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Drought, Fire and Grain in Russia - 0 views

  • The crises threaten the wheat harvest in Russia, which is one of the world’s largest wheat exporters. Russia is no stranger to having drought affect its wheat crop, a commodity of critical importance to Moscow’s domestic tranquility and foreign policy. Despite the severity of the heat, drought, and wildfires, Moscow’s wheat output will cover Russia’s domestic needs. Russia will also use the situation to merge its neighbors into a grain cartel.
  • Russia is one of the largest grain producers and exporters in the world, normally producing around 100 million tons of wheat a year, or 10 percent of total global output. It exports 20 percent of this total to markets in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
  • This year, the Kremlin announced Aug. 5 that it would temporarily ban grain exports from Aug. 15 to Dec 31. Two reasons prompted the move.
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  • The second reason is that the Kremlin wants to ensure that its supplies and production will hold up should the winter wheat harvest decline as well.
  • Russia’s conservatism when it comes to ensuring supplies and price stability arises from the reality that adequate grain supplies long have been equated with social stability in Russia.
  • Domestically, Russians enjoy access to the necessities of life. Kremlin ownership over the majority of the country’s economy and resources gives the government leverage in controlling the country on every level — socially, politically, economically and financially. Thus, a grain crisis is more than just about feeding the people; it strikes at part of Russia’s overall domestic economic security.
  • If Russia is going to exert its political power over the region via grain, it must have Ukraine on board. If Russia can control all of these states’ wheat exports, then Moscow will control 15 percent of global production and 16 percent of global exports. Kiev has recently turned its political orientation to lock step with Moscow, as seen in matters of politics, military and regional spats. But this most recent crisis hits at a major national economic piece for Ukraine. Whether Kiev bends its own national will to continue its further entwinement with Moscow remains to be seen.
    "Three interlocking crises are striking Russia simultaneously: the highest recorded temperatures Russia has seen in 130 years of recordkeeping; the most widespread drought in more than three decades; and massive wildfires that have stretched across seven regions, including Moscow." At StratFor on August 10, 2010.

Generation X hits its midlife crisis - 0 views

  • Welcome to the age of mixed blessings, you rapidly wrinkling Janeane Garofalo wannabes!
  • "Formerly Hot," inspired by Dolgoff's epiphany that "I was no longer who I'd always been -- a pretty girl who navigated the world partially aided by the advantage of her looks," will surely strike a chord with anyone who's ever realized she's never getting comped for drinks again.
  • But it's ironic that while this is likely the greatest time in human history to be middle-aged (for which I personally thank you for blazing that trail, baby boomers) we're still torn up about it. A person over 40 is no longer immediately set out to die on an ice floe, but that leaves the question, What's left? Are we MILFs and cougars, or just haggard old "formerlies"? We flail awkwardly to finesse this new stage of life, maybe because being older ain't what it used to be. There was a time we'd just consign ourselves to looking like a Dorothea Lange photograph by the time we had the second kid, but those migrant farmworkers weren't of the generation that got Viagra and Nirvana. Can we still rock out? Wear funny T-shirts?
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  • On his cringe-worthily perfect series "Louie," Louis C.K. delivers the grim news to the Lloyd Dobler generation: "There's never going to be another year of my life that was better than the year before it. That's never going to happen again. I've seen my best years." And unlike those lucky enough to be able to make the wracked-with-baggage boast of being formerly hot, he says, "I've never gained from my looks at all. It's not like, oh, they're going, what am I going to do now?"
  • If I've got potentially 40 more years of living ahead, I won't spend it as the kind of woman Bowling for Soup writes songs about. In truth, like many people my age, I hated high school and my 20s sucked as much as they rocked. So while we may take the baby barrettes out of our graying hair and no longer fit the description of grrrl, my generation has been pretty busy spending the last few decades living its life, starting its zines, cranking out some great music and generally not giving much of a crap about its hotness to begin with. I'll gladly answer to "slacker," but even if it's with a wink and a self-deprecating laugh over pleather miniskirts gone by, don't call me "formerly" anything. Because I'm not ready to assume my best years are behind me. And I don't ever want to define myself by what I've been. 
    "An author calls for women to embrace their "formerly hot" years. Oh please: Don't call me "formerly" anything." By Mary Elizabeth Williams at on August 9, 2010.

Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire - 0 views

    Use this survey to determine what your preferred learning style is.

The illustrated guide to a Ph.D. - 0 views

    "Every fall, I explain to a fresh batch of Ph.D. students what a Ph.D. is. It's hard to describe it in words. So, I use pictures. Read below for the illustrated guide to a Ph.D." By Matthew Might

Queen's Brian May Rocks Out To Physics, Photography - 0 views

  • But May's interests aren't limited to the rock world. Before Queen made it big, May was studying astrophysics at Imperial College in London. He gave it up to hit the road with Queen, but his background in physics helped the band in the recording studio: In "We Will Rock You," for example, he designed the sound of the famous "stomp stomp clap" section — in order to make it sound like thousands of people were stomping and clapping — based on his knowledge of sound waves and distances. (A more detailed explanation exists in interview highlights below, but he constructed the stomps based on a series of distances based on prime numbers.)
    "Brian May, the lead guitarist in the British glam-rock band Queen, is a modern-day renaissance man." By Fresh Air (NPR) on August 3, 2010.

A Grand Unified Theory of Palinisms - 0 views

  • Tina Fey's caricature of Palin as an unprepared high-school student trying to bluff her way through an oral exam by mugging and flirting hit its mark not merely because of the genius of the mimicry, but because of its fundamentally accurate diagnosis of Palin as bullshit artist. Palin's exuberant incoherence testifies to an unusually wide gulf between confidence and ability. She is proud of what she doesn't know and contemptuous of those "experts" and "elitists" who are too knowledgeable to be trusted. This curious self-regard echoes through her book, Going Rogue, described by the critic Jonathan Raban as "a four-hundred-page paean to virtuous ignorance."
  • But the best Palinisms of all result when the huntress encounters something she wasn't hunting for—that is, when Sarah Palin comes into contact with most anything to do with domestic, foreign, or economic policy.
  • The issue is that she rarely appears to have the slightest grasp of what she's talking about even when she's supposed to know what she's talking about.
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  • Bushisms, which I collected for many years, often hinged on a single grammatical or factual error. Palinisms, by contrast, consist of a unitary stream of patriotic, populist blather.
  • It's like Fox News without the punctuation.
  • It is so devoid of content that it hardly deserves the adjective "truthy." Let's call it "roguey." Palinisms do not have to contain actual evidence of rogue thinking, though; they just have to capture the rogue spirit. It's "Yes, we can, in spite of Them."
  • It is this situation that generates those priceless let me tap-dance and, also, sing for you a little song while you think of a different question moments.
    "Why Sarah Palin says all those stupid and ridiculous things." By Jacob Weisberg at Slate Magazine on August 6, 2010.

Designing society for posterity - 0 views

  • We humans are really bad at designing institutions that outlast the life expectancy of a single human being. The average democratically elected administration lasts 3-8 years; public corporations last 30 years; the Leninist project lasted 70 years (and went off the rails after a decade). The Catholic Church, the Japanese monarchy, and a few other institutions have lasted more than a millennium, but they're all almost unrecognizably different.
    "If you can crank yourself up to 1% of light-speed, alpha centauri is more than four and a half centuries away at cruising speed. To put it in perspective, that's the same span of time that separates us from the Conquistadores and the Reformation; it's twice the lifespan of the United States of America." By Charlie Stoss at Charlie's Diary on November 12, 2009.

The Look of Time - 0 views

    "What we can learn from the eighteenth-century wooden ship below the World Trade Center?" By Rochelle Gurstein at The New Republic on August 5, 2010.

Geoengineering: The Most Important Technology Nobody's Heard Of - 0 views

  • As Leinen put it, even if the proposals on the table at Copenhagen had been adopted, we’d still end the century with an atmospheric carbon dioxide of 700 parts per million–more than enough to cause climate upheaval, raise seas dramatically, and so forth.
    "The reason scientists and policymakers are increasingly thinking about geoengineering is clear: Major climate change now looks increasingly unstoppable." By Chris Mooney at The Intersection (Discover Magazine) on August 5, 2010.

