March 8, 2014

Putin is thinking like an ex-husband

A few days ago I suggested that Vladimir Putin's emotional state is not exactly that of a master strategist coldly executing his long-hatching secret plan for world conquest. Instead, his point of view is akin to that of a man whose ex-wife has announced plans to marry his archrival, so he barricades himself into their former beach house that is technically hers under the divorce agreement but, in his view, is rightfully his. That'll show her!

Now, from the NYT:
An examination of the seismic events that set off the most threatening East-West confrontation since the Cold War era, based on Mr. Putin’s public remarks and interviews with officials, diplomats and analysts here, suggests that the Kremlin’s strategy emerged haphazardly, even misleadingly, over a tense and momentous week, as an emotional Mr. Putin acted out of what the officials described as a deep sense of betrayal and grievance, especially toward the United States and Europe.

Some of those decisions, particularly the one to invade Crimea, then took on a life of their own, analysts said, unleashing a wave of nationalistic fervor for the peninsula’s reunification with Russia that the Kremlin has so far proved unwilling, or perhaps unable, to tamp down. 
The decision to invade Crimea, the officials and analysts said, was made not by the national security council but in secret among a smaller and shrinking circle of Mr. Putin’s closest and most trusted aides. The group excluded senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the cadre of comparatively liberal advisers who might have foreseen the economic impact and potential consequences of American and European sanctions. 
... Nevertheless, Mr. Putin’s strategy in the last two weeks has appeared ad hoc, influenced by events not always in his control. 
“We shouldn’t assume there was a grand plan,” said Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia’s security forces from New York University who is in Moscow and regularly meets with security officials. “They seem to be making things up as they go along.” 
... They also suggest a deepening frustration with other world leaders that has left him impervious to threats of sanctions or international isolation, such that he shrugged off threats by members of the Group of 8 countries to boycott this year’s summit meeting in Sochi, Russia. 
Because of Mr. Putin’s centralized authority, Russia’s policies and actions in moments of crisis can appear confused or hesitant until Mr. Putin himself decides on a course of action. That was the case in the days when violence erupted in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, prompting a frantic effort by the Europeans to mediate a compromise. Mr. Putin, perhaps preoccupied with the Olympics

He was watching the ladies' figure skating when the key events happened.
did not send a representative to those talks until the agreement was ready to be initialed.

In general, Russian behavior toward Ukraine before the overthrow of the government was more moderate, compromise-oriented, conciliatory, non-violent, and business-like than American behavior. The Russian view was that Ukraine is more important to them than it is to the West, so they were willing to pay more for cooperation with Ukraine's elected government. Contrast the old Russian offer of $15 billion versus John Kerry's offer in Kiev this week of, as Dr. Evil would say, "One ... billion ... dollars!"
Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, said that Russia’s role in Ukraine’s upheaval was “very passive” up until the moment that the government of President Viktor F. Yanukovych collapsed. This was true, he said, despite the Kremlin’s wariness about any new Ukrainian trade agreement with the European Union and its pledge in December to provide a $15 billion package of assistance to shore up the country’s faltering finances. Jolted by the government’s collapse, Mr. Trenin said, the Kremlin “sprang into action almost immediately.” 
He and other officials and analysts said that Mr. Putin’s reaction stemmed from the collapse of the agreement on the night of Feb. 21. Mr. Putin, by his own account at a news conference on Tuesday, warned Mr. Yanukovych not to withdraw the government’s security forces from Kiev, one of the demands of the agreement being negotiated. 
“ ‘You will have anarchy,’ ” Mr. Putin said he told him. “ ‘There will be chaos in the capital. Have pity on the people.’ But he did it anyway. And as soon as he did it, his office and that of the government were seized, and the chaos I warned him about erupted, and it continues to this day.” 
By then, however, Mr. Yanukovych had already lost the support of his party, whose members joined others in Parliament in ordering the security services off the barricades that they had maintained around government buildings in Kiev. 
Mr. Yanukovych, fearful because of reports of armed protesters heading to Kiev from western Ukraine

This has been the theory of the New York Times reporters: that the sacking of the armory of the Interior Ministry armory in Lviv by Galician rightists was the key move.
, packed up documents from his presidential residence and fled in the early hours of the next morning. That night Mr. Putin was still assuring President Obama in a telephone call that he would work to resolve the crisis. 
By the next day, however, Ukraine’s Parliament had stripped Mr. Yanukovych of his powers, voted to release the opposition leader Yulia V. Tymoshenko from prison and scheduled new presidential elections. Russia’s initial response was muted, but officials have since said that Mr. Putin fumed that the Europeans who had mediated the agreement did nothing to enforce it. Mr. Putin and other officials began describing the new leaders as reactionaries and even fascists that Russia could not accept in power. 
“It was probably not just thought of today,” Aleksei A. Chesnakov, a political strategist and former Kremlin aide, said of Mr. Putin’s move in Crimea, “but the trigger came when it was clear that the authorities in Ukraine were not able to return to the compromise of the 21st.” 
Two days later Mr. Putin attended the closing ceremony of an Olympics that he hoped would be a showcase of Russia’s revival as a modern, powerful nation. He then ordered the swift, furtive seizure of a region that has loomed large in Russia’s history since Catherine the Great’s conquest. ...
The question now is how far Mr. Putin intends to go. Sergei A. Markov, a political strategist who advises the Kremlin, said it was not yet clear. “He is improvising,” he explained. 

And why did she get both wings of their main house in the divorce? Maybe he'll break into the east wing and set up housekeeping there. That'll show her.
Unfortunately, this kind of black comedy Danny Devito divorce movie behavior can also turn very bad.

March 7, 2014

SAT gaps by income narrowing, not widening

Everybody knows that SAT scores have increasingly diverged by household income. For example, a long New York Times Magazine piece about David Coleman and his proposed changes in the SAT takes that as a given:
Students despised the SAT not just because of the intense anxiety it caused — it was one of the biggest barriers to entry to the colleges they dreamed of attending — but also because they didn’t know what to expect from the exam and felt that it played clever tricks, asking the kinds of questions they rarely encountered in their high-school courses. Students were docked one-quarter point for every multiple-choice question they got wrong, requiring a time-consuming risk analysis to determine which questions to answer and which to leave blank. Teachers, too, felt the test wasn’t based on what they were doing in class, and yet the mean SAT scores of many high schools were published by state education departments, which meant that blame for poor performances was often directed at them. 
An even more serious charge leveled at the test was that it put students whose families had money at a distinct advantage, because their parents could afford expensive test-prep classes and tutors.

This may very well be, but Unsilenced Science has created the graphs above that show not a widening gap in test scores between income brackets, but a narrowing gap. For example, in 1996, the gap on Critical Reading (Verbal) between the average score of students with incomes under $20K and students with incomes over $100K was 113 points, versus only 102 points in 2013. The narrowing of the gap among high and low income students on the Math subtest has been even greater.

Now, some of that narrowing is caused by inflation: people making over $100k aren't as elite on average in 2013 as in 1996. You can see an especially sharp decline in average SAT scores among the six-figure crowd during the Bush Bubble when lots of test-takers' parents were temporarily propelled into the >$100k range by selling each other subprime mortgages and fancy rims for their Hummers:
I wouldn't take the huge growth in the number of six-figure students taking the SAT wholly at face value. I suspect that some of the growth comes from Midwesterners who, in the past, would have taken only the ACT also starting to take the SAT as well. (Certainly the growth in numbers of ACT takers has grown from Easterners starting to take the ACT as well to increase their chances of a high score.)

