Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014: why I am thankful

Just a few of the reasons...

1. We still have a country of free market capitalism, private property rights, individual liberty (yes, I've said the same thing three ways).  It is battered and under assault, but we are still free and, for that reason, still wealthy... in spirit and in material things.

2. I have my Julie, my family, my many friends, my students, my colleagues, my Chaos... all make my life richer.

3. I am healthy, fairly fit, and sane (some might question this last one, but I would have to be crazy to deny it).  My work is going well, and we're accomplishing some things that are worth accomplishing.

As is my Thanksgiving habit, this year I roasted a turkey and prepared the usual side dishes.  As always, everything is done from scratch.  Dressing, pie crust, gravy, mashed potatoes,and the like all begin with basics.  (One exception: I served canned cranberry sauce, which was not bad at all. But this is the last time, as Jeff "Computer Geek" Ross' lovely Laura forwarded me her recipe after hearing this.)  And as is my habit, I also did a hard workout prior to dinner, one which included 100 pushups, 20 pullups, 35 standing military presses with at least half my body weight, heavy deadlifts, and a variety of squats, box jumps, kettlebell snatches, and the like.  It's uncertain whether net calories for today are negative or positive.

Photos follow.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Box jumps

Burning calories in advance

Into the oven...

Out of the oven!

Thankful in America

Before Steele
After Steele

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson

I held off blogging on the events in Ferguson MO first of all because I have not had time for blogging, and second because I was waiting for the grand jury to complete its work.  It is completely unsurprising that no charges were brought against Officer Wilson.  It was an undisputed fact that Michael Brown was a violent criminal, that he had just robbed a convenience store and assaulted a worker there.  Even at the start, as the mainstream media spun a web of lies about a summary execution of a "gentle giant," eye witnesses were stating that Brown assaulted Officer Wilson and was charging him when shot.  We've already seen the media do this before, in its failed attempt to lynch George Zimmerman.

The facts, as revealed in the grand jury investigation, are that when Wilson identified Brown as the suspect and attempted to stop him, Brown assaulted Wilson and attempted to grab his firearm.  Brown was lightly wounded in the struggle and then attacked Wilson a second time, who the shot Brown in obvious self defense.

There's nothing much to be said about the rioters in Ferguson and elsewhere.  They are violent criminals and should simply be dealt with using the amount of force appropriate to the particular case -- including deadly force when called for -- and then prosecuted.  It's the nonviolent protesters who deserve comment.  Let me focus on email comments I received from ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero shortly after the grandjury decision was announced.  A few excerpts...Romero writes:  Michael Brown's death is a tragic loss to his family, community, and this nation.  Well, no it was not.  Michael Brown was a dangerous predator who attacked a store keeper and then a police officer.  There is no place for such behavior in a civilized society, and no place for such criminals.  Romero apparently disagrees and values the "contribution" predators make to the community and nation.

Romero continues:  We can't lose another young Black (sic) person at the hands of the police.  Romero means to say that the next time a young black person attacks a police officer, he should be allowed to proceed? Apparently.  But in fact, the fewer predators (of any race, Brown's "blackness" is not the reason he was shot) we have in society, the better off we'll be.  The tragedy is not that Brown was shot, it's that his parents failed to teach him that robbery and assault are wrong.  Another tragedy is that Brown chose to become a violent predator, but once he did it is a good thing that he was stopped.

Romero again:   This is exactly the right moment to stand together and push for police accountability and systemic change. (emphasis his) Systemic change...he apparently thinks the grand jury was wrong, or corrupt, or something.  Exactly what does Romero think should have happened -- they shouldn't have considered the evidence?  The letter closes with a call for the DoJ to crack down on state and local law enforcement with "no profiling" guidelines.  Never mind that DoJ has no Constitutional authority at all to do this, and never mind that racial profiling had absolutely nothing to do with this case, ACLU demands it.  Romero's "systemic change" would mean an end to the rule of law.

