February 22, 2014

NATO's new HQ: $1.5 billion

NATO has been building a new headquarters in a suburb of Brussels, Belgium, which now looks like it will wind up costing $1.5 billion or more.


You might think that, what with the Warsaw Pact having been disbanded on February 25, 1991, NATO might be looking to shed office space, maybe rent out some of its surplus square footage to yoga studios, tattoo removal businesses, medical marijuana dispensaries, and other 21st Century growth sectors, not build itself a bigger command center. But, according to NATO:
The new NATO Headquarters will be a secure, collaborative network-enabled capability supporting NATO business for you and for future generations. 

Well, that clears a lot of questions up.
The construction of the new NATO Headquarters started in October 2010 and is planned to be completed early 2016. NATO will start to move immediately after completion.

"Flexibility" is the key word:
The design of the new headquarters provides flexibility to NATO. 
The new building will be able to accommodate NATO's changing requirements into the future as the design and the standard fit-out allows for a configurable use of the building. 
The design of the building, using standard components which provide additional flexibility for the future. 
The new building will enable all Allies to have the space they require and there is also space for expansion should the need arise.

Where will flexible NATO be expanding after Ukraine and Georgia? Mongolia? Kazakhstan? The Kamchatkan Republic? The Republic of Volgograd?

No looting

From the NYT:
KIEV, Ukraine — An eerie calm and a light mist shrouded President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s sprawling residential compound just outside the capital on Saturday morning as street fighters from the center of Kiev made their way inside, gingerly passing a wrought-iron gate and cautioning one another about booby traps and snipers. 
They found none of either but discovered instead a world surely just as surreal as the charred wasteland of barricades and debris on the occupied central plaza that has been their home for months. It was a vista of bizarre and whimsical attractions on a grand scale, a panorama of waste and inexplicable taste. 
They saw about a half-dozen large residences of various styles, a private zoo with rare breeds of goats, a coop for pheasants from Asia, a golf course,

I think you can see the golf course under construction on Google Maps. Enter "Novi Petrivtsi," then switch to Satellite view and look for the big dirt construction site in the forest west of the reservoir. Private golf courses are extremely hard to hide these days.
a garage filled with classic cars and a private restaurant in the form of a pirate ship, with the name “Galleon” on the stern. 
One man in the 31st Lviv Hundred, the small band of antigovernment militants that took control of the compound, hung a Ukrainian flag on a lamp post. A few dozen others walked about, seemingly dazed by what was happening. Some raised their clubs, pipes and bats into the air and yelled, “Glory to Ukraine!” and “Glory to its heroes!” 
Whether it was the toppling of Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines or of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, the breaching of the presidential palace gates is a milestone of a revolution. But Kiev on Saturday was unusual in one sense. There was no sacking. The opposition unit that took control of the president’s complex, called Mezhigorye, kept it intact, at least for now. On Saturday, the president fled, and the presidential guard melted away. But members of the Lviv-based “hundred,” who had repeatedly confronted Mr. Yanukovych’s security forces on the streets, posted guards around his residential compound and prevented looting even as swarms of gawking Kiev residents strolled through its grounds. 
The reason, the street fighters said, was to preserve evidence of the ousted leader’s lavish lifestyle for his prosecution. ...
Autocrats seem to have a propensity for private zoos, and Mr. Yanukovych’s palace complex contained multiple enclosures for exotic animals. ... 
The complex extended well over a mile along the river and was immaculately landscaped with hedges, lawns and birch trees, and a golf course of graceful swales, sand traps and pools of crystalline water. 
Even as the crowds grew, there was no sign of looting. 

Except for what had already been looted.

NYT: Time to get back to WWT

Meanwhile, from the front of NYTimes:
The Courage of Transgender Soldiers 
Why does the U.S. military still define gender nonconformity as a disorder?

Crimea, fyi

Crimea, a rugged peninsula in the Black Sea that is part of Ukraine due to a Soviet-era symbolic gesture of redrawing administrative boundaries, but is also home to the biggest Russian Navy base in the Black Sea, will be coming more into the news. So, here is a bit of background from Wikipedia:
Crimea is now an autonomous parliamentary republic, within Ukraine,[6] which is governed by the Constitution of Crimea in accordance with the laws of Ukraine. ... 

This problem of a Russian-speaking enclave within Ukraine also existed from 1992 onward, but compromises were hammered out by the people involved. Whether that will still be possible due to the subsequent expansion of NATO and the EU eastward remains to be seen.
On 18 May 1944, the entire population of the Crimean Tatars was forcibly deported in the "Sürgün" (Crimean Tatar for exile) to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin's Soviet government as a form of collective punishment, on the grounds that they had collaborated with the Nazi occupation forces.[15] An estimated 46% of the deportees died from hunger and disease.[citation needed] On 26 June of the same year, the Armenian, Bulgarian, and Greek population was also deported to Central Asia. ... 
On 19 February 1954, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union issued a decree transferring the Crimean Oblast from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR.[19] 

This was a symbolic gesture by the Soviets to thank Ukrainian cossacks for allying with Moscow 300 years earlier in 1654 in their war of independence from Poland.
Ethnic groups 
According to 2001 Ukrainian Census, the population of Crimea was 2,033,700.[44] The ethnic makeup was comprised the following self-reported groups: Russians: 58.32%; Ukrainians: 24.32%; Crimean Tatars: 12.1%; Belarusians: 1.44%; Tatars: 0.54%; Armenians: 0.43%; Jews: 0.22%, Greeks: 0.15% and others. ... 
Ukrainian is the single official state language countrywide, and is the sole language of government in Ukraine. According to the census mentioned, 77% of Crimean inhabitants named Russian as their native language; 11.4% – Crimean Tatar; and 10.1% – Ukrainian.[49] In Crimea government business is carried out mainly in Russian. Attempts to expand the usage of Ukrainian in education and government affairs have been less successful in Crimea than in other areas of the nation.[50] 
The number of Crimean residents who consider Ukraine their motherland increased sharply from 32% to 71.3% from 2008 through 2011; according to a poll by Razumkov Center in March 2011,[51] although this is the lowest number in all Ukraine (93% on average across the country).[51]

