Archive for December, 2014

How Big is a Googolplex?

December 30, 2014

K.C. Cole is an award-winning science writer, whose 1998 book The Universe and the Teacup—The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty, I typically found at a used book sale. UnknownMy wife chided me that it could now have only antiquarian interest. But I figured mathematics can’t have changed that much in 16 years. Two and two still make four, no?

The book broadly (and somewhat poetically) talks about the intersection between mathematics and life. It has some good stuff. One chapter discusses how goofy our risk perceptions can be. People worry about pesticide residues on fruit (annual U.S. death toll: zero) but not going for a drive (death toll: 30,000). Similarly, those terrified of child abduction drive kids to school – exposing them to the vastly greater auto accident risk. (All this echoed the “Freedom from Fear” chapter in my own very excellent book, The Case for Rational Optimism.)

However, not only did I also find some things I disagreed with, but some major bloopers.

Unknown-1Cole brings up one of my favorite paradoxes: “This sentence is false.” It contradicts itself. If the sentence is true, that means it’s false, so it can’t be true; but if it’s not, then it is true. However, Cole concludes this is no more paradoxical than the conflict between an American who thinks June is a summer month and an Australian who calls it winter. But that paradox is resolved with just a little more information. No additional information will resolve “this sentence is false.”

imagesAnd how about this: “Those of us reared on Euclid swallowed without thinking all those axioms about the obviousness of such propositions as: two parallel lines never meet. Yet one only needs to look at the lines of longitude – which are parallel at the equator – to see that they do.” Hello? That’s non-Euclidean geometry! Euclid’s geometry applies only to flat surfaces, not curved ones (like the Earth’s).*

Then Cole says a googolplex is “a googol multiplied by itself a hundred times.” I’m no award-winning science writer, but even I knew this is wrong. (To confirm that, I googled it, of course.)

Unknown-2A googol is the number 10 to the hundredth power; i.e., 10 multiplied by itself a hundred times; i.e., 1 followed by 100 zeroes. A googolplex (contrary to Cole) is the number 10 to the googol power; i.e., 1 followed by a googol zeroes.

These are very big numbers. Cole observes that we have trouble grasping how much bigger a billion is than a million, or a trillion than a billion. A billion is 1 followed by nine zeroes; a trillion by 12 zeroes; a quadrillion by 15 zeroes, and so on, for every three zeroes, through quintillion, sextillion, septillion, etc., each a thousand times bigger than the last. But we run out of those “illion” names long before reaching the end of all hundred zeroes in a googol.

Unknown-3(NOTE: The following has been modified, from what I originally posted, based upon helpful comments from my friend Professor Judy Halstead).

Now, I asked myself, might Cole’s definition of a googolplex – a googol to the hundredth power – actually equal (the correct) 10 to the googol power? I didn’t think so, but how can one do this math? Not on a calculator! Too many zeroes. Indeed, there literally would not be enough space in the Universe for all the zeroes. But one can do it using exponents. (Since I don’t know how exponents might be displayed on your screen, I will use the notation “10^100” to stand for ten to the hundredth power).

Ten to the googol power (a true googolplex) can be written as 10^(10^100). Cole’s false googolplex, a googol to the hundredth power, would be (10^100)^100. images-1To multiply a googol by itself once, you add the superscripts; 100+100=200; that is, you get a number with 200 zeroes. Twice, and it’s 300 zeroes. So a googol to the hundredth power would be 1 followed by 10,000 zeroes. And that, of course, is way less than 1 followed by a googol zeroes!

 

By the way, yes, Google was named for googol, to evoke the vastness of the information accessible. But they inadvertently (?) got the spelling wrong!

images-2When my daughter Elizabeth was eight, I explained googol to her. She was fascinated. Then she asked if the Universe would last a googol years.

Not a simple question. So I answered, “possibly.”

“Well,” she said, “if I’m eight now, then I’ll be a googol and eight.”

Now there’s an optimist for you.

* In fairness, Cole later does discuss non-Euclidean geometry.

 

 

 

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The Big Picture

December 26, 2014

imagesFor all America’s partisan divisions, we’re in remarkable agreement on one thing: the country is on the “wrong track,” the American dream is struggling, and our children will have trouble equaling, let alone surpassing, today’s living standard.