But the test scores of the bottom income ranges have been going up over the last half decade, so there is possibly some genuine narrowing of the gap, and quite likely no widening.

There are lots more informative graphs where these came from.

By the way, does anybody know how accurate these income estimates are? Are they getting them from parents or from students?

How is the New SAT not going to help Asians the most?

From Unsilenced Science
The main change in SAT results since scores were boosted by recentering in 1995 is that Asian average scores have been exploding (the upward sloping yellow line above). This has generated a lot of resentment of Tiger Mothers among upper middle class white moms, but these feelings have to be recoded into an attack on white male affluent privilege.

David Coleman, author of the Common Core, was hired by the College Board to redo the SAT. We'll have to wait to 2016 see what he has up his sleeve, but judging from all the ideology he has presented this week in setting the state for his changes, it sure sounds like, unless he's utterly Machiavellian, they're just going to increase Asian supremacy on the SAT.

From the NYT:
Then and Now, a Test That Aims to Neutralize Advantages of the Privileged 

When the College Board announced Wednesday that it was overhauling the SAT in ways that would curb the advantages enjoyed by affluent students, it sounded a bit like the people who first designed and popularized the test decades ago. 
The similarities end there. Across more than eight decades, the SAT’s backers have held it out as a yardstick, albeit an imperfect one, for academic merit, but notions of what defines merit have changed profoundly. 
The test began in the 1920s supposedly as a gauge of intelligence, but in recent years has moved toward measuring whether high school students have learned what they should. The latest changes give the SAT a hard shove further in that direction, making it more like its competitor, the ACT, in redefining merit as less about cleverness, and more about curriculum mastery. 
David Coleman, president of the College Board, says he wants to democratize higher education — lowering barriers to admission and helping more people go to college. That would not have sat well with the person most responsible for popularizing the SAT, James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard from 1933 to 1953. 
Conant saw the test as a tool for identifying the most talented people outside Harvard’s usual pool of privileged applicants. He disliked previous assessments tied to the teaching of exclusive New England prep schools, said Nicholas Lemann, author of “The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy.” 
“He specifically didn’t want a test of mastery of the high school curriculum — he wanted a test to tell you how smart the person was,” Mr. Lemann said. “He was haunted by the idea of a brilliant student ending up walking behind a mule and a plow because nobody knew how to find him.” 

And that's a bad idea because ... And Harvard shot itself in the foot by taking the lead in emphasizing the SAT in admissions as can be seen by Harvard's now tiny endowment and the current worthlessness of the Harvard brand name?
But the goal was not democratic. Conant’s aim was to identify a new elite based on brains rather than heredity, not to expand access to higher education.

Uh, the only effective way to expand access to Harvard is for Harvard to have larger freshman classes, which is something that elite universities in general hate. For example, over the quarter-century from 1986 to 2011, while America's population grew by 75 million, Harvard's entering class grew from 1722 to 1726. Changing the SAT doesn't change those numbers.
In tune with the times, Mr. Coleman does want to improve access, in part by making a more level playing field. 
To counter test preparation courses taken by more affluent students, he announced a partnership with the online Khan Academy to make preparation videos available free. And he will make it easier for low-income students to take the test and apply to colleges without charge.

Everybody loves the Khan Academy and promoting the application waivers harder is a good thing, too.
It has been understood for decades that people who grow up in families with wealth, education, access to good schools or all three have a leg up in testing, a fact that has often been used to attack claims about innate ability or merit. That will remain true, but supporters hope that planned changes in the test will reduce those advantages by tying the SAT more closely to the material that any college-bound senior should have learned in a common core curriculum across the nation. 
“It elevates the importance of hard work on a day-to-day basis,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, the longtime dean of admissions at Harvard.

And how is this going to do anything other than make Tiger Cubs even bigger winners? As Education Realist points out, this kind of thinking was test run in the University of California system ever since Proposition 209 outlawed racial quotas:
So de-emphasize those evil, racist tests that traditionally represent, in the typical progressive’s mind, a means of reinforcing the institutionalized hegemony of the white man’s values. Grades, in contrast, reflected the school’s values, the school’s priorities. So majority URM [Under Represented Minority] schools, both charters and inner city, can put whatever grades they like on classes that can be called whatever they want. UC officials made the change, along with Eligibility in the Local Context, so that majority URM schools could lie about their students’ academic abilities properly reflect the students’ diligence and abilities in subjects simply not valued by the institutional racists at the College Board. 
The problem is, alas, that UC admissions made changes to their policy based on the “demographic footprint” of tests, but they forgot about the demographic footprint of grades.
Namely: Asians, particularly recent immigrant Asians, kill whites on grades. The test score advantage is getting (suspiciously) worse, but the grade advantage is huge. 
That wasn’t part of the plan. Look, universities know the game as well as anyone: grades are a fraud. That’s why, until relatively recently, all universities weighted test scores as high or higher than grades.

March 6, 2014

Kissinger on Ukraine

Henry Kissinger, or somebody writing under the 90-year-old's name, argues in the Washington Post:
... A wise U.S. policy toward Ukraine would seek a way for the two parts of the country to cooperate with each other. We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction. 
Russia and the West, and least of all the various factions in Ukraine, have not acted on this principle. Each has made the situation worse. Russia would not be able to impose a military solution without isolating itself at a time when many of its borders are already precarious. For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one. 
Putin should come to realize that, whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War. For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington. Putin is a serious strategist — on the premises of Russian history. Understanding U.S. values and psychology are not his strong suits. Nor has understanding Russian history and psychology been a strong point of U.S. policymakers. 
Leaders of all sides should return to examining outcomes, not compete in posturing. Here is my notion of an outcome compatible with the values and security interests of all sides: 
1. Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe. 
2. Ukraine should not join NATO, a position I took seven years ago, when it last came up. 
3. Ukraine should be free to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people. Wise Ukrainian leaders would then opt for a policy of reconciliation between the various parts of their country. Internationally, they should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland. That nation leaves no doubt about its fierce independence and cooperates with the West in most fields but carefully avoids institutional hostility toward Russia. 
4. It is incompatible with the rules of the existing world order for Russia to annex Crimea. But it should be possible to put Crimea’s relationship to Ukraine on a less fraught basis. To that end, Russia would recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea. Ukraine should reinforce Crimea’s autonomy in elections held in the presence of international observers. The process would include removing any ambiguities about the status of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol. 
These are principles, not prescriptions. People familiar with the region will know that not all of them will be palatable to all parties. The test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction. If some solution based on these or comparable elements is not achieved, the drift toward confrontation will accelerate. The time for that will come soon enough.

Dr. K would just as soon put World War G off until after his lifetime. 

This isn't really relevant to Crimean Tatars

Here's my favorite use of the word "Tartar" in English literature. From Evelyn Waugh's first novel Decline and Fall about Paul Pennyfeather's first job as a teacher at the Llanabba Castle boarding school. 
At this moment the butler appeared with a message that Dr. Fagan wished to see Mr. Pennyfeather. 
Dr. Fagan’s part of the Castle was more palatial. He stood at the end of a long room with his back to a rococo marble chimney-piece; he wore a velvet dinner-jacket. 
“Settling in?” he asked. 
“Yes,” said Paul. 
Sitting before the fire, with a glass bottle of sweets in her lap, was a brightly dressed woman in early middle age. 
“That,” said Dr. Fagan with some disgust, “is my daughter.” 
“Pleased to meet you,” said Miss Fagan. “Now what I always tell the young chaps as comes here is, ‘Don’t let the Dad overwork you.’ He’s a regular Tartar is Dad, but then you know what scholars are—inhuman. Ain’t you,” said Miss Fagan, turning on her father with sudden ferocity—“ain’t you inhuman?” 
“At times, my dear, I am grateful for what little detachment I have achieved."
Dr. Fagan, the snobbish headmaster, later explains that the reason he's so prejudiced against members of the working class is because he married one.

Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea: the ex-wife analogy

From the NYT:
Steeped in Bloody History, and Seeing a Chance to Rewrite It 

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine — Drawing on his experiences as a young artillery officer in imperial Russia’s military during the 1853-56 Crimean War, Leo Tolstoy described in “Sevastopol Sketches” how a wounded Russian soldier whose leg had been amputated above the knee coped with agonizing pain. 
“The chief thing, your honor, is not to think,” Tolstoy’s amputee remarked, “If you don’t think, it is nothing much. It mostly all comes from thinking.” 
It is advice, however, that virtually nobody in Crimea,particularly not here in Sevastopol, shows any sign of heeding. With nearly every other street named after a Russian general or a gruesome battle, its lovely seafront promenade dominated by a “monument to sunken ships” and its central square named after the imperial admiral who commanded Russian forces against French, British and Turkish troops in the 19th century, Sevastopol constantly feeds thoughts of war and its agonies. 
Bombarded with reminders of the Crimean War, which involved a yearlong siege of the city, and World War II, when the city doggedly resisted Nazi forces until finally falling in July 1942, Sevastopol has never stopped thinking about wartime losses — and has never been able to cope with the amputation carried out in 1954 by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. 
Wielding a pen instead of a knife, Khrushchev ordered Sevastopol and the rest of the Crimea transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. At the time, the operation caused little pain, as both Russia and Ukraine belonged to the Soviet Union, which chloroformed ethnic, linguistic and cultural divisions with repression. 
When Ukraine became a separate independent nation at the end of 1991, however, Sevastopol — the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since the 18th century — began howling, culminating in the Crimean Parliament’s decision on Thursday to hold a referendum on March 16 on whether to break away from Ukraine and become formally part of Russia once again. 

Here's an analogy for the way Russians see Crimea, especially Sevastopol. Say your family has owned a beautiful vacation property on the beach for generations where many of your family's memories were written. Years ago your new bride so charmed your grandmother that grandma rewrote her will to leave it to her personally. That seemed like a sweet, meaningless gesture because you were hitched for life, right?

But years after grandma died, the company you'd started went under and your wife left you. Since you got divorced, your ex-wife has been letting you use the beach house about as often as you can get away, so it hasn't really been an issue. And your mutual children will inherit it, right? And, now that you are back on your feet financially, you figured it was only a matter of time until you won her back.

But you just heard your ex-wife wants to marry your arch-rival in business, the man who ruined your company, especially with all the underhanded things he did after you agreed to sell an interest to him. He's incredibly pushy and entitled, so you can just picture him never letting you use the beach house, and then leaving it to all his kids from his first wife, or maybe they'll have some kids of their own. Whatever he's scheming it's got you hot under the collar.

So, you break into the summer house on the beach and now you are in there. You figure your ex-wife and her new husband aren't brave enough to throw you out physically, and if they try to take you to court, you can always publicize all the bad things her new husband has done over the years to get so rich.

Sounds like a plan, right? (Okay, admittedly, you've been drinking kind of heavily since you heard the news about your ex-wife, but, like the song advises, you've sent for lawyers, guns, and money, so what could possibly go wrong?)

Obama is right, mostly

From the NYT:
Obama Says Referendum in Crimea Would Violate Law 

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — The pro-Russian authorities in Crimea pressed ahead on Thursday with measures to break away from Ukraine and become part of Russia, ignoring new steps toward Western sanctions and a warning by President Obama that their plans for a referendum would “violate the Ukrainian Constitution and violate international law.” 
Sending a further message, Russia’s military began what it described as regularly scheduled air-defense drills on Thursday at its testing range of Kapustin Yar in the Western Military District, less than 300 miles from the eastern border of Ukraine, Russia news services reported. The drills, to last for a month, were described by a military spokesman, Col. Oleg Kochetkov, as the largest ever in that part of Russia, the Ria Novosti news agency said. 
The developments came as the United States and the European Union moved to provide new support for the national government in Kiev and sought ways to press President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine. The United States announced a framework for imposing new sanctions, while the European Union suspended talks with Russia on a variety of issues including visa liberalization. 
Mr. Obama said in Washington: “Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine. We are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratically elected leaders.”

He could have left off the "democratically elected" hypocrisy. "Democratically elected" is increasingly a synonym for "on our side." The change in government in Kiev two weeks ago didn't involve an election. It was more like how the Communist secret policeman taunts the dissident Prague actors he's arresting in Tom Stoppard's Cahoot's Macbeth:
You get your lads together and we get our lads together and when it's all over, one of us is in power and you're in gaol.

Except the freelancers drove out the salaried goon squad.

If I rewrite Obama's statement less tendentiously:
"We are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of internationally recognized governments."

That's not bad.

The world has gotten more peaceful under the post-WWII system that is:

- Mildly averse to redrawing borders (e.g., African countries complain about their legacy borders, but African rulers are very reluctant to allow them to be redrawn: splitting Sudan along sensible racial lines took decades)

- Highly averse to right of conquest (which is why Israel has to engage in all sorts of legal subterfuges to settle the West Bank, rather than just annex it)

- Highly averse to big countries getting bigger (The postwar world is particularly averse to Sudetenland-style annexations where the annexing country grows in military potential. There are exceptions, of course: China absorbing, although not wholly until 2046, Hong Kong, but the Chinese see that as part of the decolonization process, like India annexing Goa in 1962.)

Russian annexation of Crimea following military operations, even if by referendum (but only in Crimea, not in Ukraine) violates all three.

Of course, in Russian eyes, the huge exception to the last point about the big not getting bigger is West Germany absorbing East Germany, and then NATO proceeding to ignore oral promises made by Kohl and Baker to Gorbachev to not extend NATO eastward in return for the Soviet Union withdrawing 380,000 troops from East Germany.

(German re-unification was not wholly noncontroversial in the West, either. A decade afterwards, I watched from four feet away as Mrs. Thatcher and General Odom argue intensely for ten minutes like an umpire and a baseball manager over Thatcher's opposition to German re-unification in 1989-90.)

If Russia wants to annex Crimea, it should offer to buy it from Ukraine (like the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia), with the deal needing to be ratified by a majority of voters in both Ukraine (minus Crimea) and Crimea.

Ready, Fire, Aim: New SAT will be validated, eventually

Yesterday, David Coleman of the College Board announced a new SAT that will go into use in early 2016. Some of the ideas sound pretty good, some not so hot, but my big question is: Is Coleman just making this up as he goes along? Or have they actually tested these planned changes and found they work as hoped?

The usual practice with the SAT is to slip experimental questions into real SATs. The unvalidated new questions don't count for the students' scores, but ETS checks to make sure they aren't worse than the old questions. I don't see much evidence that this has been done with Coleman's reforms yet.

Ready Aim Fire or Fire Ready Aim?

