Quotulatiousness

June 30, 2017

Russia’s New Offensive – The Russian Women’s Battalion of Death I THE GREAT WAR Week 153

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Russia — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 29 Jun 2017

After the Russian Revolution, fresh optimism is gripping the troops at the front line and another offensive is planned. The first American troops arrive in France and Greece officially joins the Entente.

Meet the Romans with Mary Beard 1/3 – HD

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 16 May 2013

“No one is bending over backwards to be fair to McEnroe here, and — well, he is John McEnroe”

Filed under: Media, Sports — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh on the tempest-in-a-teapot over John McEnroe’s rating of Serena Williams’ tennis skills:

McEnroe is in a familiar, mostly consequence-free sort of trouble for an interview he gave to National Public Radio that aired this past Sunday. McEnroe is flogging a book, and NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro read a quote from it, asking him why he had described Serena Williams as “the best female player” ever. Maybe, Garcia-Navarro suggested, Serena is just “the best player in the world.” “Why say female player?”

McEnroe immediately answered that if Williams played tennis on the men’s tour “she’d be, like, (number) 700 in the world.” He added that “That doesn’t mean I don’t think Serena is an incredible player: I do.” He specified that “700” was not an exact guess — “perhaps it’d be a little higher, perhaps it’d be a little lower.” And he noted that Williams’s supreme mental rigour would enable unexpected victories over male pros.

[…]

It so happens that when Serena was 16 and participating in the 1998 Australian Open, she and her sister Venus boasted that they could probably beat the 200th-best men’s player in the world. A German named Karsten Braasch, once number 38 in the men’s ranking, but by then a bit dissipated, stood 203rd at that moment. He got word of the Williams challenge. Indulging in his trademark habit of smoking cigarettes during breaks in play, Braasch beat Serena 6-1 and Venus 6-2.

The sisters revised their claim to superiority over men outside the top 350 before deciding not to speak of the match again, nor to repeat it with a different male opponent. Braasch was quoted as saying “500 and above: no chance.”

It might be objected that Serena was “only” 16 at the time, assuming anyone had dared to mention Karsten Braasch at all this week, but female tennis players seem to experience pretty much the earliest chronological peak of playing ability outside gymnastics or thoroughbred horseracing. Being 35 years old, as Serena is now, doesn’t help anybody win in a sport involving strength and speed. McEnroe has clear justification for his belief that Serena would not be one of the 500 best players in a world of wide-open, all-genders tennis.

Megan McArdle agrees it takes nothing at all away from Serena Williams to say she’s not the best tennis player in the world:

“Best” is a relative value of course, not an absolute; Tyrannosaurus rex was one of the best in its field, 65 million years ago, but when conditions changed, poor T. rex went from industry leader to the ash heap of history. When we say that someone or something is “the best,” we always have to acknowledge that this judgment is highly dependent on the criteria we’re using to define excellence.

This is approximately the argument many of McEnroe’s critics seem to be making. Unable to refute his core point — that Serena Williams could not be a world champion if she were regularly competing against men — instead they’re asking why he would make that the standard for judging whether she’s the world’s best tennis player.

This leaves me just as confused as McEnroe was when the NPR interviewer asked him essentially the same question. Tennis, after all, is a court, a moderate amount of equipment, and some highly detailed rules for determining who wins. The best tennis player is the person who can most regularly defeat the other players under those rules. Unless some sort of terrible plague wipes out hundreds of top men’s tennis players, that person will never be Serena Williams.

[…]

We should all applaud Serena Williams for becoming the world’s best female tennis player. That’s a stunning achievement — a testament to her physical gifts and how hard she has worked to develop as a player. Williams has earned her titles, her money and her fame, and she deserves to bask in all of it. It is a compliment, and a true statement, to call her the best female tennis player. We won’t add anything to her achievement by subtracting “female” and turning the true accolade into false flattery.

Meet the 89-Year Old Who Built a Train in His Backyard | WIRED

Filed under: Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 14 Jun 2017

The future of train transportation might be pneumatic tubes and magnets. Meet the 89-year old entrepreneur who wants to disrupt the railroad with a modern twist on a very old train idea.

QotD: Rent-seeking

Filed under: Economics, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Calling someone a rent-seeker is sort of an economist’s way of telling them to die in a fire.

Scott Alexander, “Contra Caplan on Mental Illness”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-10-07.

