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Andreas Schou has been at 1 events

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Nicholas Kristof1,422,578The issue of the moment is Syria, so I'm delighted to host a Google+ hangout in which we'll be able to pose questions to Secretary of State John Kerry about Syria policy. I'll be joined by +Lara Setrakian, a journalist whom I've long admired who specializes in Syria. Andrew Beiter, a social studies  teacher and a regional education coordinator for the Holocaust Memorial Museum, will also be in the Hangout. Most of all, we'll be joined by all of you--so jump into the conversation on this page and leave us your questions. In particular, with this Hangout we want to involve teachers and students, so spread the word in the schools, please, and student questions are particularly welcome! This kind of online interview is something of an experiment, and we're still figuring out how to make it work best. So we also welcome your suggestions and guidance before and criticisms after. Syria: Weighing the U.S. Response2013-09-10 20:00:006971  

Shared Circles including Andreas Schou

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Activity

Average numbers for the latest posts (max. 50 posts, posted within the last 4 weeks)

18
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6
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33
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1,057
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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 210

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2015-07-20 18:41:58 (210 comments, 26 reshares, 112 +1s)Open 

If you put a large, brilliantly white ball in a goose's nest, the mother will ignore the rest of her eggs and brood over the new object -- which looks more like an egg to her than an egg actually does. Male jewel beetles will ignore actual females while attempting to mate with the reflective orange bottoms of beer bottles.

A significant portion of the Republican base supports Trump. 

Over the past twenty-five years, conservative media has taken the position that there are no friends to the left, no enemies to the right.  Right-wing positions that were once permissible have become desirable, and finally mandatory. Immigration needs to be cut down? No, immigration needs to be cut off, to prevent a rapacious horde from swarming over our Southern border! Being rich is ethically okay? No, being rich is ethically mandatory! War should be on the table as an option in foreign policy? No,w... more »

Most reshares: 26

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2015-07-29 22:40:08 (35 comments, 26 reshares, 87 +1s)Open 

Sing along, everybody!

It's pub-lic do-main
It's pub-lic do-main
It's pub-lic, you assholes
It's pub-lic do-main

$2m per year, for 80 years, plus pre-judgment interest, plus inflation, is a hell of a lot of money. Sadly, most of it is barred from collection because of the statute of limitations (and laches), but it's still going to take a huge chunk out of Warner Music's hide.

Most plusones: 112

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2015-07-20 18:41:58 (210 comments, 26 reshares, 112 +1s)Open 

If you put a large, brilliantly white ball in a goose's nest, the mother will ignore the rest of her eggs and brood over the new object -- which looks more like an egg to her than an egg actually does. Male jewel beetles will ignore actual females while attempting to mate with the reflective orange bottoms of beer bottles.

A significant portion of the Republican base supports Trump. 

Over the past twenty-five years, conservative media has taken the position that there are no friends to the left, no enemies to the right.  Right-wing positions that were once permissible have become desirable, and finally mandatory. Immigration needs to be cut down? No, immigration needs to be cut off, to prevent a rapacious horde from swarming over our Southern border! Being rich is ethically okay? No, being rich is ethically mandatory! War should be on the table as an option in foreign policy? No,w... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2015-08-02 01:44:46 (8 comments, 6 reshares, 40 +1s)Open 

fuck you bottle

no u

fuck you bottle

no u___

2015-07-31 22:49:13 (8 comments, 0 reshares, 40 +1s)Open 

"[That guy] always tries to unload his design catastrophes on someone else. He's the fucking Alexis Tsipras of technical debt."

"[That guy] always tries to unload his design catastrophes on someone else. He's the fucking Alexis Tsipras of technical debt."___

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2015-07-31 20:20:04 (8 comments, 2 reshares, 7 +1s)Open 

Shit.

Shit.___

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2015-07-30 20:40:56 (9 comments, 9 reshares, 65 +1s)Open 

#AllLionsMatter

#AllLionsMatter___

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2015-07-30 20:27:47 (3 comments, 0 reshares, 8 +1s)Open 

Once again, a Taliban-associated figure long sought by the United States turns out to have been deep inside Pakistan, close to the official organs of Pakistani power. 

Once again, a Taliban-associated figure long sought by the United States turns out to have been deep inside Pakistan, close to the official organs of Pakistani power. ___

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2015-07-30 20:12:59 (17 comments, 8 reshares, 24 +1s)Open 

This makes Tsipras' motivations much more clear: the other two members of the Troika are caught between the IMF and Greece. If Greece is not offered substantial debt relief by its creditors, then the Eurozone will have to cover the bailout without any outside assistance. 

This gives the Eurozone three options:

(1) Reject the IMF's assistance, and boot Greece from the Eurozone notwithstanding the success or failure of its reforms. You might call this the Schauble option. It might be acceptable to Germany and the Nordic states, but appears dangerous to the other European debtor states and would likely be unacceptable to France. It also expends diplomatic credibility simply to punish another state -- not necessarily a rational decision.

(2) Refuse to render debt relief, and come to a Troika-Greece agreement which covers the IMF's anticipated share.... more »

This makes Tsipras' motivations much more clear: the other two members of the Troika are caught between the IMF and Greece. If Greece is not offered substantial debt relief by its creditors, then the Eurozone will have to cover the bailout without any outside assistance. 

This gives the Eurozone three options:

(1) Reject the IMF's assistance, and boot Greece from the Eurozone notwithstanding the success or failure of its reforms. You might call this the Schauble option. It might be acceptable to Germany and the Nordic states, but appears dangerous to the other European debtor states and would likely be unacceptable to France. It also expends diplomatic credibility simply to punish another state -- not necessarily a rational decision.

(2) Refuse to render debt relief, and come to a Troika-Greece agreement which covers the IMF's anticipated share. This cuts off Europe's nose to spite its face. It's possible that Germany thinks that avoiding moral hazard is important enough to pay a couple tens of billions of dollars, but it's quite unlikely that anyone else in the Eurozone would agree to these terms. Why leave free money lying on the table?

(3) Come to an agreement with both the IMF and Greece, rendering debt relief while bailing out the Greek government. Note that this option is perfectly identical, from a purely utilitarian perspective, with the option where the Eurozone declines IMF assistance, up to an amount of debt relief equal to the anticipated contribution by the IMF. This would likely be acceptable to anyone, and Germany would bear a substantial diplomatic cost for refusing it.

It's a nice, elegant trap. I hope it works out -- but the Eurozone seems to be committed to shooting itself in the foot. I'm not confident.___

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2015-07-30 19:54:05 (6 comments, 2 reshares, 14 +1s)Open 

Written by Jolly, Little Women is described as a hyper-stylized, gritty adaptation of the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, in which disparate half-sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy band together in order to survive the dystopic streets of Philadelphia and unravel a conspiracy that stretches far beyond anything they have ever imagined – all while trying not to kill each other in the process

Other CW shows presently in production: 

The Bridge to Terabithia Chronicles: Terabithian Conquest
The Fault in Our Stars: The Stars Are Right
I Know You're There, God. It's Me. Margaret. And I'm Coming For You.
Harriet the Spy Who Came In From The Cold
The Great And Terrible Gilly Hopkins
Horse, His Boy, His Wife, and Her Lover
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

We are truly living in a golden age ofte... more »

Written by Jolly, Little Women is described as a hyper-stylized, gritty adaptation of the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, in which disparate half-sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy band together in order to survive the dystopic streets of Philadelphia and unravel a conspiracy that stretches far beyond anything they have ever imagined – all while trying not to kill each other in the process

Other CW shows presently in production: 

The Bridge to Terabithia Chronicles: Terabithian Conquest
The Fault in Our Stars: The Stars Are Right
I Know You're There, God. It's Me. Margaret. And I'm Coming For You.
Harriet the Spy Who Came In From The Cold
The Great And Terrible Gilly Hopkins
Horse, His Boy, His Wife, and Her Lover
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

We are truly living in a golden age of television.___

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2015-07-30 18:57:45 (11 comments, 2 reshares, 28 +1s)Open 

Everywhere else in the world, money laundering works like this: you have an illegal source of money. You need to make it into legal money. You take your illegal money and disguise it as the profits of a legal enterprise.