Research Base 
A fuller review of the evidentiary backbone for the redesigned SAT will be available on April 16, 2014. ...
Many institutions have devoted considerable resources to developing the skills of source analysis and evidence use in their students. 
Please refer to research by these leading universities:

But these links don't go to psychometric studies, just to pages of general advice for undergraduates on how to write college papers.
Test Design 
Work has begun to build strong evidence for validity by testing item types, exam questions, essay prompts, and test forms over time. The College Board will review student performance metrics to ensure that exam questions and test forms are measuring the knowledge and skills they are intended to measure. 
Pilot Predictive Validity Study 
We will launch a pilot study of the predictive validity of the SAT with the partnership of colleges and universities.

"We will launch" -- So they haven't actually launched even a "pilot predictive validity study" even though they've announced what they're going to do.
This study will allow us to gather early evidence of the validity of the SAT for predicting college performance. In particular, we will examine the relationship between high school grade point average (HSGPA) and SAT, and the incremental prediction of the SAT over HSGPA in predicting college English and math grades as well as first-year GPA. As sample sizes permit, we will also examine differences in predictive validity by student subgroups. 

Disparate impact much?
National Predictive Validity Study 
After the introduction of the redesigned SAT, we will begin an ongoing process of documenting the relationship of performance on the assessment to outcomes of interest. Beginning with the first cohort of students to have primarily taken the redesigned SAT (the entering college class of fall 2017), we will launch a longitudinal national SAT Validity Study in partnership with colleges and universities to examine the relationship between SAT scores and college outcomes such as GPA, course grades, persistence, and completion. We will conduct extensive validity analyses by subgroup. The timeframe for this work will be: 
Before summer 2018: Institutions sign up to participate. 
Fall 2018: Data file is received by the College Board, including completed data-sharing agreements. 
2019: Validity study is complete and distributed. 
Those interested in participating should contact 
Concordance Tables 
Concordance tables will compare old and new exam scores to enable admission offices to have longitudinal consistency in their behavioral models and to evaluate applicants that have taken the different exams. 
Delivery Schedule for Concordance Table
  Concordance  Available
  Redesigned SAT to current SAT  May 2016
  Derived Concordance:
  Redesigned SAT to ACT
  May 2016
So, the College Board won't be able to tell you whether a 500 on the new SAT is better or worse than a 500 on the old SAT until after hundreds of thousands of kids take the new one for real in April 2016.

Is Coleman just making this up as he goes along and is hoping the psychometricians can eventually come up with data to support his intuitions? My guess is that Coleman's intuitions are less stupid than those of most figures in the education reform biz, but still ...

The Intermediate Region

The "Intermediate Region" is a Big Picture theory put forward by a Greek historian named Dimitri Kitsikis, who had some influence on Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations theory. Kitsikis wanted the Greeks and Turks to become friends, so he argued that between the Orient and the Occident resides an Intermediate Region, with its own distinctive cultural flavor once you look past differences like religion and race. To Kitsikis, the natural cultural capital of this civilization would be Constantinople. 

I've spent one night in Istanbul, at the new Marriott near the airport, and, yeah, from looking around the lobby, I kind of get where Kitsikis was coming from. It was full of Muslim businessmen from all over -- the Persian Gulf, East Africa, Central Asia, North Africa, Pakistan, and so forth. To them, Istanbul is a natural hub, the way Chicago is to American corporate travelers.

(By the way, there was an airport-style x-ray booth that checked your luggage before you could get into the lobby, and you couldn't get a beer in the hotel.)

But this Intermediate Region isn't wholly a Muslim thing. Istanbul has some of the flavor of, say, Moscow (and vice-versa). It would take me a long time to list all the tiny details of ways that Moscow and Istanbul resemble each other more than they resemble, say, London. And you could draw up long lists of reasons why, say, Moscow is more similar to London than to Istanbul. But the point is merely that Kitsikis's grand grouping isn't wholly dismissible.

March 5, 2014

Where's the civilizational divide in Ukraine?

We've all heard lately that the western and eastern halves of Ukraine have different cultures, with western Ukrainians, from Kiev west voting one way and eastern Ukrainians the other, but I'm wondering if that's not oversimplifying things
Samuel Huntington's famous 1993 article in Foreign Affairs, The Clash of Civilizations, suggested:
As the ideological division of Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has reemerged. The most significant dividing line in Europe, as William Wallace has suggested, may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia almost exactly along the line now separating Croatia and Slovenia from the rest of Yugoslavia. In the Balkans this line, of course, coincides with the historic boundary between the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. The peoples to the north and west of this line are Protestant or Catholic; they shared the common experiences of European history -- feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution; they are generally economically better off than the peoples to the east; and they may now look forward to increasing involvement in a common European economy and to the consolidation of democratic political systems. The peoples to the east and south of this line are Orthodox or Muslim; they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by the shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems.

Doesn't Huntington's line, however, not run through the middle of Ukraine, but instead divides the far west of Ukraine (Lviv/Lvov/Lwow/Lemburg, the Carpathians, and the other places ruled by the Austrians and/or the Polish Republic) from the rest of the Ukraine? The far west, such as Galicia, is the stronghold of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is in "full communion" with Rome. (Does this mean the priests can marry?) While the rest of the country is kind of divided between Orthodox churches, one reporting to Moscow and another to Kiev.

There's a fair amount of evidence that the most dedicated people in the recent Kiev uprising tended to be from Lviv and other points in the far west.
On the other hand, Russian-speakers are concentrated in the east (and Crimea), while the far west and the midwest around Kiev both speak Ukrainian.

You might think that the west would be more industrial and the east more rural, but it's the other way around. By way of analogy, think of the American midwest. In the east of the midwest Chicago was a great industrial city, but was also politically kind of backwards, while Iowa to the west was mostly rural but in some ways more advanced.

So, language, religion, economy, and history don't line up all that well in Ukraine, which makes it kind of unstable. On the other hand, this blurriness offers room to build compromises.

Time will tell how accurate was Huntington's 1993 prediction that Russians and Ukrainians won't get into an all-out war:
Conflicts and violence will also occur between states and groups within the same civilization. Such conflicts, however, are likely to be less intense and less likely to expand than conflicts between civilizations. Common membership in a civilization reduces the probability of violence in situations where it might otherwise occur. In 1991 and 1992 many people were alarmed by the possibility of violent conflict between Russia and Ukraine over territory, particularly Crimea, the Black Sea fleet, nuclear weapons and economic issues. If civilization is what counts, however, the likelihood of violence between Ukrainians and Russians should be low. They are two Slavic, primarily Orthodox peoples who have had close relationships with each other for centuries. As of early 1993, despite all the reasons for conflict, the leaders of the two countries were effectively negotiating and defusing the issues between the two countries. While there has been serious fighting between Muslims and Christians elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and much tension and some fighting between Western and Orthodox Christians in the Baltic states, there has been virtually no violence between Russians and Ukrainians. 

Well, we shall see.

Still, I recall the video from a few days ago of a large number of Ukrainian soldiers courageously jogging up to some worried Russian soldiers, who fired some warning shots in the air, but then the Ukrainians slowly jawboned the Russians into letting them go about their business. I suspect that would have ended much worse if the Ukrainians didn't understand how to talk to the Russians.

Of course, neighbors are also most likely to go to war with each other, just like brothers punch each other more than random strangers punch each other.

Putin's Secret Plan

Here's an op-ed from the NYT by a Muscovite defense analyst. I don't know how much this is accurate -- Here's Putin's secret genius plan! -- and how much of it is intended to say, Hey, Putin, listen up, I love ya, you big dope, so here's a way out of what you got yourself into.
What Putin Really Wants 

MOSCOW — The decision of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, to send forces into Crimea provoked a hysterical reaction, but his motives are less ambitious than is commonly assumed. 
Mr. Putin’s aim is not a de jure separation of Crimea from the rest of Ukraine. That would be legally problematic

My current Taki's column discusses how even though the U.S. invades countries all the time, it doesn't annex them. The dominant prejudice since 1945 has been that redrawing borders should be restricted to cases where no country gets bigger -- a view that Israel has chafed under ever since 1967.