Off the top of my head, I would assume that the rise in pro-Ukrainian sentiment in Crimea from 2008 to 2011 was due to a pro-Russian winning the Ukrainian election of 2010.
Surveys of regional identities in Ukraine have shown that around 30% of Crimean residents claim to have retained a self-identified "Soviet identity".[52] 
Demographic trends 
The population of the Crimean Peninsula has been consistently falling at a rate of 0.4% per year.[53] This is particularly apparent in both the Russian and Ukrainian ethnic populations, whose growth rate has been falling at the rate of 0.6% and 0.12% annually respectively. In comparison, the ethnic Crimean Tatar population has been growing at the rate of 0.9% per annum.[54] 
The growing trend in the Crimean Tatar population has been explained by the continuing repatriation of Crimean Tatars mainly from Uzbekistan.

One goal in building up Sochi as a resort might be to replace Crimea as a destination for Russian tourists.

The Muslim Tatars of the Crimea are famously reasonable for Muslims. A really bad sign would be if the Saudis started paying to radicalize Crimean Tatars. A cursory web search doesn't find much evidence for that yet, thankfully.

What it took

"Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history that has any other factor ..."
Mr. Dubois, Starship Troopers

The moral victory of the hard men of the Ukrainian opposition in Kiev in trampling on the most recent European-negotiated compromise solution and successfully driving the elected President out of the capital comes not just from dying bravely, but from winning. 

It's worth recalling what happened on Thursday before it gets tidied up. Right after dawn, the fighters opened passages through their defensive barriers and charged the terrified riot police, who opened fire on them. Scores of the attackers were shot down, but enough crossed the no man's land to capture dozens of police and drive the rest back. This combination of sacrifice and triumph provided the moral basis for tearing up the latest compromise and leaving the fighters' bands in charge of the streets. I doubt if either dying or winning alone would have sufficed.

Eventually, the politicians and bankers will retake control, but it's worth remembering the events as they happened.

Chicks dig Right Sector

From the NYT:
Growing Support, and Tea From Young Women, Embolden Kiev Street Fighters 
By ANDREW E. KRAMER   FEB. 21, 2014 
KIEV, Ukraine — The street fighters in Independence Square, kitted out with motorcycle helmets, plywood shields and baseball bats, are an intimidating lot by any measure, and this week they turned whole battalions of riot police officers on their heels in epic, bloody clashes that stunned the world. ...
The exploits and fearsome appearance of the fighters, known as the defenders of Maidan, as the square is known, have been elevated to lore, at least among supporters of the opposition. Old men pat them on the back, children revere them, and women want to be their girlfriends.
“They are the best Ukrainians,” said Olena Iaschuk, 26, a website editor with a ready smile, who was making the rounds of the barricades to offer warm tea from a thermos, stepping gingerly among heaps of paving bricks. “They are the bravest men, they are fighting for our freedom, they defend us and they are our heroes.” 

Well, the Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the West behind.
If Independence Square has become a crucible to test physical courage, many of the men who passed that test say they could not have done so without the undying enthusiasm of people like her. 
Of course, not everyone considers them heroes. Within their ranks are fighters who tried to immolate the police with petroleum bombs, and some groups of protesters have been sustained and driven by dark, nationalistic ideologies from Ukraine’s past. But many, if not most, people in Kiev wholeheartedly support the men. 
The adulation is palpable and only grew this week. “We want to cheer them up, and we want to support them,” Ms. Iaschuk explained. “They smile, and they say thank you for the tea, and sometimes ask for our telephone numbers. And we say, ‘No, boys, only after you bring us victory.’ ” 
Her friend Galyna Kolodkevych, 26, a professor of Ukrainian literature at a college in Kiev, said she wanted to marry one of the men as soon as possible. Her future husband, she said, should belong “only to the Right Sector,” a coalition of hard-line street groups that have played a prominent role in the fighting. ...

Above is a Right Sector propaganda video.

According to a Reuters article, "Insiders say the group has its origins among nationalist-minded soccer fans - the word 'sector' in Russian denotes the spectator terraces of a stadium - and includes individuals from far-right organizations from across the country." But don't trust me to get translations right. (By the way, more than a few Right Sector fighters are Russian-speakers.)

On the other hand, here is pro-Ukrainian Yale historian Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, in the New York Review of Books trying hard to assure the New York Review's elderly leftist subscribers that Moscow, not Kiev, now represents the real right wing. In contrast, Snyder explains, "An important hotline that [Ukraine] protesters call when they need help is staffed by LGBT activists."