In Russia, the need for off-the-books money is so intense that companies need to create false losses in order to create slush funds with which to pay illegal costs. 

Everywhere else in the world, money laundering works like this: you have an illegal source of money. You need to make it into legal money. You take your illegal money and disguise it as the profits of a legal enterprise.

In Russia, the need for off-the-books money is so intense that companies need to create false losses in order to create slush funds with which to pay illegal costs. ___

posted image

2015-07-29 22:40:08 (35 comments, 26 reshares, 87 +1s)Open 

Sing along, everybody!

It's pub-lic do-main
It's pub-lic do-main
It's pub-lic, you assholes
It's pub-lic do-main

$2m per year, for 80 years, plus pre-judgment interest, plus inflation, is a hell of a lot of money. Sadly, most of it is barred from collection because of the statute of limitations (and laches), but it's still going to take a huge chunk out of Warner Music's hide.

Sing along, everybody!

It's pub-lic do-main
It's pub-lic do-main
It's pub-lic, you assholes
It's pub-lic do-main

$2m per year, for 80 years, plus pre-judgment interest, plus inflation, is a hell of a lot of money. Sadly, most of it is barred from collection because of the statute of limitations (and laches), but it's still going to take a huge chunk out of Warner Music's hide.___

posted image

2015-07-29 19:23:01 (32 comments, 13 reshares, 52 +1s)Open 

Maintaining a social network is more like gardening than architecture. There's this huge living thing underneath the surface of the product you built, and it's very different from place to place, and it's not always what you expected. 

Once you get up to your elbows in the numbers underlying any social network except, maybe, Facebook. you realize how weird they are. This nice, natural social graph you expected, where virtually everyone is plugged in to people they already know? That happens once. For one company at a time. (Probably. Either that or we screwed up.) 

Everyone else gets a wild garden, stretched across the world and across relationships which would never have existed otherwise. Relationships which become real, even if they started out ephemeral. Twitter would be getting the same treatment -- except it's used by everyone in the press, so they intuitivelyu... more »

Maintaining a social network is more like gardening than architecture. There's this huge living thing underneath the surface of the product you built, and it's very different from place to place, and it's not always what you expected. 

Once you get up to your elbows in the numbers underlying any social network except, maybe, Facebook. you realize how weird they are. This nice, natural social graph you expected, where virtually everyone is plugged in to people they already know? That happens once. For one company at a time. (Probably. Either that or we screwed up.) 

Everyone else gets a wild garden, stretched across the world and across relationships which would never have existed otherwise. Relationships which become real, even if they started out ephemeral. Twitter would be getting the same treatment -- except it's used by everyone in the press, so they intuitively understand the strange contours of the strange social relationships that this strange social technology has promoted.

These new, cluttered networks are, in some ways, more exciting than Facebook's tame graphs of people, their friends, and the high school acquaintances they never really wanted to remain in contact with. But those numbers and the successes, however weird, are something that you can't really find a word for, or easily express in a marketing line. Remember: Twitter started out as a platform for sending SMS-sized updates to your close ties, not as a platform for sharing links and yelling at celebrities. 

But does the media understand what's going on here?

For that matter, do we, as users? How about as the people who built it? I trust my coworkers. I trust my fellow users. But I'm intimidated by the size of the task. If you add up all of the time spent by users on G+, it's the size of a medium-sized country which speaks almost every language in the world. Is it really possible to get a good grasp on anything that size using only statistical methods?

It's always possible to accidentally ruin something you love. Digg is instructive here. But admitting to the press (and the world) that the real, living people underlying the thing we built are participating in something more complicated than a statistic, even if our understanding and success metrics are based on statistics that don't capture that complexity? That users have opinions about what we built, and (more importantly) what we should build?

Listening is the first step, not the last.

(Linking is not endorsement; commentary is directed at all social products, not specifically the one I do privacy work for. I am not speaking on behalf of Google. Warranty not implied. Side effects may include psoriasis, seizures, and kidney failure. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.)___

2015-07-29 19:14:58 (6 comments, 0 reshares, 46 +1s)Open 

I should just give up and change my internal job title to "Wikipedia Edge Cache."

I should just give up and change my internal job title to "Wikipedia Edge Cache."___

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2015-07-29 18:13:51 (12 comments, 3 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

I would have preferred that this not be a review of Sam Harris' book, in that it seems clear that Scott Atran is following through on a long-held grudge, but this is a long and interesting counterpoint to some deeply-held (and deeply stupid) orthodoxies of the New Atheist movement.

A sampling of ways in which Harris is wrong:

(1) Religious terrorists do not tend to be poorly-educated madrassa students. The most common professions in al-Qaida and Hamas are doctor and engineer. By and large, terrorists' conventional education is more complete than their religious indoctrination. It appears, in other words, that being trained in empirical thinking does not somehow inoculate you against religious fanaticism. 

(2) Neuroscience may someday provide some sort of guide to morality, assuming that we can settle on some sort of utilitarian proxy measurement. BOLD... more »

I would have preferred that this not be a review of Sam Harris' book, in that it seems clear that Scott Atran is following through on a long-held grudge, but this is a long and interesting counterpoint to some deeply-held (and deeply stupid) orthodoxies of the New Atheist movement.

A sampling of ways in which Harris is wrong:

(1) Religious terrorists do not tend to be poorly-educated madrassa students. The most common professions in al-Qaida and Hamas are doctor and engineer. By and large, terrorists' conventional education is more complete than their religious indoctrination. It appears, in other words, that being trained in empirical thinking does not somehow inoculate you against religious fanaticism. 

(2) Neuroscience may someday provide some sort of guide to morality, assuming that we can settle on some sort of utilitarian proxy measurement. BOLD signal is, however, barely science. 

(3) The debate between deontologists and consequentialists has not yet been settled. It cannot be settled by science. Harris should stop pretending that it is, or that it can be. 

(4) Certain religious statements are incoherent, not false. This has consequences for how we think about religion. We are unlikely to be able to purge humanity of its desire to believe incoherent things -- but we can select better incoherent things to believe in.___

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2015-07-28 17:06:40 (19 comments, 13 reshares, 41 +1s)Open 

For decades now, I have been haunted by the grainy, black-and-white x-ray of a human skull.

It is alive but empty, with a cavernous fluid-filled space where the brain should be. A thin layer of brain tissue lines that cavity like an amniotic sac. The image hails from a 1980 review article in Science: Roger Lewin, the author, reports that the patient in question had “virtually no brain”. But that’s not what scared me; hydrocephalus is nothing new, and it takes more to creep out this ex-biologist than a picture of Ventricles Gone Wild.

What scared me was the fact that this virtually brain-free patient had an IQ of 126.

Briefly, a hypothesis. 

Most of the volume of your brain consists of white matter: a fatty substance the texture of semi-firm tofu, composed of glia, myelin, and the long tails of axons further up in the brain. It can tolerate a fair amount ofdamage... more »

For decades now, I have been haunted by the grainy, black-and-white x-ray of a human skull.

It is alive but empty, with a cavernous fluid-filled space where the brain should be. A thin layer of brain tissue lines that cavity like an amniotic sac. The image hails from a 1980 review article in Science: Roger Lewin, the author, reports that the patient in question had “virtually no brain”. But that’s not what scared me; hydrocephalus is nothing new, and it takes more to creep out this ex-biologist than a picture of Ventricles Gone Wild.

What scared me was the fact that this virtually brain-free patient had an IQ of 126.

Briefly, a hypothesis. 