This prejudice against legally accepting that a big country can't use military force to get bigger is strong and reasonable, so Russia would have a hard row to hoe to get annexation of the Crimea widely accepted. Right of conquest is occasionally accepted as a reason for reducing the size of an unpopular country (e.g., Yugoslavia had Kosovo taken from it by bombing in 1999), but enlarging via right of conquest is not at all on the table.
and disadvantageous to Moscow in terms of its future influence over Ukrainian politics. The purpose of Russia’s incursion was to obtain the greatest possible autonomy for Crimea while still retaining formal Ukrainian jurisdiction over the peninsula. 
A referendum on March 30 is likely to result in a vote for further autonomy, and it would provide Crimea with such broad freedoms that it would become a de facto Russian protectorate. Moscow would then aim to keep the Russian Black Sea fleet in Crimea indefinitely, and remove any limits on its operations, size and replenishment. 
At present, Mr. Putin is seeking to strong-arm the new, weak and unstable government in Kiev into agreeing to full autonomy for Crimea rather than risk a full scale invasion into Ukraine and a partition that chops off the country’s entire south and east. The intimidated government is likely to be compelled to accept this compromise. For its part, in exchange for major Ukrainian concessions, Russia is likely to recognize the new Ukrainian government, withdraw its support for Viktor F. Yanukovych and relinquish the threat of the use of force. ...
That’s because Russia has a strong interest in nominally retaining Crimea as part of Ukraine. From the disintegration of the Soviet Union onward, Crimea, with its traditionally separatist leanings, was always a destabilizing factor. It served as a direct avenue of Russian pressure on Ukraine, and also guaranteed almost a million “pro-Russian” votes in Ukrainian elections, ensuring the dominance of the pro-Russian eastern half of the country over the nationalist western half.

I doubt if the pro-Russian margin coming out of Crimea approaches a million votes, but the directional effect is there. Pro-Western Ukrainian nationalists might well think about trying to sell Crimea to Russia for a lot of money to reduce the number of anti-Western voters in Ukraine.

I was reading about the obscure war in 1919 between Poland and the Soviet Bolsheviks. Poland was the big winner, but the Polish nationalist party in party during the peace negotiations didn't push as hard as they could have for more territorial gains (e.g., Minsk) because they didn't want more non-Poles in their country. Similarly, the U.S. could have taken more of Mexico in 1848 but the American negotiator ignored instructions to grab for more of what is now Mexico because he didn't want America full of Mexicans.
... The final act in Mr. Putin’s calculated gambit is likely to be a return of Yulia V. Tymoshenko to power. It was, after all, Ms. Tymoshenko, not Mr. Yanukovych, who enjoyed Moscow’s de facto support in the Ukrainian elections of 2010; and in later years, Mr. Putin expressed his strong displeasure with her prosecution by Mr. Yanukovych’s government. Although she was released from prison last month, Ms. Tymoshenko was hardly celebrated by the Ukrainian ultranationalists in control of the Maidan. Now it seems that her hour has arrived. 
Mr. Putin’s threat of invading Ukraine makes Ms. Tymoshenko the only national leader with the authority and capability to forge an agreement with Russia.

I have no idea how true that is, but it just goes to show how politics over there are more complicated than we think.

By the way, Ukraine is hardly without resources in this struggle. Much of Crimea's electricity and water comes over the narrow isthmus in the north from Ukraine. Crimea is a summer tourist destination, so politics are bad for business. You probably haven't felt a strong urge to book your August vacation for Yalta over the last week, have you?

On the east, the Crimean peninsula comes within a few miles of Russia at the 3-mile-wide Strait of Kerch, formerly known as the Cimmerian Bosporus, that connects the Black Sea to the south to the Sea of Azov to the north.

For about a week I've been thinking about the Strait of Kerch and it's lack of a bridge. A bridge would tie Crimea more closely to Russia. There is currently no bridge across the strait, although the Nazis built a sort of ski-lift across in 1943. The Germans started building a bridge, but the Red Army took it away and then tossed up a quick one. But ice floes that winter wrecked it.

In 2010 Ukraine boss Yanukovych and Putin's sock puppet Medvedev signed an agreement to build a bridge, but construction hasn't begun yet.

Apparently, Moscow has been thinking about the lack of a bridge a lot recently, too. Wikipedia now says:
Following the outbreak of the 2014 Crimean crisis the Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, signed a decree on 3 March 2014 to create a subsidiary of Russian Highways (Avtodor) to build a bridge along the Kerch Strait.[6][7] The precise location, or intended timeline have not been publicly discussed.

This might be a positive that could be part of negotiations between Moscow and Kiev -- since the Russians intend to spend billions on a bridge, letting mainland Ukrainian firms have some of the construction contracts would be a gesture toward better relations.

So, a rail and road bridge would be a constructive step to tie Crimea closer to Russia de facto, but Ukraine's de jure right to Crimea could be respected with contracts to Ukrainian construction firms friendly with the new Ukraine government.

New SAT announced

David Coleman, the extremely self-confident fellow behind the Common Core and who is now in charge of the College Board, has announced his changes to the SAT.
Major Changes in SAT Announced by College Board 

Saying its college admission exams do not focus enough on the important academic skills, the College Board announced on Wednesday a fundamental rethinking of the SAT, eliminating obligatory essays, ending the longstanding penalty for guessing wrong and cutting obscure vocabulary words. 
David Coleman, president of the College Board, criticized his own test, the SAT, and its main rival, the ACT, saying that both “have become disconnected from the work of our high schools.” 
In addition, Mr. Coleman announced new programs to help low-income students, who will now be given fee waivers allowing them to apply to four colleges at no charge. And even before the new exam starts, the College Board, in partnership with Khan Academy, will offer free online practice problems from old tests and instructional videos showing how to solve them. 
The changes coming to the exam are extensive: The SAT’s rarefied vocabulary words will be replaced by words that are common in college courses, such as “empirical” and “synthesis.”

Coleman is an old McKinsey consultant, and he resents the English teacher aspect of a lot of American education. Thus, his Common Core standards reduce the amount of fiction and replace it with non-fiction.
The math questions, now scattered widely across many topics, will focus more narrowly on linear equations, functions and proportional thinking. The use of a calculator will no longer be allowed on some of the math sections. The new exam will be available on paper and computer,

The best change would be to go to an all computerized test, where the difficulty level of the questions adjust over the course of the test to how well or badly the student is doing. The military went to this on the ASVAB and it made scores for the not very bright more accurate since they were less likely to give up and bubble in.
and the scoring will revert to the old 1600 scale, with a top score of 800 on math and what will now be called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.” The optional essay will have a separate score.

The essay will now be optional, and it will be like one of the essays on the Advanced Placement tests where you have to read some documents and then write a report on them citing your evidence rather than just writing an essay off the top of your head. This reflects Coleman's McKinsey v. English teachers bias, and sounds pretty reasonable to me.
Once the pre-eminent college admissions exam, the SAT has recently lost ground to the ACT, which is based more directly on high school curriculums and is now taken by a slightly higher number of students.