June 29, 2017

Words & Numbers – Just Say No to the War on Drugs

Published on 28 Jun 2017

Ted Cruz recently asserted that the United States military needs to be sent to Mexico to attack the drug cartels head-on.

This is a bad idea. But so is the drug war itself, both constitutionally and logically.

Forty-six years and one trillion dollars after its start, President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs is still going, with 300,000 people currently in jail on drug charges. Meanwhile, 26 times as many people suffer from alcoholism as do heroin abuse, and eight times as many die from alcohol abuse as do heroin.

Many who support the war do so with the best of intentions, but has it really helped? Or has it done more harm than good, like the Prohibition of the 1920s? Is this war even legal in the first place?

James Harrigan and Antony Davies discuss these questions in this week’s Words and Numbers. Watch the conversation below or on our YouTube channel, or listen to it on SoundCloud.

Hidden fears about Germany’s national character

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Some interesting thoughts about Germany and the current German chancellor, Angela Merkel. First from Theodore Dalrymple a few weeks back in City Journal:

When the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, decided to take in 1 million migrants and refugees (the precise numbers have yet to be established and probably never will be), it is difficult to believe that thoughts of Hitler and Nazism were far from her mind. Hitler believed that the German national interest was the touchstone of morality; anything that served it, in his opinion, was justified. So catastrophic was this monstrous ethic that for a long time, it seemed virtually impossible for anyone other than a neo-Nazi to speak of the German national interest. When Germany won the soccer World Cup in 2014, the nation exploded in joy and celebration. Newspapers suggested that Germany had finally overcome its postwar feelings of guilt, so that it was possible for Germans to express an unapologetic pride in their country. This, however, seems false: everyone understands that, in this context, sport is unimportant, a distraction. A rally to celebrate the German trade surplus as a vindication of the German people compared with its neighbors would be another thing entirely — and it is inconceivable that it would take place.

One can imagine no policy more distant from Hitler’s than Merkel’s acceptance of the million migrants. Her gesture says: we Germans are as far from Hitler as it is possible to be. We need not think whether the policy is wise or just; it is sufficient that it should distinguish us from what we were before.

It is not only in Germany, however, that the national interest may not be mentioned for fear of appealing to Nazi-like sentiments; indeed, any such appeal routinely winds up labeled as “far right,” a metonym for Hitler or Nazism. The identification is a means of cutting off whole areas of inquiry, nowhere more so than in the question of immigration.

One of the justifications for the European Union that I have often heard is that it brings peace to the continent. This, usually unbeknown to its proponents, is an argument ad Hitlerum, for the likeliest source of war on the continent is Germany: Portugal would never attack Denmark, for example, or Sweden Malta. No: what is being said here is that the Germans, being Germans, are inherently militaristic and racist nationalists, and the logical consequence or final analysis of these traits is Nazism; and that unless Germany is bound tightly into a supranational organism, it will return to violent conquest. I personally do not believe this.

And this, from Nikolaas de Jong in American Thinker earlier this week:

… it is important to point out that the popular image both of Angela Merkel and of modern Germany is deeply flawed. Because far from representing a negation — or a misguided attempt at negation — of past German policies and attitudes, the modern German mentality is in many ways a mutation or an update of the same mentality that has guided Germany since the eighteenth century, and especially since the unification of the country in 1870.

Let us begin with the more obvious parallel: German support for further European integration. Despite all the German talk about subordinating narrow national interests to the European project, careful observers must have noticed the coincidence that the Germans always see themselves as the leaders of this disinterested project, and that the measures deemed to be necessary for further European cooperation always seem to be German-made.

Are the Germans really such idealistic supporters of the European project? It is more probable that in reality they see the European Union as an ideal instrument to control the rest of Europe. Indeed, in 1997 the British author John Laughland wrote a book about this subject, The Tainted Source: the Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea, which is still worth reading for anyone who wants understand what kind of organization the EU actually is. According to Laughland, the Germans are such big supporters of the European ideal because they know that all important decisions in a confederation of states can ultimately only be taken by or with the approval of the most important state — in this case, Germany.