Most of the volume of your brain consists of white matter: a fatty substance the texture of semi-firm tofu, composed of glia, myelin, and the long tails of axons further up in the brain. It can tolerate a fair amount of damage before causing serious effects: as we age, its volume shrinks considerably without affecting IQ, and although diffuse white-matter injuries can have horrifying effects, small ischemic strokes can take chunks out of it without the patient noticing.

Most of what's missing in this guy is white matter. 

But even if you're completely lacking white matter, there's a second route between parts of the brain: across the surface of the grey matter. In most anatomically normal people, the routes across the surface of the brain are fairly slow and unreliable, as they only directly interconnect adjacent parts of the brain. But presuming that whatever deprived him of most of his white matter didn't impair axon recruitment between lobes -- and it looks like it might not have, as one of the few interior structures that's still intact is the corpus callosum -- it's possible that his brain is simply more space-efficient than the rest of Homo sapiens.

Which did not, I might remind you, undergo a design review process to prove that its brain is constructed efficiently.___

2015-07-27 23:31:14 (22 comments, 2 reshares, 40 +1s)Open 

Constitutional amendment is one way to reverse Citizens United. Unfortunately, it's also probably impossible. Fortunately, that news isn't as bad as it seems.

An anti-corporate-personhood amendment would require a supermajority of both houses of Congress, and a supermajority of state legislatures. Hardening partisan affiliation has made this latter requirement an almost impossible hurdle: at least one of the thirteen most conservative states would have to vote for it. 

This doesn't mean that all possible solutions are foreclosed. Conventional campaign finance laws address the issue from the top-down, regulating which types of speech a corporation is permitted to spend money on. That sort of law is now foreclosed. But Citizens United doesn't foreclose attempts to address the issue from the bottom up, by regulating how a firm may choose to engage in political speech.more »

Constitutional amendment is one way to reverse Citizens United. Unfortunately, it's also probably impossible. Fortunately, that news isn't as bad as it seems.

An anti-corporate-personhood amendment would require a supermajority of both houses of Congress, and a supermajority of state legislatures. Hardening partisan affiliation has made this latter requirement an almost impossible hurdle: at least one of the thirteen most conservative states would have to vote for it. 

This doesn't mean that all possible solutions are foreclosed. Conventional campaign finance laws address the issue from the top-down, regulating which types of speech a corporation is permitted to spend money on. That sort of law is now foreclosed. But Citizens United doesn't foreclose attempts to address the issue from the bottom up, by regulating how a firm may choose to engage in political speech.

Let me take a step back and explain why:

Firms are voluntary as between their stakeholders. They're coercive as between the stakeholders and the outside world. When a firm incorporates, the government extends a limited, conditional grant of immunity. Afterward, the rest of the world has to pretend the firm is an entity distinct from its stakeholders, despite never having entered into a voluntary agreement to do so. That conditional immunity is a matter of privilege, not a matter of right. 

For this reason, issues of corporate governance aren't particularly Constitutionally sensitive. Management has no Constitutional rights as against the firm's owners -- the shareholders. By changing the rules, Congress could dramatically constrain the ability of publicly-held corporations to meddle in the political process. 

If political spending had to be approved in advance by a majority of shareholders, at a shareholder meeting at which a majority of shareholders are present, and at which a majority of directors are subject to reelection, all the parties' interests would align against political involvement. Incumbent directors wouldn't want to risk their seats to make political contributions, apathetic shareholders wouldn't want to attend a meeting to approve political spending, and activist shareholders might be able to reverse spending decisions.

Only when highly involved shareholders demanded political spending would political spending actually occur. Insofar as that might ever happen, I'm not even sure I object.

(Reshared from early backstream.)___

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2015-07-27 20:08:57 (8 comments, 14 reshares, 27 +1s)Open 

Wherein the US government develops a warhead full of rubberized rocket-fuel superballs designed to careen through secure facilities, breaking down doors, superheating the air, and generally making a giant mess of things.

Wherein the US government develops a warhead full of rubberized rocket-fuel superballs designed to careen through secure facilities, breaking down doors, superheating the air, and generally making a giant mess of things.___

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2015-07-26 04:06:26 (9 comments, 1 reshares, 34 +1s)Open 

___

2015-07-26 00:05:49 (5 comments, 1 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

So far not a single person has stepped up to the Stalin Challenge: no one who compares ISIS destruction of archaeological sites to destroying Confederate monuments has yet to oppose the destruction of monuments to Stalin.

And, at the end, the Confederacy was worse than Stalin. After all, Stalinism's objective wasn't gulags or purges. Those were things which happened because he was a brutal, psychopathic, paranoid asshole. The Confederacy, by contrast, was founded on the idea of gulags and purges and wars of conquest as the fundamental quality which made some people the rightful masters of others.

I'm not saying this to defend Stalin. Stalin is rightly considered pretty much ur-indefensible. I'm saying this to point out just how awful the Confederacy was.

So far not a single person has stepped up to the Stalin Challenge: no one who compares ISIS destruction of archaeological sites to destroying Confederate monuments has yet to oppose the destruction of monuments to Stalin.

And, at the end, the Confederacy was worse than Stalin. After all, Stalinism's objective wasn't gulags or purges. Those were things which happened because he was a brutal, psychopathic, paranoid asshole. The Confederacy, by contrast, was founded on the idea of gulags and purges and wars of conquest as the fundamental quality which made some people the rightful masters of others.

I'm not saying this to defend Stalin. Stalin is rightly considered pretty much ur-indefensible. I'm saying this to point out just how awful the Confederacy was.___

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2015-07-26 00:02:53 (7 comments, 0 reshares, 22 +1s)Open 

Yes, Google Photos. That's exactly what I wanted when I took four pictures of my wife making a weird face.

Thanks!

#MagicMoments

Yes, Google Photos. That's exactly what I wanted when I took four pictures of my wife making a weird face.

Thanks!

#MagicMoments___

posted image

2015-07-25 23:00:32 (3 comments, 3 reshares, 16 +1s)Open 

The quirky, counter-cultural San Francisco so many of us fell in love with is almost gone now, destroyed by high housing costs. We’ve lost not only the politics, but all kinds of cultural experimentation that just doesn’t thrive in places that are expensive. How did we get here?

The quirky, counter-cultural San Francisco so many of us fell in love with is almost gone now, destroyed by high housing costs. We’ve lost not only the politics, but all kinds of cultural experimentation that just doesn’t thrive in places that are expensive. How did we get here?___

posted image

2015-07-24 17:04:46 (2 comments, 0 reshares, 16 +1s)Open 

This is an interesting development. An important thing about Israeli politics is that on-the-ground military experience is considered the sine qua non of being taken seriously as a political leader. This doesn't have the same implications that it does in other countries: here, because the military has a rather important day job, experience there tends to breed pragmatic realism and an allergy to grand ideology. (As opposed to countries where the military either sees itself as the natural ruler of the state, or where it itself is a major breeding ground of fundamentalism or radicalism)

When Israeli governments are built around people who lack this sort of credential, they are generally considered to be "placeholder" governments by the public: people elected because nobody really serious was running, for one reason or another. These governments aren't horribly common in Israeli... more »

This is an interesting development. An important thing about Israeli politics is that on-the-ground military experience is considered the sine qua non of being taken seriously as a political leader. This doesn't have the same implications that it does in other countries: here, because the military has a rather important day job, experience there tends to breed pragmatic realism and an allergy to grand ideology. (As opposed to countries where the military either sees itself as the natural ruler of the state, or where it itself is a major breeding ground of fundamentalism or radicalism)

When Israeli governments are built around people who lack this sort of credential, they are generally considered to be "placeholder" governments by the public: people elected because nobody really serious was running, for one reason or another. These governments aren't horribly common in Israeli history, but they've happened a few times in the recent past; Shimon Peres' government a few years ago, and Netanyahu's government today. One important thing to understand about the current situation is that very few people actually like Netanyahu; he won by a combination of weak opposition and some short-term pandering (of a particularly vile sort) whose luster lasted just long enough for the ballots to be counted.

