Monday, April 30, 2012

Hitler vs Stalin Thunderdome Deathmatch

One of my guilty pleasures is the FX animated comedy series Archer, about a private intelligence service named ISIS and its decadent though often effective secret agents.  ISIS is run by Malory Archer  (Jessica Walter), a late-middle-aged alcoholic with a promiscuous sexual history stretching back to WWII*.  She employs, among many other colorful characters, her son Sterling, a wise-cracking self-centered SOB with consummate combat skills and uncertain paternity, the resolution of which is a recurring plotline.

In the February 16th episode Lo Scandalo, (*SPOILER ALERT*) Malory murders the Prime Minister of Italy, “Savio Mascalzone”, with whom she had been having a long-running annual tryst.  It comes to light that the late Savio had had Fascist involvement during WWII and, in the early years of the Cold War, and in the course of assisting the fledgling CIA fight Soviet subversion in Italy, had apparently murdered one of the many possible candidates for Sterling’s biological father.  (Allen Dulles is implicated.)

I was struck by something as I watched this cast of degenerates (not that I’m judging; this is the source of the show’s appeal) fluff their moral feathers at the prospect of using former Fascists to fight communism.  It is a long-standing lore of the Cold War that the U.S. rehabilitated Nazis in various capacities.  Werner Von Braun is the obvious example, although I am unaware of any specific war criminals that were given this opportunity.

Just about every reference to this lore comes with moral condemnation at the tradeoff.  But it is not clear to me why – and indeed I object to the contention – it was so awful to deploy our defeated WWII adversaries in our fight against Soviet expansion, yet just fine and dandy to aid and abet that expansion in our fight against the Axis.  Indeed, I would assert the opposite:  By 1946, former Nazis were hardly a threat, whereas in 1940 there was ample evidence that Stalin’s Russia was not only more barbaric than Hitler’s Germany, but a future source of conflict for the West’s security.

And yet the exact opposite moral lesson is routinely communicated by the media.  I wonder who’s interests that serves.

I will note in passing that the realpolitik case is somewhat different than the moral case.  We armed the Soviets against the Nazis.  We armed the proto-Taliban against the Soviets.  We help the Pakistanis against  the Taliban.  So it goes.

A review of this history can prompt one of two possible reactions:  (1) “All is vanity, and a striving after wind; or (2) “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  Either is defensible.  What is not defensible is jumping back and forth between the two in the service of some hidden ethnic agenda.

* As indicated by the styles and history of the characters, the show is apparently set in the early 1960s, although with a lot of present day technology like cell phones and plenty of anachronistic cultural references.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Season V, Episode 3

CONTENT WARNING:  The following post is somewhat soap opera-ish, thereby reflecting the subject matter.

Mad Men is back.

It was apparent to me a couple of seasons ago that Joan Harris, the firm’s long-serving bombshell secretary, didn’t love her husband.  Indeed, she is likely too mercenary to love anyone in the way the word is commonly used.  But as a doctor and surgeon, Greg was to be her ticket to life as a society wife.

Alas, it was not to be.  Greg failed as a New York surgeon, and his success as an Army surgeon was not what Joan had in mind.  It’s was striking how out of place Greg looked in Manhattan wearing a captain’s uniform.  I don’t actually know if this was really true as much in 1966 as it is true now.  But the episode demonstrated starkly how disconnected American society, especially its upper reaches, was from the Vietnam War, how it just didn’t feel like it had, or should have, much to do with it.  The war was an imposition, a burden being foisted upon it.

Implausibly, the writers have Greg become a full-on militarist, without even a nod to M.A.S.H. or even the reality of how the military trains its doctors.  (Short answer:  they don’t go through Basic, but rather a finishing school that teaches them the customs and courtesies and how to wear a uniform.)  I don’t know if the writers intended this portrayal to be negative – the evidence is mixed – but it surely made his character difficult for the typical Mad Men audience member to empathize with.  Better writers would have had him be honest:  the Army was giving him opportunities that civilian life did not.  New York was never going to give him the large medical staff and responsibilities he wanted; so, he had changed the game.  But that would have conflicted with the point of the episode, which was to have the audience sympathize with Joan for dumping him.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I have a religion . . .

. . . and this isn’t it.

Elements of Integrity First include:

Discipline and Self-control [3/7]:

Religious toleration [3/3]: Military professionals must remember religious choice is a matter of individual conscience. Professionals, and especially commanders, must not shape, criticize, or encourage subordinates’ religious leanings or beliefs.

