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Russian Military Capability is Far Stronger than its GDP Would Suggest

March 31, 2017 18 comments

One of the points I made in three recent posts (link 1, link 2, link 3) was that measuring GDP of a country in USD today, or at pretty much any point after the mid-1990s, is highly misleading since it makes the assumption that the cost of services and products of equivalent quality are identically priced, in USD, all over the world. As many of you know, that is simply not true in 2017- if it was ever so. The price of products and services of equivalent quality vary widely across countries and are often far lower in many supposedly “less affluent” countries than they are in USA. Examples of this phenomena include medications costing 3-10 times less in many European countries than in USA and medical services of equivalent quality in India and Thailand costing only 5-10% (or less) of their cost in USA- as measured in USD.

Consequently, access to many goods and services in many supposedly “less affluent” countries is often equal to, or better, than in USA. But what does any of this has to do with whether the GDP of Russia in 2017 (as measured in USD) has any correlation to its real-life military capabilities? As it turns out.. a whole fucking lot!

I am sure that almost all readers of this post have some across at least one “news” article from some supposedly “reputable” western news outlet which suggests that the GDP of Russia is rather insignificant and comparable to an average west-European countries- when measured in USD. These same presstitutes, I mean “journalists” also tell us that at this rate the Russian economy will collapse and the country will become insignificant and fragment into many pieces. The problem is that they have been writing and saying the same thing since at least 1991- if not earlier.

Sadly for them, their predictions of gloom and doom for Russia have just not come true. In fact, since 2001 living standards and conditions in Russia have gradually improved from their low point of 1997-1998. Today, the economic conditions of average Russians are pretty OK and in many respects are better than those of many Americans living in middle america, especially below the Mason–Dixon line. Could they be better? Sure.. But you can say the exact same things about people living in non-coastal USA. I should note that there is a certain irony that large parts of middle america now look like all those abandoned and ruined soviet-era towns that western “journalists” loved to photograph in the 1990s. I should also remind readers that the near collapse of the Russian economy in the mid-1990s was the laws and policies formulated by eCONomists from Harvard and other ivy-league universities. However, that is an issue best left for a future post.

Coming back to the main subject of this post- we can certainly disagree about the precise causes of this continuous improvement, there is no doubt it did occur and has been sustained since that time. And this brings us to the next, and related, question- How does this correlate with their current military capability? To answer that question- let us look at a bit of history. As many of you know, between 1917 and 1991, Russia was that main constituent of the Soviet Union aka USSR. As you might also remember, soviet-era Russia was also a military superpower- with way more than enough nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to destroy the world a few times over, not to mention a very large conventional army and airforce. In other words, it is clear that even soviet-era Russia was more that capable of developing and manufacturing humoungous numbers of contemporary weapons and fielding a large and organized army (and other armed forces) which could use them.

And this leads us the question of whether the amount of USD spent on weapons by a country has any correlation with their real-life military capability. I am sure that many of you have seen some version of the chart from 2013 posted below this paragraph. The gist of it is that USA spends way more money (as measured in USD) on its armed forces than many other countries in the world. Now, we can look at this data in two ways. American jingoists might see this as proof of their overwhelming military superiority over the rest of the world, largely because they think that weapons of equivalent quality and effectiveness cost the same all over the world. Cynics like me might see this an example of delusional people spending obscene amounts of money on something that has a history of poor performance. I mean.. what does it say about a country which spends about 700 billion a year on defense and yet cannot win against poorly organized insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan?

The military capability of USA, like its healthcare system , is largely about presenting the appearance of competence and ability- while delivering something that is mediocre and very expensive. It is well known that USA has been unable to win a decisive military victory over any semi-competent nation since the end on WW2. Furthermore, a lot of the budget and military resources of USA is spent on maintaining the pretense of a global empire. To put it another way, it is the defense budget of USA (and not other countries) which presents a false picture of its real-life capabilities. In contrast to that, the military budgets of countries which make most of their own weapon systems (like Russia and China) underestimates their real-life capabilities. This is especially so with Russia, which has a large pre-established human and industrial base, to make them on a very large scale.

