Archive for January, 2009

Cranial Contortions

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Even on President Obama’s first full day in office, Bush Derangement Syndrome is still at the fore for many of the muddle-headed. Today, BDS is brought to us by Ralph Hitchens in the form of a letter to the editor of the Washington Post. The spark that ignites Hitchens’ BDS? An op-ed column in the Washington Post. Hitchens writes

Regarding Peter Beinart’s Jan. 18 op-ed column, “Admit It: The Surge Worked“:

Okay, I’ll admit it, given Mr. Beinart’s willingness to admit that the war itself was a colossal strategic mistake that cost more American lives than Sept. 11 did, not to mention an enormous number of Iraqi lives. But how can he say that the surge looks like Bush’s “finest hour”? When a man deliberately sets fire to his neighbor’s house, should we praise him for belatedly using an extra fire extinguisher? Even more important than the extra U.S. troops was the realization by Sunni and Shiite leaders that al-Qaeda in Iraq was a plague on both their houses and that it was far better to get rid of the “foreign fighters” and conserve strength for the power struggle that will inevitably follow a U.S. pullout.

The surge “worked,” but in the tragedy that is Iraq, it means very little.

Mr. Hitchens displays unsurpassed cranial contortion to come up with this analogy:

When a man deliberately sets fire to his neighbor’s house, should we praise him for belatedly using an extra fire extinguisher?

With 20-20 hindsight, it clearly would have been better had we simply contained Sadam. And, Mr. Bush was slow to make key adjustments in the strategy to deal with the insurgency. But it is BDS to assert that Bush alone is responsible for something like arson on a global scale. I’m sure that Hitchens thinks of this as a rhetorical question. But of course, it is not. The situation described is not a very good analogy for what happened. If Hitchens could check his BDS at the door, he might recognize this

While the man is contemplating using the fire extinguisher, there are many people in the neighborhood screaming that the house is totally burned down. The people screaming that the house is totally burned down are doing so because they stand to gain in the short term. The man, knowing that the house is not burned down, chooses instead to “win” against the fire by deploying the fire extinguisher. For that, he should be praised.

Hitchens administers the coup-de-grace

Even more important than the extra U.S. troops was the realization by Sunni and Shiite leaders that al-Qaeda in Iraq was a plague on both their houses and that it was far better to get rid of the “foreign fighters” and conserve strength for the power struggle that will inevitably follow a U.S. pullout.

But Beinart acknowledges that the surge, if defined only as the simple increase in troop levels, is not “solely responsible for the turnaround”

Is the surge solely responsible for the turnaround? Of course not. Al-Qaeda alienated the Sunni tribes; Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army decided to stand down; the United States assassinated key insurgent and militia leaders, all of which mattered as much if not more than the increase in U.S. troops.

It is a sign of BDS to pick a fight when two factions are in vehement agreement.

And then, to wrap things up, Hitchens finishes with

The surge “worked,” but in the tragedy that is Iraq, it means very little.

It “means very little”? Um, Mr. Hitchens, do you enjoy gardening? Perhaps you have some of these around the house?

One thing it does mean is that President Obama can begin to safely draw down troops and start devoting more resources to Afghanistan. It means that General Petraeus has been able to field-test his theories and has distinguished himself as a strategic thinker, and may be able to bring this thinking and lessons learned to bear in Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan. It means that there is not a conflagration in the Middle East at the same time as a global economic meltdown. It means that Iraq has a chance with upcoming regional and national elections.

And it means that, for as long as the surge “means very little”, we will always have yardstick by which to measure BDS.

Extremely Jaundiced

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

As I write this, Carter, Bush, and Clinton have just been introduced to the crowds at the Inauguration.

One would think that, at such a special occasion, most in our country would be looking forward to the new administration. Most, but not everyone. In yesterday’s Washington Post, there is plenty of Bush Derangement Syndrome on display, courtesy of E. J. Dionne’s opinion piece titled Why the Uniter Divided Us.