Elements of Service Before Self include:

Faith in the System [1/3]: Airmen trust their superiors exercise good judgment and humanity in their leadership decisions, just as all officers hope to engender trust in themselves and their leadership by making ethical, moral, and necessary decisions. As a default, we trust decisions are made after careful deliberation and consideration; we honor the system because we honor the men and women who make decisions within the system.

I can’t help but note with some bitter irony that, after being reminded that I can’t speak up on behalf of my own religion, that I must have faith in people whose word I wouldn’t accept for the spelling of their own names, let alone anything important.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Not-so-young Adult

The movie Young Adult, with Charlize Theron as a writer author of fiction for the tweener demographic seeking to rekindle a high-school romance, reunites Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman of Juno fame to produce, not a great movie, but a courageous one.

By many measures, Theron’s Mavis Gary is a success, escaping her small-town origins to earn a solid living as a published writer author in the big city.  But the movie subtly yet deftly portrays how mediocre success actually looks like most of the time.  Or rather, unlike most female romantic leads, but like the vast majority of cases in real life, the success falls far short of the self-actualization that it is billed as.

Let’s count the ways.  First, the “big city” in this case is . . . Minneapolis.  Not NYC or LA.  Not even Atlanta, or Portland, or Seattle.  Now, while I’m sure Minneapolis is a perfectly decent city, it hasn’t made any of the “cool” lists of which I am aware, and it’s difficult to imagine a young person growing up dreaming about moving there.

Likewise her career.  Mavis is a contract writer author:  her name appears inside the flyleaf while the series’ creator is emblazoned on the cover.  She does the work, and is evidently well paid, but she lacks creative control and fame.

Even her apartment communicates the disappointed expectations.  She lives in a high-rise, with a killer balcony view, but the interior shows no love or settledness.  It’s clean, but strictly functional.

Mavis enjoys full sexual liberation, of course, but all this means in the opening scenes of the movie is what we take to be one of a series of meaningless hookups, bringing home a man from whom she is content to slip silently away the next morning.

Mavis heads back home to liberate her former flame from his “baggage” (wife and newborn daughter), discovering along the way that folks find their small town lives happier and more fulfilling than she finds her own.  This is a fairly well-worn movie trope, of course, but I’m pressed to think of a film that sets it in such direct opposition to feminism.

This is not the movie’s only challenge to political correctness.  Mavis starts an unlikely friendship with the fat nerdy kid she ignored back in high school and who we think might be the key to her redemption (although, this being a Reitman film, he isn’t).  She only remembers him as “the hate crime guy” for getting permanently crippled by a gang of jocks for suspicion of homosexuality.  “Yeah, it was national news for a while,” Matt-the-geek acknowledges, “but once everyone realized I wasn’t actually gay, I stopped being a hate crime and became just another fat kid who got his ass beat.”

A secondary theme of the movie is getting-over-high-school.  It is especially poignant that Mavis, who has defined her life as an escape from where she came from, thereby remains trapped by its status structure.

The movie is low key, but the central cast turns in respectable performances.  I note in passing that I have always regarded Charlize Theron as exceptionally beautiful and well put together in the classical way, even by Hollywood standards, and that she has kept most of this beauty even now into her late 30s.  Does anyone else see her that way?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Standing athwart history yelling, “Please don’t hurt me.”

Regarding John Derbyshire’s Taki essay, “The Talk: Nonblack Version:

(6) As you go through life, however, you will experience an ever larger number of encounters with black Americans. Assuming your encounters are random—for example, not restricted only to black convicted murderers or to black investment bankers—the Law of Large Numbers will inevitably kick in. You will observe that the means—the averages—of many traits are very different for black and white Americans.

I wonder how uniformly true this is.

My family’s period of downward mobility put me in social contact with large numbers of blacks, both rural and urban.  This was less true at college, perhaps, but my school did have a robust affirmative action program that boosted their numbers, and the campus was in an urban setting cheek-by-jowl with one of early public housing projects of some notoriety.

While my experiences there were what you might expect, and were salient enough that, once I was exposed to race realism, I nodded and thought, “yup, sounds right,” the averages were not so blindingly obvious that I would have come up with them on my own.  As a child, most people, black and white, seemed both dim and hostile; at college, I had less cause to interact with people in ways that would reinforce any generalizations.

But once I began my professional career, both my work and social life have been notable for the near absence of any but IWSBs.  Gross affirmative action doesn’t seem to be much of an issue except in the civil service,and even there the diversity slots seem to be confined to support and administrative functions.

A quick search of my past zip codes (there are a lot of them) on shows that some of them have surprisingly high concentrations of minorities.  Either they have become that way since I lived there, or the neighborhoods are segregated even within zip codes.

