's hard to see why the epithet applies to most of its targets....
Translation: ... For Holden, the main symptom of phoniness is that someone appears to like something Holden doesn't. But he never wonders, "Is it possible that other people sincerely like stuff I don't?"
5. If phonies are your biggest problem, your problems are none too serious.
6. You might think that only a navel-gazing New York intellectual could write CITR, but Salinger experienced far worse things than phonies. He fought in the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. He entered a liberated concentration camp in April, 1945. Yet strangely, the moral of CITR isn't that Holden's self-pity is shameful.
7. I doubt Salinger was being Straussian. Like most of CITR's fans, he thought Holden has important things to teach us. Yet the book's deepest and most important lesson is that Holden's thoughts are profoundly shallow and unimportant. The Holdens of the world should stop talking and start listening, for they have little to teach and much to learn.
It is clearly time for me to reread Catcher in the Rye. I didn't much like the novel when I read it as a young adult, and Caplan's points help me understand why. Maybe it was just that I didn't much like Holden Caulfield and was disappointed in his whiny-ness and general dissatisfaction -- his phony criticisms of phoniness.
And yet I wonder if phoniness must have been an important issue for writers then (as if it isn't much of the time, I guess). Coincidentally, I'll be appearing as Charley (the neighbour) in Death of a Salesman in September.
I like the role. Charley seems to be one of the least phony characters in the play.
And these thoughts bring to mind the criticisms of phoniness and mendacity in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Quite frankly, I doubt it. Not for a loonnnnggg time.
But you might find this article by my friend and former colleague, Salim Mansur, of interest. Excerpts:
The Arabs were not prepared then, as they are not prepared even now, to recognize the Jews – the "other" – as being equal. The Jews also thought they had their own legitimate rights to statehood, which could not be denied on either a religious and political or a moral basis.
It is this denial of the "other," the refusal to recognize that the "other" also has equally legitimate rights and claims in history, which has made the history of Arabs and Muslims in dealing with "others" – regardless of whether the "others" are ethnically or religiously different – a hideous travesty right into our time. This history, with its ancient tribal roots, is unfolding right before our eyes as Islamist warriors or "jihadis" rampage across the lands of the Fertile Crescent, and as tribal wars with modern weaponry consume Arabs and Muslims. Ancient animosities of Sunni-Shi'a sectarianism are revived and minorities, such as the Christians in Iraq and Syria with their history going back to the time of the Apostles, appear doomed in the face of the whirlwind of Islamist bigotry sweeping across the region.
This denial of the "other" also makes any claim of moral righteousness, or historical justice by Arabs and Muslims sound specious and self-serving. When Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, goes public in stating that the actions of the Israeli government, in dealing with the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza by Hamas, exceed Hitler in barbarism, what we have is a demonstration of how unhinged Muslim leaders have become – or have been for a very long time – when it comes to understanding the history of the "other." ...
The Jews – as a people with a history that might be described as the "mother of history of the Semitic people" – have consistently recognized the "other" as they sought recognition from "others" of their own rights.
Arabs and Muslims need only to read sincerely the Quran, which they believe is God's Word, to find for themselves how clearly the history of Jews has been laid forth in their sacred text. Sincerity of reading, however, requires as a prerequisite a cleansing of the heart. The Quran states, "Not blind are the eyes, but blind are the hearts within the breasts" [22:46]. In other words, without a heart illuminated by sincerity, any strivings for peace and justice – as Arabs and Muslims claim their struggle against Jews amount to – is not only a futile exercise but also making a mockery of what is sought by denying the same respect to the "other."
From Tarek Fatah:
... While Israel's Operation Protective Edge is making the lead story around the world, few are aware of Pakistan's Operation Zarb-e-Azb (Strike of Prophet Muhammad's Sword) underway against the Taliban inside Pakistan.
Israel's military operations have killed about 200 and displaced about 17,000 Palestinians from their homes in Gaza.
Pakistan's military operations, on the other hand, have killed over 400 and made over 900,000 Pashtun Pakistanis homeless and destitute in their own country.
While the 17,000 Palestinians are finding shelter in United Nations Relief and Works Agency structures, nearly one million Pakistanis are facing a catastrophe that has triggered neither media coverage, nor international aid or protest.
On Monday, a day after an Israeli missile killed 18 family members of the Hamas police chief in Gaza, Iraqi men in Baghdad slaughtered 28 Iraqi women.
There was plenty of fury over the dead family, almost none for the women, for they were alleged to be residents of a brothel, as if that mattered.
Allah's "best of peoples, evolved for mankind", clearly live by a double standard, the one that triggers mammoth support for Palestinians but absolutely none for Pashtuns.