I don't know, though. Judging from videos, the lads who retook Independence Square from the riot police on Thursday and who are (if still alive) presumably enjoying tonight the traditional rewards offered to a nation's brave young men by its appreciative young women don't look too gay to me.
The objects of this outpouring of admiration are men like Dmitry Iliuk, 29, a classical violinist who teaches music in a high school in the town of Verkhovyna, in western Ukraine. 
Thursday morning found Mr. Iliuk crouching behind a plywood shield, preparing for a dramatic and risky offensive to reverse an effort by the police to press into the square two days earlier. Protesters opened a breach in their barricades shortly after dawn, then ran a hundred yards or so across a scorched buffer zone to confront — and quickly push back — the riot police, who were firing shotguns at them. It was an action that turned the tide, but also cost the lives of at least 70 people. 
“I was not afraid, not one drop,” Mr. Iliuk said. “There was just one idea in my head: ‘Run forward.’ ” 
He was wearing a red ski helmet and ski goggles, and carrying a baseball bat attached to a cord looped around his wrist, lest it be knocked out of his hands, which are more accustomed to delicate musical instruments. “All around me, people were wounded because the police had nothing left to do but shoot, and they shot.

Roman Tokar, 31, a lawyer from Zolochiv in western Ukraine who wore an ill-fitting vest of bulbous plastic plates originally intended for dirt-bike riding, said he was continually scared but overcame his fear because of the support he felt from residents of the capital. 
“I can’t drink any more tea, but they keep bringing me tea,” he said. “We are even joking now, telling the women, ‘Stop, you are making the defenders of Maidan fat.’ It’s really pleasant, and we really love these brave girls and even grandmothers who offer us tea.”

Simon in London comments:
Right Sector don't look much like the typical Soros-ite types. 
So if the US/EU backed side actually won in Ukraine, next thing we know the USA/NATO would likely be dropping bombs on their own guys in the cause of Totalitarian Liberalism?     

Hopefully not. But, at minimum, the winds of change in 2014 are blowing fast and they're not blowing in the conventional wisdom's direction.

February 21, 2014

Cringely on how H-1B visa fraud is done

Veteran computer journalist Robert X. Cringely writes:
So that’s how H-1B visa fraud is done! 
Reader Mark Surich was looking for a lawyer with Croatian connections to help with a family matter back in the old country. He Googled some candidate lawyers and in one search came up with this federal indictment. It makes very interesting reading and shows one way H-1B visa fraud can be conducted. 
The lawyer under indictment is Marijan Cvjeticanin. Please understand that this is just an indictment, not a conviction. I’m not saying this guy is guilty of anything. My point here is to describe the crime of which he is accused, which I find very interesting. He could be innocent for all I know, but the crime, itself, is I think fairly common and worth understanding. 
Read the indictment. It’s short and quite entertaining. 
The gist of the crime has two parts. First Mr. Cvjeticanin’s law firm reportedly represented technology companies seeking IT job candidates and he is accused of having run on the side an advertising agency that placed employment ads for those companies. That could appear to be a conflict of interest, or at least did to the DoJ. 
But then there’s the other part, in which most of the ads — mainly in Computerworld — seem never to have been placed at all! 
Client companies paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for employment ads in Computerworld that never even ran! 
The contention of the DoJ in this indictment appears to be that Mr. Cvjeticanin was defrauding companies seeking to hire IT personnel, yet for all those hundreds of ads — ads that for the most part never ran and therefore could never yield job applications — nobody complained! 
The deeper question here is whether they paid for the ads or just for documentation that they had paid for the ads? 
This is alleged H-1B visa fraud, remember. In order to hire an H-1B worker in place of a U.S. citizen or green card holder, the hiring company must show that there is no “minimally qualified” citizen or green card holder to take the job. 
Recruiting such minimally qualified candidates is generally done through advertising: if nobody responds to the ad then there must not be any minimally qualified candidates. 
It helps, of course, if nobody actually sees the ads — in this case reportedly hundreds of them. 
When Mr. Cvjeticanin was confronted with his alleged fraudulent behavior,  his defense (according to the indictment) was, “So let them litigate, I’ll show everyone how bogus their immigration applications really are.”   Nice. 
If we follow the logic here it suggests that his belief is that the client companies’ probable H-1B fraud is so much worse than the shenanigans Mr. Cvjeticanin is accused of that those companies won’t dare assist Homeland Security or the DoJ in this case. Who am I to say he’s wrong in that? 
Employers are posting jobs that don’t really exist, seeking candidates they don’t want, and paying for bogus non-ads to show there’s an IT labor shortage in America. Except of course there isn’t an IT labor shortage. 
My old boss Pat McGovern, who owns Computerworld, should be really pissed. 
Pat hates to lose money.

The Blues and the Greens

The carnage in Kiev is vaguely reminiscent of the great riots of 532 AD in Constantinople that began at the chariot races when the rival fan clubs, the brawling followers of the Blue and Green racing teams, joined forces and turned on Emperor Justinian the Great. It is perhaps trivializing of the issues at stake in Kiev to point out this connection with Constantinople (which, by the way, converted the Kievan Rus to to Orthodoxy in 969), but this famous story is worth recalling in its own right.

For some reason, this tale is peculiarly appealing to science fiction authors. (The influence of Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on sci-fi writers would be an interesting topic: e.g., Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is obviously inspired by Gibbon.)

For most of the 20th Century, historians assumed that the Blues and the Greens of Byzantine Constantinople weren't really just sports fans, but represented the upper class versus the lower class or the religiously orthodox versus the heretical or some neighborhoods versus some other neighborhoods. After all, nobody would get that worked up over sports, would they?

But in the 1970s, historian Alan Cameron, referencing the soccer hooligans of his own day, argued that we shouldn't overlook how important sports were in the Byzantine Empire to young men: "The truth is (of course) that Blues hated the Greens, not because they were lower-class or heretics -- but simply because they were Greens."

