Setting the world record for using your mouth to catch a grape dropped from the greatest height: It was a dream years in the making, and all it took was a hot air balloon, walnut-sized fruits shipped specially from Georgia and a crew of Ph.D.-level engineers who gathered at a tiny Vermont airport before the sun rose on Monday morning.
The man with the plan was Brent Fraser, 35, who said he “just had a natural knack” for catching things in his mouth ever since his high school days in Barre, Vt., where buddies would chuck food toward him in the school parking lot.
The piece has some good sentences, such as:
Indeed, once things did get going, most of the few dozen attempts ended with a goggle-clad Fraser getting smacked in the face and chest by the large grapes — selected because they were easiest to see — that were traveling about 56 mph.
“How much did they hurt?” one of the engineers, Tristan Ramey, asked at one point.
“So bad,” Fraser told her. “I felt like I was being punched in the face.”
He ended up catching one from 101 feet. And finally:
Fraser, most of his face stained in purple grape juice, had to get to work to interview a prospective employee by 9 a.m.
Here is the full article, with video, via the excellent Mark Thorson.
My Twitter feed is mocking the policy behind this news report, but of course it makes perfect sense. Here goes:
1. The United States wishes to have it be common knowledge that it can embarrass Putin. But in fact maybe it can’t! (At least not with a policy we are willing to bear the consequences of.) So why not threaten that you can? A truly secret strike probably would hurt him less than an embarrassment. So start investing in the embarrassment now.
2. If the U.S. does do something cyber against Russia, it may wish to signal in advance that it won’t be truly severe, so as to limit retaliation and lower the probability of ongoing escalation. Some public discussion can achieve this end. Truly devastating blows are in fact usually delivered in secret.
3. There is a chance that the U.S. can’t/won’t do much if anything against Russia at all. In that case third parties (Iran, China) may not know this for sure, and the announcement may have a slight deterrent value in their direction.
4. It may not be possible to understand the entire American strategy without knowing the private messages that are being sent to Putin at the same time. For instance, the overall strategy may be “announce a coming mild retaliation and privately threaten a more severe action.” Is that really so out of place? Probably not.
In other words, “announced secrets” sometimes can make perfect sense.
According to Donner: “The whole point of the game [is] to prevent an artistic performance.” The former world champion Garry Kasparov makes the same point. “The highest art of the chess player,” he says, “lies in not allowing your opponent to show you what he can do.” Always the other player is there trying to wreck your masterpiece. Chess, Donner insists, is a struggle, a fight to the death. “When one of the two players has imposed his will on the other and can at last begin to be freely creative, the game is over. That is the moment when, among masters, the opponent resigns. That is why chess is not art. No, chess cannot be compared with anything. Many things can be compared with chess, but chess is only chess.”
That is Stephen Moss at The Guardian. Along related lines, I very much enjoyed Daniel Gormally’s Insanity, Passion, and Addiction: A Year Inside the Chess World. It’s one of my favorite books of the year so far, but it’s so miserable I can’t recommend it to anyone. It’s a book about chess, and it doesn’t even focus on the great players. It’s about the players who are good enough to make a living — ever so barely — but not do any better. It serves up sentences such as:
Surely the money in chess is so bad that this can’t be all you do for a living? But in fact in my experience, the majority of chess players rated over 2400 tend to just do chess. If not playing, then something related to it, like coaching or DVDs. That’s because we’re lazy, so making the monumental effort of a complete change in career is just too frightening a prospect. So we stick with chess, even though the pay tends to be lousy, because most of our friends and contacts are chess players. Our life is chess. As a rough estimate, I would say there are as many 2600 players making less than £20,000 a year.
Stability. I had this conversation with German number one Arkadij Naidisch at a blitz tournament in Scotland about a year ago. (there I go, name-dropping again.) He suggested that a lot of people don’t achieve their goals because they just aren’t stable enough. They’ll have a fantastic result somewhere, but then that’ll be let down by a terrible tournament somewhere else.
…The problem is it’s hard to break out of the habits of a lifetime. Many times at home I’ve said to myself while sitting around depressed about my future and where my chess is going, “tomorrow will be different. I’ll get up and study six-eight hours studying chess.” But it never happens.
Overall biography and autobiography are far too specialized in the lives of the famous and successful.
Here is more from Erik Hurst discussing his new research:
On average, lower-skilled men in their 20s increased “leisure time” by about four hours per week between the early 2000s and 2015. All of us face the same time endowment, so if leisure time is increasing, something else is decreasing. The decline in time spent working facilitated the increase in leisure time for lower-skilled men. The way I measure leisure time is pretty broad; it includes participating in hobbies and hanging out with friends, exercising and watching TV, sleeping, playing games, reading, and so on.
