The moral of this tale: don’t grant interviews with Rolling Stone

 
I’m hoping that Rolling Stone starts getting the cold shoulder after their treatment of General McChrystal.  And who would want to grant an interview to somebody from Rolling Stone now, unless you’re a reality show fame-whore who thinks that any press is good press?
 
Not many of us would fare well with a malevolent reporter hanging around for a month to pick up anything off-color.  
 
And wasn’t the whole purpose of including reporters in that way to generate a bunch of feel-good stories about the war?  Somebody botched a background check on that reporter Hastings.   His soulmate was killed in the fighting in Baghdad.  There was no way he would be writing any feel-good stories about the war, probably not about anything else either. 
 
In the circumstances the general’s approach was somewhat tamer than I might have expected. 
 
Conspiracy theorists will no doubt wonder if somebody wanted McChrystal out of the way.    He was fairly effective, the first one running the show in Afghanistan that I thought had a clue what he was doing.  
 
I was somewhat surprised to read prior to an earlier offensive that there was a major city that was under Taliban control that the troops were only just about to take over.   The first thing that went through my mind was, why on earth did you spot them a major city?   It’s just like Hanoi, you spot the enemy a place that you make untouchable and loss is certain. 
 
When the city fell, there were some major kills and captures of leaders who were probably flushed out and weren’t used to the hardships and evasions of the regular guerilla forces. 
 
If somebody is going to wage a guerrila war against you the least you can do is force the lot of them to go live in the trees.   The middle class that tends to be the glue that holds successful movements together is less likely to continue if it involves such hardships.   Marx was an academic.  Engels was a factory owner.  Bin Laden is from a wealthy and privelaged family.  They almost always are.    The idea of peasant revolutions is romantic fantasy.   A peasant’s vision is of putting food on the table.
 
If your enemy can go home to watch TV between battles and is always funded and in supply because there are areas that are untouchable, then you’ve already lost.
 
The new general is on the brink of exhaustion already, or has everybody forgotten his fainting at a hearing a week or two ago? 
 
If they have any sense at all they’ll have McChrystal involved in some way, even if it is out of sight and behind the scenes.  
 
 
 
 

Soccer needs to change

Soccer, like baseball, is not a sport for fans with ADD.   It’s a bit like a slowed down, spread out version of hockey in terms of strategy. 
 
Unlike hockey, with three forwards and two defencemen per side and most of the action around the goal of one team or the other, and averaging a combined 60 shots or more per game on the nets, soccer features mostly meandering about in the middle area with periodic attempts by one side or the other to have one or two players try to deke out six to get a shot on goal.   Just like the way in hockey it is a low percentage play to go through the whole opposing team, it usually doesn’t work in soccer either. 
 
So in soccer you might see, like happened in one game this week, one team getting 7 shots on goal, the other no shots on goal at all. 
 
They have some problems that can be fixed with instant replay, like goals being incorrectly waved off.  
 
The "injury time" is ridiculous.  In every other sport if there is a stoppage you stop the clock and when the clock runs down it’s over.  That’s transparent.  Having additional time added by some inscrutable means isn’t a credibility booster. 
 
There’s too much diving.  Players that take a dive to draw a penalty should have the incident reviewed by video and suspended, preferably in the same game. 
 
Even giving 3 points for a win and only 1 for a draw hasn’t been able to liven up the game. 
 
Part of the problem is there are too many players on.   There ought to be at least one less player per side to open up some space.   Two less per side would probably be even better. 
 
Of course the big advantage of hockey over soccer is the boards.   If the opponent clogs up the middle you send the puck in and then chase it.   Do that in soccer and it goes off the field and you turn it over.    It makes it that much harder to produce offence. 
 
 
 
 

McChrystal, the first true test of Obama

Politicians aren’t really military people although they like to think that they are. 
 
Top military people aren’t politicians and they shouldn’t be.  If they sugar coat or euphemize things so that political peacocks don’t get their feathers ruffled people get killed. 
 
For that reason you don’t really want somebody in a top military capacity hanging around press without a chaperone.    Pressuring the military to babysit reporters as a PR stunt was just asking for something like the Rolling Stone fiasco to happen.
 
Most reporters probably use their discretion to soften the edges of what they have to say so as to be somewhat fair to their target.  If a reporter goes for a one time hit where he abuses the target’s hospitality to put him  in the worst light, he probably won’t find many open doors in the future.   My guess is that when dealing with the press, some people get complacent over time until they run into some monkey that burns them. 
 
Trying to turn generals into celebrities as part of the war effort was a poor idea and the government ought to take some responsibility for that.
 