But that raises the question of whether sports rivalries can be uncorrelated with other subdivisions of society. Generally, sports rivalries in the modern world correlate with all sorts of demographic traits because they are territorial: teams have their home fields, which tend to attract local fans.

However, the home turf of both the Greens and the Blues was the vast hippodrome in downtown Constantinople.

A vague modern analog might be the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, who have both played in the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles for the last 15 years.

Traditionally, the Lakers are more successful and more popular, especially with movie stars, but it's not particularly clear that fans of the Lakers or Clippers represent different neighborhoods or classes or ethnicities. The Lakers tend to appeal to Angelenos who like winners and don't mind spending money to associate themselves with winners (i.e., most of them) , while I presume the Clippers appeal to the budget-conscious (the Clippers charge about half as much as the Lakers for the same seat) and those who like underdogs. A marketing plan for the Clips speculates:
The Clippers' current fan base is of a low income bracket, probably young and from out of town, doesn not want to be seen as a bandwagoner, prefers to avoid the mainstream teams and is hoping the Clippers will write a Cinderella story.

On the other hand, the Lakers v. Clippers rivalry is low intensity by the standards of Chicago Cubs v. Chicago White Sox, much less Rangers v. Celtic in Glasgow. One reason for this is the lack of success of the Clippers hasn't generated much loyalty toward them.

Another is that Southern California hasn't been conducive to local sports animosities -- only USC v. UCLA in football generates much heat. Los Angeles Dodger baseball fans, for instance, often root for the Anaheim Angels if they are winning and vaguely wish them well when they aren't. In general, as James Q. Wilson noted after moving from L.A. to Boston in the 1940s to attend Harvard, Angelenos don't have turf, they have cars.

Finally, since enthusiasm (such as it is) for the Clippers has been distributed less regionally or ethnically than psychologically, with the Clippers appealing to random frugal eccentrics, there's not much this rivalry does to tap into human territoriality.

On the other hand, it's hard for me to fathom how the Blues and Greens couldn't come to be correlated with other factors such as class or neighborhood.

Gibbon wrote:
Constantinople adopted the follies, though not the virtues, of ancient Rome; and the same factions which had agitated the circus, raged with redoubled fury in the hippodrome. ...

February 20, 2014

Some great advice for Mark Zuckerberg

A reader comments on my frequent sniping at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's FWD.us organization that expensively lobbies Congress for more H-1B visas:
I don't know why Steve insists that Zuckerberg is worried about employee salaries. Is there any evidence of that? It seems more likely that he is a true believer in opening the door to "the best and the brightest" by skimming the elite of foreign populations.

There would be a very simple way for Zuckerberg to prove that his immigration lobbying is disinterested: just announce that Facebook will never again use any H-1B visas, either directly or through intermediaries. 

For some reason, though, he hasn't done this.

Despite H-1B shortage, Zuckerberg not yet broke

Mark Zuckerberg lobbied Congress all last year for more immigration to keep himself from being driven into poverty by having to pay crushing salaries to American engineers. Yesterday, though, Facebook somehow scrounged together the scratch to acquire a small startup called WhatsApp for $19 billion. A reader comments:
Steve, Nothing to do with Ukraine. Instead, immigration and Silicon Valley. Yesterday, Facebook announced it had acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. WhatsApp had two founders, both former staff software engineers for Yahoo. Amazingly, both tried to get jobs at Facebook, and at least one at Twitter, but neither was hired. Zuckerberg wants to re-engineer the American population in the name of a supposed shortage of "qualified" domestic engineers. And yet Facebook's hiring system is so screwed up, it can't even recognize superb, highly experienced, U.S. citizen software engineers when they walk in the door asking for a job. They could've had the founders for maybe $100K/yr each. Instead, they ended up paying $19B. And we're supposed to trust this guy's opinion on whether there are enough good engineers? Unbelievable. Please write about this. Spread the word.

Actually, it does have a connection to Ukraine. While Brian Acton is American-born, Joseph Koum was born a Ukrainian Jew and came here 22 years ago as a teen. 

Perhaps one reason these two guys couldn't get hired by Facebook is because they are so old: Koum is 38 and Acton 42.
You might almost think that America isn't quite as bereft of talent as Mr. Zuckerberg's flacks tell Congress it is. If Zuckerberg doesn't get more H-1B visas out of Congress, he might even be forced to hire as programmers Elderly-Americans like Koum and Acton, or even Female-Americans, like corporations did back in the 20th Century.


From the New York Times on this morning's fighting in Kiev, Ukraine:
The fighting shattered a truce declared just hours earlier. Just after dawn, young men in ski masks opened a breach in their barricade near a stage on the square, ran across a hundred yards of smoldering debris and surged toward riot police officers who were firing at them with shotguns. 
Protesters pushed back the police in a continual racket of gunshots and by around 10 a.m. had recaptured the entire square, but at the cost of creating a scene of mayhem. 
The fighting left bodies lined up on a sidewalk, makeshift clinics crammed with the bloody wounded, and sirens and gunfire ringing through the center of the city. 
The demonstrators captured at least several dozen policemen, whom they marched, dazed and bloodied, toward the center of the square through a crowd of men who heckled and shoved them. 
“There will be many dead today,” Anatoly Volk, 38, one of the demonstrators, said. He was watching stretchers carry dead and wounded men down a stairway slick with mud near the Hotel Ukraina. 
Mr. Volk said the protesters had decided to try to retake the square because they believed a truce announced around midnight was a ruse. The young men in ski masks who led the push, he said, believed it was a stalling maneuver by President Viktor F. Yanukovych, to buy time to deploy troops in the capital after discovering that the civilian police had insufficient forces to clear the square. 
“A truce means real negotiations,” Mr. Volk said. “They are just delaying to make time to bring in more troops. They didn’t have the forces to storm us last night. So we are expanding our barricades to where they were before. We are restoring what we had.”