So it's quite significant that an increasing cohort of retired senior military people – people who are taken quite seriously by the general public – are coming out and saying that the deal between the US and Iran is, while not great, not catastrophic either, and that the best thing for Israel to do with its time is to mend fences with the US and work towards stabilizing the Middle East.

The reason this is significant is that these people are the bellwether for the broader public, and for coming elections. It means that the odds of a significant counterswing in the near future against not just Netanyahu &co., but their policies (especially with regards to jingoistic grandstanding) are quite good.

Thank the gods.

via +Irreverent Monk and +Alex Grossman ___

2015-07-23 21:37:07 (15 comments, 14 reshares, 36 +1s)Open 

False Positives in Consequential Systems: Some Thoughts

So, I'm going to do something risky, and write about false positives in consequential legal processes, and -- in doing so -- hopefully create a framework for people concerned about false positives to be more helpful. I am specifically not making recommendations: I'm just talking about it from the perspective of someone who has had to think long and hard about designing this sort of system.

First, some baselines and terminology:

(1) False positives are not the same thing as malicious false reports. They include every possible reason why a process could return the wrong result. Malicious false reports create a risk of false positives, but as far as I can tell, those reports are rare across domains. The rate of false positives varies independently of the false reporting rate.

For example,... more »

False Positives in Consequential Systems: Some Thoughts

So, I'm going to do something risky, and write about false positives in consequential legal processes, and -- in doing so -- hopefully create a framework for people concerned about false positives to be more helpful. I am specifically not making recommendations: I'm just talking about it from the perspective of someone who has had to think long and hard about designing this sort of system.

First, some baselines and terminology:

(1) False positives are not the same thing as malicious false reports. They include every possible reason why a process could return the wrong result. Malicious false reports create a risk of false positives, but as far as I can tell, those reports are rare across domains. The rate of false positives varies independently of the false reporting rate.

For example, the UCR unfounded rate for car thefts is very high. Malicious false reports of car theft are virtually nonexistent. People who falsely report car theft have almost always just forgotten where they parked. They are not lying. They are not bad people. They have merely forgotten where their car is, and reasonably concluded that someone else must have moved it.

(2) The chance of false-positives is a function of four variables: the number of genuine positives in the population, the chance of mislabeling in an individual examination, the rate of examination, and the rate of change in the population. 

(3) In any sufficiently large system, there will be false positives and false negatives. You can tilt your decision strategy one way or the other, but it is difficult to get a quantitative sense of accuracy: your primary input about your system's results are the outputs of your system's last run, not objective information about the state of the world.

So, with that being said, here are the things (on both sides) that I tend to keep in mind when trying to design an extremely consequential process:

(1) The mammogram problem affects everyone. Mammograms are highly accurate. Most mammograms that detect cancer are, in fact, false positives. The reason? Population-wide screening. In a population of one million, containing one person with breast cancer and 999,999 people without, a 99%-accurate process will return 10,000 false positives and a single accurate result. A system that works like this is worse than useless. 

You can reduce the risk posed by the mammogram problem by only examining the subsample that's most at risk. Unfortunately, you can't always do this: in systems like (say) law enforcement, the examination rate is predetermined by the reporting rate, which is in some sense fixed.

(2) Uncontrollable positive feedback is a hard problem. Imagine, for a moment, an absolutely maximalist car-theft reporting system. Every day, when you go home, you have to mark the location of your car on a map. At the end of every day, the police drive by and determine whether your car is in the location you marked. If it's not, the police begin an investigation -- one which is largely out of control of the reporter.

If the system carries on, outside of the reporter's control, until it reaches a conclusion, the risk of an unjust result increases. The risk of false recantation similarly increases: the only thing the reporter can do about an investigation that is beyond their control is wreck the investigator's evidence. Furthermore, if every event is maximally escalated, anything which falls short of the minimum penalty which the investigation poses (and note that the investigation itself will generally be viewed as a serious penalty, both by the target of the investigation and by the reporter) cannot be addressed through informal means.

(3) Asymmetric sorting is a hard problem. So, I've built a machine that takes an unsorted bin of black and white balls, and sorts them with an arbitrarily high degree of accuracy. When it finds a black ball, it removes it from the population. When it finds a white ball, it returns it to the population. The machine has no concept of having sorted every ball, and will continue on to the end of time if I let it run. 

It doesn't really matter how high the level of accuracy is.

If I let it run for long enough, it will eventually empty out all the black balls, and then continue to run against a population of white balls until it empties that population out as well. So there is a sense in which, if the rate of examination is high enough, it doesn't even matter what the false positive rate is: so long as the false positive rate is not zero in a static population with immutable characteristics*, the false positive rate will eventually rise to 100%. 

(4) A consequential system which is seriously malfunctioning will stop, even if it is now seriously malfunctioning because it was once unbelievably successful. It is difficult to build a system which successfully eliminates the thing that you're attempting to eliminate. It is unbelievably difficult to build a steady-state system which eliminates the thing you're attempting to eliminate, and then does no further harm. And once a catastrophically successful system starts to do a sufficient amount of harm, it will become impossible to defend even if defensible, because (in general) people strongly rate active harm as being much more important than simple negligence. 

So, to wrap up:

At the end of this process, when we look at the results of a system, we will still have false positives and false negatives. If we would like to substantially reduce false negatives, and there are good structural reasons why we should (reducing the effect of the Petrie multiplier, for instance), we have to increase the examination rate, increase the bias toward false positives, and increase the power of the informal networks that can solve these problems before they're escalated. There may be tradeoffs. There is some asymmetry between the cost of false-positives and false-negatives. I don't want to understate that.

Risks include underestimating the multiplicative effect of simultaneously changing both the false-positive bias and the examination rate, undermining the informal systems which rectify good-faith actions with bad results, and creating a catastrophically successful system which can't achieve a steady-state reduction in the problem complained of. Avoiding those risks is difficult. 

We still need to have a legal system.

* n.b. that a stable population with immutable characteristics is a spherical-cow model, not a model of anything as it actually exists. This is why we can fix problems in a steady-state way at all, and also why problems don't stay fixed after temporarily fixing it.___

2015-07-23 16:46:30 (9 comments, 1 reshares, 14 +1s)Open 

"""
Those wanting to seriously regulate drones, armed or not, are forgetting how they can be used for good. Ranchers can use them to patrol their fields. Hunters could use them on tough to find predators. People who prefer not to go outside at night could use an armed drone to detect prowlers. They can also be used irresponsibly, but so can cell phones, hammers, cars, computers, and guns.
"""

This isn't a very good case... there's a reason gun rights advocates rely on the Second Amendment: there are few, if any, legitimate practical uses for firearms, especially in the modern world. There are fewer still for remote control weaponry, which by nature imply a lack of any immediate threat to the controller and the technological capability to fulfill a desire by non-violent means.

"""
The private sector is already working... more »

"""
Those wanting to seriously regulate drones, armed or not, are forgetting how they can be used for good. Ranchers can use them to patrol their fields. Hunters could use them on tough to find predators. People who prefer not to go outside at night could use an armed drone to detect prowlers. They can also be used irresponsibly, but so can cell phones, hammers, cars, computers, and guns.
"""

This isn't a very good case... there's a reason gun rights advocates rely on the Second Amendment: there are few, if any, legitimate practical uses for firearms, especially in the modern world. There are fewer still for remote control weaponry, which by nature imply a lack of any immediate threat to the controller and the technological capability to fulfill a desire by non-violent means.

"""
The private sector is already working on ways to counter drones. It will become even easier to stop drones, once the technology catches up. Plus, there’s always the simplest solution: take a shotgun to the offending drone. Problem solved.
"""

But the private sector also provides ways to protect yourself from other people: it provides security guards, secluded property, bunkers, full body armor, armored vehicles, and so on. Plus there's always the simplest solution: take a shotgun to the offending person. Problem solved. Yet we don't see people clamoring to release our most violent inmates on the argument that the private sector provides plenty of security options.