Then there is the issue of nuclear weapons and ICBMs + launch platforms, of which Russia has a rather large number. I should point out that the infrastructure for making nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles + their launch platforms while expensive to build from scratch, already exist in Russia. So they just keep on cranking out a few more and maintain the ones the thousands they already possess. It is also no secret that any open-ended war with Russia would sooner or later turn into a nuclear one, and well.. regardless of other subsequent events would definitely result in the obliteration of USA as an entity for all times to come. In other words, comparing the defense spending of USA and Russia as measured in USD to draw actionable conclusions about their relative real-life capabilities is highly misleading and incredibly dangerous.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting YouTube Clips: Reconstruction of Antikythera Mechanism

March 29, 2017 Leave a comment

A few months ago, I rediscovered the YouTube copy of a documentary about recent efforts to reconstruct the Antikythera Mechanism. I then remembered watching this documentary while flipping between channels, sometime in 2013. As many of you know, I have always been interested in many aspects of Astronomy, including its history. The story depicted in this documentary is interesting for two distinct reasons: 1] Even 2000 years ago, Greek craftsmen were able to construct a mini-planetarium that was reasonably accurate even though it was based on a geocentric model of the solar system. 2] The process of reconstructing missing parts of the mechanism was fairly systematic and evidence based.

Will go back to posting my normal posts about contemporary events from tomorrow, as I am less busy than earlier this week.

Clip 1: The 2000 Year-Old Computer – Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism (2012). Note that this clip is almost 60 minutes long.

Clip 2: Virtual Reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism. This clip is about 6 minutes long.

Enjoy! Comments?

Categories: YouTube

Interesting YouTube Channel: Wdtvlive42 – Archive Footage

March 26, 2017 1 comment

I recently came across an interesting YouTube channel containing lots of interesting footage from old archived documentaries. The clips on this channel generally cover the era from the early 1940s to the early 1970s- though some date from as early as 1907 while others are from 1981.

Link to YouTube Channel: wdtvlive42 – Archive Footage

Here are two interesting examples about two very diverse subjects. The first one is about nuclear thermal rockets– a concept that was successfully developed and extensively tested on the ground in the 1950s and 1960s. Sadly, it was never used to propel an actual spacecraft- manned or unmanned. The second one is classic cold-war hysteria about how communists want infiltrate USA and subvert capitalism, something that is oddly topical again.

Clip 1: Nuclear Thermal Rockets: Nuclear Propulsion in Space – 1968

Clip 2: Freedom And You: The Red Nightmare – 1957

Enjoy! Comments?

Categories: YouTube

On the Fake ‘Liberalism’ of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee

March 24, 2017 2 comments

As many of you might have noticed by now- Trump’s 2016 election victory has had some interesting, and highly entertaining, effects on establishment “liberals”. Hardly a day goes by without some rich “liberal” celebrity saying, tweeting or posting a melodramatic rant about Trump. Curiously, only a minority of these rants are about something real- like all the bad decisions made by his administration since January 20, 2017. Instead, these rich “liberal” celebrities spend most of their bandwidth hyping dubious allegations about collusion between ‘Trump and Putin’ and generally demeaning people who voted for Trump (or did not vote for HRC).

While the anti-Trump rants of most “liberal celebrities (including some famous presstitutes) are secondary to their career, a few have made a living out of it or used it to boost their public visibility. While the demand for anti-Trump agitprop by partisan democratic voters has created a cottage industry of minor celebrities ranting against him, a few stand out- largely because of their public visibility and hypocrisy. I am specifically talking about three minor “liberal” celebrities with their own comedy shows on cable TV who used to be on previous incarnation of “The Daily Show”.

