Tuesday, August 19, 2008

book notes

The Middle East by Bernard Lewis

-- In the West, the converse of tyranny is freedom. In the Middle East, the converse of tyranny is justice.

-- The Turkish dervishes, avatars of Sufism, come off as kind of Islamic hippies.

-- Interesting discussion of the Middle East as being composed of ancient cultures that, unlike China or India, were snuffed out by domination of a totalitarian religion.

-- In both the invasion of Iran and the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam calculated that 1.) the great powers and regional powers wouldn't care and 2.) it would be a quick war. On Iran he was right on 1 and wrong on 2. On Kuwait he was right on 2 and wrong on 1.

-- The Muslim world were supporters of the Nazis and then the USSR simply because they were challengers to the West. The greatest thing the West has ever done for the Muslims is prevent them from the enjoying the Nazi rule that they sought.

-- Since Islam sees Judaism and Christianity as flawed predecessors of Islam and Islam as the final, perfect revelation, they are particularly galled by the idea of Western superiority. It's literally against their religion. The current radical Islam idea that Western superiority can be corrected by a return to fundamentalism, which would be reward by God with Islam's mastery over the world, goes back to the times when Europe first gained military superiority. The fundamentalist reaction to that was Wahabism.

-- The attempts to impose democratic ideas in the Middle East, and the region's rejection of them, goes back to the French Revolution.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Op-Ed Columnist - Russia Is Not Jamaica - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com

Op-Ed Columnist - Russia Is Not Jamaica - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com: "In 2006, at the Group of Eight summit meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, a microphone caught some of the inane remarks of W. to the Chinese president, Hu Jintao.

“This is your neighborhood,” W. said. “It doesn’t take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home? Eight hours? Me, too. Russia’s a big country and you’re a big country.”"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Clinton incompetence

CQ Politics | Craig Crawford's Trail Mix - Clinton's Folly: "What does it say about Sen. Clinton that so many aides were willing to share private matters publicly? Clearly, many are eager to shift blame to her and away from themselves. That is not particularly new for losing bids.

But giving so many campaign documents to the press? That suggests a certain hostility between candidate and underlings that should give pause to those who believed that Clinton was ready 'on day one' to take command of the White House.

Beyond this mutiny, the behind-the-scenes paperwork shows how Clinton horribly mismanaged her own people. Postponing critical decisions until the roof caved in, and then forcing her staff to manage the damage control. Not a pretty picture for running the country."

Friday, August 08, 2008

book notes

Richistan by Robert Frank

Upper Richistanis ( > 50M, or so) tend to support Democrats because they don't care so much about taxes, among other reasons, while Lower Richistanis (< 50M) tend to support Republicans because they think that lower taxes will help them keep up in competitive consumption with the Upper Richistanis.

Comment by Larry Ellison that he thought his yacht was uncomfortably big, that it felt like him and his wife eating in an empty restaurant. Now that I see that the book is sensationalized, I wonder if Ellison was just being wry or slyly boastful. But if the comment was serious, it's quite an absurdity of hyper-competitiveness -- that someone would spend 400M on something he doesn't really like just so he can say he's got the biggest. Somebody also complained that his deck is so high that he doesn't really feel is if he's in the water.

The survey that said that when rich people are asked how much money they would need to make them happy, they almost always give a number that's double their net worth, no matter what their net worth is -- 2M, 50M, 100M, whatever. Of course, it's a loaded question -- how much money would make you happy? How many cars would make your commute faster?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Evolution | Praying for health | Economist.com

Evolution | Praying for health | Economist.com: "Their hypothesis is that in places where disease is rampant, it behoves groups not to mix with one another more than is strictly necessary, in order to reduce the risk of contagion. They therefore predict that patterns of behaviour which promote group exclusivity will be stronger in disease-ridden areas. Since religious differences are certainly in that category, they specifically predict that the number of different religions in a place will vary with the disease load. Which is, as they report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, the case."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Clinton racism