The crowds are resuming the chants Obama, Obama, Obama!

Dionne wants to help the new president in avoiding the mistakes made by Bush

There are many reasons why most Americans are not mourning President Bush’s departure. But our new president would do well to concentrate on the deeper causes of the public’s disaffection with the man headed to Texas.

From the very beginning of his presidency, won courtesy of a divisive Supreme Court decision that abruptly ended his contest with Al Gore, Bush misunderstood the nature of his lease on power, the temper of the country and the proper role of partisanship in our political life. His win-at-all-costs strategy in Florida became a template for much of his presidency, reflected especially in the way the Justice Department was politicized.

What? I won’t defend the politicization of the Justice Department. But does Dionne really think that Bush had a win-at-all-costs strategy in Florida? I seem to recall that it was Gore that had the win-at-all-cost strategy. Wasn’t it the Gore camp’s idea to keep recounting votes from only a few districts until the total count for the state came out in his favor? What are they serving there at the Post? Hashish?

Bush did not respect the obligation of a leader in a free society to forge a durable consensus. He was better at announcing policies than explaining them. He dismissed legitimate opposition and plausible doubts about the courses he wished to pursue. It is partly because of these failures that Americans reacted by selecting a successor with such a profoundly different political personality.

What the hell is a “durable consensus”? Is it a consensus where politicians vote one way, and then do not pretend that they voted differently 6 years later? Whose fault is it that Bush did not get a durable consensus from Democrats? Here are some important issues where Bush achieved consensus

  • The Iraq War
  • No Child Left Behind
  • Prescription Medication for Seniors
  • AIDS and Health Programs for Africa

Interestingly, Dionne mentions a few of these later in the column, but I don’t see how they bolster his main theme. I might add, that Bush was better able to find consensus with Democrats on immigration reform than with Republican legislators.

Barack H. Obama was just announced.

Admittedly, Bush did not seek consensus on one of the most important decisions of our time. The decision to move ahead with the surge. Thankfully he did not listen to those that would throw the USA under the proverbial bus, and throw Iraq into civil war and the Middle East into true chaos, just to score “electoral advantage”.

Rick Warren is providing the invocation.

For a few months after Sept. 11, 2001, the president governed as a truly national leader. At that moment, we saw the consensus-builder he promised to be in 2000. He might have built a durable majority for his party on the basis of more moderate, consensual policies. Instead, he moved to ridiculing those who doubted the wisdom of his Iraq adventure and used the war on terrorism for electoral advantage.

Let me see if I have this right. Dionne is accusing Bush of using the war on terrorism for electoral advantage? I would have thought the other way around. That Democrats used the war on terrorism for electoral advantage.

Aretha Franklin is singing “My Country Tis of Thee”. [I don’t care for the big bow.]

Remember “This War is Lost”? Remember “General Betrayus”? Now that is attempt at electoral advantage. To suggest otherwise is despicable and intellectually dishonest.

John Paul Stevens is administering the oath of office of the Vice President. [How many names does Biden have?]

But [Obama] is decidedly not an us-vs.-them guy. He gets both the uses and the limits of partisanship. He has been known to quote the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on the dangers of moral arrogance. He could make nuance and complexity cool again. Of course it will take more than that to be successful. But it’s a start.

Nuance and complexity? This sounds like it could have been applied to Jimmy Carter. Nuance and complexity? That is the watchword at the United Nations (an organization that has accomplished exactly nothing).

John G. Roberts is administering the oath of office of the President. The crowd roars. A few hiccups.

Congratulations to Barack H. Obama, 44th President of the United States.

Now, would E. J. Dionne and the rest of those afflicted by BDS please take some of your own advice and move on? What does E. J. stand for? Extremely Jaundiced, I would say.

President Obama is addressing the nation.

Barack H. Obama - 44th President of the United States

Barack H. Obama - 44th President of the United States

A Historic Date – But What Is #6?