Each side blames the other. The right sees the left as buying votes with government handouts, fostering a feckless paternalistic culture, while killing businesses and jobs with over-regulation, and out-of-control spending presages financial ruin. The left sees rising inequality, with a corporate conspiracy to control government for its own greedy ends, heartless toward victims and their economic plight.

Both views reflect a generalized loss of trust in the institutions of society, which is not unique to America, but is mirrored all across the developed world – whether countries are governed by the left or right. In truth the difference is mere nuance on the edges of policy.

UnknownTake France (please). Sarkozy (on the right) was elected promising a “rupture” with past complacency. In office he could manage only minimal tweaks, but even that was too much for the French, who chucked him out for an assertively lefty Hollande – who promised they could have their cake and eat it too. Now he’s even more unpopular than Sarkozy, who is attempting a comeback.

Such serial disillusionment stokes the rise of populist third parties like France’s National Front and the United Kingdom Independence Party. This hasn’t happened in America mainly because our two-party system is more entrenched with structural roadblocks for third parties.

images-1But behind it all, what is really happening is that globalization is a hugely disruptive force, breaking down economic barriers and putting everybody in competition with everybody else. For the world as a whole, this is hugely positive, enlarging the economic pie by making stuff less costly, opening opportunities for billions more people to productively participate, and creating a burgeoning middle class in countries where there was none before. Of course there are losers as well as winners, and that’s why the political climate has become so febrile.

images-2But the remedy is not in trying to make globalization go away, demonizing businesses that strive to stay competitive via taking advantage of overseas opportunities; nor by decreeing higher wages or benefits as though the money comes from the sky (or from businesses being less “greedy”); or uselessly whining about inequality. Instead, the only thing that can actually save us is to raise our own competitive game: better products at better prices.

images-3Along similar lines, Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean, reminds us of the “seven pillars of wisdom” that our Asian competitors have imported from the West, in their “March to Modernity” —

  • Free market economics and capitalism (large-scale investment). Sorry, lefties: not by socialism did worldwide average real dollar incomes grow five-fold in the last century – a giant fact that makes pining for an alternative economic system simply silly.
  • Science and technology. The central human story has always been our use technology to overcome nature’s impersonal forces. (Listening to all the anti-frackers you wouldn’t know that fracking has been massively underway worldwide for decades with only minimal problems; it has revolutionized America’s energy picture and overall economic strength.)
  • Meritocracy. China actually pioneered the idea yet pervasively violates it. One facet of a profoundly corrupt social system that bodes ill for realizing China’s full economic potential.
  • Culture of Peace. Russian military adventurism is a grave threat to the world system.
  • Pragmatism.
  • Unknown-2Rule of law (including secure property rights, contract enforceability, judicial transparency, etc.) China’s regime lately has been talking “rule of law,” but that’s a mistranslation. It’s really rule by law – a tool for maintaining control. Not the same thing. Here again, China actually fails to follow Mahbubani’s program.
  • Education – empowering more people to participate more productively in the global economy.

Unknown-1Now you have the full big picture.*

*Someone will say, “climate change.” Not insignificant – but actually a lesser factor in shaping the human future.

Christmas in July: An Economic Program

December 23, 2014

UnknownIt’s fashionable to decry the commercialism and materialism of Christmas. And I recently reviewed Naomi Klein’s book saying we must cut back our consumer society, preaching asceticism as virtue. The problem is, if A doesn’t buy what B is employed to produce, B loses his job, and can’t buy what A is employed to produce, so A loses his job too. Pretty soon nobody has jobs. A fine virtuous society we’d have then.

 

imagesI thought about this, passing by a mall thronged with Christmas shoppers. Indeed, imagine where our economy would be without that. A whole lot of people are employed producing and selling all the stuff that’s gifted; absent Xmas, they’d be out of work. Sneer as you will at the crass commercialism, but without it our economy would be in deep doo-doo. If Christmas didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it (like FDR invented the WPA).

Unknown-1This got me thinking that if Christmas is such an economic boon, why not have two Christmases? We can invent a second one. Of course, they’d have to be spaced well apart, so by the time the next one rolls around folks can have recovered financially from the prior one. About mid-year would be ideal. And in fact, what luck, we wouldn’t have to create a new holiday from scratch – we can simply re-tool an old one – July 4.