Here's why. It is not the race or religion of the victim that counts, but the identity of their tormentor.
As long as it's an Arab army annihilating fellow Arabs or a Muslim military murdering fellow Muslims, too many Muslims simply shrug away our responsibility and say, "leave it to Allah" as the Qur'an supposedly commands.
However, if the Muslim falls victim to the "kuffar" — meaning the Jew, Christian or Hindu — then many of our clerics take to the pulpit and deliver fiery, end-of-times lectures, using the tragedy as a reason to ignite hatred against the other, in most cases "The Jew".
I wonder if God has heard this mosque sermon by a prominent Pakistani cleric.
"And a time is about to come when Allah would bestow such a success on Islam that there would not be a single Jew left on the face of the earth. … And when the last Jew will be killed from this world, then peace would be established in the world …"
Last week MA sent me this piece which says 1 in 10 pensioners are millionaires. I think the number is much, much higher than that. Keep in mind that the article is referring to the UK, so being a millionaire there involves more than just $1m US or Cdn.
One in ten pensionable households can lay claim to a million pounds in assets, official figures indicate. ...
This rise is in part attributed to rising property values. Prices for houses owned by the typical retired couple have climbed by £10,000 since 2006, the data showed.
A significant increase in the value of pension pots has also left retirees better off, with private pension assets increasing from £60,000 to £82,300 over the period.
There is one huge category missing from these calculations: gubmnt pensions and other programmes for seniors. What is the present value of all the gubmnt pensions and other old-age assistance programmes such as social security, Canada Pension, Old-Age Assistance, medicaid, medicare, drug plans, etc.?
Here's an indication of what I mean: suppose someone retires at age 60 with an expected lifetime of 87 years; suppose further that the effective real interest rate is 2%. In this case, the present value of an annuity paying $48K/year is just over $1m. See this. [Present value tells how much you'd have to invest at that interest rate to generate that income stream], making this person de facto a millionaire at age 60.
In Canada, just the Canadian Pension Plan plus Old-Age Assistance alone probably pay about $15K/year.
Add in the present value of health coverage and drug subsidies. Given that health plans for seniors in the US regularly cost at least $5K/year, we're already up over $20K/year. Then throw in a bit of retirement savings, perhaps a small pension and maybe the value of a house, and before you know it, the person has wealth of over $1million.
Being a millionaire isn't nearly so uncommon as it used to be.
During an anti-Israel demonstration in Paris, mobs attacked synogogues chanting in French "Slaughter the Jews."
[L]ast Sunday in the French capital during a demonstration against Israel’s Operation Protective Edge [s]ome of the marchers broke off and made a beeline for two centrally located synagogues.
The worst incident occurred at the Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue on Rue de la Roquette (in the heavily Jewish 11th arrondissement). A mob donning keffiyehs, waving jihadist flags and wielding clubs and chairs grabbed from nearby sidewalk cafés tried to storm the synagogue and harm the worshipers trapped inside. Police and Jewish security volunteers fought them. Some Jewish defenders and officers were wounded in the melee.
The attackers chanted “Death to the Jews” in French, along with the Arabic Itbach el-Yahud (“Slaughter the Jews”). The siege on the synagogue lasted for well over an hour.
That sure sounds like anti-Semitism to me.
Several friends have recently posted videos of someone cooking corn on the cob using a microwave. In the videos we see someone cook the corn in its husk in the microwave, cut off the base of the ear, and then grab the ear by the tassle and shake the corn out of the husk. It looks quick, and it looks as if it saves a LOT of hassle with no need to husk the corn nor to clean the silks off the ears.
We tried it last night, and it works like a charm. We did three ears and set the microwave for 8 minutes. Next time I'll probably use only 7.5 minutes on our microwave for three ears. I'd say we had only two silk strands left on the three ears, and clean up was so much easier than it would otherwise have been. Furthermore there's no need to boil up a pot of water, saving electricity or gas from that and keeping the place cooler on a hot day.
The only drawback might be trying to do this for a large number of people.
Hmmm. I see I wrote about microwaving corn on the cob over 2 years ago. Clearly at that time I had no idea about this method (cutting off the base and shaking it out of the husk after it is cooked). That, or my short-term memory is suffering more than I thought.
One of my vegan friends on Facebook posted a link to a piece with a similar title, which listed characteristics of cows that many people might find lovable.
But I'm an omnivore. My list is different.
TEN THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT COWS:
- prime rib
- ground beef
- stewed shanks
Ever since I read much of his work in The National Lampoon in the early 1970s, I have enjoyed the writings of PJ O'Rourke. He rarely disappointed me then, and that continues to be true.
So much of what he says in this interview [via Scoop] strikes a chord with me. I especially liked these snippets:
What has been your greatest disappointment?