But before I skewer the fake “liberalism” of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee, let us talk a bit about why Jon Stewart’s version of that show was so successful and influential. As some of you might remember, Jon Stewart was not the first host of “The Daily Show”. Nor was his version an instant hit. In fact, in its first two years, the show was largely a combination of clever but fairly mild mockery of public figures (especially politicians) with a short studio interview of some celebrity at the end. In other words, it was sufficiently different enough from traditional late-night shows to get some attention but not bold enough to be a trendsetter.

Then a series of events made that show far more relevant than in its first two years. The disputed presidential election of 2000 and the events of 9/11 were unique in the recent history of USA as far as their scale and impact was concerned. But perhaps more importantly, commentary on those two events could not be packaged within the narrative space of traditional late-night shows which largely shunned any serious political discussions. Jon Stewart’s show, on the other hand, was ideally equipped to deal with politically oriented satire- something that was non-existent on basic cable TV at that time.

The disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a really large number of bad or stupid decisions by the Bush43 administration created a gold mine of opportunity for political satire. Jon Stewart’s ability and willingness to mock the Bush43 administration was in sharp contrast with the spineless deference to them by rest of MSM. In other words, he had no serious competition for his product on cable TV between 2003-2008. I should also point out that this occurred in the era before widespread penetration of social media platforms, video streaming services and alternative news sites.

To make a long story short, this led to his show (and all those associated with it) becoming media celebrities- especially among viewers of a vaguely liberal mindset. I, however, always saw that show as somewhat disingenuous because it was about promoting impotent and smug ridicule of ‘those people’ for ratings. Now.. I am not exactly a fan of CONservatives or people who vote for republicans- but it was obvious that democrats and establishment ‘liberals’ were not better. Neither wanted to push for single payer healthcare with universal coverage. Neither wanted to do anything about the looming financial crisis in the 2004-2008 span. Neither wanted to really not invade Iraq under false pretense or get out of there once it became obvious that occupation of Iraq was a failure.

My point is that establishment republicans were not really different from their democratic counterparts. Yet, night after night, that show would try to portray democrats as being much better than republicans. So how could they do that? Well.. as it turns out, the superiority of democrats was largely based on them being less openly bigoted than their republican counterparts. Yes.. I am saying that the biggest difference between democrats and republicans, as portrayed on that show, was that the former were more image conscious and careful about what they said than the later. Yet, the show tried to portray this as proof of fundamental superiority of neoliberal democrats over neoconservative republicans.

After eight shitty years under Bush43, the nation got tired of republicans and elected Obama in November 2008. Suddenly, that show (and other like it) could not stop praising the newly elected president. This uncritical praise of Obama continued even after he revealed his neoliberal colors by bailing out big banks, screwing over mortgage holders, passing an insipid republican healthcare plan and not fulfilling the vast majority of his campaign promises. So what happened? Why did that show, and others like it, stop holding Obama accountable like they tried to do this predecessor. To be fair, Bush43 was a bigger fuckup than Obama44. My point, however, still stands. That show spent infinitely more time fawning over him than holding him to account for breaking his many promises.

But what does any of this have to with the fake ‘liberalism’ of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee? Why is a brief history of ‘The Daily Show’ relevant to my critique of them? And what is fake ‘liberalism’?

Let us consider the last question first. Fake ‘liberalism’ is just another word for neoliberalism. People who believe in, and promote, this ideology espouse a number of causes which at first glance appear progressive or liberal. For example- they support a number of “progressive” causes such as LGBT rights after the causes have already become safe to support. They never tire talking about how they support “diversity”, “empowerment” and similar nice-sounding but empty ideas. They will however never want to confront large systemic issues such as class, race, rent-seeking, economic inequality etc

To put it another way, they have no interest in real socio-economic reform. Indeed, they want to keep the status quo going on for as long as possible since they greatly benefit from it. They just want to find and promote new ideas that help legitimize their parasitism. As I wrote in a previous post, the vast majority of the public actions and behavior of these establishment “liberals” and celebrities are about virtue signalling and trying to create a moral justification for their ill-gotten wealth and power.

So how do John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee fit into all this? The short answer is- very well. The somewhat longer answer is that their entire career is based on promoting this fake “liberalism” while pretending to be progressive. Here is a person-by-person breakdown.

