Tuesday, January 9, 2018

January Temperatures

"But there is snow, it is really cold in New York, climate change is not real".

Let's look at the overall trend. Pick January in New York - here is a doc with data captured since 1879. Data, Code. Result

I see an upward trend.

We did the global one already

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Bonyads

B. de Mesquita, The Dictator's Handbook, 2011

Iran’s corruption ranking in 2010 was the thirty-second worst (that is, it ranked 146 out of 178 countries in honest business dealings), making it one of the more corrupt regimes in the world [..] Per capita income [..] in Iran [is] only $4,530. Thus, despite its vast oil wealth, Iranians, on average earn [very little]. Tax rates are high [.. they] extract more income tax [.. and have] progressive income taxes although a small group in Iran, known as the Bonyads, is exempt from taxation and even exempt from accusations of corruption. They manage the money of the senior ayatollahs and some key military leaders. The Bonyads are reputed to control 20 to 25 percent of Iran’s annual income—not bad as private benefits go.


Bloody hell.. These f---kers are exempt from even accusation of corruption. That must be the sweetest job to have in Iran. They basically have a license to steal.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


G. Friedman, The Next Decade

[T]he Ottomans, who had allied with Germany, were defeated in World War I. To the victors went the spoils, which included the extensive Ottoman province known as Syria. A secret wartime deal between the British and the French, the Sykes-Picot agreement, had divided this territory between the two allies on a line running roughly from Mount Hermon due west to the sea. The area to the north was to be placed under French control; the area to the south was to be placed under the control of the British. Further divisions gave rise not only to the modern country of Syria but to Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel as well.

The French had sought to be an influence in this region since the days of Napoleon. [..] As a state, then, Lebanon had no prior reality. Its main unifying feature was that its people felt an affinity with France. The British area to the south was divided along similarly arbitrary lines. During World War I, the Muslim clan that ruled the western Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula, the Hashemites [today's Jordanians], had supported the British. In return, the British promised to install this group as rulers of Arabia after the war. But London made commitments to other tribes as well. Based in Kuwait, a rival clan, the Saud, had launched a war against the Turks in 1900, trying to take control of the eastern and central parts of the Arabian Peninsula. In a struggle that broke out shortly after World War I, the Sauds defeated the Hashemites, so the British gave Arabia to them—hence today’s Saudi Arabia.

The Hashemites received the consolation prize of Iraq, where they ruled until 1958, when they were overthrown in a military coup supported the British. [.. They]  were moved to an area to the north along the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Centered on the town of Amman and lacking any other obvious identity, this new protectorate became known as Trans-Jordan, as in “the other side of the Jordan River.” After the British withdrew in 1948, Trans-Jordan became contemporary Jordan, a country that, like Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, had never existed before. [..]

The British took the term Filistin, ran it through some ancient Greek, and came up with Palestine as the name for this new region. Its capital was Jerusalem, and its residents were thereafter called Palestinians.

None of these remnants was a nation in the sense of having a common history or identity except for Syria itself, which could claim a lineage going back to biblical times. Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine were French and British inventions, created for their political convenience. Their national history went back only as far as Mr. Sykes and Monsieur Picot and some British double-dealing in Arabia.

Which is not to say that the inhabitants did not have a historical connection to the land they lived on. If not their homeland, the territory was certainly a home, but even here there was complexity. Under Ottoman rule, the ownership of the land, particularly in Palestine, had been semifeudal, with absentee landlords collecting rent from the felaheen, or peasants, who actually tilled the soil.

Enter the Jews. Members of the European Diaspora had been moving into this region since the 1880s, joining relatively small Jewish communities that had existed there (and in most other Arab regions) for centuries. This immigration was part of the Zionist movement, which—motivated by the European idea of the nation-state—sought to create a Jewish homeland in the region the Jews had last controlled in biblical times.

The Jews came in small numbers, settling on land purchased with funds raised by Jews in Europe. Frequently this land was bought from the absentee landlords, who sold it out from under their Arab tenants. From the Jewish point of view, this was a legitimate acquisition of land. From the tenants’ point of view, it was a direct assault on their livelihood, as well as an eviction from land their families had farmed for generations. As more Jews arrived, the acquisition of land, the title to which was frequently dubious anyway, became less scrupulous and even more intrusive.

While the Arabs generally (but not universally) saw the Jews as alien invaders, they did not agree on something perhaps more important: to whom did the residents of Palestine owe national allegiance?