Gaming the System: Video Gamers Help Researchers Untangle Protein Folding Problem: Scie... - 0 views

  • What if the brainpower used playing video games could be channeled toward something more productive, such as helping scientists solve complex biological problems?
  • Their competitive online game "Foldit," released in 2008, enlists the help of online puzzle-solvers to help crack one of science's most intractable mysteries—how proteins fold into their complex three-dimensional forms. The "puzzles" gamers solve are 3-D representations of partially folded proteins, which players manipulate and reshape to achieve the greatest number of points. The scores are based on biochemical measures of how well the players' final structure matches the way the protein appears in nature.
  • The scientists hope to incorporate the newly identified strategies into computer algorithms for improved automated determinations of protein structure. The ultimate hope is to use these techniques to design new proteins to fight diseases such as Alzheimer's and cancer as well as develop vaccines against HIV and malaria.
    "The combined effort of more than 50,000 online video game players may help scientists better understand how proteins fold, solving one of biochemistry's greatest conundrums." By Nicholette Zeliadt at Scientific American on August 4, 2010.

War Games: Civil-Military Relations, c. 2030 - 0 views

  • four leaders—two military, two civilian—sit around a table at the White House or the Pentagon
  • One is an Army general
  • The second is an Air Force general
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  • The third is a Foreign Service officer
  • The fourth is a more traditional political appointee
  • The participants in this hypothetical meeting exemplify four very different types of leaders, who, if current trends continue, will all be coming to prominence and power by 2030.
  • Part of the baggage they will bring to this meeting is a complex history of civil-military relations during the post–September 11 era.
  • When they reached general officer rank, the Vietnam-era officers then found themselves sitting across the table from civilians who probably had avoided the draft, if not actively protested the war.
  • The emotional scars of a conflict that had taken place decades earlier, therefore, were part of their relationship.
  • Today’s member of the ground forces will spend, if current trends hold true, an even greater percentage of his time in combat than did officers of the Vietnam generation.
  • unlike his predecessors, he will not be sitting opposite a civilian who actively opposed his war. The challenge of this hypothetical meeting will be based not necessarily on inherent hostility between the warrior and civilian, but rather on whether the warrior and the civilian can comprehend each other.
  • With the growing presence of civilians on battlefields, there will be significant numbers of “civilian-warriors,” some with as much time in combat zones as their military counterparts.
  • It is conceivable, then, that a situation may arise in which an Army officer of 2030 might have more shared experience with a Foreign Service officer than with his Air Force or Navy counterpart.
  • As a result, the traditional competition of “civilian versus warrior” will be replaced by a series of new relationships and alliances.
  • What will be the profile of general officers in 2030?
  • they will have grown up in services at war.
  • They will be battle-hardened and somewhat removed from society, having spent six, seven, maybe eight years in combat and the intervening years recovering from one engagement and preparing for the next.
  • At the same time, there will be a second class of flag officers.
  • Ultimately, they have a very different exposure to irregular warfare than their ground counterparts, if for no other reason than that there are far fewer two-way air or naval engagements in asymmetrical conflict.
  • And what about the civilians these military elites will face across the table in 2030?
  • They likely will have gone to elite universities for undergraduate and professional degrees. Neither they nor any member of their immediate family will have served in the military.
  • They will look on the generals across the table from them in 2030 with a degree of puzzlement, if not actual mistrust, as inhabitants of a world they really do not know. 
  • There also, however, will be “civilian-warriors.”
  • this group is the most inscrutable but also the most interesting to study
  • retired soldier turned statesman
  • A second class of civilian-warriors will come from the ranks of other government agencies
  • Still a third group will come from entities outside of government
  • growing core of professional civilian advisers to military commands
  • this latter category may serve as the natural bridge between the political and military worlds. Ultimately, civilian-warriors may spend as much—if not more—time at war than some of their uniformed counterparts.
  • The gap between the military and the socially elite classes will have grown even greater than it is today.
  • what will the four talk about
  • Perhaps more importantly, unlike in previous eras, our Army general of 2030 will be as much at home discussing governance as weapons systems, having wrestled with the issues since his days as a junior officer coaching some small village in Afghanistan or supervising a district meeting in Iraq.
  • No matter the topic, our civilians and flag officers will approach the issues with certain biases.
  • the ground force general will be “conventionally unconventional,”
  • He will be accustomed to manipulating foreign media to serve his tactical ends, but not used to being criticized. Above all, he will be used to getting his way.
  • traditional political appointee has the weakest hand to play
  • there will be a tremendous temptation for our civilian to kowtow to the man in uniform.
  • This Air Force general, or perhaps Navy admiral, will be as conservative and as conventional, if not more so, as the Army general.
  • Enter our civilian-warrior. Sharing many of the traits and the experiences of our ground forces general, he may in some ways be his natural ally. It is not inconceivable that their careers paths may have crossed on some remote battlefield.
  • Ultimately, there are any number of alternative ways the balance of power between these four actors might play out. The military duo may unite behind the common fraternity of officers; the military may join with the civilian-warrior against the politico; the civilian-warrior may join with the Air Force or Navy officer in order to balance the natural clout of those fighting the ground war; one actor might dominate the rest simply by force of personality. Or they all might agree.   
  • Should the United States have to assist a counterinsurgency effort in a small, landlocked country in central Asia, for example, our ground forces general and our civilian warrior may take the lead.
  • Conversely, in a conventional conflict dominated by air and naval power—perhaps with China over Taiwan—our Air Force or Navy flag officer, now in his element, may take center stage.
  • Perhaps the more interesting case is a hybrid of the two—a mixture of low- and high-intensity conflict, particularly if it occurs outside the traditional turf of the current war on terror and, consequently, outside the realm of expertise of any single member of the quartet.
  • No one view is correct per se: each member of our quartet is merely viewing the scenario through the lens of his own experience.
    "The year is 2030 and four leaders-two military, two civilian-sit around a table at the White House or the Pentagon, perhaps, or at a military headquarters or embassy halfway around the world." By Raphael Cohen at World Affairs Journal on March/April 2010.