John Oliver: Though he pretends to be of middle-class upbringing, even a quick look at his background suggests that he came from a pretty connected background. OK, so he is not exactly upper class, but he is what you might call solidly upper-middle class. Note that he was able to move from performing in comedy festivals in UK to being hired by the Daily Show within a few years. Now I am not saying that he was incompetent or undeserving, but it is clear that he always moved in the right circles to be ‘discovered’ for big-time gigs. And this brings me to an odd question- why would you hire a guy from UK for a show about the minutiae of american society and politics? As an outsider with a fresh perspective? Perhaps.. but there is a much better explanation.

In my opinion, he was hired by that show to play a particular archetype. To be more specific- he played the role of a witty, oxbridge educated englishman to comment on american society and politics while still being accessible enough to generate ratings. And that is his shtick, his only shtick. Sure.. since he got his own show on HBO, he has devoted many shows to obvious critiques of the many flaws and problems in american society. Also, his critiques are, by and large, factually correct and accurate. But all of his critiques almost always miss the source of the problems he claims to be exposing. As an example- his show about predatory lending barely touched on the central role of low minimum wages in USA in creating that problem in the first place. Another example- his segment on police accountability treats the issue of police brutality as a fault of the system rather than as its central feature.

In other words, his principal shtick is to sell outrage at various symptom of the underlying rot rather than directing attention to the cause. So why he do that? Well.. because it is popular and profitable. People like him derive their livelihood from being the secular equivalents of “revolutionary” religious preachers of old who were largely in it for public adulation, money and power. Like their secular equivalents today, those preachers had no interest in actual reform which would improve the lives of others. Similarly, most of their promoters and audience went their sermons to feel good about themselves and morally superior to those not in attendance. Also, it helped give their audience the illusion of righteous action.

Trevor Noah: When he took over as the host of ‘The Daily Show’ after Jon Stewart retired, many wondered as to why Jon chose a South-African comedian over, say, somebody from USA. The official answer was that he had the most potential of those who were available (and willing) to fill that spot. Once again, I am not going to say that he is incompetent and undeserving of the position- because there is no evidence for those assertions. In fact, Trevor is a pretty decent all-round comedian. However, I do think that his ancestry had a worthwhile effect on his selection for that job. In my opinion, It really helped that Trevor (like John Oliver) can convey a particular archetype. Specifically that of a sharp, competent, confident black comedian who is still culturally white enough to retain the core viewership of the show. It also helps that he was born in apartheid-era South Africa and therefore serves as an example of somebody who is achieving the American Dream.

So what makes him a promoter of fake “liberalism”? Well.. the simple answer is- who and what he promotes on his show. And yes, I am aware that he does not have full editorial control of the show. Since he started hosting the show, it has pretty much been a love-fest for establishment “liberals” and “conservatives”- much more so that when Jon Stewart hosted it. Also, during the 2016 election cycle- he was plugging establishment propaganda and tropes as if he was part of the establishment. You might have also noticed that the show now spends an inordinate amount of time of just plain mockery of all those ‘other people’ and SJW-type issues than on anything approaching an intelligent or clever critique. Of course, saying any of this in public or on social media will result in busy-bodies calling you a racist.

Samantha Bee: Another alumni of ‘The Daily Show’ whose main shtick can be largely summed up as- “I have a cunt, therefore, I must be respected and admired”. As some of you, in her previous jobs, she had pretty much one single specialty- make funny faces during interviews that were then edited to support whatever point she was trying to make. That is the exact same specialty as her husband. Nowadays, her secondary shtick is to support any cause that can be vaguely sold as feminist or “empowering to women”- which is something that is still in demand. Curiously, all of her public professions of support for the down-trodden, non-white, women and other “protected” groups does not seem to extend to her personal life. It is a matter of public record, that she and her husband, are opposed to integration of kids from lower-income families at the school which their kids attend. To put it another way, “diversity” is good for the ignorant masses but not for affluent “liberals” like us.