I suppose this fundraising appeal is just an appeal to emotion and hence not to be analyzed closely, but 100% of the outrage at the grand jury decision is nothing but mindless idiotic emotion.  The peaceful protesters deserve nothing but our contempt.  There's no excuse for lamenting the demise of a violent criminal who attacks a police officer.  It appears that most of the protests are driven by racism -- that is, the racism harbored by the protesters themselves.  Wilson is hated because he is white;had he been black we'd never have heard of this case.  Race baiters from Barack Obama and Eric Holder to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have played this case for all they can; their own political and financial fortunes seem to benefit from strife.  The fools who allow themselves to be manipulated by these thugs are impervious to facts and reason -- it's just blind emotion for many of them and leftwing politics as usual for others.

In fact, Darren Wilson is a hero for standing up to and defeating a thug who was a threat to the community and the nation.  The peaceful protesters are ignorant, emotion-driven fools who have nothing to say that's worth hearing.  They should be deeply ashamed.

When the grand jury decision was announced, the first thing out of Obama's mouth was that he hoped the police would show restraint.  (Unfortunately, they did.)  As rioters were destroying downtown Ferguson, Holder announced DoJ investigations -- not of the people destroying the town, but of the police.  The mainstream media continues to fan the flames, New York Times going so far as to publish Wilson's home address, endangering him and his family.

It is hard to imagine that America could have ever come to this.  A substantial share of America's political class appears to be trying to create as much chaos as possible.  We're supposed to accept all this as "normal?"  There's nothing normal about it -- this is terrifically dangerous.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


This is not an easy semester.  Little time for blogging, but here's a quick note...

1. Jean Tirole was awarded the Nobel in Economics.  I mostly know Tirole from the masterful Game Theory he co-authored with Drew Fudenberg, the primary text I used in preparing for my field exam in game theory during my Ph.D. program at NYU.  I've read a little of his other work, but not much.  Just a good technical economist, in my view.  I'm unsurprised Kirzner didn't receive the award, but just having him identified as a frontrunner is a great thing.

2. Sweden recognized the State of Palestine.  In my opinion, it's time for Israel to bite the bullet and recognize a Palestinian state as well... and then give it 24 hours to start rooting out the terrorist groups in its territory, starting with Hamas, or face a declaration of all out war.  As far as I can tell, all of the main Palestinian political players, including Mahmoud Abbas and his PA, are exterminationists, willing to perpetrate a final solution should they get a chance.  I also think we're entering a world where this is becoming increasingly politically correct.  This morning I heard a BBC interviewer challenge an Israeli official who was talking about the the attempted assassination of Rabbi Yehuda Glick, saying "but isn't it the case that Israelis have been giving serious provocation" and then explaining that the "serious provocation" is suggesting that Jews should should be able to go to Temple Mount.  Cynical as I am, even I was shocked -- the BBC World News bunch is as PC as they come.  The freedom of any other racial, religious, or ethnic group to move about would never be challenged, I think. But it appears Jews -- especially Israeli Jews -- are becoming international pariahs, at least in Europe and parts of the United States (e.g. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).  No wonder Caroline Glick thinks it's time for Israel to say to hell with it and bomb Iran.  I don't know if she's right militarily, but it makes a kind of sense.  By appeasing Palestinian exterminationists and getting tough with Israel, Europe and Obama make war increasingly likely, not peace.

3. I think one must be insane to think that unrestricted travel from countries undergoing ebola epidemics is acceptable.  I cannot find it now, but the dean of a medical school in Pennsylvania recently had an op-ed in WaPo pointing out that anyone in West Africa who has been exposed to ebola ought to be doing all they can to get to the United States, where the disease is not a nearly-certain death sentence, and that for this reason we ought to be limiting travel.  But no.  President-who-would-be-king Obama assures us that completely unrestricted travel is necessary to fight the disease, and that health care workers who return to the U.S. after treating ebola patients need not be treated differently than anyone else... just before his Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, announced quarantine for all U.S. troops who have been sent to sent Ebola.  I'm particularly irked by nurse Kaci Hickox, who courageously went to Sierra Leone to treat ebola patients, and now -- having exposed herself to the deadly disease -- self-righteously thinks she ought to be able to possibly expose everyone else.  To hell with her.  The stupid bastard Craig Spencer M.D. did the same thing and now people who had contact with him are being monitored and at least one business closed as a result.  Spencer ought to be prosecuted for what he's done, not hailed as a hero.