Thus, on closer scrutiny, there is a strong continuity between the foreign policy of Wilhelm II, Hitler, and Merkel. And this continuity can easily be explained by looking at Germany’s position within Europe. On the one hand, Germany is the strongest and largest country in Europe, but on the other hand it is not strong or large enough to dominate the rest of Europe automatically. In consequence, ever since German unification in 1870, the country has been presented with the choice either to subordinate its wishes to those of the rest of Europe — which has always appeared rather humiliating — or to attempt the conquest of Europe, in order to ensure that Germany’s wishes would always prevail. Unsurprisingly, the Germans have consistently chosen the second course, and both World Wars were attempts to permanently bring the rest of Europe under German control.

Realpolitik or reductio ad Hitlerum?

Tank Chats #12 TOG II*

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 17 Dec 2015

This enormous tank was designed on the premise that World War II would evolve in the same way as the First World War. Some believed that existing tanks would not be able to deal with such conditions, and one of the most influential was Sir Albert Stern, who had been secretary to the Landships Committee in the First World War. In company with many others involved in tank design in 1916, including Sir William Tritton, Sir Eustace Tennyson D’Eyncourt, Sir Ernest Swinton and Walter Wilson, Stern was authorised by the War Office to design a heavy tank on First World War principles.

Two prototypes were built, both known as TOG for The Old Gang and they were even manufactured by the company that built Little Willie and the first tanks in 1916, William Foster & Co. of Lincoln.

http://tankmuseum.org/museum-online/vehicles/object-e1951-49

Homeschooling is looking like a better option all the time

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Susan Goldberg explains what some states are now asking primary school teachers to do in the way of monthly mental health evaluations of the kids they teach:

On paper it reads like a not-so-vague attempt to socially engineer your child’s behavior. In reality, teacher-led mental health assessments coming to a growing number of public schools are a bureaucratic nightmare. One that will no doubt further clog our nation’s public education system with increased paperwork and administrative costs while putting your child’s future at serious risk.

Thanks to Dr. Aida Cerundolo’s piece in The Wall Street Journal, we are beginning to understand the real-life ramifications of these dangerous educational ideas. Want the Cliffs Notes version? Head over to the excellent summation by Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins, detailing the ramifications of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal bill focused on the buzz-phrase “Social Emotional Learning” (SEL), the latest craze in public education. Schools in states that have ESSA legislation on the books can use the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) to fulfill ESSA paperwork requirements.

    …every month the teacher must answer 72 questions about each of the perhaps dozens of students in her class. She must assess whether the student “carr[ies] himself with confidence,” whatever that means for a 5-year-old, and whether he can “cope well with insults and mean comments.”

    … Dr. Cerundolo’s alarm at the imposition of DESSA is shared by at least some New Hampshire teachers. One of them contacted Ann Marie Banfield, Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire, to express her objections to completing the DESSA forms on her students. The teacher was especially troubled that the school neither sought parental consent nor even notified parents that their children were being screened by amateurs for mental-health issues. As the mother of public-school students, she worried that other teachers were completing this assessment on her children.

You read that right: if you live in an ESSA state, your child’s mental health will be assessed by a non-medical professional in a non-medical context. The paperwork will not be protected by HIPAA laws, which means that the school district can share a teacher’s assessment of your child’s mental health with literally anyone. Parents are not asked for permission before the DESSA is administered, nor do they have any say over where the records go once they are obtained.

I imagine that primary school teachers will be just overjoyed to take on yet another task for which they may have no formal training or aptitude, in addition to the piddling little details of actually teaching. Were you ever warned about youthful misbehaviour going on to your “permanent record”? Now, it’s not just the big ticket items that will follow your kids from now on in their school careers.

[Winter War] Motti Tactics – How The Finns Destroyed Soviet Divisions

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Russia — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 18 Nov 2016

» SOURCES & LINKS «

Mountain Operations FM 3 97.6
https://archive.org/details/Mountain_Operations_FM_3-97.6

Chew, Allen F.: Fighting the Russians In Winter – Three Case Studies
https://archive.org/details/FightingTheRussiansInWinter-nsia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Finland

» CREDITS & SPECIAL THX «
Song: Ethan Meixsell – Demilitarized Zone

QotD: The medical equivalent of security theatre

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The most common reason for admission to a psychiatric hospital is “person is a danger to themselves or others”. The average length of stay in a psychiatric hospital is about one week.

Some clever person might ask: “Hey, don’t most psychiatric medicines require more than a week to take effect?” Good question! The answer is “yes”. Antidepressants classically take four weeks. Lithium and antipsychotics are more complicated, but the textbooks will still tell you a couple of weeks in both cases. And yet people are constantly being brought to psychiatric hospitals for dangerousness, treated with medications for one week, and then sent off. What gives?