If my experience is typical, then I would argue that most typical middle and upper-middle class people, into which category the young Derbyshires certainly fall, will come into routine contact with very few blacks, and most of these will be IWSBs.*

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

This happened to me last summer at the large water and roller coaster park at our neighboring city (in what appears to be a very nice section of town, very different from the zoo, which is in a desperately crappy section of town).  It was the Fourth of July weekend, and we were re-entering the park after our evening meal picnic.  I noticed then that the proportion of blacks coming in was a lot higher than it had been throughout the day.  (The park dropped its ticket prices in the evening, I think.)

I don’t know if there was any trouble in the park as a result of this.  Our own experience was uneventful, but what happened later was notable.  We stayed for the final firework show, and streamed out to our car with the massive crowd.  Now, I don’t know if this is actually written down anywhere, but my own driving experience has taught me that in stop-and-go traffic, the normal rules of right-of-way are suspended.  The courteous thing to do at any merging of traffic is to alternate as if at an all-way stop sign.  But that night, as I pulled to the end of the aisle to merge with the road leaving the park, I was confronted with a lengthy line of . . . black motorists.  And they would not let me in.  And ostentatiously too, accelerating to close any gap that might seem inviting.  I had to wait for a white driver to come by before I could move.

(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

Derb has added some nuance to this bullet in a subsequent article, but the point I want to make here is that his example, at the link, screams “Do not act the Good Samaritan to anybody involved in a domestic dispute,” and that the advice applies regardless of the race(s) of the combatants.

Farewell, NR

I subscribed to National Review for twenty years.  I wish I could say that its late mendacity and cowardice drove me to cancel my subscription, but the truth is I let it lapse about four years ago.  I wasn’t angry at it.  I just finally realized that its issues, which I once read avidly cover-to-cover, were stacking up.  It just didn’t seem relevant anymore.  Its pages seemed filled with Republican trivia – lengthy profiles of politicians, most of whom disappeared into obscurity.  And as the housing bubble began to deflate, and the wars turned pointless, I grimly recalled how wrong NR had been.  I only have enough time to read stuff that makes me smarter, and NR didn’t any longer.

* During my own stint in middle management, our organization was vertically integrated at groups of a couple of hundred, and also had a vigorous social life.  This brought my family into contact with far more blacks than they did anywhere else.  But this was the exception, and even here the blacks were selected according to general (i.e. white) cognitive standards.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Revisiting Federalism

Via Volokh, Yale Law Professor Heather Gerken’s progressive case for federalism.

There is little here I find encouraging.  As Johah Goldberg, perhaps unwittingly, explains, Heather's argument is bereft of principle -- or rather, her defense of federalism is unsupported by any appeals to, say, self government or social peace.  Rather, it is framed entirely on the same ol' Stalinist who-whom thinking:  how can federalism help the Designated Victim Groups -- NAMs and gays -- take a piece out of the hated whitey.

Goldberg writes:

Pushing government decisions down to the lowest democratic level possible — while protecting basic civil rights — guarantees that more people will have a say in how they live their lives.

Good grief.  Which expansion of central government power of the last 40 years was it, exactly, that wasn't justified in terms of protecting an ever increasing list of "basic civil rights."  Does your "lowest democratic level" not like abortion? Tough.  Does it prefer school prayer to evolution?  Tough again.  Does it think marriage is between a man and a woman?  Skroo u, hillbilly.  Does it think that workers in the state should be lawful residents, but employers should otherwise be free to hire and fire who they wish? . . .  I could go on, but you get the idea.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Math Bait II: The Spring-Mass System with Laplace Transforms

In my last post, we solved the differential equation

with traditional methods.  Today, we will examine the same problem using Laplace Transforms.

Let’s briefly review the definition of the Laplace Transform and a few of its properties:

Returning to our equation, we can apply the properties to rewrite it in the s domain:

and solve for X(s):

In order to find the inverse transform of X(s) and solve the problem, we must decompose the denominator of the first term using partial fraction expansion:

Much as we matched the coefficients for the sine and consine terms in the method of undetermined coefficients in the previous problem, we here must match the coefficients for the powers of s, yielding a system of equations and their solution:

Armed with these coefficients, we can now rewrite X(s) in terms of our expanded fractions:

In order to calculate the inverse Laplace transform, it would be easier if our terms matched those of the properties provided above. Rewriting:

It is now a trivial matter to find the final solution:

Resonant Frequency

Finding the result for the resonant frequency, while algebraically intense, is relatively straightforward with Laplace transforms. We begin by replacing ω with √(k/m) to obtain:

Before proceeding, and since we are expecting the same answer we obtained using traditional methods, let's apply the multiply-by-t property above to the sine function:

Now let's rewrite X(s) above so that it's terms match the formula:

Here again, it is a trivial matter to find the solution:

Thursday, April 05, 2012

“Hoodies Up” (not the Onion)

From Stars and Stripes:

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- In a show of solidarity for slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, more than 230 students at Ramstein High School wore hooded sweatshirts or jackets to class Tuesday as part of a peaceful demonstration they called "Hoodies Up."