Monday, January 19th, 2009

As of this date – January 19, 2009 – I offer the following five most significant dates during my lifetime, in order:

  • July  16, 1969
  • November 9, 1989
  • August 6, 1991
  • April 27, 1994
  • September 11, 2001

January 20, 2009, Inauguration Day for Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States surely deserves to be on my list. But which date should be pushed to #6?

  • Landing on the moon?
  • The fall of the Berlin Wall?
  • The debut of the World Wide Web?
  • The first multi-racial elections in the Republic of South Africa?
  • The attacks on the USA?

Of course, most people were not even aware of the events of August 6, 1991, when Tim Berners-Lee posted a brief summary of the World Wide Web on the alt.hypertext newsgroup. The World Wide Web has developed in an evolutionary manner, and so no single date is particularly noteworthy for most. In this regard, it is a bit unfair to lump August 6, 1991 with the other dates of significance. Nevertheless, I will choose to push August 6, 1991 to #6. I still think this Internet thing is a fad, anyway.

World Wide Web Now #6

World Wide Web Now #6

Heroes Not Zeroes

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

I suppose that Barack Obama’s supporters can be excused their fervor and celebration over these last few days here in Washington DC prior to the Inaugural. It is a very significant event. To his supporters, Obama is a true American hero, arriving in Washington to save our country.

Of course, this is totally disrespectful of real heroes. I happen to know one such real hero: Leo K. Thorsness. A retired colonel in the Air Force, Thorsness won the Medal of Honor for valor for an air engagement during the Vietnam war. Two weeks later, he was shot down and spent six years as a POW.

I have learned today that Col. Thorsness has recently published a book called Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey. I have not yet purchased a copy of this book, but I certainly shall.

Leo Thorsness - American Hero

Leo Thorsness - American Hero

Thorsness’ time in Vietnam is the story of a hero and the story of the triumph of will. But his story immediately after Vietnam is quite interesting also. According to the Wikipedia article

In 1974, he made an unsuccessful race as the Republican nominee for United States Senate against the incumbent Democrat, Senator George S. McGovern. In 1978, Thorsness was the Republican nominee for the United States House of Representatives in a race for an open seat in the First District of South Dakota. Democratic nominee Tom Daschle won the Congressional race by a margin of 139 votes, following a recount, out of more than 129,000 votes cast.

The House election in South Dakota set the stage for some of today’s close races. Immediately after the election, Thorsness appeared to be the winner by a small margin of around 50 or 75 votes. Then it was magically discovered that some absentee ballots around Sioux Falls had been improperly sealed and went uncounted. After counting these absentee ballots – they were apparently cast in numbers quite disproportionate to the overall election – Daschle came out on top by  a slim double digit lead. A full recount was conducted. During the recount, Daschle’s slim lead was extended and and some weeks later Daschle was certified the winner by the margin indicated above, 139 votes.

Daschle, of course, is a former member of the US House of Representatives and US Senate, and was Senate Majority Leader. He is Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Why is it that every time there is a close election, mysterious bundles of unopened and uncounted ballots are found that go disproportionately to Democrats? Maybe Al Franken – a real zero – can work the answer to that question into one of his sketches.

Al Franken - Minnesotan Zero

Al Franken - Minnesotan Zero

Balinese Massage and George Winston

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

In today’s Washington Post, so bored was I with Dan Kirk-Davidoff letter to the editor that I slipped into pleasant lassitude reading it.

I cannot fully express the revulsion I felt when I saw the Jan. 10 front-page headline “Obama Under Pressure on Interrogation Policy; Some See Harsh Methods as Essential.”

What on earth is torture if not the infliction of pain to extract information or confessions? When you use gentler language that does not call torture by its name, you participate in the crime. A headline reading “Some See Torture as Essential” would have been far clearer, and far more truthful.

I practically fell into my MacBook Pro just formatting that passage. Yawn. Dan has obviously bought the left’s torture narrative hook, line, and sinker.