I should also point out that she uncritically supported and plugged HRC, both during the democratic primaries and the general election in 2016. It is noteworthy that she did that by repeatedly ignoring and dissing Bernie Sanders and his message of populist economic policies. In that respect, she is more openly neoliberal that John Oliver or Trevor Noah. Also, pointing out that she is not especially funny is evidence your ‘misogyny’ rather than your opinion about her competence. In her opinion, rubes like you are too stupid to appreciate the comedy of constantly swearing and screaming hysterically at the camera. Also, not appreciating the comedy of misleadingly edited interviews is a sign of your poor taste- rather than fatigue at seeing the same crap for almost a decade.

I am now going to stop adding to this post because it is already a bit too long. Might write a sequel later.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting YouTube Channel: TYT Politics

March 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Here is an interesting YouTube channel that I have watched, on and off, for the previous few months. OK, to be more specific- I usually watch the reports by 2-3 of their journalists (Michael Tracey, Jordan Chariton and Emma Vigeland).

Here is the link to the channel: TYT Politics

And here are a couple of recent, and interesting, clips. The first one is about the interesting case of a journalist prone to confabulism (Kurt Eichenwald) pressing criminal charges against some guy sending him a flashing tweet which allegedly triggered an epileptic seizure. The second clip is about all those the Putin-Russia’ claims by establishment democrats and their most fervent supporters seem to be helping Trump rather than hurting him. It also makes the point focusing on these dubious and flimsy claims, at the expense of going after Trump for his many real and tangible problems, does not help the establishment democrats who are pushing this story.

Clip 1: Is A Tweet Now A “Deadly Weapon”?

Clip 2: Jordan and Michael Working For Russia?!

Enjoy! Comments?

Effects of Residency by State and Race on Life Expectancy in USA

March 18, 2017 12 comments

One of the common and peculiar explanations about why average life-expectancy in USA is about 3 years less than most other developed countries goes something like this: “It is because of ‘the Blacks’ who have lower life expectancy than Whites because of genetics”. The person who makes this argument will then, almost always, go on to make another related claim: “Whites in USA have the same life expectancy as Whites in other developed countries”. Well.. it just happens that the second claim is false, while the first one is demonstrably false.

But before we go there, here (below) is a map of average life-expectancy by state in USA. You will immediately notice that many states in the American South have rather low average life-expectancy compared to states on the north-east and west coast of USA. It turns out that average life-expectancy in southern and many mid-western states is below the national average of USA- which itself is about 3 years less than most other developed countries. But it gets worse. Many “far poorer countries” (as measured per-capita income in USD) such as Mexico have average life expectancy figures that are superior to most states in the American South.

But it is the effect of residency by state AND race on average life expectancy that is truly amazing- for some people, at least. You can get the long-form of the data here or the wikipedia version here.

It turns out that Blacks in many coastal states live longer than Whites in many southern states. In eight southern states (Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi) the average life expectancy for Whites is below 77 years. Curiously, there are six states (Minnesota, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, Oregon) in which average life expectancy for Blacks is over 77 years. Given that over 90% of people with Black ancestry in USA can trace their origins in this country to the pre-1810 era, it is certainly odd that Blacks living in certain states today live upto 8 years longer than their equivalents in some other states.

The state of residence, then, has a large impact on average life-expectancy than race in USA.

But it gets even more interesting. The gap between the numbers for White and Black average life expectancy pales in comparison to that between Hispanics and Whites. Hispanics, you see, appear to live years longer than their White counterparts- even in populous and relatively affluent states such as California, Massachusetts and New York. I should note that this is true in spite of the fact that Hispanics typically tend to be less affluent than Whites. People of Asian ancestry, of course, have the longest life-expectancy of any racial group in USA- but that statistic has a significant competent of higher social class and levels of education.