So all we need do is make Independence Day into a gifting occasion. We can give it many Xmas-like accoutrements. For example, instead of Christmas trees, people can put up Liberty poles, and decorate them with little continental soldiers, drummer boys, flags, etc. images-3In place of crèches, we can have dioramas of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Instead of carols we can sing Yankee Doodle and other stirring patriotic songs. Houses would be festooned with red, white, and blue lights. TV would endlessly re-broadcast “1776” rather than “It’s a Wonderful Life” and mawkish Peanuts cartoons. In the role of the Grinch, you’ve got your King George III. And sending another round of greeting cards would help keep the struggling Postal Service in business. Fireworks would be an added bonus for which I can’t think of a Christmas analog.

images-4Of course, to promote the all-important gifting element, we’d need a Santa-equivalent. For this I’d propose Jefferson. We can overlook that he had slaves rather than elves (I’m not sure there’s much difference, actually). He’d keep a list of which children are naughty or nice – that is, patriots versus tory sympathizers. Happily, few of the latter will be found nowadays. And, to deliver the presents, perhaps he could borrow Santa’s sleigh and reindeer; as Santa’s summer replacement, so to speak.

images-1Christmas originated to celebrate the birth of Christ. July 4 celebrates the birth of our country. At least we can be sure that really happened. Thus this would be a holiday for everyone (with no nonsense about a “War on July 4;” though we’d probably get some griping about its commercialization).

So to help our economy by turning The Fourth into another gift-giving festival, images-5please spread the word, by reblogging this, or re-tweeting it, or snapchatting or instagramming it, or whatever people do nowadays who are more tech-savvy than me. If this goes viral, the economic benefits could be huge.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all my blog readers!

My So-Called Political Career – Rage Against the Machine

December 20, 2014

UnknownWhen young, I was mad for politics; active in both campus and local Republican politics in Queens, NY – generally playing the outsider-provocateur-clown. Yet I dreamed of a serious political career.

Arriving in Albany in 1970, I became a committeeman and ward leader’s sidekick. Albany was ruled by the famous old O’Connell Machine (in ’73 I authored a book about it). No city Republican had won an election since 1921; but a newly combative county chairman, Joe Frangella, was trying. My own ward, full of students, state workers, and yuppies, was the hotbed of machine opposition. This wasn’t just politics, but a moral crusade.

Unknown-1In 1972 our ward leader quit and wanted me as successor. The county chiefs had their own candidate, and sent three stooges to our meeting to browbeat us. Bridling against this, the committeemen unanimously elected me. No longer the clown – now the other guys were.

But my initiation was harrowing. First walking the circuit of my eight polling stations was to go from one fight to another. Each had two election inspectors from each party, yet the Democrats hogged all the chairmanships (which should have been decided by coin tosses). These intimidating tyrants let their committeemen get away with nonsense like “assisting” voters inside the booth.Unknown

I needed better election workers – and set about recruiting anti-machine reform Democrats. Yes, they could legally serve as Republican inspectors. I drilled them to be more assertive, especially about those chairmanships. And when next I walked that circuit, all was calm – with Republican chairmen in seven of eight districts! We might not win elections, but we’d won a big battle over their conduct.

In 1973, I was responsible for my ward’s candidates for alderman and county legislator. For the latter I recruited a presentable-seeming preppy fellow. A reform Democrat was running for alderman, a woman I knew; I made a deal to back her while she’d back my legislature candidate. Which she didn’t really do; she was a flake; and relations with my own guy soured when he bizarrely accused me of touching his repellent wife. Anyhow, both lost. So did our mayoral candidate, in a close race.

Rezsin Adams (2007)

Rezsin Adams (2007)

In 1975, another county legislator election. The machine put up a nothingburger. I found a great candidate: community activist Rezsin Adams. But most of her left-wing Dem pals wanted nothing to do with Republicans, while the GOP hierarchy gave me hell over allying with any Democrats. However, I had the backing of City Chairman Fred Hershey, and we did finally manage to maneuver Rezsin onto the ballot as a Republican. I worked my heart out to get her elected.