Ummm, Dan, we do have some guidance for torture from our courts, and it is along the lines of “intense, lasting, and heinous agony”. As I just mentioned in my last post, the US opted not to accept the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Other Punishment (UNCAT) provisions against CID. So, inflicting pain to extract information from terrorists such as Al-Qaeda , which are not covered by the Geneva Conventions, is NOT TORTURE. Perhaps if Dan feels so bad about the treatment of terrorists, he can offer to give them a Balinese massage or perhaps a sponge bath; maybe put on a little George Winston and light some candles.

In 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized three categories of interrogation techniques. Refer to this list of techniques available to GTMO interrogators per Secretary of Defense orders. Based on my research, there were more proposed techniques in Category 3 – perhaps including waterboarding – but only the one was approved by Rumsfeld. So, it looks like it is difficult to make a torture case against the Dept. of Defense. Where transgressions have occurred, for example at Abu Ghraib, soldiers have been subjected to courts-martial and have been convicted. Admittedly, two Abu Ghraib detainees died while in custody of the transgressors, but no convictions for these deaths were issued.

The waterboarding that we know of was used by the CIA on three high-value targets such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida. No complaints from here. As I have asked before, do Dan and the rest of the left believe that these recent few instances of waterboarding are the first actions ever taken by the CIA that make us uncomfortable, or wince? Ever?

Certainly, if Congress would like to outlaw waterboarding on any suspect, including those not covered by the Geneva Conventions, they may. The election is over. Obama is about to take office. Put away the rhetoric and the theatrical revulsion. It is time for Congress to act, if they are so inclined. But it seems clear that as the Democrats sober up to the reality that they have real responsibilities now, and not just to terrorists or European bed wetters, but to US citizens, at least some are beginning to realize that harsh methods may actually be essential. How adult of them.

A Mental Breakdown Is A Sign Of Hope

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Obama is expected to sign executive orders during his first week in office to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. This is an important symbolic gesture for many of those who voted for Obama, and is viewed by these folks as an important first step in restoring the reputation of the United States

In recent days, Obama has adopted a pragmatic tone. For example, on the subject of GTMO, the executive order is not expected to set an actual deadline. National security will still be factored in, thankfully. As the new administration moves ahead with its plans, I am sure it will consider some of the disturbing content of this CNN article Ex-Gitmo detainees resume terror acts.

Since 2002, 61 former detainees have committed or are suspected to have committed attacks after being released from the detention camp, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said at a briefing Tuesday.

The number is up since the Pentagon’s last report in March 2008 when officials said 37 former detainees had been suspected of returning to the battlefield since 2002.

Since 2007, more than 100 detainees were released, significantly more than in previous years, according to Pentagon officials.

According to the statistics, of the 61 former detainees that are believed to have returned to fighting, 18 have been officially confirmed while 43 are suspected, Morrell said.

It is common to see GTMO and “torture” mentioned as if they were one and the same. For example, consider Profile: Guantanamo Bay from BBC News

Allegations of mistreatment emerged from the start.

The International Red Cross is the only organisation that has been granted full access to detainees.

However, the UN says it has evidence that torture has taken place at the prison.

Its allegations include the force-feeding of hunger strikers through nasal tubes and the simultaneous use of interrogation techniques such as prolonged solitary confinement and exposure to extreme temperatures, noise and light.

Hmmm. Forced feeding hunger strikers? Prolonged solitary confinement? Temperatures, noise, and light? THIS IS NOT TORTURE! At its worst, it might be considered cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is barred by the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT). The UNCAT was ratified in 1994, but the United States accepted only the prohibition against torture. The US found the CID provisions as entirely too vague.

And this

The UN also says many of the inmates have had mental breakdowns.

Perhaps a mental breakdown is a healthier mental condition than was enjoyed by the jihadists before their capture. At time of refoulement, let’s be sure to submit a medical bill for the mental health services to the jihadists’ country of origin.