The Syrians regarded Palestine the way they regarded Lebanon and Jordan—as an integral part of Syria. They opposed an independent Palestine, just as they opposed the existence of an independent Jewish state, for the same reason they opposed Lebanese and Jordanian independence: for them, the Sykes-Picot agreement was a violation of Syria’s long-standing territorial integrity.

The Hashemites, formerly from the Arabian Peninsula, had even greater problems with the Palestinians. The Hashemites were, after all, an Arabian tribe transplanted on the east bank of the Jordan. After the British left in 1948, they became rulers by default of what is today the West Bank. While sharing Arab ethnicity and the Muslim faith with the Palestinians who were native to the area, these transplants were profoundly different in culture and history. In fact, the two groups were quite hostile to each other. The Hashemite (now Jordanian) view was that Palestine was legally theirs, at least the part left after Israel gained independence. Indeed, from the time that the Jews became more numerous and powerful in Palestine, the Hashemite rulers of Jordan saw these new emigrants from eastern Europe and elsewhere as allies against the native Palestinians [..]

In 1956 [Egypt] experienced a military coup that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. Nasser opposed the existence of Israel, but he had a very different vision of the Palestinians. Nasser’s dream was the creation of a single Arab nation, a United Arab Republic, which he succeeded in establishing very briefly with the Syrians. For him, all of the countries of the Arab world were illegitimate products of imperialism and all should join together as one, under the leadership of the largest and most powerful Arab country, Egypt. Viewed in that context, there was no such thing as Palestine, and the Palestinians were simply Arabs occupying a certain ill-defined piece of land.

All the Arab states within the region, then, save the Jordanians, wanted the destruction of Israel, but none supported, or even discussed, an independent Palestine. The Gaza strip, occupied by Egypt during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, was administered as part of Egypt for the next twenty years. The West Bank remained a part of Jordan. The Syrians wanted all of Jordan and Palestine returned to them, along with Lebanon.

This was complicated enough, but then the Six Day War of 1967 shuffled the deck once more.

In 1967, Egypt expelled UN peacekeeping forces from the Sinai Peninsula and remilitarized it. They also blockaded the Straits of Tiran and the Bab el Mandeb, cutting off the port of Eilat from the Red Sea. In response, the Israelis attacked not only the Egyptians but also the Jordanian West Bank, which had shelled Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights in Syria, which had shelled Israeli settlements.

Israel’s success, including the occupation of Jordan west of the river, transformed the entire region. Suddenly a large population of unwilling Palestinian Arabs was under the rule of an Israeli state. Israel’s initial intent seems to have been to trade the conquered areas for a permanent peace agreement with its neighbors. However, at a meeting held in Khartoum after the 1967 war, the Arab states replied with the famous “three no’s”: no negotiation, no recognition, no peace. At this point the Israeli occupation of these formerly Palestinian areas became permanent.

It was also at this point that the Palestinians first came to be viewed as a separate nation. The Egyptians had sponsored a group known as the Palestine Liberation Organization and installed a young man named Yasir Arafat to lead it. Nasser still clung to the idea of an Arab federation, but no other nations chose to accept his leadership. Nasser wasn’t prepared to submit to anyone else, which left the PLO and its constituent organizations, such as al-Fatah, by default the sole advocates for a Palestinian state.

The Jordanians were happy to have the Palestinians living in Israeli territory, as an Israeli problem. They were also happy to recognize the PLO as representing the Palestinian people, and just as happy that the Israelis didn’t allow the Palestinians to be independent. The Syrians supported their own organizations, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which advocated that Israel should be destroyed and that the Palestinians should be incorporated into Syria. So the recognition of Palestinian nationalism by the Arabs was neither universal nor friendly. Indeed, Arab support for the Palestinians seemed to increase in proportion to the distance the Arabs were from Palestine.

It should be obvious from this summary that the moral argument that rages about the rights of Israel, which any American president must deal with, is enormously complex. Beyond the substantial displacement of populations that occurred with the creation of modern Israel, the immigration of European Jews did not constitute the destruction of a Palestinian nation, because no such nation had ever existed. The Palestinian national identity in fact emerged only out of resistance to Israeli occupation after 1967. And the hostility toward Palestinian national claims was as intense from Arabs as it was from Jews. Israeli foreign policy was shaped by these realities and took advantage of them in order to impose the current political order on the region. But whatever was the case in the past, there is certainly today a self-aware Palestinian nation, and that is part of what must inform U.S. policy going forward.