The key question should be how good this guy is as a general. 
 
This is the first true test of Obama because it is a pure test of him.   He can’t put the oil back in the oil well and there may be legal limits on what he can do to BP, as may be illustrated by the case striking down his 6 month ban on deep oil drilling.  He’s an executive, not an emperor or magician. 
 
One thing that he always has control over and sole responsibility for is his own ego.   If he follows in the footsteps of Truman and Johnson and makes an ego based decision because his dignity is besmirched, that will be a fairly strong sign that he will go down in history as on par with those mediocrities.   General MacArthur was right, inconveniently right, so he was dismissed and replaced with somebody that would lose gracefully.  General Westmoreland was inconveniently right so he was dismissed and replaced with somebody that would lose gracefully.   
 
If Obama wants to replace the general with some political toady that will meander aimlessly while creating relatively little controversy, it would be better to just pull the plug on Afghanistan now and quit wasting troops and money.   There’s no sense jumping halfway across an abyss.  The only thing worse than an unjust war is an unjust war turned into perpetual war through incompetence, which inevitably leads to packing and going home while leaving the field to the opponent.   Everybody loses and loses big.
 
If a politician see’s a hornets nest his first instinct is to get a stick and start whacking at it, to look aggressive and hands on.  Politicians don’t think about actions and consequences and whether a given course of action is likely to lead to a desired result.   They think like fetal alcohol children.
 
The job of a general is to figure out what you need to do to win militarily.   You may safely assume that if you do not follow the general’s advice that you will not win militarily.   There may be other priorities besides winning militarily, such as winning through winning over the population, but it is important to be clear on what the mission is. 
 
It sounds like there are too many cooks in the kitchen so to speak and too many people with too little expertise are encroaching on the general’s turf with their impractical "blue sky" ideas.   There is also the inconsistency of the mission orders.  The idea is to get a military victory without considering the military’s expert opinion on what will be necessary for a military victory.   Nothing is more irritating as a subordinate as being ordered to do something and then being ordered not to be successful and to be expected to be a team player when the only obvious team objective is to retain you as a scapegoat for the inevitable failure. 
 
So, this is the moment where we see what Obama’s got, whether he has the guts to take an ego hit and potential for greatness, or whether he’s just another president.
 
In any event, probably the worse punishment he could give the general would be to send him back to Afghanistan.  I wouldn’t take the job.

More ridiculous BS about Tiger Woods

Woods has been a little streaky, although that may have as much to do with streaky opponents as any change in Woods’ abilities.  Now with the stress from his personal life we get bombarded daily with predictions that he will never regain form and similar nonsense. 
 
His score at the Masters was good enough to be champion in a lot of years.   Somebody turned Pebble Beach into a kind of pinball table for golfers, with balls going all over the place and everybody had trouble with that course.
 
Looking at the results since 2005, Woods has become more consistent than he used to be.  He would win by absurd margins sometimes, then finish the next major at 28th.  The "Tiger was dominant" theory we keep hearing about, from the early 2000’s, is more about selective memory than anything else.  Maybe he was taking more risks and sometimes they scored and sometimes they blew up.  
 
Since the start of 2005 he’s only been cut twice in majors, and once finished in 12th, the rest he played in he was top 10.   Before 2005, when he was good he was really good, and when he wasn’t good, he was really average.   Now when he isn’t at his best that means he’s top 10.   From 1997-2002 he was usually either better than third or worse than 18th. 
 
There’s ways of making that happen.  They probably work better on some courses than others.  McDowell wins the open with lots of safe shots.  He putts so if it doesn’t go in he’s still at the hole.  Put less on the ball, and it increases the chance of gravity, grass blades or whatever skewing the ball.  So some people put a little extra on the ball.  Risk a three-putt for birdie on a hard course and a course like the present Pebble Beach is going to destroy you.   You don’t want to be following a long putt with another long putt, with less than 50-50 on each shot.
 
The real knock on Tiger should be that his strength is consistency rather than killer instinct.  In more mathematical pursuits like the game bridge people may "play for a swing"- make a lower percentage play because the only way to catch up to a leader may be to catch some luck, and doing the same thing will tend to keep the same gap.
 
In less mathematical pursuits like golf, the same kind of idea doesn’t work as well.   It is based in large part on coordination, and when people get excited their coordination starts to go.   Then, if you continue to be disciplined, you can be in a position to pounce- by not doing anything too differently, not trying too hard.
 
Tiger’s -1 status at the start of the final round would have been good for the victory if he had held it.  But everybody self destructed in the last round. 
 