A Mental Breakdown Would Be An Improvement

A Mental Breakdown Would Be An Improvement

In The Interest of Hamas

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

I find any thoughtful discussion of the effects of the long running Israel-Palestinian conflict on Palestinian civilians to be worthwhile. So, as war rages in the Gaza Strip and as Israel pushes closer to Gaza City, an article in today’s Washington PostGaza War Generates Debate on Civilians caught my eye.

The Israeli military blames Hamas for using Gazans as human shields and for retreating to densely populated areas to fight the war. But Palestinians and human rights groups say that Israel has been reckless and that in pursuing Hamas, it has employed tactics that unnecessarily drive up the civilian toll.

A group of Israeli human rights organizations on Wednesday said Israel’s behavior in Gaza represents “blatant violation of the laws of warfare and raises the suspicion, which we ask be investigated, of the commission of war crimes.” Israel said it was doing everything it could to prevent civilian casualties. “We are taking many precautions, including dropping leaflets,” said Maj. Avital Leibovich, an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman. “Our pilots do U-turns when they see civilians near their targets.”

and later

The Geneva Conventions, an international agreement on a code of war, say civilians must be permitted to escape from fighting, but “the Gazans are not allowed to flee,” Myers said. “That’s a big problem.” None of the border crossings is open. And no part of the strip — which is about 25 miles long and five miles wide — has been insulated from the fighting.

and still later

Israel says Hamas cares little for the well-being of its people. It puts children on the roofs of buildings that it knows are targets, and it prevents civilians from fleeing dangerous areas, the IDF says. It also booby-traps schools and attempts to draw Israeli forces into urban warfare that the group knows will result in high civilian body counts.

I have written before that I place the blame for civilian casualties squarely on Hamas. If none of the border crossings are open because Hamas has sent thousands of missiles toward Israeli cities since coming to power a year and a half ago, who, ultimately, is responsible? As with the war against Hezbollah, it appears that Israel is more interested in destroying buildings with her bombs than killing people. I say this because, in actuality, the mortality in both conflicts does not seem great compared to the number of bombs dropped.

As I came to the end of the Post article, I came to this

The goal of targeting such a broad array of facilities, Israeli military officials say, is to break Hamas’s will to continue firing rockets, not just its means. Israeli officials say they ultimately hope that Gazans become disgusted with Hamas and drive the group from power.

But Bassam Eid, executive director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, doubts that can work. Whether or not Hamas is intentionally raising the Palestinian death toll to elicit sympathy, he said, the killing of so many civilians has helped the group’s standing among Palestinians and across the Arab world.

“It’s not in the interest of the Israelis. It’s not in the interest of Palestinian society,” Eid said. “But it’s in the interest of Hamas.”

My long-standing belief – that Hamas wants, above all else, to kill Israelis and that a consolation for Hamas is the death of Palestinians – is confirmed. How dysfunctional must be the Middle East and the Arab world for that last statement to be true?

the killing of so many civilians … is not in the interest of the Israelis … is not in the interest of Palestinian[s] … but … is in the interest of Hamas

It seems that, for as long as this statement is true, peace cannot come to Gaza and the Palestinians. Hamas would have no incentives to find a peace and, in fact, is disincented. If conditions cannot be changed so that Palestinian civilian deaths are no longer in the interest of Hamas, then Hamas must be vitiated. And until that time, I will hold Hamas responsible for civilian deaths for the simple reason that, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, such deaths are in Hamas’ interest.

In The Interest of Palestinians?

In The Interest of Palestinians?

We Need Not Give Protection To Terrorist Groups

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Everywhere I turned today, I saw torture. Not in my mind’s eye, mind you. But in print, and on line.

In print, we have an Judge Susan J. Crawford claiming torture in Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official in today’s Washington Post. The article begins

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”

“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

“The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture, she said.