This will sound absurdly pollyannaish, but there's a small hope that these apocalyptic Mad Max scenes from Kiev's theater of insane bravery might lay the foundations for a true Ukrainian nation to emerge years hence. 

Europe between Warsaw and Moscow lagged behind Western Europe in developing effective nationalism, and continues to pay the price for its nationalism-deficit in looting by elites. Yet, nationalism, although it has its pragmatic benefits, isn't wholly based on rational cost-benefit analysis. It needs legends and heroes. 

And there are no shortage of volunteers in Kiev.
In the best case scenario, both sides somehow emerge ennobled, as the roots of world-beating American unity from 1898-1963 were laid at Gettysburg.

In the worst case scenario ...

The future of the Democratic Party

Awhile ago I mentioned that Minnesota legislator Phyllis Kahn had once introduced a bill to legalize cousin marriage in the Gopher State to please her growing number of Somali constituents. But that hasn't kept the Somalis wholly content with the veteran politician of the Democratic Farm-Labor party (as the Democrats are known in Minnesota).

Having solved all political problems in their home country (countries? federation? state-free libertarian utopias?), the Somalis have deigned to bestow some of their genius for political order upon the hopelessly nondiverse Minnesotans. So, now Ms. Kahn is being challenged for the Democratic nomination by fellow Democrat Mohamud Noor of the Minneapolis school board.

At a DFL caucus earlier this month, matters got a little heated between Somalis supporting the incumbent and the challenger, and the brawl (or, as it's known back home in Mogadishu, the normal state of daily life) led to the caucus being shut down. From Hirsaan Online:
Greg Oliver, DFL chair of the Senate district, said he didn’t know which side broke the agreement, since much of the argument was in Somali. 
“All I know is at some point they started to scream at each other and I was in the middle,” Oliver said. 
Even the registration desk was a chaotic scene, requiring Oliver to tell several Noor supporters from Brooklyn Park that they could caucus only in their home precinct. ...
“You have to be impressed with their passion for democracy,” said Oliver ...

This may suggest that the future of the Democratic Party is not as trouble-free as Democrat proponents of electing a new people have long assumed. Fortunately, evil white men will no doubt be around for still some time to provide Democrats with hate objects to rally around against.

February 19, 2014

What are the effects of speaking deeper?

In answer to my question of why do the voices of Slavic speakers tend to sound deeper, commenter Bill says:
It's because Slavic vowels are voiced lower in the larynx. Ever heard a Slavic language spoken with a nasal voice? Didn't think so.

What are the cultural effects of a predilection for speaking in a deeper tone?

I don't really like high-pitched music, preferring the cello to the violin and the beginning to the end of "Stairway to Heaven." But, Western audiences find it exciting and brilliant. You can play faster up higher. Can you talk faster at a higher pitch, too? Do the French speak in a nasally tone to have a higher bandwidth?

Jargon alert: "black bodies"

Like "vibrant," any time you see the increasingly popular term "black bodies," you are probably having your chain yanked. You are automatically supposed to think of 12-year-old Trayvon Martin, not the Seattle Seahawks starting defense. From the New York Times:
The Bias Against Black Bodies 
FEB. 19, 2014 
Charles M. Blow

The Michael Dunn case has caused us to look once again at the American culture and criminal justice system, and many don’t like what they see. 
But we shouldn’t look at this case narrowly and see its particular circumstances as the epitome of the problem. They are not. The scope of the problem is far more expansive, ingrained and ellusive [sic].

Indeed. It's elusive to the point of being illusive.
This is simply one more example of the bias against — and in fact violence, both psychological and physical, against — the black body, particularly black men, that extends across society and across their lifetimes.

Like how black bodies never get to play cornerback in the NFL.
And this violence is both interracial and intra-racial. 

12 Years a Slave! 12 Years a Slave!
A 2011 study found that black parents were the most likely to spank their children.

Uh ...
After the study was released, Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist who advocates against corporal punishment, and who also happens to be black, told CNN: “We have such damage in the black community. When you add to that parents beating their kids, it’s sending the message that violence is an O.K. way to solve problems.” Poussaint added later, “violence begets violence, anger begets anger, and the loss of control makes it all worse.” 
And for many black children, when they go to school things don’t get much better. According to the Center for Effective Discipline, corporal punishment and paddling in school is allowed in 19 states; these include all the states except Virginia in the Black Belt, which stretches across the South. The center found that African-American students make up “17 percent of all public school students in the U.S., but are 36 percent of those who have corporal punishment inflicted on them, more than twice the rate of white students.” 
This inequitable treatment in schools is also exerted in other ways. As USAToday reported in May: 
“The average American secondary student has an 11 percent chance of being suspended in a single school year, according to the study from the University of California-Los Angeles Civil Rights project. However, if that student is black, the odds of suspension jump to 24 percent.” 

To you and me, it seems pretty hard not to notice that the very black Seahawk defense that destroyed Peyton Manning's offense in the Super Bowl and the higher rate of suspensions earned by black youths are manifestations of more or less the same underlying phenomenon. But there you go again, noticing.

Why do Slavs speak with deep voices?

I don't have a very good ear, so I may be getting this all wrong, but my impression (reinforced by listening to interviews with Slovenian lady skier Tina Maze) is that when Slavic speakers speak English, they tend to speak with deep voices. (I suspect that's also true for Middle Eastern languages to the south of the Slavic belt, as well.)