Early Warning: Components of Inflation - 0 views

    "It's interesting to break out the components of price changes. The above graph (data from Fred), shows how several major components of the US consumer price index have changed over time. The central bank acts to keep average price changes more-or-less in a narrow band (currently less), but that is a sum of individual components which are going all over the map. In particular, the ability of the medical sector to extort more and more from the rest of us is very much in evidence. (Note that, at least in theory, the price indices are adjusted for quality changes, so this is supposed to represent the price change in equivalent good and services, not the availability of new/better goods and services). " By Stuart Staniford at Early Warning on August 4, 2010.

History: The New Great Game - Matteo Tacconi | Reset Dialogues on Civilizations - 0 views

  • Times change, as do situations, empires die and imperial democracies are born, but Central Asia, this vast portion of the world bordered on the west by the Caspian, on the east by China, on the north by Russia and on the south by Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, continues to be the theatre of significant manoeuvring.
    "China, Russia and the United States are the main competitors. The match is particularly intense in Kabul, Islamabad and Teheran and news reports confirm this. The Great Game, however, is also played in the five "stans" - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kirghizstan. Laying hands on oil and gas fields, not to mention the vast network of pipelines, defining agreements and signing trade contracts with local governments is a priority. Not everything, however, revolves around energy. The post-Soviet part of Central Asia is also of extremely important political significance. Control over this area can mean "fencing in" the al Qaeda galaxy, monitoring its activities and studying countermeasures." By Matteo Tacconi at Reset DOC on June 9, 2010.