But these are what Heinlein called "the Crazy Years."  You can even find libertarians suggesting there's no real problem in having people with ebola travel freely and mingle with the general public, but mandatory quarantine, that's utterly unthinkable and unacceptable and is no different from establishing internment camps.  Good grief.  (Note my three responses in the comments, and that so far while Tucker has responded he refuses to deal with any serious questions at all.)


I will have both a Le Grizz report and part two of my nuclear weapon piece up... soon, I hope.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"Another one in the bucket"

That's how RD Pat Caffrey described my 14th finish at Le Grizz.  This was my slowest finish to date, and also the wettest, with multiple rainstorms, some pretty darned hard, plus several hellacious hailstorms.  But a finish is a finish, so it was a good if difficult day.

Report to follow.

Friday, October 10, 2014

the Peace Prize

I'm pleasantly surprised by the announcement of this year's Nobel Peace prize.  First, it is going to actual human beings, and second, the winners really seem genuinely deserving.  Both Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai have campaigned against systematic oppression and exploitation of fairly helpless people, both at great personal risk.  It's nice that Alfred Nobel's wishes are being fulfilled for a change.

Yes, the Norwegians could not help themselves and had to introduce some nonsensical political correctness, emphasizing that they had picked a Hindu and Muslim to share the prize, as if religion, race, etc. is an important criterion, instead of actual accomplishments -- but these are, so far as I can tell, two really good and courageous people who indeed have real accomplishments -- even if it is mostly just standing up publicly against bad guys.  So -- for a change -- good on the committee.  And congratulations to Ms. Yousafzai and Mr. Satyarthi.

And who knows, maybe a joint prize really will help reduce Pakistani-Indian hostility at the margin.  I hope so.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Nobel Predictions...

The Nobel Peace Prize and Nobel Economics Prize (the "Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel" for those uppity people who insist it's not a "real" Nobel Prize) will be announced within the next week.  Both of these are of interest to "us" at Unforeseen Contingencies.  Here's our wish list and a prediction or two.

1. Economics.  Thompson Reuters Sciencewatch has placed Israel Kirzner on its short list for the prize in economics for his work on entrepreneurship.  If the prize is to be awarded for making genuinely insightful and valuable breakthroughs then Kirzner certainly deserves it.  His work has been unfortunately ignored by much of the profession, even though it directly addresses many issues that seem puzzles when one is limited to accepted mainstream theory.  Sciencewatch puts a Kirzner-Baumol prize as one of three likely outcomes, and "we" at UC would welcome that also because entrepreneurship deserves a great deal more attention in economics, because Baumol is also a deserving candidate, and this would be an NYU sweep of the prize.  (Yours truly wrote his doctoral dissertation at NYU with Dr. Kirzner as advisor.)  If "we" were selecting the prize winners, Kirzner-Baumol would win.

Alas, our prediction is otherwise.  I have no real insight on what might happen, but I would guess that if Baumol wins the prize it will be for other things, such as his cost-disease theory.  So I will go out on a limb and predict Baumol as a lone winner.

2. The Peace Prize.  This one is usually good for a laugh, at least of late.  The U.N. Climate Committee?  The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons? Barack Obama?  The E.U.?   Good grief!  Even The Onion couldn't match this.  In predicting this one, picking almost anyone or anything at random seems a reasonable strategy here, although one wonders if genuinely deserving candidates shouldn't be eliminated from the pool.  If there were any justice to this prize, this would be a good year for the committee to strip past prizes from undeserving candidates, beginning with the E.U. for its greed, cowardice, and plain treachery in abandoning Ukrainians and appeasing Putin as he wages war on Ukraine and imposes tyranny at home.  There's "European values" for you.  But given that the prize must be awarded, Unforeseen Contingencies would award it to the protesters of Euromaidan (especially the "Heavenly Hundred") and the volunteer brigades who are fighting the Russian Army in eastern Ukraine.  They are doing more for peace and freedom than anyone else in Europe.  The IDF is a close second.