For the record, let me state simply

Now let me see if I get this straight. The techniques “were all authorized”, “persistent”, and were “clearly coercive”? Isn’t that the point of interrogation? Yes judge, when I think of torture, I think of “some horrendous physical act done to an individual”. For reference, the Judge might consult this article by Entifadh Qanbar in the New York Sun

I am an Iraqi who has suffered under Saddam’s harsh dictatorship and who actively fought Saddam for many years before the liberation in 2003. In addition, I participated in the reconstruction efforts in the new Iraq after the liberation, and therefore have a unique perspective to offer in understanding the progression of events in modern day Iraq. I had my first taste of Saddam’s brutality when I was imprisoned by Saddam’s Military Security in 1987 along with my brother. In spite of my relatively short stay in a horrifying cell, I witnessed torture and humiliation first hand in what seemed to be an underworld in which pain and degradation have no end.

For Iraqis, these torture chambers and “atrocity sites” are a confirmation of the links between the terror of the Baath regime and that of Al Qaeda. In 1991, during the uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraqis and the outside world were able to see torture cells from the inside and bear witness to the gruesome acts performed within them for the first time.

After the liberation of Iraq in 2003, the world was finally able to obtain an unprecedented glimpse into the Baath torture chambers and the vast security apparatus which served to maintain order and cement Saddam’s power over Iraq.

If you enter a torture house, you would think it is almost identical to a mechanical workshop: it contains drills, blow torches, hammers, and electrical wiring. For Saddam’s agents, these houses of torture contain all the necessary hardware to extract information from the brains of detainees and very creative ways to punish and extract victims. Thus torture cells established by Saddam’s agents were a horrific instrument of spreading terror and maintaining the iron grip of the regime over the country.

This is real torture. Not the trumped up torture of waterboarding or thongs around the head. Pop Quiz: Help me identify a tool of torture.



or This?

or This?

Now, consider this from Ronald Reagan in 1987, in which he explains his opposition to Protocol 1, an addendum to the Geneva Convention. Specifically

I have … concluded that the United States cannot ratify a second agreement on the law of armed conflict negotiated during the same period. I am referring to Protocol I additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which would revise the rules applicable to international armed conflicts.

It is unfortunate that Protocol I must be rejected. We would have preferred to ratify such a convention, which as I said contains certain sound elements. But we cannot allow other nations of the world, however numerous, to impose upon us and our allies and friends an unacceptable and thoroughly distasteful price for joining a convention drawn to advance the laws of war. In fact, we must not, and need not, give recognition and protection to terrorist groups as a price for progress in humanitarian law. [emphasis added]

It turns out that, at that time, the Washington Post and the New York Times were supporters of Reagan’s opposition. I guess the Post and the Times were against terrorists having protection before they were for it.

The Geneva Conventions were established to permit states to opt into a set of rules that create civilized warfare. With terrorists, there are no states. Just a loose confederation of murderers. They are unlawful combatants. The GCIII do not apply.

I wonder if the anti-war left actually thinks that, prior to the Bush administration, no torture has been carried out by the USA? No black sites? No extraordinary rendition?

Giving Irrational Exuberance the Finger(s)

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

In today’s Washington Post, there is an article called Born to be a Trader? Fingers Point to Yes. According to the article, one contributing factor to the meltdown of the economy is … testosterone

A new study has found that men who were programmed in the womb to be the most responsive to testosterone tend to be the most successful financial traders, providing powerful support for the influence of the hormone over their decision-making.

Apparently, Alan Greenspan was familiar with this phenomena

“Testosterone is the hormone of irrational exuberance,” said Aldo Rustichini, a professor of economics at the University of Minnesota who helped conduct the study, being published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The bubble preceding the current crash may have been due to euphoria related to high levels of testosterone, or high sensitivity to it.”

According to the abstract in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Prenatal androgens have important organizing effects on brain development and future behavior. The second-to-fourth digit length ratio (2D:4D) has been proposed as a marker of these prenatal androgen effects, a relatively longer fourth finger indicating higher prenatal androgen exposure. 2D:4D has been shown to predict success in highly competitive sports. Yet, little is known about the effects of prenatal androgens on an economically influential class of competitive risk taking—trading in the financial world. Here, we report the findings of a study conducted in the City of London in which we sampled 2D:4D from a group of male traders engaged in what is variously called “noise” or “high-frequency” trading. We found that 2D:4D predicted the traders’ long-term profitability as well as the number of years they remained in the business. 2D:4D also predicted the sensitivity of their profitability to increases both in circulating testosterone and in market volatility. Our results suggest that prenatal androgens increase risk preferences and promote more rapid visuomotor scanning and physical reflexes. The success and longevity of traders exposed to high levels of prenatal androgens further suggests that financial markets may select for biological traits rather than rational expectations.