My parents died much too young.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
He wouldn’t notice me. I’d just be another old, hopeless square.
Life, out of 10: as inspired by Spinal Tap – “Turn it up to 11”
If you have never read anything by PJ O'Rourke, try his latest.
The Province of Quebec has high debt, low economic growth, and a gloomy economic outlook. More gubmnt spending will not turn things around, and a permanent change in the economic climate will (a) take time to create and (b) not be believed until it has persisted for some time.
A sad tale of woe. And this summary from Maclean's puts it well:
For decades Quebec businesses have been plagued with repeated bouts of separation anxiety and the constant irritant of the province’s language police. The province punishes businesses with some of the highest taxes in North America, yet it has rung up a $2.4-billion deficit and a debt load equal to half its GDP, the highest in the country. When not arbitrarily overriding the rights of shareholders to protect underperforming Quebec companies, the government has flip-flopped on its attitude toward resource development. In short, it’s an economic environment layered with uncertainty, instability and state interference.
Regime uncertainty is probably one of the worst things that can happen to an economy. If entrepreneurs have little confidence in what they can count on in the way of regulations, gubmnt policies, and economic climate, they will choose safer investments and/or business ventures in other jurisdictions.
The only hope for Quebec is to create an economic climate that will promote economic growth and then stick with that climate for a number of years. Undoing regime uncertainty cannot be done quickly or easily.
I'm in this trailer for a documentary about Labatt Memorial Park, the oldest continuous use baseball park in existence. [h/t Barry Wells]
For more on my sportscasting experiences, see this.
What are the odds of your existing ... as you? [from Jack]
I love his conclusion [to which I have added the emphasis]. At the same time, though, this realization about the probabilities makes me feel less like a miracle and more like an insignificant random event. What if Mom and Dad had been in a slightly different position and a different sperm cell had won the race? What if they hadn't married when they did? Or at all? Etc. I wouldn't be here.
That's a little unnerving, I must say.
I sit in disbelief that Hamas has launched yet another barrage of over 700 rockets toward Israel. What do they hope to accomplish with this threatening of the civilian population of Israel?
Surely they do not hope to wipe out Israel with these ineffectual attacks. It must be that they hope to create more pressure on Israel via world opinion.
I am, quite frankly, flabbergasted that people blame Israel for the civilian deaths in Gaza when, in the first place, Hamas has been targetting civilians in Israel and, in the second place, Hamas has systematically used civilian sites for firing their rockets.
Apparently Hamas is right, and the rest of the world is falling for their ploy. If so, I despair.
A recent piece in The Atlantic has a slightly different take [via BenS]:
Hamas is trying to get Israel to kill as many Palestinians as possible.
Dead Palestinians represent a crucial propaganda victory for the nihilists of Hamas. It is perverse, but true. It is also the best possible explanation for Hamas’s behavior, because Hamas has no other plausible strategic goal here. ...
What if, nine years ago, when Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza, the Palestinians had made a different choice? What if they had chosen to build the nucleus of a state, rather than a series of subterranean rocket factories?
This thought is prompted by something a pair of Iraqi Kurdish leaders once told me. Iraqi Kurdistan is today on the cusp of independence. Like the Palestinians, the Kurds deserve a state. Unlike most of the Palestinian leadership, the Kurds have played a long and clever game to bring them to freedom.
This is what Barham Salih, the former prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, told me years ago: “Compare us to other liberation movements around the world. We are very mature. We don’t engage in terror. We don’t condone extremist nationalist notions that can only burden our people. Please compare what we have achieved in the Kurdistan national-authority areas to the Palestinian national authority. … We have spent the last 10 years building a secular, democratic society, a civil society.” What, he asked, have the Palestinians built?
So too, Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, once told me this: “We had the opportunity to use terrorism against Baghdad. We chose not to.”
In 2005, the Palestinians of Gaza, free from their Israeli occupiers, could have taken a lesson from the Kurds—and from David Ben-Gurion, the principal Israeli state-builder—and created the necessary infrastructure for eventual freedom. Gaza is centrally located between two large economies, those of Israel and Egypt. Europe is just across the Mediterranean. Gaza could have easily attracted untold billions in economic aid.
The Israelis did not impose a blockade on Gaza right away. That came later, when it became clear that Palestinian groups were considering using their newly liberated territory as a launching pad for attacks. In the days after withdrawal, the Israelis encouraged Gaza’s development. A group of American Jewish donors paid $14 million for 3,000 greenhouses left behind by expelled Jewish settlers and donated them to the Palestinian Authority. The greenhouses were soon looted and destroyed, serving, until today, as a perfect metaphor for Gaza’s wasted opportunity.