I'm not an expert on this, but my impression is that the SAT was traditionally a superior test at discriminating among high end students. The long term trend toward ACTification of the SAT strikes me as wrong-headed, but that's what the mass market wants.
... Mr. Coleman, who came to the College Board in 2012, announced his plans to revise the SAT a year ago. He has spoken from the start about his dissatisfaction with the essay test added to the SAT in 2005, his desire to make the test mesh more closely with what students should be doing in high school, and his hopes of making a dent in the intense coaching and tutoring that give affluent students an advantage on the test and often turn junior year into a test-prep marathon.

Good luck with that. The test prep book publishers, among others, will make a fortune off issuing all new books. No longer can you use the old one your big sister bought in 2011 and never finished. You need to buy an all new one.
“It is time for the College Board to say in a clearer voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country,” he said in a speech Wednesday in which he announced the changes. “It may not be our fault, but it is our problem.” 

I agree with the rhetoric, but where is the evidence that Coleman's changes will hurt test prep? My guess is that churn in testing benefits professional test preppers because they stay on top of the latest changes.
Some of the changes will make the new SAT more like the ACT, which for the last two years has outpaced the SAT in test-takers and is increasingly being adopted as a public high school test by state education officials. Thirteen states use it that way now and three more are planning to do so. The ACT has no guessing penalty

I can't see why getting rid of the guessing penalty would make the SAT better. Here's how the guessing penalty works: there are five multiple choice answers, so the expected value of sheer guessing is 0.20. But, getting an answer wrong inflicts a 0.25 point penalty, so the expected value of sheer guessing is 0.00.

It's a minor issue, but I don't see why there would be value in getting rid of something that has been in place for many decades.
, and its essay is optional. It also includes a science section, and while the SAT is not adding one, the redesigned reading test will include a science passage. 
But beyond the particulars, Mr. Coleman emphasized that the three-hour exam — 3 hours and 50 minutes with the essay — had been redesigned with an eye to reinforce the skills and evidence-based thinking students should be learning in high school, and move away from a need for test-taking tricks and strategies.

Once again, good luck with that. There are people right now in Seoul brainstorming about how they're going to coach their tutees all the new tricks and strategies that will inevitably be opened up.
Sometimes, students will be asked not just to select the right answer, but to justify it by choosing the quote from a text that provides the best supporting evidence for their answer.

That might be good, might not. What I'd like to see in this article is Coleman citing the extensive testing that his organization has done (they have done extensive research, right?) to prove that his intuitions about how to make the SAT better actually make the SAT better, rather than just being his opinions. Like I've said before, since the American educational establishment has decided to more or less bet the country on one guy, Coleman isn't the worst guy they could have picked. But, does he have evidence to confirm his hunches, or his he just imposing his will?
The revised essay, in particular, will shift in that direction. Students now write about their experiences and opinions, with no penalty for incorrect assertions, even egregiously wrong ones. Going forward, though, students will get a source document and be asked to analyze it for its use of evidence, reasoning and persuasive or stylistic technique.

Sounds reasonable. They already do it on the AP.
The text will be different on each exam, but the essay task will remain constant. The required essay never caught on with most college admissions officers. Few figure the score into the admission decision. And many used the essay only occasionally, as a raw writing sample to help detect how much parents, consultants and counselors had edited and polished the essay submitted with the application.

That's funny.
Starting in the spring of 2016, some of the changes to the SAT will include: 
• Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary words on the new exam will be ones commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.” 

This is part of Coleman's prejudice against Ye Olde Poetry. Does he have any evidence that his reform will actually accomplish anything good? And do his example even make sense? "Depreciatory" is obviously related to "depreciation" which comes up in a whole lot of college classes on accounting and business. "Membranous" is obviously related to "membrane," which comes up in lots of college biology and pre-med courses.

Vocabulary questions are highly IQ-loaded, which is much of the point of the Scholastic Aptitude Test -- it complements high school GPA by helping identify smart kids, the ones who can work out what "depreciatory" more or less means from knowing, say, what "appreciate" means.
• Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quote from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

This is part of the triumph of E.D. Hirsch, which doesn't strike me as a bad thing. Hirsch was an English professor who looked into why students at local grade schools were doing so badly and he decided that part of the problem was that they were so factually ignorant. So, he recommended that instead of reading instruction including a lot of poems and fiction, it should have lots more nonfiction passages imparting basic "core knowledge."
• Every exam will include a reading passage from either one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

The boys in Seoul are going to love that part! They'll have their test-cramming students memorize every single Founding Document.

Last year, some insightful college admissions folks had unkind things to say about Coleman's nascent plans for redoing the SAT. If you are interested in this topic, they are worth reading.

Amnesty isn't just for immigrants, it's for politicians

We shouldn't overlook the symbolic importance of amnesty (a.k.a., "immigration reform"). It's intended to do two things: retroactively legalize the illegal aliens' lawbreaking and retroactively justify the politicians in using lawbreaking to elect a new people to vote for them.

March 4, 2014

Handle's theory of the drug war as honeypot for thugs

From Handle's Haus, an interesting theory of the war on drugs:
But there is a much deeper and more sinister aspect to the drug issue that is both very complex and very dangerous to discuss openly.  It is indeed a dire problem on many levels. 
The problem is that while ‘poverty’ does not cause crime, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and a heavy-concentration of young men who are either not willing or able (or both) to hold down a job and get busy raising a family is a well-established recipe for disaster that was known to the ancients since time immemorial.  This problem exists in our pockets of crime, no one has any good and politically-palpable idea of what to do about it, and the accelerating three legged stool of immigration, automation, and globalization is making it increasingly worse. 
Without employing some drastic measures that are incompatible with the current norms of our society – that we aren’t even allowed to talk about without severe social sanction because they are so taboo – this situation practically guarantees the generation of all sorts of criminal activity, for kicks and for cash. 
If you are a police chief, prosecutor, or politician, then you want to prevent crime, especially violent crime, and especially violent crimes like burglaries that will spill over into your wealthier, safer neighborhoods whose inhabitants can get you fired very quickly, but who also make excellent targets for theft, muggings, or aggravated robberies because, as with banks, that’s where the money is. 
Or is it?  Because burglary is risky, and burglars don’t get rich.  But what if there were some alternative draw, some other – necessarily criminal – way of making vast sums of money – the stuff of a young thug’s dreams – and that particular way was demonstrably irrepressible no matter what you did, so it might as well be made useful. 
What if, furthermore, it was glorified and celebrated endlessly by your young thugs' subculture?  And what if the violence that emerged out of that traffic – of a thing the sale, possession, and consumption of which arguably needs to be prohibited anyway – was almost entirely geographically contained in areas with zero political clout and mostly between the thugs themselves? 
Why, it would act as an ideal honeypot!  Your thugs will all converge on conducting that particular species of crime, and you can easily arrest, prosecute, and imprison the worst of them and then incapacitate them for long-durations so that they can’t get up to any other (more politically destabilizing) kinds of criminal activity during their youthful years, which, again, you believe they are certain to do and which, really, can’t be prevented. 
And this is how the drug war works.  There are very, very few people who actually, consciously think like this, putting all the pieces together into one extremely tragic but coherent picture.  But the glue that holds certain lasting social institutions together is often unconscious and buried beneath some protective psychological firewalls.

Sailer: "A Russia-Israel Alliance?"

My new Taki's Magazine column is out. 
I certainly don’t know what’s going to happen next in Eastern Europe, but I’d like to sketch out a scenario that is, while admittedly implausible, even less often contemplated. 
Russia increasingly resembles another country with similar paranoiac geopolitical attitudes and a culture that is yearly becoming less Northwest European: Israel. A rapprochement between Russia and Israeli nationalists remains unlikely, but the chances are growing.