Magazine Preview - Post-Race - Is Obama the End of Black Politics? - NYTimes.com: "The one that bothered Clyburn the most, he told me, came when he read in a South Carolina newspaper that Clinton had referred to Obama as a “kid.” “I grew up in the South, where men like Barack Obama, who right now is older than Bill Clinton was when he ran for president, were called ‘boy,’ ” Clyburn told me. “And that’s what a kid is — a boy.” The most damaging moment for Bill Clinton, though, came just after the South Carolina primary, when he waved away the victory by comparing it with Jesse Jackson’s wins there in 1984 and 1988. “There was something about the condescension on his face when he said it and the dismissiveness in his voice,” Artur Davis recalled. “It was a verbal pat on the head.”"

Flint's saggy-pants law

book notes

Traffic: why we drive the way we do by Tom Vanderbilt

"the pinkie" is a new finger insult in Australia after a government ad campaign suggesting that aggressive driving compensates for a small penis.

"In a very precise way, you're made dumb. You can shout as much as you want but nobody's going to hear you."

Because people are often unaware of their own driving mistakes (and highly aware of those of others) a former mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, hired mimes to mock drivers and pedestrians who violated traffic laws.

Results from bicycle-car experiments at the U. of Bath by Ian Walker:

-- the farther a bicycle is riding from the curb, the more room cars give you on the other side.
-- cars give less room when you wear a helmet perhaps because they think a helmeted bicyclist is more experienced, or looks more impersonal, or is better protected from injury is the car hits him.

Journalists says that phone interviews done while the subject is driving always come out poorly, suggesting the driving cell-phone talkers are performing poorly at booth tasks.

People traveling at a high speed for a long time tend to underestimate their speed as they slow down, which is why cars hit highway exit ramps at high speeds.

In L.A., crosswalks in general never give you a Walk sign unless you push the button. "If you do not push the button, you will stand there until you are eventually ticketed for vagrancy" The one exception are Sabbath crosswalks in places like Century City, where Walk signs switch automatically from Friday sundown through Saturday sundown so that observant Jews aren't required to violate the Sabbath by pushing the crosswalk button (or jaywalk)

An estimated 83% of all car pools are simply "fam pools" (a parent driving around kids), raising questions about the current wisdom of car-pools lanes, which are supposed to reduce the number of cars on the street.

"Where it was once the overwhelming norm for children to walk to school, today only about 15% do. Parents on "school run" are thought to boost traffic on the roads by some 30 percent"

from 1950's to 2008, percentage of car trips for work went down from 40 percent to 16 percent.

During an LA dock strike, xxx numbers of trucks were taken off the highways, but the actual reduction in vehicles was only xx. The fact that the highways were slightly less crowded stimulated driving that otherwise would not have existed.

After the Super Bowl finished, the crash rate increases 41 percent and is even higher in the city that lost.

Driving a motorcycle is 22 times more likely to result in death than driving a car.

"Road deaths deaths in the three months after 9/11, for example, were 9 percent higher than those during similar periods in the two years before."

George F. Will - The Cosmopolitan - washingtonpost.com

George F. Will - The Cosmopolitan - washingtonpost.com: "In Berlin, Obama neared self-parody with a rhetoric of Leave No Metaphor Behind. 'Walls'? Down with them. 'Bridges'? Build new ones between this and that. 'A new dawn'? The Middle East deserves one. And Berlin was the wrong place to vow to 'remake the world once again.' Modern Berlin rose from rubble that was the result of the last attempt at remaking 'the world.'

Of course, from Obama, such tropes, although silly, are not menacing, any more than they were from Ronald Reagan, who was incorrigibly fond of perhaps the least conservative, and therefore the most absurd, proposition ever penned by a political philosopher, Thomas Paine's 'we have it in our power to begin the world over again.' No. We. Don't.

The world is a fact, and facts are indeed stubborn things. After eight years, if such there are, of an Obama presidency, if such there is, the world will look much as it does today -- if we are lucky."

Paris Hilton responds