Petraeus: The Long Knives of November

Petraeus: The Long Knives of November:

Let’s end by putting ourselves in the ill-fitting shoes of General David Petraeus. Although he certainly earned some of his stars for valor at press manipulation and self-flattery, he also provided the following services to the Bush and Obama administrations: he served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan; he devised a cover strategy for Iraqi withdrawal that saw President Obama through his reelection campaign; in Afghanistan he kept the Taliban out of Kabul long enough to suggest that, during the voting, the administration could talk up peace with honor; as CIA director, he presumably had a hand in finding bin Laden and bringing his rubout to a campaign spot near you; and in the Benghazi firestorm, he lent his considerable credibility to the wobbly administration cover story that the attack was spontaneous and unavoidable—all in the service of reelection politics.

Despite these efforts for the Obama team, General Petraeus now gets to look at pictures of his mistress on the front page of the New York Times; to hear that having a girlfriend made him “vulnerable to blackmail,” and to see his reputation dragged through the mud of the Tidal Basin, as though he had jumped in with Congressman Wilbur Mills and the Argentine Firecracker. Nor, in the fashion of Soviet show trials, does he ever get to respond to any of the allegations before they are blithely published or aired on television. “From Cy Young to sayonara,” as Graig Nettles said of similar politics on the New York Yankees.

If that isn’t enough gall to swallow in one sitting, General Petraeus also gets to time his public disgrace so that it happens in the same week that President Obama is celebrated on front pages around the world for his election triumph, his historic mandate, his charming family, his professional team, his brilliant handling of Iraq and Afghanistan, his killing of bin Laden, and his leadership in the Arab Spring.


Source: NYTimes eXaminer

If it looks random, it probably isn’t

If it looks random, it probably isn’t:

This same conditional-probability argument, though, also applies to the day after tomorrow.

There’s a 0.0001 chance of lightning tomorrow. But for the next strike to be the day after tomorrow then lightning must strike on that day, and not strike tomorrow. So the probability becomes 0.9999 for no strike tomorrow, times 0.0001 for a strike the next day. Which is 0.00009999.

This is only very slightly less than 0.0001, but it is less. The probability of the next strike – not any strike, but the next strike – occurring the day after tomorrow is thus very slightly lower than the probability of the next strike being tomorrow.

And the further you go into the future, the smaller the number gets. In a week it’s about 0.00009994, in a year it’s about 0.00009643, in ten years it’s down to about 0.00006943 – until it becomes ridiculously small, millions of years in the future.

So the most likely day for the next lightning strike – whether or not it actually even struck today – is tomorrow. It’s only a tiny bit more likely that the next strike will be tomorrow than that it will be the next day, but it is more likely.

At this point you may be wondering why I’m injuring your brain with this stuff. It’s because this is a really important thing you need to know about the world. This statistical bias for chance events to happen closer to each other than seems intuitively likely means that all sorts of chance phenomena have “clusters” that people naturally think don’t look very random at all.

We are surrounded at all times by things that have a somewhat random distribution in space and/or time. Computer hardware failures. Car crashes. Disease outbreaks. The distribution of stars in the sky. Individual kills, and personal and team victories, in all sorts of games, sports and real-world wars.

None of these things are entirely random – actually achieving true, robust randomness is surprisingly difficult. But all of them have a chance component. And the stronger that chance component is, the more clusters you’ll see, and the easier it’ll be to incorrectly attribute those clusters to some non-chance phenomenon.

[Complicated world form that perspective.]

A ‘sacred’ duty

If you want to really thank veterans:

If a government has anything close to a ‘sacred’ duty, it is the duty of caring for the men and women who went away whole, and came back less than whole, because that government wasn’t wise or smart enough to solve their problems better.

[A favorite high school teacher used to quote Asimov to me “Violence … is the last refuge of the incompetent.” And if war is the ultimate national violence, then it explains why the above rings so true.]