All Hail Julian Murdoch - 0 views

  • I've written many times about how I feel like the gaming industry spends most of its time fighting for larger slices of pie instead of focusing on increasing the size of the pie. Having more people playing your game greatly increases the theoretical size of the pie.
  • The micro-transaction model makes it incredibly painless for anyone to try out a game, and even if lots of those people don't come back, it's a larger group to filter through to produce a dedicated player base, and to survive.
    "...How much do you think Dungeons & Dragons Online cost to develop? They have 300 people and two properties. They just sold for $160 million to Warner, and they're monstrously, outrageously profitable. Now. It's a F2P microtransaction world, man. Just wait for it. It's ALL gonna be horse armor, Rock Band tracks and map expansions. ALL of it." By Bill Harris at Dubious Quality on August 4, 2010.

I assume I'm below average - 0 views

  • To me, this was like finding out I'm a cylon, or this is the Matrix. Hard to accept facts.

    At first, like almost everybody, I thought, “Yes, but I really am above average!” Then I realized I was doing it again.

  • To assume you're below average is to admit you're a beginner. It puts you in student mind. It keeps your focus on present practice and future possibilities, and away from any past accomplishments.
    "94% of college professors said they are better-than-average teachers. Ironically, 92% said they are less biased than average, too. The psychology term for this is illusory superiority." By Derek Sivers on July 1, 2010.

The Best Magazine Articles Ever - 0 views

  • This is a work in progress. It is a on-going list of suggestions collectively made by readers of this post. At this point the list has not been vetted or selected by me. In fact, other than the original five items I suggested, all of the articles mentioned here have been recommended by someone other than me.
    "The following are suggestions for the best magazine articles (in English) ever." By Kevin Kelly at Cool Tools.

New study clinches it: the Earth is warming up | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine - 0 views

  • The 2009 State of the Climate report released today draws on data for 10 key climate indicators that all point to the same finding: the scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable. More than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to the report, which confirms that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years.
  • That’s not correct. Of course this report is deniable. That’s what deniers do: deny. And we’ll be hearing from them in the comments below, have no doubts.
  • Mind you, I am distinguishing, as I always do, between deniers and skeptics. Those are two very different things. I am, quite literally, a skeptic of global warming. I do think it’s happening, but that’s because that’s what the evidence is telling me.
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  • If good, solid evidence came along that contradicted that, I would a) look at it, and b) assess it, and c) if it’s incontrovertible then I would change my mind.
  • But to deny means to ignore the evidence, or twist it, spin it, cherry-pick it, distort it.
    "For quite some time now, the evidence that the Earth is warming up has been piling up. Study after study has shown this, and that's why the vast majority of scientists agree on it. And now, to pile on even more, a large NOAA study has been released." By Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy (Discover Magazine) on August 3, 2010.

Curing the Noobonic Plague - 0 views

  • One thing is clear: You, as a casual gamer, lack knowledge that seems to be part of a collective consciousness among a specific group of people. Thus, you are an outsider. You are a potential target for ridicule and remarks that can be, at times, downright hateful.
  • The internet is filled with hate, and it's certainly not limited to the gaming community. But it seems that some of the rudest, most arrogant feedback on the net can come from gamers, especially those who self-identify as "hardcore."
    "In the words of Will Ferrell, you "are a division manager, drive a Dodge Stratus and can do 100 push-ups in twenty minutes!" You'll be damned if someone bites your head off for a simple question about Bullet Bills." By Bryan Lufkin at The Escapist on August 3, 2010.