"""
There’s a bigger issue at play.
"""

Yes, there is. The bigger issue is this: technology is advancing in ways which, by its very nature, no one will control. Not in the extended sense of distributed decision-making, but in the sense of objects making their own complex choices. A gun mounted on a drone is one step towards an object of dystopian nightmares: automated killbots. Within 10 years, automated assassination in private hands isn't unlikely. It's a thing the government can probably do already. We almost certainly have the ability to build a drone which flies to a given location, uses a camera to identify targets as human, then shoots them.

The automated spree killer is within our grasp right now.

"""
It’s not just that a teen was able to create a really cool thing, but that people so offended by it are demanding that the government do … something.
"""

The only thing I find offensive is the intense stupidity of the author.___

2015-07-22 21:16:37 (23 comments, 20 reshares, 62 +1s)Open 

Wherein Universal Pictures insists that Google take down links to 127.0.0.1 for piracy. 

Wherein Universal Pictures insists that Google take down links to 127.0.0.1 for piracy. ___

2015-07-22 18:58:42 (17 comments, 8 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

Adventures in Bizarre Patch Notes: Long-running Crusader Kings II games would frequently experience slowdowns because every individual Greek was evaluating whether they could castrate or blind every other individual Greek. 

That performance bug is, thankfully, now eliminated.

Adventures in Bizarre Patch Notes: Long-running Crusader Kings II games would frequently experience slowdowns because every individual Greek was evaluating whether they could castrate or blind every other individual Greek. 

That performance bug is, thankfully, now eliminated.___

2015-07-22 17:30:21 (3 comments, 2 reshares, 12 +1s)Open 

"""
Due to vastly higher labor productivity in the U.S., U.S. GDP would rise more than sending countries' GDPs would fall.
"""

I'm not actually certain of this.

As a first-order effect, that's absolutely the case. As a second-order effect, I'm not so sure. The problem is remittances. According to the IMF, remittances account for 6% of GDP for low-income countries. Open immigration would be very likely to boost remittances, in large part because there would be fewer incentives to stay in the developed world.* With more immigrants accessing better work, there's no reason to believe that remittances wouldn't rise. Given the vast gulf between earnings at home and abroad for legally excluded immigrant workers, it would not surprise if this led to an increase in GDP through remittance payments alone.

But that's... more »

"""
Due to vastly higher labor productivity in the U.S., U.S. GDP would rise more than sending countries' GDPs would fall.
"""

I'm not actually certain of this.

As a first-order effect, that's absolutely the case. As a second-order effect, I'm not so sure. The problem is remittances. According to the IMF, remittances account for 6% of GDP for low-income countries. Open immigration would be very likely to boost remittances, in large part because there would be fewer incentives to stay in the developed world.* With more immigrants accessing better work, there's no reason to believe that remittances wouldn't rise. Given the vast gulf between earnings at home and abroad for legally excluded immigrant workers, it would not surprise if this led to an increase in GDP through remittance payments alone.

But that's just the second-order effect. The third-order effects are that remittance payments help families in the home country do things like send children to school, start businesses, improve local infrastructure, afford access to jobs in-region, or send more family members to work overseas. Those help pull GDP up in the long run by turning remittance into a kind of highly distributed FDI. Unlike the developed world, the developing world does not mostly face a glut of investment.

But those are just the third-order effects. The fourth-order effects stem from the combination of distributed FDI and income. Part of what holds developing nations back are political questions dealing in allocation of very scarce resources. In many cases, these resources are concentrated mostly into a few hands. This tends to blur the public and private sectors, yielding to the private public sphere so common in kleptocracies: public powers used almost exclusively for private gain both through normal petty corruption and the grand corruption of co-opting foreign and domestic firms into arms of the state. Remittances, by reducing inequalities, will tend to put stress on this system of private public power as more people win a larger share of the nation's expanding economic power. In turn, that process should yield higher GDP growth in the long run.

But those are the just the fourth-order effects. The fifth-order effect deals in what happens when the economies of both countries rise in tandem thanks to immigration. Wealthier immigrants in the developed world with contacts in the developing world are a key engine of commerce. They know they language, customs, and opportunities in their home countries. By increasing their incomes and ensuring they're legal, we put them in a better position to use that knowledge to establish a more direct feedback loop between the two countries, thereby increasing GDP in both places.

But that's just the fifth-order effect....

*The fact is, immigrants mostly come to the developed for fairly narrow economic reasons. They have cultures, acquaintances, and places back home they are just as attached to as you'd expect if you think of them as people. Sending remittances is often not simply about family who can't join you, but about building up for a better situation upon your return. With open borders, much of the uncertainty in returning would be gone.___

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2015-07-21 19:47:22 (17 comments, 1 reshares, 49 +1s)Open 

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?___

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2015-07-21 19:45:41 (16 comments, 8 reshares, 28 +1s)Open 

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure."

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure."___

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2015-07-21 18:50:15 (7 comments, 0 reshares, 11 +1s)Open 

As Will Wilkinson puts it, I'm a neutral institutional monist.

I don't particularly care what we call our necessary institutions, don't particularly care what theory we use to explain their delegated power to perform extraordinary acts in order to deal with extraordinary circumstances, and I don't particularly think there's much of a moral difference between necessary "public" and "private" institutions.

If the framework within which institutional conflicts are arbitrated happens to be a "state," fine. If it happens to be a common-stock corporation which hands out equal shares to people when they're born, that's weird, but fine. If it happens to be a number of  arbitration cooperatives which take delegates from subsidiary institutions, also weird, also fine. As a matter of factual belief, I happen to think the framework within... more »

As Will Wilkinson puts it, I'm a neutral institutional monist.

I don't particularly care what we call our necessary institutions, don't particularly care what theory we use to explain their delegated power to perform extraordinary acts in order to deal with extraordinary circumstances, and I don't particularly think there's much of a moral difference between necessary "public" and "private" institutions.

If the framework within which institutional conflicts are arbitrated happens to be a "state," fine. If it happens to be a common-stock corporation which hands out equal shares to people when they're born, that's weird, but fine. If it happens to be a number of  arbitration cooperatives which take delegates from subsidiary institutions, also weird, also fine. As a matter of factual belief, I happen to think the framework within which disputes between organizations and individuals are resolved will always be a state or substantially statelike, but I can imagine alternatives which I would also not object to.

The only disadvantage to nominally "private" organizations, of course, is that we lose our vocabulary for discussing corruption when we declare an institution private. The fact of private ownership, or private responsibility, or private power should not force us to forget the benefits of a public-benefit ethic. ___

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2015-07-20 19:21:12 (49 comments, 16 reshares, 41 +1s)Open 

Q: So, Andy, who owns the copyright to DeepDream images?

A: Uh. That's a good question. I have no idea.

Q: So, why are you posting about it? 

A: Because my law school mentor, +Annemarie Bridy, does have some idea. 

Q: And what's the answer, according to her?

A: Basically, "no one does," because AIs don't have legal personhood. But apart from that, the answer is surprisingly complex, and touches on US case law, French surrealists, 'pataphysics, and computer science. Worth reading if you have the time and the background.  

Q: So, Andy, who owns the copyright to DeepDream images?

A: Uh. That's a good question. I have no idea.

Q: So, why are you posting about it? 

A: Because my law school mentor, +Annemarie Bridy, does have some idea. 

Q: And what's the answer, according to her?

A: Basically, "no one does," because AIs don't have legal personhood. But apart from that, the answer is surprisingly complex, and touches on US case law, French surrealists, 'pataphysics, and computer science. Worth reading if you have the time and the background.  ___

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2015-07-20 18:41:58 (210 comments, 26 reshares, 112 +1s)Open 

If you put a large, brilliantly white ball in a goose's nest, the mother will ignore the rest of her eggs and brood over the new object -- which looks more like an egg to her than an egg actually does. Male jewel beetles will ignore actual females while attempting to mate with the reflective orange bottoms of beer bottles.

