Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The hard reality

The latest Stratfor geopolitical report on Gaza is really depressing, even more so because it rings so true.  These guys really do know their stuff.

Some key excerpts:

"We have long argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict is inherently insoluble."

"The most interesting aspect of this war is that both sides apparently found it necessary, despite knowing it would have no definitive military outcome."

"We thus see periodic violence of various types, none of which will be intended or expected to achieve any significant political outcome."

"The reason is the proposed [two-state] solution is not nearly as sensible as it might appear."

Monday, July 28, 2014

High School Cafeteria Seating

No, this is not an ergonomics post about seating, posture, and back health.  It is my take on a really interesting story I heard on Youth Radio last night during a bout of insomnia.  (Does that count and serendipity or just a silver lining?  Perhaps a topic for a future post).  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Youth Radio, a young person creates a short (15-30 minute) documentary-style radio segment and PRX plays them overnight one after the other.  Despite low production values, the stories are often very engaging and insightful.  This was one of those.

The youth reporter was a half-black half-white high school student doing a story about race in his high school.  He noticed that in the cafeteria at lunchtime the students self-segregated into tables of black and white students.  When the principal announced a policy requesting that students try to mix more during lunchtime, he was “politely ignored.”  So the student went around to the black and white tables asking his schoolmates why they sat in these groups.  I found the responses intriguing. The highlight was that they spent lunch talking about music and girls.  So they sat at tables with other students who liked the same music and knew the same girls. It was unintentional that this led to race-specific groupings.  Perhaps they noticed that they were segregated, but it was not a racist behavior.

Since taste in girls and music sets in well before high school, it seems that this root cause has to be addressed with younger students than high school.  In high school, it doesn’t make sense to ask them to reconfigure their tables to be more integrated.  Instead, they should find a way to get them talking about topics that are more cross-race and let the race configuration change organically.

I missed the beginning of the story, so I don’t know if it was a boys-only school, if the student only felt comfortable going to boys’ tables, or if the presence of gender-specific tables even crossed his mind.  So that will have to wait for a future post.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A New Model for International Law

Here is a great example of why I love reading journals outside my own field. I read an article from the journal Military and Strategic Affairs last night that was really insightful about international law regarding military conflicts. 

The author is a French Nigerian, so his point of view is quite mixed as a starting point.  And it seems relatively objective.

To save you the time from reading the whole thing, here are the highlights:

1.  Current international law (Geneva Convention, UN Charter, the Hague agreement) was developed in a very different world than the one we live in now. Yeah, I know you already know this.  But bear with me.

2.  These differences have led to a fundamental breakdown in the international order.  You probably knew this already too.  So here are the insights from the paper.

3.  Here are the differences that he focuses on because they seem to cause the most problems:

a) the growth of non-state actors like Al Queda makes it hard to use sanctions and other non-military methods to stop aggression.

b) the speed at which first strikes can be launched means that waiting for the “imminent danger” that international law requires is no longer feasible to maintain an adequate level of safety.  Nations find a need to use preventive self-defense at the hint of danger rather than the presence of danger.

c) cyber warfare doesn’t fit the international law model at all.  It is hard to trace the source and to know for sure whether it comes from government actors, corporate actors, individual hackers, etc.  And cyber defense is hard to stop from spreading once it gets out.

d) weapons of mass destruction make it possible for small groups with little or no footprint to do enormous damage. 

e) the growth and spread of humanitarian values adds a new threshold for intervention that has nothing to do with self-defense or international aggression.

f) the veto power of the permanent members of the UN Security Council has made that body pretty impotent.

g) the politics of the UN General Assembly makes that body pretty useless.

h) When we have evidence that a nation is breaking international law, there are often confidential sources that prevent the evidence from being disclosed.  Even in private, we can’t trust our fellow ambassadors to maintain secrecy.

Conclusion (and Warning):  Because of these breakdowns, nations increasingly find a need to pursue humanitarian and strategic goals outside of international law.  The US did this in Kosovo when we couldn’t get around a Russian veto in the Security Council so we went through NATO instead.  Iraq was even more vague - a “coalition of the willing.” 

And as nations get accustomed to ignoring international law, this becomes the norm rather that an exception.  It gives sanction for other nations to violate international law at will and we lose the moral and legal authority to protest.  You can see this not just with rogue states like North Korea, but also with China in the South China Sea, Russia in Ukraine, and on and on.

This Week in EID – Episode 13

This Week in EID – Episode 13

Great week in EID, if I do say so myself.  Here is the quick recap.  But click through and read the articles.  Fun stuff.

Monday was an easy post to write and a pleasure to share .  It was a magician doing a trick that highlights priming.  Fantastic trick too.  Strongly recommended.

Tuesday’s post got favorited by the author of the article I wrote about, so you don’t need to take my word it was a good one.  It covered expertise and whether your talent is based on genetic endowment or hard work.  Of course, the answer is neither.  

On Wednesday I talked about mixed motivations and unaligned incentives.  IMHO, this is often the source of most of the world’s problems.  Global warming, political gridlock, and why we can’t pass up the chocolate cake for dessert.  Take a look at the post and get some insight into how to make better decisions.

Thursday was a combo of two of my favorite topics (yeah – I know I say that about a lot of them).  Happiness and identity-resonance.  And habit formation.  And I cite one of my favorite thought leaders on Happiness – Gretchen Rubin.  Take a look. You will not be sorry – or your money back.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Advice from Mr. Know It All (no, I don't mean me :-)

I am not sure how many of you read the Mr. Know It All column in Wired magazine, but it is a fun way to spend 2 minutes every month. They are a rare combination of tongue-in-cheek humor along with some uncommon wisdom - with some sarcasm thrown in.

He answered 3 questions this month, and the last two are highly recommended - not just to read but to follow his advice.  One reader asks whether it is OK to vent on his social media (photo optional) about the bad smelling egg salad the woman next him at the airport gate is eating.  Mr. Know It All uses a quote from a Walt Whitman poem and the history of interpersonal communication to prove that it would be act of moral cowardice and callous antisocial behavior.

Then a reader asks how to respond to the countless requests he gets from friends to repost on his social media their latest projects, businesses, or causes.  He is worried that the constant flow of recommendations will hurt his credibility.  Mr. Know It All's conclusion - Get over yourself you pompous hippopotamus (you need to read the column to understand the reference).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Schick review was graded

Apparently, my Schick review was excellent.

You may remember my review of the Schick Hydro a few weeks ago.  You may also remember that I did this as part of a BzzAgent campaign.  Essentially, they send me the free sample, ask me to write a review and post it on social media.  This not sponsored by the manufacturer (e.g. Schick) so there is no quid pro quo to write something positive.  But to keep my status as a reviewer, I need to write “high-quality” reviews.  BzzAgent has a staff that reads my reviews and rates them. 

So was my review helpful?  Several of you commented or Liked it, so that suggests it was.  I got my grade from the BzzAgent staff and they said my review was “excellent.” 

So what is the point?  I wanted to introspect a little and see if I could find any influence of this process on my opinions.  Was my review of the Schick influenced by the fact that I got it free?  By the fact that I wrote and posted a review?  Does the praise from BzzAgent rub off on my opinion of Schick? Did I unconsciously feel like I had to write a good review to get more free stuff? 

I don’t think any of these influences happened.  But of course, self-delusion is rarely conscious so it could have worked some magic under my skin.  Or perhaps I am just an old cynical curmudgeon and less susceptible to this kind of influence, whereas others might be.