Apart from dealing with this incredibly convoluted history, which weighs on any moral judgment, U.S. policy in this region must accommodate two other basic facts. First, whatever the Israelis’ historical claim, from a twentieth-century perspective, the Jews were settlers from another continent who displaced the natives.


Also see Myth #3

No wonder this issue still unresolved. Palestine is, nationally speaking, a superfluous entity, most neighbors are hostile or indifferent to them. But people's right to live there is no less real than Israel's. Then, and considering the power dynamics, I still maintain one-state solution is the way to go for Palestinians. "But they will be second-class citizens in Israel". Fine. Women, all sorts of minorities were once second-class citizens in many places, that situation can improve later. The key is for Palestinians to integrate to a well-to-do society, instead of being harassed at checkpoints. That is worse than being legally second-class.

If Jews are too worried about losing their Jewishess, well, then keep election of non-Jews at local level. Mandate that all top dogs have to be Jew. It is already a religious / theological state no? Why not? During Pakistani president's swearing-in ceremony he has to put his hand on the good book and say "I am Moslem". It will be similar. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Health Apocalypse Now


Much of my time for the past year has been spent navigating the medical maze on behalf of my mother, who has dementia.

I observe that American health care organizations can no longer operate systematically, so participants are forced to act in the communal mode, as if in the pre-modern world.

Health care is one leading edge of a general breakdown in systematicity—while, at the same time, employing sophisticated systematic technologies.[..]

For complex health care problems, I recommend hiring a consultant to provide administrative (not medical!) guidance.[..]

My mother’s mild dementia began accelerating rapidly a year ago. I’ve been picking up pieces of her life as she drops them. That has grown from a part-time job to a full-time job. In the past month, as she’s developed unrelated serious medical issues, it’s become a way-more-than-full-time job.

The most time-consuming aspect has been coordinating the dozens of different institutions involved in her care. I had read that the biggest failing of the American health care system is its fragmentation; I’ve now spent hundreds of hours observing that first-hand.

There is, in fact, no system. There are systems, but mostly they don’t talk to each other. I have to do that.[..]

This is a stark example of medical cost disease, but the post is not about that. It’s about how institutions fail to talk to each other—and what that implies about our future.[..]

My mother went into the hospital a month ago with severe pain in her hip. (It’s still undiagnosed.) After two days, she was medically ready for discharge from the hospital: whatever the pain was, it wasn’t one they could help with. Instead, she should be sent to a “skilled nursing facility” (SNF) where she’d get “physical therapy,” i.e. leg exercises.

For a SNF to agree to take her, they had to get confirmation from an insurance company that insurance would cover her stay. She has two kinds of health insurance, Medicare plus coverage through a private insurer (Anthem). Which would cover her? Or both, or neither?

SNFs have admissions officers, whose full-time job is to answer this question. Two different SNFs started working on the problem. I talked with the admissions people every day. Both claimed to be working on it more-or-less full-time. The hospital wanted to free up my mother’s bed, so their insurance person was also working on it.

Days passed. The hospital doctor on rounds said “Well, this is typical, especially with Anthem. It’s costing them several thousand dollars a day to keep her here, versus a few hundred dollars a day in a SNF, but it might take a week for them to figure out which local SNF they cover. [..]

It’s like one those post-apocalyptic science fiction novels whose characters hunt wild boars with spears in the ruins of a modern city. Surrounded by machines no one understands any longer, they have reverted to primitive technology.

Except it’s in reverse. Hospitals can still operate modern material technologies (like an MRI) just fine. It’s social technologies that have broken down and reverted to a medieval level.

One of the pervasive ways women are disadvantaged under the ACA is its reliance on employer-based coverage. In the United States, World War II–era wage freezes helped entrench a system of employer-provided health insurance, a perk meant to attract workers in a squeezed labor market

Eventually, Medicare and Medicaid were devised as a safety net for those shut out of private plans, and the ACA expanded that safety net. Still, job-based plans remain the bedrock on which our insurance system is built.

Under this system, it’s harder for women to get health insurance in the first place. The strains of childrearing and elder care make women more likely to seek more flexible employment, like part-time, remote, or freelance work. These forms of employment tend not only to pay less, but are less likely to include health insurance benefits.

Those that do provide inferior ones: companies with majority-female workforces tend to offer less generous health-care coverage than those that are majority male. And less than one-third of low-income workers receive any health insurance through work. Jobs paying at or around the minimum wage are most often occupied by women, the majority of whom are women of color. Trans women face even higher levels of poverty than cis women, and are frequently saddled with impossibly high out of pocket costs.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017



[Bittorrent inventor] Cohen has just started a new company called Chia Network that will launch a cryptocurrency based on proofs of time and storage rather than bitcoin’s electricity-burning proofs of work. Essentially, Chia will harness cheap and abundant unused storage space on hard drives to verify its blockchain.