As far as I can tell, a lot of it is the medical equivalent of security theater.

Scott Alexander, “Reflections From The Halfway Point”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-06-29.

June 28, 2017

Concert-goers rejoice, for the government is here to help you!

Filed under: Business, Economics, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Of course, if you have any experience of the utility of “government help”, you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high, as Chris Selley explains:

The results of an online public consultation were clear, said Naqvi. “One: the current system clearly is not working for fans; and two: Ontarians expect the government to take action.” We should have expected nothing less: ticket rage is a real thing among concertgoers in particular — a mind-boggling 35,000 people completed the online consultation — and besides, the survey didn’t include an option to suggest the government do nothing.

Among other things, Naqvi said, it will be illegal to resell tickets for more than 150 per cent of face value, and it will be illegal to use bots. Soon, he promised, “everyone (will have) a fair shot at getting the tickets they want.” Ontario, he said, will become “a world leader in ticket sales regulation.”

You’re supposed to think that’s both plausible and desirable. You should instead be very, very skeptical. So long as U2, the Tragically Hip and other artists insist on pricing their tickets vastly below what people are willing to pay for them, there will be an enormous incentive to circumvent whatever laws are in place to prevent third parties from reaping those foregone profits. A 150-per-cent cap would reduce the incentive, as Naqvi says — but only if the entire scalping community decided to respect it.

It won’t. It doesn’t. Scalping is illegal in Arkansas. Tickets for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks’ Nov. 24 game against Missouri are going on Stubhub for well over twice face value. Scalping is illegal in Quebec. Stubhub will put you in the third row for Bob Dylan’s show at the Montreal Jazz Festival next month for US$275; face value is $137.50 Canadian. The experiment works in every scalping-restrictive North American jurisdiction I tried. Heck, scalping used to be illegal in Ontario. That sure didn’t deter the gentlemen who prowled around outside Maple Leaf Gardens and SkyDome.

Many Stubhub users aren’t even in Ontario — that’s even more true for the people with the bots. Is the Attorney General really going to prosecute people for the crime of selling tickets at prices people are perfectly willing to pay? People in other countries? That would get awfully old in an awful hurry.

As he points out in the article, this is yet another instance of the Ontario government pandering to the demands of economic illiterates (recent examples include slapping on new rent controls in the middle of a housing crunch and significant increases in the minimum wage as new workforce entrants are already finding it tough to get hired). It’s as though the government is reading the economic textbook upside down … bringing in exactly the wrong “solutions” to every problem they see.

TANKFEST 2017 – At The Tank Museum, Bovington

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 27 Jun 2017

Tanks. They’re like big, angry houses.

The Tank Museum: http://www.tankmuseum.org/home

Handsaw comparison – Japanese pull-cut versus Western push-cut

Filed under: Japan, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

On Facebook, Paul Sellers posted a couple of photos showing the differences between some traditional western hand saws, which cut on the push stroke, and traditional Japanese hand saws, which cut on the pull stroke:

When you hear people say Japanese saws cut better, cut cleaner, cut faster, cut easier, usually it’s not necessarily true. In reality the Japanese saws cut on a pull stroke and the western saw on a push. When sharpened properly both cut very well. The difference for me is that one is a throwaway, the other a keeper for a lifetime. I own saws made in England and the USA that are totally functional and range in age from between the early 1800s 1860s and some up to date that I use daily. You can make any saw any thickness you like and it will work well.
Just saying.

The main difference nowadays is you throw away the Japanese saws because you can’t sharpen them whereas a decent western saw can be sharpened, well, for 200 years when you learn how. Most people can master saw sharpening with an hour of practice.


Why do mirrors flip things horizontally but not vertically? | James May Q&A | Head Squeeze

Filed under: Science — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 15 Nov 2013

A mirror is made from a sheet of glass with reflective material applied to one side of the glass. Designed to reflect lights, mirrors are used everywhere from making sure we scrub behind out ears in the morning, to helping us reverse around corners without crashing into a wall.

But what are mirrors exactly?

A mirror is like an old fashioned transparency photograph viewed the wrong way around. A mirror doesn’t reverse left and right, it reverses back to front. Writing appears back to front in a mirror because we present it back to front!

Go on; have a go writing BUM the wrong way around in front of a mirror!

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