A significant portion of the Republican base supports Trump. 

Over the past twenty-five years, conservative media has taken the position that there are no friends to the left, no enemies to the right.  Right-wing positions that were once permissible have become desirable, and finally mandatory. Immigration needs to be cut down? No, immigration needs to be cut off, to prevent a rapacious horde from swarming over our Southern border! Being rich is ethically okay? No, being rich is ethically mandatory! War should be on the table as an option in foreign policy? No,w... more »

If you put a large, brilliantly white ball in a goose's nest, the mother will ignore the rest of her eggs and brood over the new object -- which looks more like an egg to her than an egg actually does. Male jewel beetles will ignore actual females while attempting to mate with the reflective orange bottoms of beer bottles.

A significant portion of the Republican base supports Trump. 

Over the past twenty-five years, conservative media has taken the position that there are no friends to the left, no enemies to the right.  Right-wing positions that were once permissible have become desirable, and finally mandatory. Immigration needs to be cut down? No, immigration needs to be cut off, to prevent a rapacious horde from swarming over our Southern border! Being rich is ethically okay? No, being rich is ethically mandatory! War should be on the table as an option in foreign policy? No, we should be considering nuclear war against the whole Muslim world! Obama is a bad president? No, he's a Kenyan Muslim atheist usurper, a communist fascist, and a weakling tyrant!

To people who have cultivated a taste for this escalating (and basically emotional) right-wing nonsense, Trump is a superstimulus: on every position the right wing supports or admires -- from xenophobic suspicion to rampant inequality to belligerent saber-rattling -- he's turned the dial to eleven and left it there.

So why should we be surprised that he's doing so well in the polls?___

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2015-07-18 04:04:42 (8 comments, 3 reshares, 26 +1s)Open 

Thank you and goodnight.

Thank you and goodnight.___

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2015-07-17 21:49:25 (10 comments, 12 reshares, 69 +1s)Open 

I suppose "woman found dead in jail had prior traffic tickets and a dismissed misdemeanor" didn't grab as many clicks as one might expect. I'm not a Texas lawyer, so maybe someone can clarify something for me -- how many traffic tickets does it take to get the death penalty in Texas? 

I suppose "woman found dead in jail had prior traffic tickets and a dismissed misdemeanor" didn't grab as many clicks as one might expect. I'm not a Texas lawyer, so maybe someone can clarify something for me -- how many traffic tickets does it take to get the death penalty in Texas? ___

2015-07-17 20:28:52 (20 comments, 3 reshares, 71 +1s)Open 

Meeting Hacks: In a videoconference, introducing the meeting with the phrase "If you're watching this, I'm already dead" is a fantastic way to shorten your meeting schedule.

Meeting Hacks: In a videoconference, introducing the meeting with the phrase "If you're watching this, I'm already dead" is a fantastic way to shorten your meeting schedule.___

2015-07-16 20:43:17 (7 comments, 1 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

Two Corollaries to Poe's Law:

(1) For any position X, the position straw-X is actually held by someone. Andrea Dworkin, for instance, did not say precisely that all heterosexual sex was rape. There exist feminists who have said that. They are not particularly common, but because they are not particularly common, they are quite loud.

(2) Conversely, for any position X, the actual existence or prevalence of position straw-X is not disproof of X. Because it is inconvenient to acknowledge and the position is often disregarded when encountered, people don't concede the existence of people who hold unreasonable variants of the beliefs they hold. It is not necessary to force them to acknowledge that in order to contend with the beliefs they actually hold.

Two Corollaries to Poe's Law:

(1) For any position X, the position straw-X is actually held by someone. Andrea Dworkin, for instance, did not say precisely that all heterosexual sex was rape. There exist feminists who have said that. They are not particularly common, but because they are not particularly common, they are quite loud.

(2) Conversely, for any position X, the actual existence or prevalence of position straw-X is not disproof of X. Because it is inconvenient to acknowledge and the position is often disregarded when encountered, people don't concede the existence of people who hold unreasonable variants of the beliefs they hold. It is not necessary to force them to acknowledge that in order to contend with the beliefs they actually hold.___

2015-07-16 19:16:26 (11 comments, 1 reshares, 14 +1s)Open 

Shit. Another promising MS drug with catastrophic side effects.

Not unexpected, though. Multiple sclerosis is probably caused by a conjunction of two problems: an unusually permeable blood-brain barrier, and an immune response to myelin. We have no good way of turning off the immune response to myelin, so -- as an alternative -- we either (a) globally downregulate the immune system, or (b) make it more difficult for the immune system to act in the brain.

The problems with (a) should be obvious. You need your immune system.

The problems with (b) are less obvious, but discussed below. 

White blood cells can't easily get into the brain: in order to cross from capillaries into actual brain tissue, they use one of several interleukins as a passkey. But the brain also has its own endogenous immune system: microglia, which are specialized... more »

Shit. Another promising MS drug with catastrophic side effects.

Not unexpected, though. Multiple sclerosis is probably caused by a conjunction of two problems: an unusually permeable blood-brain barrier, and an immune response to myelin. We have no good way of turning off the immune response to myelin, so -- as an alternative -- we either (a) globally downregulate the immune system, or (b) make it more difficult for the immune system to act in the brain.

The problems with (a) should be obvious. You need your immune system.

The problems with (b) are less obvious, but discussed below. 

White blood cells can't easily get into the brain: in order to cross from capillaries into actual brain tissue, they use one of several interleukins as a passkey. But the brain also has its own endogenous immune system: microglia, which are specialized macrophages which perform garbage-collection and cull damaged cells. When we attempt to downregulate macrophage activity or shore up the blood-brain barrier, we often find out why the immune system is there to begin with.

As it turns out, many of us have latent viruses in our brain. Without garbage-collection, those latent viruses can become active, causing multifocal leukencephalopathy. Which is profoundly bad, and generally fatal.___

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2015-07-15 17:00:03 (43 comments, 2 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

Iranian kids in Tehran. Marg bar "marg bar Amrika." 

"Sounds of joy & images of excitement continue to cover the streets of #Tehran"

#irandeal   #irandealvienna   #peace   #iran   #US  

Just a few years ago, things like this would have been impossible to spot in Iran!

Such a cute kid!___Iranian kids in Tehran. Marg bar "marg bar Amrika." 

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2015-07-15 16:44:43 (4 comments, 5 reshares, 13 +1s)Open 

I really never see my own brand of cheerful nihilism represented anywhere but here. (Particularly, from 2:50 on.)

I really never see my own brand of cheerful nihilism represented anywhere but here. (Particularly, from 2:50 on.)___

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2015-07-14 23:27:27 (15 comments, 2 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

Interesting. In conjunction with the total capitulation of the Greek government in the previous round of talks, it appears as though Syriza may have had a better plan than it's copped to. 

If the IMF pulls out of the Greek bailout deal, then Europe has a difficult choice: (a) decline Greece's total capitulation to Eurozone demands and expel it from the Euro even after the agreement has been finalized, (b) cover the IMF's stake in the bailout,  or (c) offer Greece better terms than even Greece agreed to. 

All of this would be made easier if Schauble lost his job.

Interesting. In conjunction with the total capitulation of the Greek government in the previous round of talks, it appears as though Syriza may have had a better plan than it's copped to. 

If the IMF pulls out of the Greek bailout deal, then Europe has a difficult choice: (a) decline Greece's total capitulation to Eurozone demands and expel it from the Euro even after the agreement has been finalized, (b) cover the IMF's stake in the bailout,  or (c) offer Greece better terms than even Greece agreed to. 

All of this would be made easier if Schauble lost his job.___

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2015-07-14 19:32:18 (23 comments, 11 reshares, 33 +1s)Open 

Exactly right. 

The US has geopolitical objectives other than preventing Iran from getting access to nuclear weapons. Like it or not, we need Iran's limited cooperation on a lot of regional issues -- Yemen's Houthis, Syria and Iraq's ISIS, stability in eastern Afghanistan -- and can't simultaneously maintain the embargo. 