But given the track record of the committee, I predict another wild card winner.  I suggested ISIS as a possible candidate in one of my classes (what better way to whimper "please don't hurt us" than to award them a Peace Prize?)  One of my students (thanks James!) suggested Vladimir Putin as an even more likely candidate, which strikes me as very much in keeping with past picks such as Yassir Arafat.  Hence Unforeseen Contingencies predicts ISIS, or Putin, or a shared prize between them.

And the winners are...

Update & Le Grizz 2014

Quick note -- I've been overwhelmed with an unusual workload (some of it seems better described as 'make-work' load) of late.  I will complete part 2 of "Inevitability" and resume regular blogging at some point (and maybe re-do the ramble in part 1!)

Meanwhile, as always, early October brings several events of special interest here.  First, there's the 33rd running of the Le Grizz 50 Mile Ultramarathon, on Saturday, 11 October 2014.  Your less-than-faithful blogger will be there, attempting his 14th completion of the race.  Race Director Pat Caffrey, a Montana ultrarunning and mountaineering legend, has announced his retirement.  While he has found team to take over direction of the race, this will likely be the last running on the traditional course along the west shore of Hungry Horse Reservoir, hence it is being billed as "The Last Le Grizz."  I'll be posting a report or two from the race, hopefully with pictures.

The next few days will also bring the announcements of the Nobel Prizes for Peace and Economics.  Frankly, Leon Walras was correct that contributions to economics are contributions to peace, but we have to make do with the present system.  I will post my Nobel predictions here and also provide commentary on the actual announcements.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The inevitability of nuclear war, part 1

Nuclear war is inevitable, and we will see it occur in the next ten years.

Inevitable? How can that be?  Nuclear war can only occur if someone with the ability to engage in it decides to do so, and no one has.

That's a good point, and I agree -- in fact nuclear war is not genuinely a certainty, no one with nuclear weapons has decided to use them, and hence it's not something to which I assign probability of one.  It is not inevitable. OTOH, I do assign conditional probability of one to it: given the current direction of the world, nuclear war is inevitable.  Unforeseen contingencies, things we cannot quantify in our probability calculus because we have no idea what they are, could always change this, and I am hoping they will. But let's consider current trends.  Here's one.

In Ukraine, Vladimir Putin pursues open warfare.  It's clear to any observer who is not intentionally ignorant that Russian regular forces have invaded, as "we" predicted in April.  As evidence, consider captured Russian soldiers, dead Russian soldiers, T-72BM tanks, AK-100s, Buk anti-aircraft missile batteries... yes, I know, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assures us these are all simply items purchased from army surplus stores by pro-Russian Ukrainians, to defend themselves from a CIA-NeoNazi coup in Kyiv... but "we" at Unforeseen Contingencies assure you, dear reader, that this is a lie.  For one thing, if such stores existed, you can count on it that "we" would have been stocking up ourselves.

No, it's all a lie -- the Russian army invaded Ukraine some time ago, and the invasion is now overt, even though the Kremlin continues to deny any involvement.  Putin needs to crush Ukraine's move towards western civilization -- he and his regime cannot survive if it turns out that Eastern Slavic countries are capable of flourishing as free, liberal, democratic societies.  Putin and his cronies comprise the worst in the KGB and Russian organized crime.  Putin is a thief who has stolen billions of dollars, a serial killer who has had many people killed. (See, for example, Masha Gessen's biography of Putin.)  If he and his siloviki ever face justice according to western values, it is their end.  Hence, they correctly understand themselves to be in a life-or-death struggle against the West.  Given this, they cannot be too ruthless in making certain that individual rights and the rule of law never take hold in Russia.  Hence, they must never take hold in any stepping stone, such as Ukraine or Georgia. This is, for Putin and co., a moral imperative.