Read the whole thing there.

Did U.S. okay 2008 South Ossetian war?

Military exercises are the standard way to partially mobilize your troops for war without declaring a mobilization, which can turn into a disastrous chain reaction, as in 2014. Thus Putin's announcement of war games on the Ukraine border set in motion Russia's seizure of Crimea and raised fears of a general invasion of the eastern Ukrainian mainland. In contrast, his announcement today that the exercises are complete and his troops are going back to their garrisons caused stock prices to rise in hopes that the Russkies aren't going to occupy a part of Ukraine that lacks the Crimea's clear boundaries and thus would cause even more trouble for everybody than Putin's grab of the Crimea. 

Unfortunately, over the last few weeks, lots of hopeful signs that good sense and compromise were about to break out have turned out to be shortlived.

In reading up on the South Ossetian war of August 2008, I see, not surprisingly, that both Russia and Georgia conducted war games in the region in late July, while exchanging highly accurate accusations of what the other side was threatening to do. 

What I hadn't been aware of is that 1,000 American troops took part in the military exercises in Georgia. From Reuters on July 15, 2008, three weeks before Georgian tanks rolled into South Ossetia across the line worked out in a formal agreement between Russia and Georgia in 1992 and since manned by official Western European monitors.
U.S. troops start training exercise in Georgia 
(Reuters) - One thousand U.S. troops began a military training exercise in Georgia on Tuesday against a backdrop of growing friction between Georgia and neighboring Russia. 
Officials said the exercise, called "Immediate Response 2008", had been planned for months and was not linked to a stand-off between Moscow and Tbilisi over two Russian-backed separatists regions of Georgia. 
The United States is an ally of Georgia and has irritated Russia by backing Tbilisi's bid to join the NATO military alliance. 
"The main purpose of these exercises is to increase the cooperation and partnership between U.S. and Georgian forces," Brigadier General William B. Garrett, commander of the U.S. military's Southern European Task Force, told reporters. 
The war games involve 600 Georgian troops and smaller numbers from ex-Soviet Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. 
The two-week exercise was taking place at the Vaziani military base near the capital Tbilisi, which was a Russian air force base until Russian forces withdrew at the start of this decade under a European arms reduction agreement. 
Georgia and the Pentagon cooperate closely. Georgia has a 2,000-strong contingent supporting the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, and Washington provides training and equipment to the Georgian military. 
Georgia last week recalled its ambassador in Moscow in protest at Russia sending fighter jets into Georgian airspace. Tbilisi urged the West to condemn Russia's actions. 
Russia said the flights were to prevent Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from launching a military operation against the separatist South Ossetia region. 
Moscow accuses Saakashvili of preparing to restore Tbilisi's control over South Ossetia and the second breakaway region of Abkhazia by force. Tbilisi says that is a pretext for Russia to effectively annex large chunks of Georgian territory.

Not surprisingly, both sides' complaints turned out to be fairly accurate about what the other side was up to. Georgia was planning a major offensive across the 16-year-old peacekeeping line, while Russia then used its counteroffensives to consolidate control in both separatist regions.

Georgia has some commercial value to the U.S. beyond the tactical and emotional advantages of Bear-baiting: it's the site of new pipeline that runs from the oilfields of Azerbaijan, skirts Armenia (an enemy of Azerbaijan and ally of Russia), crosses Georgia, and into Turkey. On August 6th, 2008 a section of the pipeline in Turkey was blown up, purportedly by Kurdish separatists. Whether that obscure incident contributed to the war that started within a couple of days or not is unknown to me. (The pipeline was fixed within a few weeks.)

So, the Americans had some reasonable interest in helping train Georgians to defend this useful asset. For example, Georgian air defenses performed well during the war, downing three Russian jets including an expensive bomber and denying Russia effective air supremacy over Georgia.

But the line between defense and offense is always somewhat hazy, although not wholly indistinct.

The obvious questions raised by the presence of 1,000 U.S. troops in Georgia conducting a military exercise with Georgian troops up to about 10 days before Georgia initiated its offensive is whether Washington knew about what was coming, and did the U.S. discourage or encourage Georgia's irredentist bellicosity? Judging from immediately subsequent events, I'd have to say "not discourage sufficiently" and, possibly, some American officials leaned toward "encourage." In turn, how much did this stupid little war exacerbate Russian paranoia about NATO "encirclement?"

But, those kind of questions are lost in the mists of time in American conventional wisdom, which depends upon brute Narrative Control -- just keep reasserting disingenuous, intentionally misleading versions of what happened less than six years ago, and who's going to go look up the facts on Wikipedia? For example, Bush's National Security Advisor at the time of the war, Stephen J. Hadley, has an op-ed in the Washington Post that begins:
Vladimir Putin has done this before. When he invaded Georgia in August 2008, Western diplomacy and pressure denied him his ultimate goal: marching to Tbilisi and deposing Georgia’s democratically elected government. 

Interestingly, the Bush Administration apparently debated on and off for four days bombing the Roki Tunnel through which the Russians were pouring into South Ossetia before permanently junking the idea. 

Condi Rice's memoir blames Saakashvili for being a dangerous hothead. 

Robert Gates, the Defense Secretary under both Bush in 2008 and under Obama, has published his memoir Duty in which he discusses the war at some length. Some excerpts from Gates' book:
As the Soviet Union was collapsing and Georgia (an ancient country in the Caucasus that had been annexed by Russia early in the nineteenth century) declared its independence, two pro-Russian Georgian provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, declared their independence. Bloody conflict followed until 1994, when Russia was finally able to negotiate a cease-fire sustained by Russian peacekeeping troops in both provinces. A fragile peace lasted until January 2004, when an aggressive and impetuous Georgian nationalist, Mikheil Saakashvili, was elected president. In the summer of 2004, Saakashvili sent Interior Ministry troops into South Ossetia, on the pretext of putting down "banditry," to reestablish Georgian control. The Georgians were forced into a humiliating withdrawal, but their violation of the status quo infuriated the Russians. When Saakashvili sent troops into a third independence-minded province in the summer of 2006, it signaled that he was prepared to fight to regain the two pro-Russian separatist provinces. Russian hatred of Saakashvili was stoked further when, in 2007, he went to the border of Abkhazia and promised loyalists there they would be "home" within a year. 
The Russians used Kosovo's declaration of independence (it had been a part of Yugoslavia and had long historical ties to Serbia) in February 2008, which the United States and Europeans supported and a pro-Serb Russia opposed, as a pretext to turn up the temperature on Georgia. The West's logic in supporting Kosovo's independence, said the Russians, ought to apply as well to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin in April said Russia might possibly recognize the independence of the two provinces. On April 21, Saakashvili telephoned Putin to demand that Russia reverse course on recognition and cited statements by Western governments opposing it. Putin had used highly colloquial Russian in telling Saakashvili where he could put the Western statements. Soon thereafter Georgia mobilized its troops, and in response, Russia sent 400 paratroopers and a howitzer battery to staging areas near the cease-fire line. Acts of violence in both provinces increased during the summer. On August 7, Georgia launched a massive artillery barrage and incursion to retake the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali.