Relations are likely to continue to be hostile, but they always were. 

Exactly right. 

The US has geopolitical objectives other than preventing Iran from getting access to nuclear weapons. Like it or not, we need Iran's limited cooperation on a lot of regional issues -- Yemen's Houthis, Syria and Iraq's ISIS, stability in eastern Afghanistan -- and can't simultaneously maintain the embargo. 

Relations are likely to continue to be hostile, but they always were. ___

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2015-07-13 20:18:43 (9 comments, 0 reshares, 22 +1s)Open 

Fine, fine. I'll get in on the game.

Fine, fine. I'll get in on the game.___

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2015-07-13 20:17:36 (9 comments, 0 reshares, 32 +1s)Open 

___

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2015-07-13 19:38:10 (11 comments, 19 reshares, 61 +1s)Open 

In a sense, this is right. In another, it's not answering the right question. Why would the NSA demand encryption backdoors even if they know full well that no such thing is practical? The answer eventually comes down to institutional design.

Some thoughts on how we went wrong:

(1) In a sense, the NSA is like a large tech company which contains both engineers and less-technical project managers. The engineers are generally mathematics and computer science Ph.Ds from specialized fields. The project managers are all military officers. Employees that span both domains are extremely uncommon: most managerial positions are filled by people who started in military signals intelligence or the CIA, then transferred to NSA.

The head of the NSA is, by law, always a military officer. By custom, the deputy director of the NSA is a mathematician or engineer, but there's no... more »

In a sense, this is right. In another, it's not answering the right question. Why would the NSA demand encryption backdoors even if they know full well that no such thing is practical? The answer eventually comes down to institutional design.

Some thoughts on how we went wrong:

(1) In a sense, the NSA is like a large tech company which contains both engineers and less-technical project managers. The engineers are generally mathematics and computer science Ph.Ds from specialized fields. The project managers are all military officers. Employees that span both domains are extremely uncommon: most managerial positions are filled by people who started in military signals intelligence or the CIA, then transferred to NSA.

The head of the NSA is, by law, always a military officer. By custom, the deputy director of the NSA is a mathematician or engineer, but there's no mistaking who's in charge: officers with often-marginal technical ability. Insofar as the NSA believes that key escrow is possible to do safely, that knowledge is fully believed by nontechnical management, not the cryptographers that would be called upon to implement the program.

(2) In another sense, the NSA is like the Air Force.

The USAF is basically a logistics organization. Their job is to put men and materiel precisely where they belong, as quickly as possible, using planes. That's what most of the Air Force does: only 2% of its personnel are combat pilots, and less than a third of its planes are armed. By comparison, the Navy -- which is not primarily a logistics organization -- has more combat pilots and aircraft.

Nonetheless, most of the USAF's leadership comes out of the combat pilot ranks. Why? Because combat aircraft are the flashiest and most iconic symbols of what the USAF does. 

Since the idea of cyberwarfare came on the scene, the NSA has been selecting its leadership from officers with a background in offensive cyberwarfare, rather than defensive cryptography. To the average congressperson, this is both more exciting and more comprehensible. This leads the NSA to systematically overestimate the value of offensive operations and denigrate the critical importance of solid civilian cryptography.

(3) Compartmentalization makes it difficult for the NSA to evaluate the systemic risk of espionage programs. 

Inside the NSA, functional segregation makes it difficult to understand the risk characteristics of programs outside an individual employee's reporting chain or tech stack. Only high-level managers have comprehensive need-to-know over most of the agency's programs, but their limited attention means that it's difficult for the people in charge to assess technical risk.

Which they wouldn't be particularly good at anyway. Because they aren't technical.

(4) Secrecy is corrosive to accountability. When you don't have to justify your actions to anyone -- when, in fact, it's a crime to justify your actions to anyone but the person who ordered them -- you stand a greater risk of doing things which are unjustified.

This means, ultimately, that the more secrecy your program needs, the more hostile oversight needs to be. 

(I originally posted this as commentary on a reshare, but current events have made it relevant again, and was asked for a reshareable version. Bonus for technical readers: a primer from +Lea Kissner about how the DUAL_EC_DRBG backdoor works.)___

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2015-07-10 22:54:19 (52 comments, 7 reshares, 43 +1s)Open 

For those of you who have been following me for a long time, you've often heard me grouse about Wikileaks being well behind the mainstream media on reporting abuse in Iraq. What you haven't heard me grouse about is the fact that Snowden was well behind in pointing out NSA abuses, too. 

Wiebe, Binney, and Drake were well ahead of Snowden in pointing out the NSA's mass-wtapping programs. Jewel v. NSA revealed the existence of UPSTREAM.  Almost everything which Snowden eventually published had been diligently reported on by the middle pages of middlebrow newspapers, and then studiously ignored.

I just remembered today that the telephone metadata snooping had been revealed seven years before Snowden, in the article linked below. There is a lesson here. I am not sure what it is.

For those of you who have been following me for a long time, you've often heard me grouse about Wikileaks being well behind the mainstream media on reporting abuse in Iraq. What you haven't heard me grouse about is the fact that Snowden was well behind in pointing out NSA abuses, too. 

Wiebe, Binney, and Drake were well ahead of Snowden in pointing out the NSA's mass-wtapping programs. Jewel v. NSA revealed the existence of UPSTREAM.  Almost everything which Snowden eventually published had been diligently reported on by the middle pages of middlebrow newspapers, and then studiously ignored.

I just remembered today that the telephone metadata snooping had been revealed seven years before Snowden, in the article linked below. There is a lesson here. I am not sure what it is.___

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2015-07-09 19:34:10 (8 comments, 1 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

One quick way to determine whether a pundit is reliable is to check to see whether they continue to promote the same line even as the predicates they'd previously used have changed. Stephen Roach, former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, has been promoting the same line for years: China's growth is sustainable even though no other growth of its type has been before. 

When he was last promoting it, it seemed like it might be true. Even I was doubting my doubt.

And he's right again, on the narrow issue of whether the Chinese stock meltdown actually represents a metastasizing failure in the Chinese economy. But what about the fundamentals? Energy usage is down. Export discrepancies are increasing, even as factory outputs drop. Growth is plummeting. The Chinese government has stopped publishing statistics which it can't credibly juke. 

Alone, the failure ofC... more »

One quick way to determine whether a pundit is reliable is to check to see whether they continue to promote the same line even as the predicates they'd previously used have changed. Stephen Roach, former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, has been promoting the same line for years: China's growth is sustainable even though no other growth of its type has been before. 

When he was last promoting it, it seemed like it might be true. Even I was doubting my doubt.

And he's right again, on the narrow issue of whether the Chinese stock meltdown actually represents a metastasizing failure in the Chinese economy. But what about the fundamentals? Energy usage is down. Export discrepancies are increasing, even as factory outputs drop. Growth is plummeting. The Chinese government has stopped publishing statistics which it can't credibly juke. 

Alone, the failure of China's government-dominated, loosely-coupled financial system might not be cause for deep concern. But it's not just the financial system that's a problem: everything is. That should be enough to make us worry more about China than Greece.___

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2015-07-09 19:26:16 (10 comments, 23 reshares, 36 +1s)Open 

Yo, dawg, I heard yo dawg likes to jump at dogs. So I showed yo dawg yo dawg so yo dawg can jump while he jumps.

Yo, dawg, I heard yo dawg likes to jump at dogs. So I showed yo dawg yo dawg so yo dawg can jump while he jumps.___

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2015-07-08 18:47:43 (9 comments, 5 reshares, 10 +1s)Open 

What an odd piece of writing.

It's interesting to see an account of Syrian politics and history that almost entirely omits sectarianism. It's not necessarily wrong. I'm just not used to seeing internal tensions in ethnoreligiously diverse ME states described without reference to the sectarian divisions underlying these ideological divisions.