The real knock on Tiger should be lack of killer instinct.   He’s never won a major when starting the final day out of first.  He almost never gives it up when he’s leading on the final day either.  Consistency, but not hungry enough- he’s never been hungry enough, or he’d have 25 major titles by now.  It tells me that if he’s not in the lead on the final day he’s making mental errors, maybe sulking a bit, he’s mentally packed up and ready for the flight home.   Especially when somebody of nervous constitution or less experienced is in front you have to suspect they will lose something and that will present an opportunity.  You can’t be mentally packed.
 
Tiger has been through slow patches before.  But I don’t know that he is even there yet.   In the past 2 majors he’s been within striking distance on the final day.   His consistency has been increasing rather than decreasing with age.   There hasn’t been a recent duplication of the few early blowout wins, but he hasn’t been duplicating his (more numerous) blowout losses either.    He’s getting better.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Lupus, the disease of a thousand doctors

 
Lupus has often been called "the disease of a thousand faces" because supposedly there can be any number of symptoms in different people. 
 
As shown in the above article, lupus is loosely defined as from a hodge-podge of different symptoms and two people without any overlaping criteria can mysteriously be described as having the same illness.
 
The creation of illnesses by committee, such as has been done for so long in psychiatry, should be discouraged.  
 
Traditionally lupus has been a garbage bin diagnosis that collected anything to do with an auto-immune problem not otherwise diagnosed, which would frankly be a better and less misleading operational definition than one that purports to peg it as one specific illness. 
 
I strongly suspect that the whole concept that there is something called "lupus", is getting in the way of dealing with various diseases that are similar in some ways but without any definitive common source.   One analogy would be, some red dyes can cause an allergic reaction and red paint with lead in it can cause a variety of health problems.   An inference from a similar color to a common root of problems would be a counterproductive conflation. 
 
The concepts of specificity (roughly, the odds that one positive criterion for the illness correlates with that illness rather than some other illness or ordinary health) and sensitivity (roughly, the odds that any given instance of an illness will have that specific association) are important, and it is good that the Wikipedia article has them. 
 
The difficulty though is that in the absence of a definitive characteristic of lupus the correlations are only with a diagnosis of lupus, not with having lupus, as a positive diagnosis does not confirm anything in particular beyond what was already known. 
 
What ought to be done?
 
Well first of all, pure symptoms have to be removed from diagnositic criteria.   A rash for instance is for most practical purposes an end result and usually not directly illuminating about the physical process at work.  Although some symptoms can be grounds for strong suspicion for further investigation, such as the characteristic butterfly rash, they should be viewed as symptoms rather than causes. 
 
Anti-DNA antibodies, on the other hand, are at least an intermediate cause and their presence can show a specific cause of certain symptoms.  What causes the antibodies, on the other hand, is another issue.
 
If one checks the link on Anti-nuclear antibodies, that reveals another methodological issue, which is that there are a lot of non-lupus things that have this same characteristic, including various syndromes and arthritis.  That is, there is a possibility that the definition of lupus is in some ways both too broad and too narrow.
 
Until one is able to get behind an intermediate cause, it makes more sense to treat it (cautiously) as a discrete illness.  It may be that there will be more than one root cause behind an intermediate cause but it can help focus to look at, e.g. anti-nuclear antibodies as a specific problem and see what treats that problem rather than artificially separate these.  
 
You can’t treat metaphysical illnesses.  You treat physical ones.  Defining an illness as anything without any specific and definitive physical meaning isn’t medicine, it’s more like poetry. 
 
Something that could add more focus would be restricting a lupus definition to cases of anti dsDNA antibodies, which occur with 70% of people diagnosed with lupus and only 0.5% of people who are not.   Here the most interesting information is excluded by the definition of lupus.   Note that because the field of people without lupus is considerably larger than the field of people with lupus, the 0.5% may actually be a greater population than the 70%. 
 
Why this is very important is that the most important information, why some people with anti dsDNA antibodies go on contract "lupus" while others do not, is unlikely to be looked at as rigourously as it ought to be if you do not define them as having the same disorder.   What is different about those who remain asymptomatic?  This may suggest a cure or it may suggest triggers to avoid.  It may also assist with finding patterns in development of the underlying, sometimes benign problem, which could be geographic, genetic, related to toxic exposures, etc.   That in combination with the tendency for lupus to have flare ups of unclear origin suggests to me that much of the essence of the problem has been missed.
 
According to Dr. D’Adamo, there is a higher association with lupus and blood type "B".  This is interesting because blood type "B" people have generally lesser immunity to viral and bacterial infections on average and so it is curious if they are more likely to have a stronger immune reaction to themselves.  
 