Russian choral music, such as the Russian national anthem sung by the Red Army Choir above, tends to emphasize deep male voices. (This martial chorus style has become quite common on Hollywood blockbuster soundtracks over the last quarter of a century.) By the way, the Russians have kept the dignified melody, the composition of which Stalin carefully oversaw, and changed the words.

So, assuming I'm not just hearing things, nature or nurture? For example, if you learn to speak a Slavic language, do they tell you to deepen your pitch? Or do you just pick it up? Or do people from that part of the world just have naturally deeper voices on average?

More common sense in Israel, less in America

From Haaretz:
Israel secretly flying asylum seekers to Uganda 
$3,500 inducement, pressure to leave, harsh conditions are spurring detainees to go, says one. 
By Ilan Lior | Feb. 19, 2014 | 2:17 AM |   5

Israel has begun to send African asylum seekers to Uganda, according to a senior government official who said that over the past month, dozens of asylum seekers have agreed to leave Israel for Uganda, and some have already left. The Population and Immigration Authority declined several requests from Haaretz to respond on the matter and no other official confirmation was forthcoming. 
Haaretz has obtained information that a Sudanese citizen who had been detained at the Saharonim detention center flew to Uganda, where he was reunited with his family. The man called his friends in Israel and said there were six other asylum seekers from Sudan with him on the flight, all of whom had been released from Saharonim. The man also said he had received a grant of $3,500 for leaving the country, which is in keeping with the government’s “voluntary departure” procedure. 
The state does not deport citizens of Eritrea because of danger to their lives in that country, nor does it deport the Sudanese, because Israel has no diplomatic relations with Sudan. But it does exert heavy pressure on people from those countries to leave. 
In June of 2013, the state told the High Court of Justice that it had reached an arrangement with a third country that would agree to accept asylum seekers from Africa, but would not reveal the name of the country. Senior officials confirmed that the country was Uganda; however, the state would not discuss the agreement and the Ugandan government denied the existence of such an agreement. 
Asylum seekers incarcerated at Saharonim or at the Holot detention facility say representatives of the Population and Immigration Authority are pressuring them to sign “voluntary departure” forms and are specifically mentioning the possibility of moving to Uganda. “Somebody from the Interior Ministry is going around here and asking if anyone wants to go back,” a detainee at Holot said on Wednesday. The detainee said the harsh conditions at the facility and the pressure are leading some people to agree to leave Israel despite their fears. ...
Meanwhile, Sa’ar said there has been a sharp rise in the number of asylum seekers from Africa leaving the country under what is known as the voluntary departure procedure. Speaking at the “voluntary departure unit” that the Population and Immigration Authority recently opened in Eilat, Sa’ar said that this month some 1,500 asylum seekers would be leaving, as opposed to 765 in January, 325 in December and 63 in November. 
“The number of people leaving every month recalls the number of infiltrators who were coming in at the height of the illegal infiltration,” Sa’ar said. He added that the sharp rise in departures was due to the new law against illegal entry, summonses to the Holot detention facility, the prohibition against employing illegal migrants and increasing the grant the asylum seekers receive on departure from $1,500 to $3,500. He said the figures were encouraging the ministry to continue its policy. 
According to the Population and Immigration Authority, as of September 2013 there were 53,646 asylum seekers from Africa in Israel, among them 35,987 Eritreans, 13,249 Sudanese and 4,400 people from other countries. 
According to the cabinet decision, all asylum seekers from Africa who leave the country by the end of the month via the “voluntary departure” procedure will receive a $3,500 grant. 
The Population and Immigration Authority reported on Wednesday that two Sudanese citizens crossed the border at night from Egypt to Israel. Since the beginning of 2014, 12 Africans have crossed into Israel. All have been incarcerated for one year in Saharonim, in keeping with the amendment to the law on illegal entry to Israel. ... 
In contrast, in the United States, from the New York Times:
Immigrants Welcome Here 
Earlier this month, John Boehner declared that it was unlikely that the House of Representatives would pass major immigration reform legislation this year. Given the desperate need for an overhaul of the system, the political gridlock is dismaying. But thankfully it’s not the whole immigration story. 
While Congress is locked in ideological battle, an incipient “welcoming” movement is taking root around the country as elected officials and community leaders are increasingly adopting “welcoming plans,” forming “welcoming committees” and issuing “welcoming resolutions” — to attract immigrants and improve relationships between newcomers and those who receive them. 
Historically, efforts to assist immigrants have tended to focus on services and overlook the relationship-building process. “If you think of an immigrant as a seed making its way to a new garden, we’ve traditionally focused on the seed, but not on the soil,” says David Lubell, the founder of Welcoming America, a network that has helped to define, galvanize and spread this movement.

(Here's their Our Supporters page.)
“You need to focus on both the immigrant community and the receiving community.” ...
We often think of diversity as a good in and of itself. But diversity is hard. The political scientist Robert Putnam has observed that residents of ethnically diverse neighborhoods tend to “hunker down” and develop lower levels of altruism and trust. To turn around this state of affairs takes deliberate effort; it doesn’t happen by itself. People have to get to know — and come to like or respect — individuals from different ethnic or religious groups. Then they become more positively predisposed towards those groups as a whole. Putnam calls this the “My pal Al effect,” and he notes that it hinges on having encounters with people who are different from you (pdf).

In other words, the problems caused by immigration aren't reasons to limit immigration, they are reasons for David Lubell-types from the Kennedy School at Harvard to be given NGO jobs to be paid to shame the natives into not using their Constitutional rights to vote against more immigration.