Meantime, city Republicans were chafing under feudal treatment by the county leadership. At a ward leader meeting, I mused that we could ignore the nominating petitions sent from the county and put up our own slate of party functionaries.

images-2So we did – a primary fight. Tense negotiations ensued; I and others met with Frangella, and got agreement for more city autonomy, including choosing our own city chairman. But I couldn’t persuade my colleagues to withdraw the primary slate, so I actually wound up voting against the candidates whose run I myself had instigated.

Also in 1975, Albany’s first county executive was elected. We had another great candidate, Theresa Cooke, an intrepid crusader, our Joan of Arc, who’d just been elected county treasurer. Unknown-3But due to some petty spat about her running mate, Republicans stupidly put up a third candidate instead. That killed the GOP as an effective force in Albany county. With the anti-machine vote split, the Democrat won. (He later went to prison.)

Rezsin Adams lost too. And so did I, as a sacrificial candidate for city court judge.

Then to replace Fred Hershey as city chairman, the county sachems decided on Andy Capoccia, a reptilian opportunist. Frangella was also now gone, along with his pledge about picking our own chairman. At the big 1976 county meeting, Capoccia’s annointment should have been a formality, but I got up and cheekily nominated someone else. Unknown-4When, in my speech, I mentioned Theresa Cooke, her name was booed. Ouch. Of course Capoccia won. (He later went to prison.)

So I was back to being the outsider provocateur. I was disillusioned that the Republican party didn’t appreciate me. In truth, while my academic knowledge of politics was legion, I had no aptitude for its human relations aspect. I resigned, my political career over at age 28. It had been quite a ride. (At least I didn’t go to prison.)

A few years later, I moved to a different ward, and some GOP leading lights actually begged me to run there against one of the machine’s major slimeballs. Winning might not have been impossible. But after careful thought, I declined. I guess I was now cured.

The political machine eventually faded away. But to this day, no Republican has won any election in the city.

Ebola: God’s Punishment for Homosexuality?

December 16, 2014

Unknown-1Recently the Liberian Council of Churches met, with over 100 participants, to discuss Ebola. They unanimously resolved “That God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism [sic], etc.) that continue to penetrate our society.”

The “God is angry” trope, punishing nations with otherwise seemingly natural phenomena, is very common. UnknownPat Robertson similarly declared that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment of America for abortion, and Haiti’s earthquake for Satanism. But homosexuality is the “sin” of choice for such pronouncements. Is God really as obsessed with such matters as the preachers are?

It’s silly in so many ways it might seem gratuitous to enumerate them. But I will. How can any earthlings (let alone Pat Robertson) presume to read God’s mind? Who’s to say that a natural disaster isn’t, well, natural? If God so hates gays, why make so many of them?* Why are these punishments for “sins” so poorly targeted (like crushing just New Orleans), rarely singling out the individual “sinners?” (AIDS might be the lone exception.) In fact, it isn’t homosexuality or abortion per se that’s supposedly being punished but, rather, the country’s toleration of them. America today might be “guilty” of tolerating gays. But Liberia? I don’t think so.

And is homosexuality – or, rather, merely tolerating it – such a great sin that it incurs God’s special wrath? I mean, come on. images-1Even if you really really hate homosexuality, surely there are worse crimes. Would God punish Liberians over gay sex – but not over Charles Taylor‘s horrors? And you didn’t see him punishing Germany for Nazism. (True, some cities were incinerated, but that wasn’t God’s doing, it was allied bombing.)

Anyway, why punish nations with hurricanes or diseases when God still wields the ultimate stick: eternal damnation? People who really piss him off burn in Hell forever. You’d think that would fill the bill. What’s the point of gilding the lily with plagues or bad weather?

Enough. Obviously, all the babble about Godly punishment reveals more about the babblers than about God. So blinded are those babblers by their obsessions with their favorite “sins,” they can’t see the looniness of their pronouncements. If there were a God he’d be, like, LOL.

Or maybe he’d afflict them with plagues. Now that would truly be divine punishment.images

* Yes, they are made that way, and (except perhaps for certain lesbians) it’s not a choice. Homophobes might say that even so, the behavior is a choice. But what heterosexual would accept a need to abstain from heterosexual behavior? The only moral objection to gay sex is the Bible’s condemnation. The Bible also warmly endorses slavery.