I have a suspicion that there may be a correlation between autoimmune disorders and mixed blood types.   Blood types are unfortunately defined according to criteria that are properly limited to the highly unnatural activity of blood transfusions, how they affect somebody else, rather than how they affect the person who will be using most of his blood most of the time.  Blood type A and B are dominant, and consequently there are at least two types of A and two types of B- people with two of the gene vs. people that have one A or B gene and the other being an O gene.    D’Adamo has pointed out that, for example, in a person with A and O genes there will be some cells that are blood type O as well as some cells that are blood type A.   He does not however seem to have appreciated the full potential importance of that.
 
A blood type O person of course cannot have a transfusion from somebody with A or B blood.   So what happens with somebody of mixed heritage?  Presumably AO and BO types have some mechanism so that the O genes do not produce anything that attacks the A or B genes, the mechanism of which would be something of interest. 
 
So what happens if the latent type O gene does start making immune decisions and decides that A or B cells are the enemy?  A and B don’t react to O generally, so any O gene rebellion might never be stamped out. 
 
Stress can bring out increased immune reaction, and increased immune disorders.  What if the wrong immune gene becomes activated?
 
There was an interesting reported case where a woman who was normally blood type A became AB mysteriously and developed "lupus".  Upon suppression of her immune system she reverted to blood type A again.   I don’t know if she was genetically tested for her genetic type but I would be most interested in that.  I would have a suspicion that she had a B gene but that it was deficient in some way such that instead of becoming AB and her body programming to deal with that, that the A gene may have become dominant and the B gene activating later may have caused huge problems.  That of course is a hypothesis.
 
The treatment for lupus is typically to suppress the immune system with brutal, debilitating immune suppressant drugs with a variety of nasty side effects.  While that may alleviate symptoms, the question really ought to be, why is the body attacking itself in this specific way?

Time for Obama and EPA to do “top kill” on BP

The arrogance of British Petroleum is mind boggling.  They have come up with yet another "fix" that instead of blocking the flow of oil entirely is designed to capture oil.  Check out this story: http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/06/04/gulf.oil.spill/index.html?hpt=T1
 
The new cap is designed to vent oil into the ocean to prevent ice crystals from forming that could block the flow of oil to the surface and the waiting tanker ship(s).
 
That is, yet another fix that is intended to establish the well permanently as a well rather than to stop the flow of oil.  It is the technical difficulty with only considering options that allow BP to pump oil and use the well as an active well that seem to be causing the problems over and over.
 
They could have the well buried under thousands of tons of rubble by now for considerably less cost or technique or environmental damage.
 
The authorities don’t want to step in because they say that only oil companies have the expertise and equipment.
 
While I highly doubt that- put together a cap of exptremely heavy depleted uranium that the army presently uses for tanks and some bullets and cover it with lots of heavy rocks and I think the problem would be solved right fast- if there is any issue, offer all of BP’s oil leases to any other oil company that will fix the leak.  It would be a bargain and a proper penalty. 
 
It would also repay what I would call a true entrepreneurial and capitalist spirit.  The fix doesn’t have to be anti-capitalism but it does have to work.
 
There is a phenomenon best known in poker, although it occurs in all areas of life, called "going on tilt".  When somebody goes on tilt, usually after a frustrating sequence of events like a bad beat or an endless string of bad cards, they become more emotional and erratic and can start doing things that don’t make sense like chasing their losses or playing far more aggressively than is warranted, or not bothering to read opposing players.
 
I think the only other profession that I know of as good as recognizing that is market traders after a bad loss are often forced to take a break because it can adversely affect their judgment.
 
In other circumstances people may say that somebody too close to a problem can have difficulty remaining objective.   
 
Concepts such as "tilt" and appreciating the behavior of probabilities make some poker experience, which can be free, very good for expanding the brain’s ability to judge situations.   It gives really good feedback on "tilt"- go on tilt and the result is usually losing rapidly.    It is good to have that neural association. 
 
There is also a phenomenon known as excalation of commitment, which I presume is connected with cognative dissonence.   The more invested a person, business or government is in something the harder it is to be objective.    Cost benefit is properly a purely future oriented analysis.  Money already sunk into a project is already gone and doesn’t enter into the cost/benefit of proceeding.  It is irrelevant but very psychologically difficult to let go of. 
 
BP may have huge escalation of commitment issues and tilt issues.   Every option they consider involves getting oil from the well.  None of them involve truly sealing the well.  They need to let go of the idea of using the well as a fully functioning oil well and bury the damn thing one way or the other with as little finesse and as  much overkill as possible.   The oil is coming out at a pace slower than a kid on a tricycle.  That adds up to a huge volume over time but I have extreme difficulty believing that that the well couldn’t have been just buried within a week of the spill with no fanfare.   That of course would involve BP writing off the cost of the well to date, a figure at least in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Considering billions of dollars in potential liability, from a cost benefit perspective you just shut down the well.  But they can’t get past that. 
 