On the other hand, genuine moral imperatives apparently do not exist for most western leaders.  Germany's hapless boob, Angela Merkel, repeatedly lectures Vladimir Vladimirovich, but to no avail.  She makes increasingly tough demands to him -- all of which are every bit as influential as my demand that Congress balance the budget (without raising taxes!) and Barack Obama and Joe Biden both resign.  (While we are it, Angela and I ought to get together and demand a new trial for Sacco and Vanzetti as well.)

Even worse, Barack Hussein appears to be so captivated by golf that he has no time for anything else. Perhaps that's a blessing in disguise, since the more golf he plays the less time he has to inflict damage on America.  Regardless, Obama has no more idea how to respond to Russian aggression than he does with respect to ISIS aggression.  After all, his go-to strategy, blaming Republicans and condemning the Tea Party and Israel, doesn't make much sense here.

OK, fine, but all my smart-alecky commentary aside, what's this about nuclear war?  Well, here's why it is inevitable, ceteris paribus.  Putin has already started looking beyond Ukraine to Estonia and Kazakhstan.  He has threatened Ukraine with nuclear attack, and Russian intelligentsia are calling for genocide against "inferior races" such as Poles and Ukrainians.  Nuclear war is thinkable for him.    Worse, it migt be a good strategy.  Andrei Piontkivsky maintains that Putin contemplates, and could win, a limited nuclear war.  Piontkivsky and others suggest that Russia might hit Estonia's capital,Tallinn, with a tactical nuclear weapon, confident that the West would fail to respond.  America is NATO, after all, and what percentage of Americans would even be able to recognize Tallinn as the name of a city, much less explain why we should risk anything at all over its destruction?  Nuking a NATO member with impunity would end NATO, humiliate the United States, and bring the old Soviet Empire back into Russia's fold.

Preposterous?  Well, yes it is. Tallinn is upwind of Kaliningrad.

But Warsaw isn't.

Back in 2009 Russia prepared for this contingency, running a wargame that included a simulated nuclear attack on the Polish capital.  They did it again in 2013.  Poland is a new NATO member, one that is a thorn in his side, and one the West would be unlikely to defend.  So given everything that is occurring, why wouldn't we expect a limited nuclear war?  Putin has practiced it and hence contemplated it. Putin must be entirely ruthless to survive, so a nuclear strike is not unthinkable.  And a limited nuclear strike will be darned useful, if he's pressured enough.  Well, can the West not pressure him?  I suppose so, but at this point, Putin will only take that as capitulation to his aggression (which perhaps he does not see as aggression, but that's irrelevant) which will induce him to be even more aggressive.  It's a simple matter of incentives.  And at some point, it will all go too far.  There's no natural stopping point for aggression.  So given the way things are going, either the West surrenders or a Russian nuclear attack is inevitable..or... the only real way to stop Putin is to hit Russia hard now -- I think, at this point, that the extreme sanctions I proposed earlier will still work.  Freeze all Russian financial assets in the West. Cancel all Russian visas to the West, except for those of anti-Putin dissidents.  Close all western ports to all Russian shipping and goods.  The Russian economy depends on trade with the civilized world.  Cut it off entirely, until Russia becomes civilized, with civilized leaders.

I see little probability that any leader in the West will have a resolute response to Putin.  Western leaders are mired in the the moral uncertainty of multiculturalism.  They cannot be resolute, because they are all so devoid of principle and full of self-doubt... and as Putin apparently thinks, they are also focused entirely on short run material gain.  There is no leader in the West today who would demand that Khruschev remove his missiles, or demand that Gorbachev tear down his wall.  And in a world of moral cowards, evil will expand. Given that, nuclear war is inevitable.

                                                                         To be continued...

Photo: 31 kiloton atom bomb explodes in Nevada, 1951.

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