Ideological divisions in the Middle East, like ideological divisions in Europe a century ago, are largely driven by underlying sectarian splits. In Europe, minority populations often turned to internationalist movements as an antidote to minority-hostile nationalism. This pattern, which is now only an undercurrent in European politics, is still common in the Middle East.

Lebanese socialists are mostly Druze. Baathist Arab socialists were largely religious minority coalitions. The Turkish left is ethnically divided between the... more »

What an odd piece of writing.

It's interesting to see an account of Syrian politics and history that almost entirely omits sectarianism. It's not necessarily wrong. I'm just not used to seeing internal tensions in ethnoreligiously diverse ME states described without reference to the sectarian divisions underlying these ideological divisions.

Ideological divisions in the Middle East, like ideological divisions in Europe a century ago, are largely driven by underlying sectarian splits. In Europe, minority populations often turned to internationalist movements as an antidote to minority-hostile nationalism. This pattern, which is now only an undercurrent in European politics, is still common in the Middle East.

Lebanese socialists are mostly Druze. Baathist Arab socialists were largely religious minority coalitions. The Turkish left is ethnically divided between the ethnically Turkish left and the minority-left . (Until this last election, interestingly.)

This has something to do with the British and French, but the clock actually starts with the Ottomans: the Ottomans set up a strict ethnoreligious caste ordering: Turkish Sunnis > Other Sunnis > Christians and Jews > Other religious minorities. Each ethnos had limited self-rule and free movement, so long as the ethnoi remained mostly segregated.

The British and French inverted the Ottoman caste ordering after WWI, but none of the minority populations were incontestably in control. And they took a huge amount of land and resources from the people who had been favored by the Turks. This is how an Alawite-led coalition rules Syria, and why they feel so deeply aggrieved: they were at the bottom of the Ottoman hierarchy until elevated by Europeans.

All of my thinking about the Levant has been driven by this mostly-deterministic model. With that in mind, it's interesting to read an alternative account wherein the politics of the Middle East are actually politics, rather than tribal warfare conducted by other means.___

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2015-07-07 21:59:34 (27 comments, 3 reshares, 20 +1s)Open 

Wherein the mayor of Whitesboro* objects to people pointing out the racism of this city seal, which clearly depicts a white settler gently hugging his Native American friend.

* Seriously. What the hell. Whitesboro?

Wherein the mayor of Whitesboro* objects to people pointing out the racism of this city seal, which clearly depicts a white settler gently hugging his Native American friend.

* Seriously. What the hell. Whitesboro?___

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2015-07-07 20:18:24 (6 comments, 4 reshares, 11 +1s)Open 

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the fenqing economists were wrong, and that it's impossible to sustain double-digit growth rates forever, in the face of vast misallocations of resources. It does not appear that China is headed for anything close to a soft landing -- much to the rest of the world's horror. 

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/china/chinese-investors-stung-market-rout-n387261

In 2008, Western consumption collapsed. But China's economy kept going strong.

If the conventional wisdom holds -- that China's economy is buoyed by rising Western consumption -- then this shouldn't have occurred. So +Danny Quah uses this opportunity to argue that this demonstrates the resilience of the Chinese internal economy, and argue that the growth it's showed since 2008 is sustainable: if not in perpetuity, than at least for the immediate future. 

This is both right and wrong.

It's true that the Chinese economy remained strong even as the majority of their trading partners began flagging. It's false, however, that this is a mere continuation of the growth trend which began at the beginning of this century: unlike the West, China was able to muster an immense policy response to the ongoing economic disaster. Also unlike the West, its policy response may knock it off of its growth footing. 

After the American-led financial disaster, Chinese grey-market financiers stepped in to fill the gap, extending low-interest loans. Internal infrastructure spending began to crank up. State-run industries ramped up production. And -- at least according to China -- this has kept growth at or near double-digits throughout the crisis.

This has come at a cost. Inflation ran high throughout the height of the crisis. Electricity usage, a key metric of industrial production, is down. And there are still signs of dire malinvestment in infrastructure: abandoned cities, empty roads, stalled trains, silent apartments. It's certainly possible that the rules have changed, and that economic growth will push aside the concerns. 

But even though inflation has come down, there are troubling signs that the Chinese economy -- and Chinese institutions -- have been gravely wounded by the recent economic troubles. ___Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the fenqing economists were wrong, and that it's impossible to sustain double-digit growth rates forever, in the face of vast misallocations of resources. It does not appear that China is headed for anything close to a soft landing -- much to the rest of the world's horror. 

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/china/chinese-investors-stung-market-rout-n387261

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2015-07-07 01:31:30 (17 comments, 3 reshares, 23 +1s)Open 

I've been struggling for words to talk about the Charleston shooting. This doesn't get at all I want to express, but it does capture a point I haven't seen emphasized enough: why did it take this, and not the earlier shootings, to unite Americans on the unacceptable threats faced by blacks?

Some quotes

"Specifically, to make the point plainly, universal sympathy from White America was only forthcoming when the moral narrative regarding Black virtue and innocence was clear and indisputable." ... "Black heroism can't be the asking price for White sympathy."

"These more ambiguous situations are the ones that divide America. And why is that? Because these events are open to interpretation. And because they are _open to interpretation_ -moral Rorschach blots- they are the situations that most reveal our biases and prejudices."

I've been struggling for words to talk about the Charleston shooting. This doesn't get at all I want to express, but it does capture a point I haven't seen emphasized enough: why did it take this, and not the earlier shootings, to unite Americans on the unacceptable threats faced by blacks?

Some quotes

"Specifically, to make the point plainly, universal sympathy from White America was only forthcoming when the moral narrative regarding Black virtue and innocence was clear and indisputable." ... "Black heroism can't be the asking price for White sympathy."

"These more ambiguous situations are the ones that divide America. And why is that? Because these events are open to interpretation. And because they are _open to interpretation_ -moral Rorschach blots- they are the situations that most reveal our biases and prejudices."___

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2015-07-06 19:52:41 (18 comments, 4 reshares, 29 +1s)Open 

I'm pretty bullish on biotech and GMO plants. I'm not sure that this is a great idea. 

As a concept, grass is a pretty great evolutionary concept: uniform ground-cover which maximizes surface area, spread over a wide area, with connected root systems in case predators take out your stems. Even the stubble left over can photosynthesize. 

Unsurprisingly, many of our staple crops -- grains -- are grasses. Lots of biomass per acre, and we have to pay relatively little attention to what we're growing. But grass-driven agriculture is only environmentally disastrous because we have to clear native grasses to plant foreign grasses, and because we can't tolerate ecosystems moving in and eating all of our wheat. 

Optimizing for seed production has made domesticated grasses poor invasive species: rice or wheat or corn or barley won't simply move in and take overgr... more »

I'm pretty bullish on biotech and GMO plants. I'm not sure that this is a great idea. 

As a concept, grass is a pretty great evolutionary concept: uniform ground-cover which maximizes surface area, spread over a wide area, with connected root systems in case predators take out your stems. Even the stubble left over can photosynthesize. 

Unsurprisingly, many of our staple crops -- grains -- are grasses. Lots of biomass per acre, and we have to pay relatively little attention to what we're growing. But grass-driven agriculture is only environmentally disastrous because we have to clear native grasses to plant foreign grasses, and because we can't tolerate ecosystems moving in and eating all of our wheat. 

Optimizing for seed production has made domesticated grasses poor invasive species: rice or wheat or corn or barley won't simply move in and take over grasslands on its own. That's because we've bred those species to waste their energy on way to many seeds. It's unclear to me, however, that that pattern would hold if we were to start splicing additional chlorophyll genes into domesticated grasses. 

Wheat wastes a lot of energy on producing too many seeds. Does it waste 50, 60% of its energy that way? If we can genuinely increase energy input while reducing insect predation, we may out-clever our own agricultural optimization and turn food crops into genuine invasive species. ___

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