Of that four-hours-per-week increase in leisure, three of those hours were spent playing video games! The average young, lower-skilled, nonemployed man in 2014 spent about two hours per day on video games. That is the average. Twenty-five percent reported playing at least three hours per day. About 10 percent reported playing for six hours per day. The life of these nonworking, lower-skilled young men looks like what my son wishes his life was like now: not in school, not at work, and lots of video games.
How do we know technology is causing the decline in employment for these young men? As of now, I don’t know for sure. But there are suggestive signs in the data that these young, low-skilled men are making some choice to stay home. If we go to surveys that track subjective well-being—surveys that ask people to assess their overall level of happiness—lower-skilled young men in 2014 reported being much happier on average than did lower-skilled men in the early 2000s. This increase in happiness is despite their employment rate falling by 10 percentage points and the increased propensity to be living in their parents’ basement.
It’s hard to distinguish “push” unemployment that is made more pleasant by video games from “pull” unemployment created by video games. I’m not even sure that distinction matters very much, at least if we aren’t talking about banning video games to increase employment. If elderly people started playing a lot of video games (as soon they will) would we worry that this was making retirement too much fun?
I’d be interested in knowing how much video games have displaced television. I watch more television than my kids, who play more video games. It’s not obvious that this is to their detriment.
Perhaps the issue is that video games like slot machines are so enticing that young people discount the future too heavily or don’t recognize the future cost of not being in the workforce. Maybe. Perhaps what we really need is a 3D, virtual reality, total sensory simulation, awesome video game that is so expensive that it encourages people to work.
…there were at least two instances in which top officials tried to slow, or undermine, the president’s nuclear authority.
The first came in October 1969, when the president ordered Melvin R. Laird, his secretary of defense, to put American nuclear forces on high alert to scare Moscow into thinking the United States might use nuclear arms against the North Vietnamese.
Scott D. Sagan, a nuclear expert at Stanford University and the author of “The Limits of Safety,” a study of nuclear accidents, said Mr. Laird tried to ignore the order by giving excuses about exercises and readiness, hoping that the president who sometimes embraced the “madman theory” — let the world think that you are willing to use a weapon — would forget about his order.
But Nixon persisted. Dr. Sagan reports that during the operation, code-named Giant Lance, one of the B-52 bombers carrying thermonuclear arms came dangerously close to having an accident.
Then, in 1974, in the last days of the Watergate scandal, Mr. Nixon was drinking heavily and his aides saw what they feared was a growing emotional instability. His new secretary of defense, James R. Schlesinger, himself a hawkish Cold Warrior, instructed the military to divert any emergency orders — especially one involving nuclear weapons — to him or the secretary of state, Henry A. Kissinger.
It was a completely extralegal order, perhaps mutinous. But no one questioned it.
Addendum: Here is a 2008 Alex post on the same.
Theresa May has indicated that Brexit could be delayed as she said she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed “UK approach” backed by Scotland.
The Prime Minister on Friday travelled to Scotland to meet Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, and discuss plans for Britain’s Brexit negotiation.
In a sign that the new Prime Minister is committed to keeping the Union intact, she said she will not trigger Article 50 – the formal process for withdrawing from the EU – until all the devolved nations in the country agree.
Here is Erik Hurst, from an excellent piece profiling Erik Hurst:
Right now, I’m gathering facts about the possible mechanisms at play, beginning with a hard look at time-use by young men with less than a four-year degree. In the 2000s, employment rates for this group dropped sharply – more than in any other group. We have determined that, in general, they are not going back to school or switching careers, so what are they doing with their time? The hours that they are not working have been replaced almost one for one with leisure time. Seventy-five percent of this new leisure time falls into one category: video games. The average low-skilled, unemployed man in this group plays video games an average of 12, and sometimes upwards of 30 hours per week. This change marks a relatively major shift that makes me question its effect on their attachment to the labor market.
To answer that question, I researched what fraction of these unemployed gamers from 2000 were also idle the previous year. A staggering 22% – almost one quarter – of unemployed young men did not work the previous year either. These individuals are living with parents or relatives, and happiness surveys actually indicate that they quite content compared to their peers, making it hard to argue that some sort of constraint, like they are miserable because they can’t find a job, is causing them to play video games.
This problem, if that is the right word for it, will not be easily solved.
Or will it at all?
With the resignations of Cameron, Boris Johnson, and now Farage, it seems few leading politicians are keen to “own” Brexit and its consequences. If those individuals wish to step back from accepting the consequences of Brexit, might that tendency spread more generally?