February 18, 2014

Russia and Ukraine

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
In 2014, the global winds are blowing in favor of conservative nationalism. For example, the reason Obama is subsidizing what’s increasingly a right-wing rebellion in Ukraine isn’t because that's who he prefers, but because that’s who showed up to fight.

Read the whole thing there.

From North of Sochi

Greg Cochran closely reads the new paper "Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans" and predicts that the giant team that put it together has an even bigger news paper coming on the geographic origins of Indo-European speakers, which has been one of the great controversies.
So they must have a paper in the works – one with strong conclusions, if they’re that worried about someone scooping them.  They were too obvious – they need a course in maskirovka. They have got to be looking at ancient DNA from relevant populations: from Kurgan burials, from Russia north of the Caucasus, Tocharian mummies, etc.  They’re going to need strong evidence, and a baseball bat, to get linguists to pay attention.  Looks to me like we”re going to get at least half of the story (the European end) of  the Indo-European expansion out of this, and probably we’ll learn something about Indo-Aryan end as well. 
I will predict this: they’ll pussyfoot about the likely historical process, which undoubtedly was awesomely bloody. The Balkans looks to be where this started, and there a fairly sophisticated agricultural population (with very advanced metallurgy for the time) seems to have been utterly squished.

I don't know about the prehistory, but the history of Bulgaria has largely been one of the locals getting squished, so maybe it was also like that before anybody wrote things down. In the comments, Henry Harpending notes:
Re the Indo-European advantage: consider that Mare’s milk has 190 Calories of fat and protein per gram and 250 Calories of lactose. Five kg. per day from one mare feeds two lactose tolerant children with 2200 Calories and fewer than one non-LT child with only 950 Calories. This is a huge nutritional advantage in an occasionally Malthusian ecology. My bet (hypothesis) is that the early IE people were horse people and that instant doubling of the food supply from a new gene was essentially the cause of the IE expansion. You can’t argue with calories.
Cochran adds:
The Indo-European invasion is a bit unusual in that it is not agriculturalists displacing foragers. More like agro-pastoralists (with an emphasis on pastoralism, probably) displacing straight farmers. 
Raising cattle probably preadapts for warfare through constant rustling. Valuable portable assets.

A commenter amends:
Or Aggro-Pastoralists, given the carnage they may have inflicted.

By the way, the Sioux Indians expanded radically to the west after they got guns and horses and white man diseases weakened their more densely populated Indian rivals:
Between approximately 1685 and 1876 the western Sioux conquered and controlled an area from the Minnesota River in Minnesota, west to the head of the Yellowstone, and south from the Yellowstone to the drainage of the upper Republican River. This advance westward took place in three identifiable stages: initially a movement during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries onto the prairies east of the Missouri, then a conquest of the middle Missouri River region during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and, finally, a sweep west and south from the Missouri during the early and mid-nineteenth
century. Each of these stages possessed its own impetus and rationale. Taken together they comprised a sustained movement by the Sioux that resulted in the dispossession or subjugation of numerous tribes and made the Sioux a major Indian power on the Great Plains during the nineteenth century

Not a perfect analogy to the proposed Indo-European expansion, but interesting.

"Extreme Park Crashes Taking Outsize Toll on Women"

From the NYT:
Extreme Park Crashes Taking Outsize Toll on Women  
By JOHN BRANCH FEB. 18, 2014 
... Most of the accidents have occurred at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, site of the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events like halfpipe, slopestyle and moguls. 
And most of the injuries have been sustained by women. 
Through Monday night, a review of the events at the Extreme Park counted at least 22 accidents that either forced athletes out of the competition or, if on their final run, required medical attention. Of those, 16 involved women. The injury rate is higher when considering that the men’s fields are generally larger. 
The question, a difficult one, is why. 
The Winter Games have always had dangerous events. But the Extreme Park, as the name suggests, is built on the ageless allure of danger.

As Lance Murdock, professional daredevil, told Bart and Lisa Simpson, "It's always good to see young people taking an interest in danger."
All of the events there have been added to the Olympic docket since 1992, each a tantalizing cocktail of grace and peril. 
But unlike some of the time-honored sports of risk, including Alpine skiing, luge and ski jumping, there are few concessions made for women. For both sexes, the walls of the halfpipe are 22 feet tall. The slopestyle course has the same tricky rails and the same massive jumps. The course for ski cross and snowboard cross, a six-person race to the finish over jumps and around icy banked curves, is the same for men and women. The jumps for aerials are the same height. The bumps in moguls play no gender favorites. 
“Most of the courses are built for the big show, for the men,” said Kim Lamarre of Canada, the bronze medalist in slopestyle skiing, where the competition was delayed a few times by spectacular falls. “I think they could do more to make it safer for women.” 
Compare the sports with downhill skiing, in which women have their own course, one that is shorter and less difficult to navigate. Or luge, in which female sliders start lower on the track than the men. Or ski jump, in which women were finally allowed to participate this year, but only on the smaller of the two hills. 
The Olympics have a history — sexist, perhaps — of trying to protect women from the perils of some sports. 
But equality reigns at the Extreme Park, even to the possible detriment of the female participants. 
“When we practice, we don’t practice on the same jumps as the men,” said J. F. Cusson, ski slopestyle coach for Canada and a former X Games gold medalist.

Slopestyle is the event that Bob Costas was derided as an old man for comparing to something out of the Jackass movies: it's like a mountainside skateboard park.