Arizona, Borderlands and U.S.-Mexican Relations - 0 views

  • the entire issue cannot simply be seen as an internal American legal matter. More broadly, it forms part of the relations between the United States and Mexico, two sovereign nation-states whose internal dynamics and interests are leading them into an era of increasing tension. Arizona and the entire immigration issue have to be viewed in this broader context.
  • Until the Mexican-American War, it was not clear whether the dominant power in North America would have its capital in Washington or Mexico City.
  • Mexico was the older society with a substantially larger military. The United States, having been founded east of the Appalachian Mountains, had been a weak and vulnerable country.
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  • The War of 1812 showed the deep weakness of the United States. By contrast, Mexico had greater strategic depth and less dependence on exports.
  • The American solution to this strategic weakness was to expand the United States west of the Appalachians, first into the Northwest Territory ceded to the United States by the United Kingdom and then into the Louisiana Purchase, which Thomas Jefferson ordered bought from France.
  • During the War of 1812, the British tried to seize New Orleans, but forces led by Andrew Jackson defeated them in a battle fought after the war itself was completed.
  • Mexico therefore represented a fundamental threat to the United States.
  • In response, Jackson authorized a covert operation under Sam Houston to foment an uprising among American settlers in the Mexican department of Texas with the aim of pushing Mexico farther west.
  • Mexico’s strategic problem was the geography south of the Rio Grande (known in Mexico as the Rio Bravo).
  • The creation of an independent Texas served American interests, relieving the threat to New Orleans and weakening Mexico. The final blow was delivered under President James K. Polk during the Mexican-American War, which (after the Gadsden Purchase) resulted in the modern U.S.-Mexican border. That war severely weakened both the Mexican army and Mexico City, which spent roughly the rest of the century stabilizing Mexico’s original political order.
  • The U.S. defeat of Mexico settled the issue of the relative power of Mexico and the United States but did not permanently resolve the region’s status; that remained a matter of national power and will.
  • An accelerating population movement out of Mexico and into the territory the United States seized from Mexico paralleled the region’s accelerating economic growth.
  • The inclination of the United States to pull labor north was thus matched by the inclination of Mexico to push that labor north.
  • The U.S. government, however, wanted an outcome that was illegal under U.S. law.
  • Three fault lines emerged in United States on the topic.
  • One was between the business classes
  • The second lay between the federal government, which saw the costs as trivial, and the states, which saw them as intensifying over time.
  • And third, there were tensions between Mexican-American citizens and other American citizens
  • Underlying this political process was a geopolitical one. Immigration in any country is destabilizing.
  • Immigrants have destabilized the United States ever since the Scots-Irish changed American culture, taking political power and frightening prior settlers.
  • That equation ultimately also works in the case of Mexican migrants, but there is a fundamental difference. When the Irish or the Poles or the South Asians came to the United States, they were physically isolated from their homelands.
  • This is not the case, however, for Mexicans moving into the borderlands conquered by the United States just as it is not the case in other borderlands around the world. Immigrant populations in this region are not physically separated from their homeland, but rather can be seen as culturally extending their homeland northward — in this case not into alien territory, but into historically Mexican lands.
  • The Mexican-American War established the political boundary between the two countries.
  • The political border stays where it is while the cultural border moves northward.
  • The underlying fear of those opposing this process is not economic (although it is frequently expressed that way), but much deeper: It is the fear that the massive population movement will ultimately reverse the military outcome of the 1830s and 1840s
  • The problem is that Mexicans are not seen in the traditional context of immigration to the United States. As I have said, some see them as extending their homeland into the United States, rather than as leaving their homeland and coming to the United States.
  • when those who express these concerns are demonized, they become radicalized.
  • Centuries ago, Scots moved to Northern Ireland after the English conquered it. The question of Northern Ireland, a borderland, was never quite settled. Similarly, Albanians moved to now-independent Kosovo, where tensions remain high. The world is filled with borderlands where political and cultural borders don’t coincide and where one group wants to change the political border that another group sees as sacred.
  • Migration to the United States is a normal process. Migration into the borderlands from Mexico is not.
  • Jewish migration to modern-day Israel represents a worst-case scenario for borderlands.
  • An absence of stable political agreements undergirding this movement characterized this process.
  • The problem as I see it is that the immigration issue is being treated as an internal debate among Americans when it is really about reaching an understanding with Mexico.
  • Immigration has been treated as a subnational issue involving individuals. It is in fact a geopolitical issue between two nation-states. Over the past decades, Washington has tried to avoid turning immigration into an international matter, portraying it rather as an American law enforcement issue. In my view, it cannot be contained in that box any longer.
    "...the entire issue cannot simply be seen as an internal American legal matter. More broadly, it forms part of the relations between the United States and Mexico, two sovereign nation-states whose internal dynamics and interests are leading them into an era of increasing tension. Arizona and the entire immigration issue have to be viewed in this broader context." By George Friedman at StratFor on August 3, 2010.
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