If your thoughts run along the lines of “they have to do this, otherwise there will be violence in the streets,” or “they have to proceed with Article 50, otherwise British government will have no legitimacy,” I say Beware The They!
They, they, they. Try he and she. Word on the street these days is that Article 50 won’t even be seriously considered before the French and German elections, which means Fall 2017 at the earliest. OK, so let’s say it is October 2017, and Brexit is more unpopular because the intervening uncertainty has created a recession. Do you, as an individual British legislator, wish to claim an ownership of the process at that point? If Farage didn’t want to own it, and so quickly realized that, why should you pick up the bag? Yes I know most individual constituencies, evaluated as constituencies, were pro-Brexit. But they were also anti-recession and anti-chaos, and so you must choose between giving them the means they want and giving them the ends they want.
It’s already being debated whether Article 50 invocation requires an Act of Parliament or not. I can’t judge the constitutional issue (can anyone?), but practically speaking it seems to me that if Parliament says it requires their explicit consent than it does. Similarly, if Parliament washes its hands of the matter, who or what can overrule them and make them vote if they don’t want to? So I see a few scenarios in this multi-stage game:
1. Parliament wants no vote in the matter, and claims it doesn’t have to vote. In this scenario, the new PM may not act on it either. Note that Theresa May was originally pro-Remain, she will believe that Article 50 will worsen the recession and thus her electoral prospects, and she wouldn’t have parliamentary approval as cover for pushing the nuclear button. If I were in Parliament, with a moderately pro-Leave constituency, I would be rooting for this scenario. No one acts, but everyone can blame other parties for not acting.
2. Parliament cannot run away from its voting rights, or even positively seeks to assert them. Under this scenario, commentators may suggest that Parliament as a whole has to desire Brexit, if only to keep its legitimacy. But recall that before the referendum, Parliament as a whole was about 3-1 pro-Remain. Why chase after a voting right you don’t wish to have? If Farage didn’t want to stick around for such an outcome, why should you? So vote Remain, claim you had initially campaigned along with pro-Remain forces, claim you are sticking to your original electoral mandate, and see what happens to your political future. Say it is “the others” who are detaching Parliament from the will of the people.
3. The 2017 PM and Cabinet take to the British people an alternative, non-EU vision of what Leave would look like, but they don’t lie too much to make it look so great. They hold a second referendum, not on Leave vs. Remain per se, but on whether that is a satisfactory target option for a Leave scenario. In fact they can design the plan to fail simply by being somewhat realistic. The option fails, and the politicians claim everyone has to go back to the drawing board. I get sick of my Twitter feed being full of so much Brexit talk for so many years, and I stop following so many British people.
4. The trickling, tortuous uncertainty through Fall 2017 is so economically costly that everyone realizes a decision must be made and soon. “Leave” is the only decision which is focal, because of the referendum, and so Leave is set in motion and Article 50 is invoked. You will note that this scenario, while it sounds plausible, is a bit at odds with waiting until Fall 2017 to begin with. So the reality of waiting today has to lower the probability of this one somewhat.
5. The trickling, tortuous uncertainty through Fall 2017 is so economically costly that everyone realizes a decision must be made and soon. “Leave” is a more focal decision, but it still takes years to negotiate and consummate, thereby ensuring the uncertainty continues to kill the British economy. “Leave” therefore is discarded through political shenanigans and Remain rules the day because only the status quo ex ante can be brought about so quickly.
6. In the meantime, the EU does something really stupid, which includes the steady insulting of the British people and government, and almost everyone in the UK wants to leave by Fall 2017.
6b. In the meantime, Putin does something really stupid, and English opinion shifts strongly to Remain and Remain comes about through emergency national security channels.
7. In the meantime, the French and German elections require those governments to reassert at least partial control over their borders vis-a-vis immigration. This right is then offered to the UK, if only verbally, and the support for Leave more or less collapses. There is the beginnings of negotiation for a new EU treaty, in the meantime a bunch of EU nations including the UK break the rules of the old treaty, yet without being punished. This strikes me as one of the more plausible scenarios.
I get how #4 and #6 pretty clearly lead to actual Brexit, as does one branch of #2, but when you look at these scenarios as a whole, I don’t think the chances for an actual Brexit are so overwhelmingly high. The key obstacle is getting so many pro-Remain legislators to attach their names and reputations to a scenario which Johnson and Farage already are running away from. That is just not so easy.
Didn’t the Sex Pistols sing about “…now I got a reason to be waiting”?