On another note, the gap between White and Black average life expectancy is highest in mid-western states such as Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Michigan. It is the lowest in states such as Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Nevada. Curiously, the gap between White and Black life expectancy is only moderate in the American South- which is another way of saying that it is bad for both of them in those states. I am sure that many of my readers will have a lot more to say about this post and the data in the reports which it was derived from.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Mar 17, 2017

March 17, 2017 2 comments

Here are three interesting links I came across recently. Though they are apparently about three different fields, namely, drug discovery, higher education and establishment liberalism- all three are about manifestations of the same underlying trend. And what is that trend? Well.. let me put it this way. The rather disappointing results for what was hyped as the next multi-billion dollar drug, the role of credential inflation in the success of for-profit colleges and the willingness of supposedly ‘liberal intellectuals’ to spout ideas that are conservative in all but name are three aspects of the same problem.

They are all examples of what happens when large centralized systems are run by people who want to live in their manufactured reality- even when it has no connection to the real world. Putting hundreds of millions into a drug discovery program based on the trendiness of the idea is really not that different from hiring people based on paper credentials or ‘liberal intellectuals’ spouting dubious conservative talking points about race and class. They are different manifestations of the so-called ‘meritocratic’ elite repeatedly fooling themselves to the detriment of others without suffering any personal negative consequences.

Link 1: PCSK9: Real World Data Arrives, Unfortunately

This morning we have three-year data from Amgen and their drug Repatha (evolocumab), an announcement that has been eagerly awaited. And it’s honestly not all that impressive. There’s a 15% relative reduction in cardiovascular risk (heart attack, stroke, etc.) relative to placebo, but investors were looking for something more over 20%. Insurance companies were probably looking for that, too, and given the price they’d have been happier to see something more like 25%. Amgen is defending the data (as quotes in this Adam Feuerstein piece show), but I don’t think that’s going to do the job. The numbers shouldn’t have to be interpreted and spun; in a three-year study with over 13,000 patients in each arm, the numbers should be able to speak for themselves, and they don’t.

Link 2: Credentials, Jobs and the New Economy

That kind of professionalization and educational inflation falls under the “declining internal labor markets” rubric of the new economy. Unlike in the past, when experience and subsequent licensures might be obtained through an employer — in this case, a hospital — the expectation now is that workers will increase their human capital at personal expense to “move up” the professional ladder. Janice’s choices for promotion were limited: she could hope for favorable reviews from a sympathetic management culture (a risky proposition) or earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Political wrangling over job statistics looks like action, but it is mostly a distraction. Sociologist David Brown has shown that credentials can be created without jobs to justify them. We produce risky credentials when how we work changes dramatically, and the way we work shapes what kind of credentials we produce. If we have a shitty credentialing system, in the case of for-profit colleges, then it is likely because we have a shitty labor market. To be more precise, we have a labor market where the social contract between workers and the work on which college has previously relied has fundamentally changed and makes more workers vulnerable.

Link 3: Liberals and diversity

More and more, it seems like liberals in The Discourse agree with this basic conservative assessment of how diversity affects society. But, despite that underlying agreement, they somewhat bizarrely resist the conservative conclusion. Despite telling you that they think increasing diversity will result in children going hungry, as well as the mass incarceration and widespread discrimination of minority groups, they nonetheless support it. If liberals are going to adopt the conservative view on how diversity operates in society, then they really do need to also work out what they think the implication of it is. Conservatives are very clear: diversity has all these problems and so it should be restricted. But the liberal view — that diversity has all these problems and yet it should be expanded without restraint — is just incoherent on its face.

Beauchamp’s article gives a clue as to where liberals will go with this. Since they believe 1) diversity is incompatible with justice, and 2) that diversity is important and good, they will reach the conclusion that 3) justice should be sacrificed in order to “beat” right-wing populism. As Beauchamp notes, pursuing a more economically just society “could actually give Trump an even bigger gun” because it flies in the face of the immiseration of racial minorities that majority groups in diverse societies necessarily demand. Thus, it would seem the only way forward is to give in to the bloodthirst a bit in order to stave off an even bigger atrocity.

What do you think? Comments?