Prenatal androgen is another way of saying prenatal exposure to testosterone. A marker for this exposure is a relatively long ring finger of the right hand. In fact, the key measure is the 2D:4D, which is the ratio of the length of the second digit (index finger) to that of the 4th digit (ring finger). A low 2D:4D is a ring finger that is longer than the index finger and suggest greater exposure to testosterone in utero. A higher 2D:4D occurs when the ring and index fingers are about the same length, and this suggests lower exposure to testosterone.

According to the Post article

When the researchers looked at the traders’ profits over a 20-month period from 2004 to 2007, they found that the most experienced traders who had been exposed to the most testosterone in the womb earned about six times as much as those exposed the least. They also tended to have the longest careers, surviving about three years more on average.

And this

When the researchers looked at 14 of the traders in the original study, they found that those exposed to the most testosterone in the womb were the most likely to make more money on the days when the amount of the hormone in the blood was highest, indicating that their profitability was driven by their sensitivity to the hormone as well as the amount of it.

The researchers also found that those exposed to the most prenatal testosterone tended to make the most money on days when the market was most volatile and decisions had to be made especially quickly. That indicates that in addition to the hormone’s tendency to boost confidence and increase the appetite for risk, the sheer mental ability enhanced by early testosterone exposure is probably a key factor. Earlier research had found that those exposed to higher prenatal testosterone as indicated by 2D:4D measurements tended to be better athletes and musicians.

The article even goes so far as to say that the 2D:4D might be used as part of job screening for traders. Well, if it would work to screen traders, why wouldn’t it be good for, ahem, women to screen potential mates?

Numeracy or Literacy?

Numeracy or Literacy


Hold on a minute.

I just looked at my right hand and I would say that my 2D:4D is … gulp … slightly greater than 1. Oh, great!!!

Long on Criticism and Short on Suggestions

Monday, January 12th, 2009

A few days ago, on January 5, former Bush United States Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton wrote an opinion in the Washington Post titled The Three-State Option. Here it is, mostly intact

War in the Gaza Strip demonstrates yet again that the current governance paradigm for the Palestinian people has failed. Terrorists financed and supplied by Iran control Gaza; the Palestinian Authority is broken, probably irretrievably; and economic development is stalled in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians are suffering the consequences of regional power struggles played out through them as surrogates.

Israel isn’t a happy place, either. It endures opprobrium from the world’s High-Minded for defending itself from terrorism yet still finds itself subjected to terrorist attacks from Hamas and terrorists based in Syria and Lebanon…

Neighboring countries also suffer. Egypt has walled off its boundary with Gaza; Lebanon remains under threat of a Hezbollah coup enabled by Iran; Syria slides further under Iranian hegemony; and Jordan is trapped in the general gridlock. Other Arab countries search for solutions, but their attention is increasingly diverted by the growing threat from Iran and the downturn in global oil prices.

Given this landscape, we should ask why we still advocate the “two-state solution,” with Israel and “Palestine” living side by side in peace… We are obviously not progressing, and are probably going backward. We continue poring over the Middle East “road map” because that is all we have, faute de mieux, as they say in Foggy Bottom.