Torturing America

December 12, 2014

Some things are just wrong. Absolutely, and always. Surely torture is one of them. That it’s even necessary to say this, in America, in the 21st century, seems bizarre.

Torture not only damages the victims, but also the perpetrators, and the societies that tolerate it.

images“Enhanced interrogation” was torture. Even if it did produce helpful information, it was still wrong, and should never have been done. Ends don’t justify means.

But the Senate report refutes every claim that helpful information was garnered. All the pushback to that conclusion is nothing but bald assertions, “yes it did,” without specifying exactly when and how. And meantime, as the report also documents, the CIA has lied pervasively about this subject.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, it’s also revealed that the CIA paid $81 million in taxpayer money, to a couple of bozos, for the precious advice to copy Chinese Communist torture techniques.

And even if the torture had produced good information, it would not have been worth the price paid, in shredded American moral credibility. UnknownWhen China, and Iran can, with straight faces, shake their scolding fingers at America on human rights, we know we’re off the rails. Now, when we criticize them, many will think we’re the moral hypocrites. America’s thusly squandering its role as the world’s conscience will make it all the easier for the worst human rights abusers to act with impunity. It’s a big setback to the global moral progress so painstakingly achieved. Altogether a prohibitively huge cost for whatever information (if any) we got through torture.

But 9/11 blinded us to our true national interests, making us so hysterically fearful of terrorism as to pay almost any price to thwart it. Horrible as it was, 9/11 did not harm America, or undermine what we cherish about our society, nearly as much as what we’ve done in response to it. th-2Like all the surveillance, TSA madness, hostility toward foreign visitors, curtailment of civil liberties, and distortions to our foreign policy. And torture, giving ourselves one heck of a black eye. That self-inflicted damage to America, and to human values globally, is greater than a dozen 9/11s would have done.

Legacy_of_AshesI am not of the Andrew Bacevich school, holding that anything we try to do to make the world better is futile, and we shouldn’t even try. Being proactive to improve things is the essence of the human character. But Tim Weiner’s aptly titled history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, shows that the CIA has never gotten anything right, never done anything that truly served America’s interests, while doing things, again and again and again, that disserved them. We’d be better off had the CIA never existed.

Nor am I of the Noam Chomsky school, seeing nothing good about America. images-1Yes, our country has blemishes, this is Earth, not Heaven, populated by humans, not angels. But the Chomskys are morally blind to the bigger picture. And part of what is truly great about America is the spirit of openness, self-criticism, and self-correction exemplified by the Senate report. You will see nothing like that in China or Iran (or Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, or Egypt).*

*China has just awarded its annual Peace Prize to Fidel Castro. Last year’s winner was Putin.

Building Trust Between Police and the Policed

December 8, 2014

The non-indictment of Officer Wilson, in Ferguson, for Michael Brown’s death, was justifiable. Brown had just committed a robbery and was being violent. Maybe Wilson didn’t have to kill him; but no way could a jury properly have convicted him “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

UnknownEric Garner’s case is different. His crime was the relatively minor one of evading cigarette tax. He wasn’t violent. And the police conduct clearly violated policy. How was his death not at least, arguably, criminally negligent homicide?

That grand jury failure to indict disserves not just Eric Garner but society as a whole, because it undermines confidence in the justice system, a key underpinning of civilization. It tends to validate an idea that the police are literally out of control, a law unto themselves, acting with impunity, unaccountable to the society they’re supposed to serve.

The bars are US, UK, Germany, Australia

On left: US, UK, Australia, Germany

American cops kill many hundreds annually. In other civilized countries it tends to be in single digits. Something is drastically wrong here.

With respect to black communities in particular, the relationship between citizens and law enforcement is poisonous. Rather than the paradigm of police serving people, it’s closer to one of war, at least in how it’s seen – on both sides. The mutual hostility is toxic.

Saying we’re a racist society is too simplistic and mostly wrong. Few whites are actually prejudiced. But I wrote recently of unconscious racial bias. Evolution programmed our brains to make snap judgments extrapolating from tiny bits of information; doing so could be life-or-death for our ancestors. It still can be for cops, and ethnicity is one such bit.