Yes, British legislators do have a reason to be waiting. They are waiting. Should that reason become stronger or weaker over time? Why think that “weaker” is so obviously the correct predictive answer? There is no clear deadline forcing their hand.
In the 1960s and 70s, America and the UK had riots all the time. I’m not saying this is good! (Though it did lead to an excellent Clash song.) But once underway, in fact it is politically acceptable in many situations, or sometimes even politically desirable.
Addendum: Here are a few more points to consider:
a. Parliamentary systems behave very differently when off their steady-state stability path. There is now a power vacuum, no courts to produce definitive rulings, and the executive and legislative branches of government end up as bankrupt at the same time and in the same ways. Things are stuck and the traditional local comparative statics simply do not work. So our usual intuitions for what is supposed to happen in British politics may not be so reliable, and indeed few people had predicted the outcomes the country has received so far, including all the resignations.
b. The status of the Queen will either go up a lot or down a lot. Many people still believe, if only in inchoate form, that she is there for moments of constitutional crisis. But a moment of truth is coming where she will have to cough up her creative ambiguity, or not! If she does nothing, which I consider the more likely scenario, the monarchy will become all the more irrelevant. If she issues a pronouncement of some kind, she will either be a grand heroine or look pretty bad.
c. In some ways the EU had taken on the “backstop” role formerly held by the British monarchy. This is not widely understood. And indeed without the EU, it seems British politics is quite chaotic. This is a huge embarrassment for the Leave forces, and few if any of them foresaw this or are willing to admit this now. But that is in fact how British politics has been evolving over decades. To a keen reader of Bagehot, however, this does not come as a surprise, and it is another reason why the Leave vote was a huge mistake.
Fifty Japanese graduates opted to gamble with their job prospects at a mahjong tournament set up by recruiters looking for a different way to find the next high flyer.
Held in a crammed mahjong outlet in downtown Tokyo, prospects competed against each other on Friday (June 24) to gain the chance to face recruiters from six companies in the fitness, education, technology and real estate sectors.
“Mahjong is a very strategic game, so I think people who are good at it would be good at marketing. This is a new approach and I find it really interesting,” candidate Tomoko Hasegawa, who is aspiring to become a designer, told Reuters.
Here is more, via Edward Craig.
Here is from MIT Technology Review, surveying research on chess blunders and cognition by Ashton Anderson at Microsoft Research in New York City, Jon Kleinberg of Cornell, and Sendhil Mullainathan:
…Anderson and co have found evidence of an entirely counterintuitive phenomenon in which skill levels play the opposite role, so that skillful players are more likely to make an error than their lower-ranked counterparts. The team call these “skill anomalous positions.”
That’s an extraordinary discovery which will need some teasing apart in future work. “The existence of skill-anomalous positions is surprising, since there is a no a priori reason to believe that chess as a domain should contain common situations in which stronger players make more errors than weaker players,” say Anderson and co. Just why this happens isn’t clear.
I don’t, by the way, find the concept of skill anomalous positions to be so surprising. Better chess players have more “chunking” and more intuitions. Usually that knowledge adds value, but in a variety of counterintuitive positions it can lead players down the wrong paths. For instance a beginner probably does not know that on average a Queen and Knight working together are more effective than a Queen and Bishop, yet this is not always true and the less tutored intuition will sometimes prove correct. Similarly, the better player may think that an endgame of Bishops of opposite color is more likely to be drawn, and often that is true. Yet in other situations those ill-matched Bishops can yield an attacking advantage to the player with the better command of space, and so on.
I believe there are analogous concepts for economics and also philosophy, probably for other disciplines too. For instance in economics I wonder if a person with less knowledge of open economy macroeconomics might sometimes end up making better forecasts. Many anti-elitist theories of politics imply these phenomena can be true in a broad range of situations, Brexit for instance according to some.
Cornwall has issued an urgent plea for reassurance that it will not be worse off following the Brexit vote.
The county has received a “significant amounts” of funding from the EU for the past 15 years due to its “relatively weak economy”.
But, after 56.5% of voters in the county chose to leave the Union, the council says it is now seeking urgent reassurance that money allocated to it will still be received.
Prior to the vote the Council said they were told by the Leave campaign that funding would still be available.
They also said they had been told Cornwall “would not be worse off” in terms of investment they received.
It seems we search more for jokes in better, cheerier times:
…Monday is actually the day we are least likely to search for jokes. Searches for jokes climb through the week and are highest on Friday through Sunday. This isn’t because people are too busy with work or school on Mondays. Searches for “depression,” “anxiety” and “doctor” are all highest on Mondays.