The intent was to show that wearing a hoodie should not make a person appear threatening, said 17-year-old senior Caleb Guerrido, one of five students who came up with the idea of wearing hoodies to school.

Martin's killing also sent ripples outside the U.S., where it triggered discussion in the seminar class of RHS math teacher Phillis Westmoreland-Allen.

Students debated what happened to Martin and why over three classroom periods, she said.

Since wearing a hood is against the school dress code, the students had to get the OK for the event from RHS principal Greg Hatch.

Hatch, who approved the request on condition that they get permission from their classroom teachers, said he told them that hoodies aren't allowed in school for safety and security reasons. If something happens in the hall and a student is wearing a hoodie, it might be hard to figure out who was involved, he said.

I’m pretty sure the writer Gets the Joke.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Math Bait: the Spring-Mass System

To my never ending surprise, one the largest groups of readers Google directs to my humble blog are not policy neophytes seeking enlightenment but rather desperate statistics students trying to find the variance of a Poisson distribution.

In a naked ploy to draw more math geek traffic, let’s consider a classic problem from ordinary second-order linear differential equations with constant coefficients:  the spring-mass system shown below:

mass-spring system

We have an object of mass m attached to one end of a coil with spring constant k.  The coil exerts force on the mass in direct proportion to its displacement, so F=-kx.  (The spring is both compressible and extensible.)  Let’s impose the initial condition that the mass is displaced distance x0  and released at time t = 0.  Further, let’s add to the system an external sinusoidal force of amplitude A and radian frequency ω.  Applying Newton’s third law of motion, ΣF = mx’’ (x’’ being the second derivative of x with respect to t; in other words, the acceleration), we obtain the differential equation:

Note that x(0) is the position at t = 0 and x’(0) is the velocity at t = 0.

Before beginning the solution, let’s examine the problem intuitively.  We should expect that the mass will move faster with increasing k and slower with increasing m.  Further, we note that, for a positive value of x0, the spring constant k will be pulling the mass to the left at t=0 while the forcing function will be pushing the mass to the right, since the cosine of zero is positive one.

The first step in solving a differential equation is to find its “natural response”; in other words, the solution without the forcing function.  This solution is called the homogeneous solution xh.  We rewrite the equation thus:

Solutions to second-order DEs with constant coefficients take the form Cest; substituting this solution into the equation and dividing through by est yields the characteristic equation in terms of s:

As expected, we have two values of s, thus the homogeneous solution has the form:

We will find the constants C’1 and C’2 by applying the initial conditions, but first we must find the particular solution (also known as the “forced response”).  Because the forcing function is sinusoidal, we anticipate that the particular solution will take the form:

We will now use the method of undetermined coefficients to find the coefficients of our particular solution.  Calculating the second derivative:

We can then insert xp into the equation:

and solve for the coefficients B and C:

yielding the final particular solution

The general solution is the sum of the homogeneous and particular solutions.  Using Euler’s Relation, we rewrite our homogeneous solution in terms of sines and cosines instead of complex exponentials:

We now can apply the initial conditions to find the values of our remaining constants.

Inserting the constants into the equation yields our final solution:

Forcing at the Resonant Frequency

But wait a second!  What if the frequency of the forcing function is the same as the resonant (i.e. natural) frequency?  That would make k – mω2 = 0, and dividing by zero is a big mathematical no-no.  What to do?

Let’s re-examine our particular solution.  If ω=√(k/m), then we must treat the particular solution as we would a double root, by multiplying it by time t.

Finding the second derivative

and inserting into our equation

yields after substituting ω=√(k/m), and simplifying:

We can then solve for our coefficients to find the particular solution:

The general solution is thus the sum of xh and xp.

Finally, we apply our initial conditions to find the remaining coefficients:

And write the final solution to our spring-mass system when the frequency of the forcing function is the resonant frequency:

Many thanks to the fine folks at CodeCogs for their latex-to-gif converter.