Painting by Norman Rockwell

Painting by Norman Rockwell

I heard someone interviewed on the radio saying police should understand their job not as making arrests, but building trust. Actually, they shouldn’t have to build it, community trust should be integral to the very fabric of policing, ab initio. But, again, particularly for black neighborhoods, not’s not what we’ve got, so it does need to be built.

I read recently about a pilot program, in one of Brooklyn’s worst crime-ridden housing projects where, with some visionary leadership, the police really did try to change the whole dynamic of their relationship with the community, into a joint enterprise aiming to improve quality of life and outcomes. Unknown-1They sought to enlist crime-prone youth as partners rather than targets. The police even knocked on doors distributing Thanksgiving turkeys.

Maybe that’s a sad commentary on just how bad the police/community relationship had gotten, requiring such extraordinary efforts to overcome. There was indeed a deep well of distrust. But it seemed some progress was made in undoing that. Crime went down. And a lot of kids who would have wound up in prison did not.

When I heard that comment about making arrests versus building trust, I thought of Israel and the Palestinians. The analogy is imperfect, but here too we see a thoroughly poisoned relationship of recrimination and mistrust. Indeed, way too far gone to be fixed with turkeys. Yet it actually doesn’t have to be this way. Israelis and Palestinians are neighbors and both would be a lot better off if they could see their way to cooperating rather than battling. images-3History isn’t destiny; people can rise above it. They could, instead of tolerating zealots stoking conflict, work toward mending their relationship and building trust, so both can improve their quality of life.

Yes, that’s optimistic. And maybe too rational.

Campus Rape and “Affirmative Consent” – Feminism Off the Rails?

December 4, 2014

Unknown-1One in five college women is sexually assaulted – we’re told. I have a daughter in college (see her comments, below). But I’m skeptical about that statistic; kind of depends how one defines “sexual assault.” I recall one study showing horrendous spousal violence rates. Turned out “spousal violence” included raising one’s voice. What one girl considers a sexual assault another might not.

Campus rape has been a big topic since the federal government, under Title IX, faulted many colleges for insufficiently tough policies about it. images-3(How this became a federal issue I fail to understand.) And California has adopted a new “affirmative consent” standard – it’s rape if the female doesn’t explicitly say yes before and during. (It’s not required in writing, and notarized – yet.) New York has now followed California’s lead.

I consider myself a feminist. But this seems like an anti-male hysteria. images-1If previously the culture in this regard was skewed against women, now the pendulum is swinging too far the other way, with too much presumption against the male in a situation and too little consideration of mitigating factors – including female behavior.

The California rule reflects ludicrous disregard for the realities, subtleties, and complexities of human interaction. Sexual dynamics are not like contract negotiations; a lot is wordless. Just when we’ve gotten Big Brother out of gay bedrooms, we’re letting him back in to campus bedrooms through a back door, attempting to regulate the details of a sexual encounter, going far beyond merely banning what’s conventionally been understood as assault.

Further, while college administrators do have a proper concern with what goes down among students, it is hugely misguided to task them as judges and juries in what are really criminal justice matters. images-5No one would imagine a student shooting another is a disciplinary issue properly handled by school personnel, rather than the police and the courts. Sexual assault is likewise a serious crime that belongs in the criminal justice system, not campus disciplinary tribunals. Universities are not places where the writ of society’s law does not run.

This matters a lot because the constitutional protections applicable to criminal defendants are absent from campus proceedings – including “innocent until proven guilty.” Whereas in criminal trials the prosecutor has the burden of proof, a student accused of sexual assault may find himself with the burden of proving his innocence.  Furthermore, the “affirmative consent” policy deems a drunk woman incapable of consent, thus applying a concept the law calls strict liability for any sex with a drunk girl. If she was drunk, you’re sunk. And school administrators often tend to apply a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, rather than “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

"Or after." Better get a crystal ball, guys.

“Or after.” Better get a crystal ball, guys.

All this can put a male in a very tough position – when there’s normally no independent corroboration of what happened and the words said – and when any sex that a girl later regrets can be deemed equivalent to rape. (Am I exaggerating? See pink box at left.)

And it’s not as though such campus proceedings are less consequential than criminal ones. True, a college can’t send you to prison. But it can expel you – ruining your life just as surely.