Second, I compared searches for jokes to the weather. I did this for all searches in the New York City area over the past five years. Rain was a wash, but there were 6 percent fewer searches for jokes when it was below freezing. There were also 3 percent fewer searches for jokes on foggy days.
Finally, I looked at searches for jokes during traumatic events. Consider, for example, the Boston Marathon bombing. Shortly after the bombing, searches for “jokes” dropped nearly 20 percent. They remained almost as low in the days after the attack, including the Friday when Boston was in lockdown while the authorities searched for the bomber who was still on the loose. They didn’t return to normal until two weeks later.
Sure, some other entertainment searches, like “music” and “shopping,” also dropped after the bombing. Declines in these searches, however, were smaller than declines in searches for jokes, and some entertainment searches, like “games,” actually rose during the manhunt.
That is from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz (NYT). I am mostly convinced, in part because of the Boston data, still I wonder how much searching for jokes is in fact correlated with better moods. I would think of myself as being in a rather sad state if I had to find humor from impersonal sources on-line, rather than from people I know.
The final and deciding chess games are today, 8 a.m. EST, with Caruana and Karjakin in the lead and fortuitously playing each other in the final round. The winner has the right to play Magnus Carlsen for the world championship in New York this November, or Karjakin wins on tiebreak if there is a draw (unless on another board Anand wins, then a draw elevates Caruana; don’t tell Ken Arrow!). We have been learning a few things:
1. The English and Giuoco Piano are not bad openings if you are playing for a win; only first prize in this tournament counts for much, due to the embedded challenge option.
2. Risk-aversion does indeed vary with the prize environment — the Berlin defense has not been popular and every game has been hard fought. That said, Anish Giri probably holds a lot of T-Bills in his portfolio.
3. Vishny Anand at age 46 (!) was in strong contention until the final round, which is remarkable for a contest so heavily biased toward youth.
4. I don’t think a disproportionate number of Americans are rooting for Fabiano Caruana, an American-born but Italian-raised dual citizen who was induced by financial support to play under the American flag. The brilliant but emotionally immature Hikaru Nakamura, from White Plains N.Y., did poorly. Nonetheless America has two of the top eight spots.
5. Today we’ll get to see whether individuals really do make better decisions when the stakes are high. At least they have not been playing the King’s Indian.
6. Given how complicated are the rules for tie break, and the lack of clarity for handling a three-way tie, there is a chance the eventual winner will not be considered a fully meritocratic victor. (Plus neither Caruana nor Karjakin could handle a rook and bishop vs. rook endgame correctly in the penultimate round.) Send a DVD of Apocalypse Now, and ask for a sudden death playoff in lieu of tie-breaking rules. Someone needs to go down in dramatic fashion, rather than having it look like the three stooges stumbling exhausted toward the finish line.
On Friday morning, a US air strike killed Abu Alaa al-Afri, a senior leader in ISIS, whom the US says it considers the organization’s second-ranked leader.
This isn’t the first time that al-Afri has been reported dead — though the US government has allegedly verified his death.
But if (as seems likely) al-Afri is dead, this will be yet another instance in which ISIS’s number two official has been killed. In August of last year, for example, a US airstrike killed Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, then identified as the group’s number two.
This continues a trend that news consumers may recognize from counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaeda, in which the group seemed to lose one third-in-command (after Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri) after another.
As some Twitter wags noted, this all hearkens back to a 2006 Onion article, “Eighty Percent Of Al-Qaeda No. 2s Now Dead.”
As Zack mentions, there may be reasons why the #1 is harder to find and kill, but I would suggest a complementary hypothesis. At many points in time there is more than one #2, just as corporations may have a variety of Executive Vice Presidents.
If you a leader of a terror group, do you really want a well-defined #2 who is a focal alternative and who can move to overthrow you? Or do you prefer seven competing #2s, with somewhat unclear status, whom you can play off against each other, or make compete against each other, and offer various sticks and carrots and promotions of influence against each other?
And let’s say that one of these #2’s is killed. How will the United States report this? “One of seven #2’s has been killed”? Or perhaps the easier to communicate and more important sounding “We have taken out number two.”
On Wikipedia, the (a?) previous #2 of ISIS is described as “Deputy leader of ISIL?“, question mark in the original.
One concrete implication is this: the more number twos there are, the more likely you can kill one of them. And those are exactly the same circumstances when killing a number two has a low marginal return. Keep in mind that the kill is endogenous, and it could be indicating that one of the stronger #2s has strengthened his hand by betraying one of the weakies and getting the West to do the dirty work. And that kind of competition across subordinates may be precisely what strengthens the hand of the leader.