It is something like the case of certain atomic reactors in Ontario for electricity, where after spending a couple of billion dollars the government discovered that the cost of completion would be vastly more than expected.   The correct decision was to terminate the project.  Because of the irrelevant fact of the money already sunk in, that was however politically impossible (for western politicians that only care about their careers rather than duty). 
 
The disaster is getting close to biblical.   Somebody has to take over because BP has lost perspective. 
 
I like the idea of raffling BP’s lease rights for all US territorial waters.  Tell competitors if they can stop the leak within 7 days they get BP’s rights.  If they can’t do it within 7 days somebody else is up.  Of course if they have a plan for 9 days be flexible, but they can’t be meandering aimlessly for weeks.   And the government should be commandeering BP’s equipment for competitor use for that purpose- it is an emergency, and whoever is qualified to fix it shouldn’t have to spend weeks bringing in their own stuff.  They would after all be mitigating BP’s losses as well.
 
I have to wonder if the Valdez affair is lurking behind much of this, as I have read that Exxon has yet to pay the cost of the cleanup as they were supposed to.  If so, that is part of the problem.   Exxon appears to have paid a fraction of the real cost of the cleanup and aftermath to governments and that may contribute to the idea that if the government is likely to heavily subsidize the cleanup then BP may be thinking that they’ll more than make up the loss on the profits from pumped oil. 
We can’t encourage that type of thinking.
 
I’m also highly annoyed at the coastguard, which should be probed for any unsavoury connections with BP.  The coastguard has routinely been acting as a public relations branch of BP, repeating their inaccuracies as fact and making an endless string of rosy press releases about the oil containment efforts, even while the administration they are supposed to be working for is hammering BP.    If the coastguard has contradicted BP on anything I haven’t seen it. 
 
Why is that branch of government off doing their own thing to benefit a company that has fouled the waters they are supposed to be protecting?  Somebody has to reign them in too.   What business is it of the coastguard to be a propaganda organ for a private company, issuing press releases opposed in tenor to those of their bosses?
 
 

Baseball seeks to inject interest to dull sport with contrived statistics

I’ve thought for a long time that baseball tries too hard to appear interesting by way of contrived stats and this desparation to appear interesting I find makes it more irritating.
 
The fabled "no-hitters" and "perfect games" are the most annoying of all contrived stats because the words don’t mean what they ordinarily mean in English.
 
These are just statistical anomalies that have some correlation with pitching quality and a higher correlation with the quality of everybody on defence, but are nevertheless just statistical anomalies. 
 
Only calling the ball "hit" if somebody gets on base is doublespeak.   In a lot of "no-hitters" there are a couple of dozen hits. 
 
It is a bit like if in hockey a goalie were to get a shutout with 30 saves and a stat were contrived purporting to show that there were no shots on goal.
 
Without detracting from the young pitcher that was recently deprived of a "perfect game" I note that he only struck out 3 batters out of 27 at-bats, meaning that 3 were beaten outright by pitching and the rest were beaten by field work.   Since it was a shutout I assume that the pitching was perfectly adequate but there’s nothing legendary about getting three strikeouts in a game.
 
For a pitcher to be said to pitch a perfect game in any ordinary sense he would have to retire 27 batters unassisted.  That might not ever happen. 
 
A few times pitchers have struck out 20 batters in 9 innings.  That is truly impressive although opponent quality will likely be an issue.
 
Of the historic "perfect games", the best was probably by Koulfax in 1965 with 14 strikeouts, meaning the pitcher did most of the heavy lifting himself.  In every other "perfect game" less than half of the outs are by strikeouts. 
 
I am far less interested in the contrived perfect stat and whether it was awarded or not and more interested with the perfect class with which the persons involved in the Galarraga perfect game debate handled themselves.   The umpire admitted that he messed up and apologized, nearly unheard of in professional sports were the refs tend to be defensive, the player kept the loss of immortality with Wikipedia and trivia buffs in perspective and showed real leadership and professionalism with how he handled it, and the commissioner resisted the temptation to break the rules to change a stat. 
 
After all, how many points does a perfect game count for in the standings? 
 
Rather than creating headlines with contrived stats baseball has to do something to be more interesting.   The ten seconds of any game that are more interesting than curling end up on the highlight reels, so why watch the game?  I don’t think I’ve ever been able to watch baseball for more than 60 seconds.