Another new wrinkle is that skiers are now doing the crazy stuff that snowboarders have been doing, and skis are much faster than boards, so they go faster and higher. (The advantage of snowboards is that they are slow, so you don't need as big a ski mountain to have fun on, so more people can snowboard more locally and thus more often.)
“They’re too big for them. But when they compete, they have to jump on the same jumps, so they get hurt. It’s a big concern of mine.” ...
In some of the events, like the halfpipe and moguls, athletes can decide how fast or high they want to go. But in sports like slopestyle and snowboard and ski cross, they have to maintain a certain speed to launch themselves a certain distance to negotiate the course. Slowing down can be just as dangerous as going fast, and few medals are earned with the brakes on. 
Olympic organizers want to build courses and competitions that are the equal, at least, of the Winter X Games, where most of the Extreme Park events gained wide popularity. But the invitation-only X Games have small fields, often 10 or fewer of the world’s best. The Olympics, by design, want larger fields with a wide cross-section of countries. The drop-off in talent between top athletes and the bottom of the field can be drastic.

Especially on the women's side. In most women's sports, the marginal competitors are pretty weak.
There were concerns about slopestyle, which made its Olympic debut here, from the beginning. Men and women worried aloud about the course during training, complaining mostly about jumps bigger than many had seen before. The American snowboarder Shaun White said the course could be “intimidating,” and then pulled out of the competition, worried that an injury would spoil his chance to compete in the gentler confines of the halfpipe.

Let's pause on that: Too intimidating for the Snowboarder Formerly Known as the Flying Tomato ...

I watched men's ski slopestyle (skis are faster than snowboards, so the jumps are immense) and the only way they could have made that even more entertaining was if they had allowed competitors to fire shoulder-mounted Stinger surface-to-air missiles at each other.
“There’s a lot of consequence on that course,” Charles Reid of Canada said.
But the men managed to negotiate the slopestyle course with just one Olympic-ending injury. The women had far more difficulty. 
... The slopestyle course did present options, including two ramps at each of the three big jumps, one slightly smaller than the other. About half the women’s field used the smaller jumps in qualifications (none of the men did), and a few of the 12 finalists used the smaller jumps, but that did not prevent injuries. 
“I see it every contest,” Cusson said. “Unless they are forced to hit the smaller side, the best ones will always go for the bigger jumps. They want to prove to everybody that they are capable. And then all the other girls will follow.” 
While men are now attempting triple flips, women are not to the point of doing doubles. Cusson believes that the smaller jumps are sufficient for the tricks that women are doing. At last year’s world championships in Norway, Cusson required his team to use the smaller jumps to limit injuries. Some women were upset, afraid that their scores from judges would be lower without the greater risk. But Canada finished first, second and fifth in the competition. 
“If all the girls did it, if they all hit the smaller jump, the problem would be solved,” Cusson said. 
But most women grew up in a time when they view themselves as capable as men. 

Women are just built less ruggedly. Here's Michael Sokolove's book Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women's Sports.

On the positive side, the helmets they wear are the bicycle kind that you throw away after an impact rather than football helmets which have to last a long time. And sports surgery has improved radically over the years. What proportion of top sports surgeons live in Aspen or Park City or other winter wonderlands?

February 17, 2014

Good Smoking v. Bad Smoking

I was driving through the Hollywood Hills on Laurel Canyon yesterday, which now is bedecked in signs announcing that smoking is banned in the canyon. There's been a drought for a year and a half, so somebody tossing a smoldering butt out the window might send the small patches of indigenous forest left up in flames, and some of the increasingly seedy houses along the two-lane winding highway, too. 

The most interesting sign was on the little (and extremely expensive) convenience mart in the depths of Laurel Canyon. In the spirit of Frank Zappa, the sign emphasized that the smoking ban included "spliffs," which, these days, needs restating. With marijuana legalization ongoing, dope smoking is being transformed in the (weed-addled) popular mind from a vice to something that's good for you (you couldn't buy it at a Medical Marijuana dispensary if it wasn't medicine, right?) and no doubt the environment as well.  Similarly, all the cultural opposition to smoking shouldn't apply to dope smoking. It's totally different. It couldn't cause a brushfire. It's good smoking, not Bad Smoking.

As the marijuana legalization movement strengthens, you can see hints of how hard it is to hit the libertarian sweet spot where something is simultaneously legalized but remains rare and distasteful. People, especially young people, pick up messages from society about what is winning and what is losing more than they pick up nuanced messages. Smoking tobacco is losing so it seems reasonable to ban smoking it even in your own car while driving through a brushfire zone. Smoking marijuana is winning, so it doesn't seem like the ban on smoking in Laurel Canyon applies to dope.

For example, legalizing pornography leads to a situation in which participants are referred to not as "performing whores," but as "porn stars." Above a certain IQ level, the emphasis in that phrase falls ironically on the first term, but to a fair number of teenage girls with two-digit IQs, the "star" part sounds most intriguing.

February 16, 2014

Chua defends Noticing

Michael Smerconish, who scored the highest (i.e., least elite) of any journalist who publicly took Charles Murray's Coming Apart class quiz, interviews Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld. Chua says:
"Now we do state facts, and I think that's what makes people uncomfortable. You know, we say things like, 'Asian American SAT scores are 140 points above the average.' That's a fact. Or Indian Americans have a national household income of almost double the national average. Mormons are hitting it out of the park
I'd characterize Mormons as more singles and doubles hitters than homer sluggers.
, and we say: 'Look, they're doing something different from mainstream America. Let's look at them.' Let's look inside - people don't know what goes on - and learn from them, and, honestly, I think if we can't just state a statistic without being accused of racism, then we are not going to be able to learn and make any improvement."