So, what I put in bold of Gates' account seems like a good one sentence summary of what turned exchanges of fire into a war.
The next day Russian forces poured into South Ossetia, routed the Georgians, and drove deep into Georgian territory, a punitive attack aimed at the destruction of the Georgian military infrastructure. They attacked military facilities-especially those that had been certified by NATO-and destroyed coastal patrol boats, military equipment, communications, and a number of villages. The deputy chief of the Russian general staff said at the time that the Russian mission was to weaken Georgia's military, but plainly the Russians were also sending a warning to other governments in Central Asia (and Ukraine) about the risks of trying to integrate with NATO. 
The Russians had baited a trap, and the impetuous Saakashvili walked right into it. The Russians, Putin in particular, wanted to reassert Russia's traditional sphere of influence, including in the Caucasus. I was asked by a reporter if I trusted Vladimir Putin "anymore"? I responded, " ‘Anymore' is an interesting word. I have never believed that one should make national security policy on the basis of trust. I think you make national security policy based on interests and on realities." After meeting with Putin in 2001, President Bush had said he looked into Putin's eyes and "got a sense of his soul." I said to some of my colleagues privately that I'd looked into Putin's eyes and, just as I expected, had seen a stone-cold killer. 
As the invasion unfolded, President Bush, Condi, Steve Hadley, Admiral Mullen, and I were all on the phone with our counterparts in both Russia and Georgia-urging the Russians to stop and withdraw to the cease-fire lines while urging the Georgians not to do anything else stupid or provocative. When I talked with Serdyukov on August 8, I told him we were alarmed by the escalation of hostilities and urged him "in the strongest terms to halt the advance of your forces and stop the missile and air attacks inside Georgia." I asked him point-blank if they intended to take all of Georgia. He said no. I was equally blunt with my Georgian counterpart. I told him, "Georgia must not get into a conflict with Russia you cannot win" and that Georgian forces needed to cease hostilities and withdraw to defensible positions. Above all, direct contact between Georgian and Russian forces had to be avoided. I assured him we were pressing the Russians not to introduce more forces into Georgia and to respect Georgia's territorial integrity. ...
While there was broad agreement in our government and elsewhere that Saakashvili's aggressiveness and impetuosity had given the Russians an opportunity to punish Georgia, the violence and extent of Russian military (and cyber) operations were eye-openers for many. 

Dick Cheney's memoir is more terse, Saakashvili is mentioned only on p. 513, where he is described as "ordering a response" which gave Putin the excuse he was looking for.

Bush's memoir Decision Points includes this face to face exchange at the Beijing Olympics:
"'I've been warning you that Saakashvili is hot-blooded,' I told Putin. 
"'I'm hot-blooded too,' Putin retorted. 
"I stared back at him. 'No, Vladimir,' I said. 'You're cold-blooded.' "

In summary, my guess (and it's very much a guess) is that Saakashvili was getting conflicting body language from the Bush Administration. Perhaps he misjudged that Cheney was still the power behind the throne, while Bush's favor had actually shifted toward the less belligerent Gates and Rice, who despised the Georgian.

(By the way, I shouldn't be so personally harsh on Saakashvili, whose nationalist irredentism has its admirable aspects. But, I remain alarmed that the highest level of the United States government allowed itself to wind up debating whether to start bombing Russian forces over this guy's ambitions.)
So, sorry about such a long investigation into history, but since these events keep getting cited so tendentiously this week, it's worth putting a lot of the information out there.

Allow me to reiterate that all of these factually distorted analogies in the American press right now between Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 are unfair to the new Ukrainian government, which hasn't invaded anybody, and, in general, seems to be behaving quite responsibly.

March 3, 2014

Crimean problem practically solved, Part II

Following last week's announcement by Ramzan Kadyrov that his Chechens are ready to bring peace to troubled Eastern Europe, we have word today that another statesman of similar stature, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, has arrived on the scene to help out.

In the Daily Beast, Josh Rogin writes:
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili knows a thing or two about Russian invasions. ... Saakashvili, who fought the Russian army in 2008 for five days after the Russians invaded, is in Kiev to advise the new Ukrainian government. He says he’s providing counsel on how to hopefully avoid an all-out war with Putin’s army. ...
There several similarities between Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and its 2012 invasion of Ukraine and one main difference. Russia has yet to cross militarily into greater Ukraine, outside Crimea, and wage a full scale invasion of the country, as it did in Georgia. 

Well, and another little difference: the Ukraine hasn't invaded anybody. The new Ukrainian government hasn't sent 10,000 men and 72 tanks over the border into a breakaway republic, like Georgia did the night of August 7-8, 2008.

I know it's hard to remember what happened way back during the Beijing Olympics, but there's this thing called Wikipedia and you can read about the whole war there.

If, say, the Ukrainians had last week invaded Transnistria, the Russian-backed breakaway region of Moldova that lies on Ukraine's west border, well, that would be kind of like what Georgia did that kicked off the five days of major warfare in 2008. But Ukraine didn't do that. The worst thing Ukraine's new government did was rescind the law making Russian an official language, but they quickly changed that back. And in any case that's not like sending 10,000 men across a border shooting the whole time.

You can question the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government -- they came to power by street violence overthrowing an elected president. And a lot of the bravest street fighters have loyalties that are repugnant to most Russians going back to the 1940s.

But, the new Ukrainian government hasn't invaded anybody.

Tank porn

A commenter notes:
If you look at the comments sections of Yahoo! News stories that relate the latest from Russia/Ukraine, you will see - not the heartening comments against international military interventionism that were predominant during the past few years (such as: "It's none of our business!") - but bellicose, war-drum-pounding ejaculations of truly mind-boggling jingoism instead. Part of it is that the Russians have some real hardware. People want to see a war with some real hardware. Random militants with AK-47s in the desert just isn't that exciting. People want to see opposing tanks battalions going at each other and stuff.
Two weeks ago I was finishing up a Taki's column citing Steven Pinker’s 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature about the declining frequency of war, when it occurred to me to add a postscript:
Of course, optimism about a peaceful future seemed sensible 100 years ago, too.  
The two countries that have the tanks, terrain, and mutual border to conceivably replay the Battle of Kursk are Russia (2,562 tanks in service and plenty more in reserve) and Ukraine (725 tanks running).

Crispr for genetic engineering

From the New York Times:
A Powerful New Way to Edit DNA

... In the past year or so, researchers have discovered that the bacterial system can be harnessed to make precise changes to the DNA of humans, as well as other animals and plants. 
This means a genome can be edited, much as a writer might change words or fix spelling errors. It allows “customizing the genome of any cell or any species at will,” said Charles Gersbach, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University. 
Already the molecular system, known as Crispr, is being used to make genetically engineered laboratory animals more easily than could be done before, with changes in multiple genes. Scientists in China recently made monkeys with changes in two genes. 
Scientists hope Crispr might also be used for genomic surgery, as it were, to correct errant genes that cause disease. Working in a laboratory — not, as yet, in actual humans — researchers at the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands showed they could fix a mutation that causes cystic fibrosis. 
But even as it is stirring excitement, Crispr is raising profound questions. Like other technologies that once wowed scientists — like gene therapy, stem cells and RNA interference — it will undoubtedly encounter setbacks before it can be used to help patients. 
It is already known, for instance, that Crispr can sometimes change genes other than the intended ones. That could lead to unwanted side effects.
The technique is also raising ethical issues. The ease of creating genetically altered monkeys and rodents could lead to more animal experimentation. And the technique of altering genes in their embryos could conceivably work with human embryos as well, raising the specter of so-called designer babies.

This is a big deal, but a couple of cautions:

-- Nothing moves very fast anymore in human medicine, so  don't expect huge changes real soon now.

-- This could be very useful for fixing one bad gene problems, but positive traits tend to be the results of lots of genes interacting, which raises all sorts of questions.