“The idea is to make a better bitcoin, to fix the centralization problems” Cohen tells me. The two main issues he sees in bitcoin are in environmental impact and the instability that arises from the few bitcoin miners with the cheapest access to electricity exerting outsized influence.

Chia aims to solve both.

Bitcoin uses proofs of work to verify the blockchain. That’s because it’s prohibitively expensive to make a fake blockchain as it wouldn’t have as much work demonstrated as the real one. But over time that’s given a massive advantage in collecting the incentives for mining bitcoin to those who operate close to low-cost electricity and naturally chill air to cool the mining rigs.

Chia instead relies on proofs of space in file storage, which people often already have and can use for no additional cost. It combines this with proofs of time that disarm a wide array of attacks to which proofs of space are susceptible.

“I’m not the first person to come up with this idea,” says Cohen, but actually implementing requires the kind of advanced computer science he specializes in.


Fascinating. I wonder how disk space is used as proof-of-work.. how can u make sure someone has X amount of space, reliably..? I wish I had time to dig into it.

The huge amount of CPU power spent on BC mining always bother me, hopefully Chia fixes that. "Democratizing" mining is nice too -  if mining is easy, and the currency is adopted widely, in theory this would be your UBI mechanism, ppl can mine reasonable amount of $$ on their own, no being bothered by the stigma around hand-outs.

So here is my ideal cybercurrency features - uses less CPU like Chia, is completely anonymous like Monero, supports ultra-smart contracts like Ethereum, and is as robust as Bitcoin. Mining should never end, so currency is not dis-inflationary. 


Monday, December 4, 2017

Q&A - 4/12

James Mulvale

Welfare state programs [..] have been premised on a growing economy where everyone gets a slightly bigger piece of the pie. Those days are over, we have to think about steady-state economics, we have to think about redistribution of wealth. I think basic income gets us partway towards that goal.

Interesting point

U still need government-funded universal healthcare of course bcz citizens need govs bargaining power, but BI can do lota good.

So once the current circus is over the new political leaders can start constructing this system.


Ha Ha

Scott Alexander

Do you think that modern colleges provide $18,000/year greater value than colleges did in your parents’ day? Would you rather graduate from a modern college, or graduate from a college more like the one your parents went to, plus get a check for $72,000?

(or, more realistically, have $72,000 less in student loans to pay off)

Was your parents’ college even noticeably worse than yours? My parents sometimes talk about their college experience, and it seems to have had all the relevant features of a college experience. Clubs. Classes. Professors. Roommates. I might have gotten something extra for my $72,000, but it’s hard to see what it was [...]

This can’t be pure price-gouging, since corporate profits haven’t increased nearly enough to be where all the money is going. But a while ago a commenter linked me to the Delta Cost Project, which scrutinizes the exact causes of increasing college tuition. Some of it is the administrative bloat that you would expect. But a lot of it is fun “student life” types of activities like clubs, festivals, and paying Milo Yiannopoulos to speak and then cleaning up after the ensuing riots. These sorts of things improve the student experience, but I’m not sure that the average student would rather go to an expensive college with clubs/festivals/Milo than a cheap college without them. More important, it doesn’t really seem like the average student is offered this choice.



We need to start asking which public goods universities are producing and whether government support gets Americans more of them. Taxing graduate students is a crude, destructive mechanism for extracting goods from academia because it would diminish both scientific discovery and the size and scope of the educated public that has been improving our country for generations. The current plan for taxing endowments does not address the problems that rightly drive citizen fury: soaring costs, educational inequality and schools’ resistance to change.

To address these issues, universities must bring new proposals to the table.



Arcade City = decentralized #Uber via #ethereum. We built in #Austin the world's first citywide P2P rideshare network


We mentioned Ethereum, an alternative to Bitcoin, before, a cybercurrency more suited for distributed programs. Theoretically a lot of today's Internet based software can be ran in a distributed fashion, distributed on everyone's machine.

Software for the people, by the people, of the people.


What other new coins are out there?


This currency is said to be better for individual miners requiring less compute power, and is completely anonymous perhaps mirroring today's paper money better. That can be a good thing.

January Temperatures

"But there is snow, it is really cold in New York, climate change is not real". Let's look at the overall trend. Pick Janua...