In a case of rape as conventionally understood, of course the perpetrator should be punished, one way or another. Yet, for all the scare statistics, I suspect that such crimes of violence among students are actually fairly rare, with the far more typical situation being far more murky and ambiguous; and college guys being more opportunists than they are sexual predators.

images-6But it’s not good that any student sexual encounter can blow up into a federal case, putting a big dark cloud over sex. Reminds me of southern blacks in Jim Crow days – subject to lynching if a girl cries “rape.”

It’s doubtful all this serves girls either. College adjudicators may be less keen on protecting them than on protecting the institution. A girl suffering a real sexual assault should go to the police. Otherwise it falls under the heading, “human relations.”

To me, the current climate, with differing rules applicable to males versus females, is ironically the antithesis of sexual equality and a woman-empowering feminism – its assumption seems to be that women are just helpless victims without personal agency.

The Real North Korea, by Andrei Lankov

December 1, 2014

UnknownI’ve written before about North Korea. This 2013 book changed my view. (Ideologues take note.) I previously felt that the policies of the international community – negotiating with North Korea and providing aid – only served to prolong the human nightmare. I advocated a tough-love policy of refusing to do anything that helps North Korea’s regime to cope, so the inevitable collapse would come sooner rather than later; with readiness to face up to the fallout.

Lankov convinced me that this simply wouldn’t work. For one thing, a North Korean collapse would be intolerable to China – likely giving it a flood of refugees and the loss of a “buffer state,” replaced by an enlarged U.S. ally next door. So toughness by the U.S. and friends would be negated by stepped up Chinese support.

Moreover, even a total quarantine of North Korea wouldn’t likely do in the regime. It did survive economic collapse and famine in the nineties. The repression is that strong; and the starvation even of millions wouldn’t faze the regime – with the guns to tough it out.

imagesLankov also clarified some realities about North Korea. America’s chief concern has been the nuclear issue, and for two decades we have unsuccessfully tried to cajole the North to denuclearize. They never will. Because nuclear blackmail is all they’ve got to extort goodies from other concerned nations. Without nukes, North Korea would have nothing. And the Kim regime believes that denuclearization would leave it naked to U.S. military force. They think Saddam would still be in power if he’d really had WMDs; as would Khadafy if he hadn’t given up his nuclear program. Maybe true.

images-2A second reality is that Kim and his regime are not crazy, much though it may appear so, from their utterly dysfunctional economic policies and provocational bellicosity. Rather, Kim and his ruling elite are hostage to the remorseless logic of the cul-de-sac into which they’ve gotten themselves. They’re riding the back of a tiger and know they’d better not fall off. So if the warmongering seems risky, it is a risk calculated with extreme rationality. Kim and company understand that a real war is the last thing America and South Korea want, so they can get away with a lot of provocation without triggering Armageddon – while the true purpose of the behavior is to complement the nuclear blackmail, making North Korea look like a threat that we’ll pay to pacify.

images-1The Kim regime is stuck with the economic system it’s developed over decades, and can’t change it. Westerners seeing reform just around the corner are always wrong. As Tocqueville said, revolution happens not when the commoners are most downtrodden, but when they can glimpse a better life. What finally brought down Soviet Communism was Gorbachev’s attempt to reform it. North Korea won’t make that mistake. Unknown-2Tocqueville again: “a sovereign who seeks to relieve his subjects after a long period of oppression is lost unless he be a man of great genius.” Kim Jong Un must be smart enough to know that, contrary to their boastful propaganda, his is not a dynasty of geniuses. And that his fate in a post-Kim North Korea won’t be pretty. Any “reform” would risk that prospect.

So, what is the answer? This tough-minded commentator is almost embarrassed by it, but Lankov convinced me that only a soft approach makes sense. The North Korean system cannot endure forever, as the contrast with the prosperous South inexorably widens and becomes more known, despite the regime’s best efforts to tar the South as a hellhole of poverty and oppression. images-3And while spontaneous revolt from below can’t be expected, evolution in the thinking of the elites is inevitable. Its hastening should be our aim, simply doing all we can to expose North Korea’s intelligentsia to truth and reality. Sooner or later, something is bound to give. It may be (as Hemingway famously described going broke) gradual – and then sudden.