The logic to this position is long past its expiration date. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine a new approach that the key players would receive enthusiastically. If the way out were obvious, after all, it would already have been suggested. So consider the following, unpopular and difficult to implement though it may be:

Let’s start by recognizing that trying to create a Palestinian Authority from the old PLO has failed and that any two-state solution based on the PA is stillborn. Hamas has killed the idea, and even the Holy Land is good for only one resurrection. Instead, we should look to a “three-state” approach, where Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty. Among many anomalies, today’s conflict lies within the boundaries of three states nominally at peace. Having the two Arab states re-extend their prior political authority is an authentic way to extend the zone of peace and, more important, build on governments that are providing peace and stability in their own countries. “International observers” or the like cannot come close to what is necessary; we need real states with real security forces.

This idea would be decidedly unpopular in Egypt and Jordan, which have long sought to wash their hands of the Palestinian problem… They should receive financial and political support from the Arab League and the West…

Egypt no more wants responsibility for dealing with Hamas than Israel does. Cairo fears that Hamas extremism, and its affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood, will increase the risk of extremism in Egypt. Strong ties exist between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and extremism in Egypt is growing, so already the real issue is finding the best way to control the threat simultaneously in Egypt and Gaza. Keeping Gaza politically separate from Egypt may be optically satisfying to some, but doing so simply increases threats to Egyptian stability, the loss of which would be catastrophic for the broader region. Just ask the mullahs in Tehran.

Without a larger Egyptian role, Gaza will not, and perhaps cannot, achieve the minimal stability necessary for economic development. Moreover, connecting Gaza to a real economy, rather than a fictional “Palestinian economy,” is the quickest concrete way to improve the lives of Gaza’s ordinary citizens. The West Bank link to Jordan, for now at least, is less urgent; the matter cannot be put aside indefinitely, partly because, ironically, long-term Israeli security concerns there are more complex than in Gaza.

For Palestinians, admitting the obvious failure of the PA, and the consequences of their selection of Hamas, means accepting reality, however unpleasant. But it is precisely Palestinians who would most benefit from stability. The PA — weakened, corrupt and discredited — is not a state by any realistic assessment, nor will it become one accepted by Israel as long as Hamas or terrorism generally remains a major political force among Palestinians.

Objections to this idea will be manifold, and implementation difficult. One place to avoid problems is dispensing with intricate discussions over the exact legal status of Gaza and the West Bank. These territories contain more legal theories than land clicca ora. “Retrocession” to Egypt and Jordan may or may not become permanent, but one need not advocate that to get started in the interim.

The Palestinian and Israeli peoples deserve a little glasnost and perestroika from the outside world. Either we do better, conceptually and operationally, or Iran will be happy to fill the vacuum.

Today in the Post, there is a letter to the editor from Marc E. Nicolson which takes John Bolton to task, to wit

John Bolton’s Jan. 5 op-ed, “The Three-State Option,” proposing that Egypt absorb Gaza and that Jordan retake the West Bank as the solution to the Palestinian problem, illustrated why his departure from the State Department was almost universally applauded by current and retired Foreign Service officers, including yours truly.

His reckless proposal would put two friendly Arab governments in the position of neo-colonialists thwarting the Holy Grail of current Arab identity, namely Palestinian nationalism. It also would import aggrieved Palestinian minorities with extremist elements into Egypt and into Jordan, which already teeters on the demographic and political brink given the number of Palestinians it has absorbed. In short, Mr. Bolton’s idea is a formula for the overthrow of two of America’s closest allied regimes in the Middle East and for the conversion of Egypt and Jordan into platforms far more potent than the Palestinian enclaves for terrorism against Israel. A more foolish proposal I have rarely seen.

Mr. Nicolson, apparently a retired Foreign Service officer, illustrates the folly of Foggy Bottom. Mr. Nicolson animadverts on Mr. Bolton who is merely trying to find a solution that breaks from the norm. It’s not like Mr. Nicolson and the rest of our ambassadorial teams (from both Democratic and Republican administrations) has made a rat’s ass bit of difference in the Middle East in the last, what, 40 years? And it seems like much of Mr. Nicolson’s critique is recognized by Bolton. For if not, what would these passages mean?

  • Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine a new approach that the key players would receive enthusiastically.
  • So consider the following, unpopular and difficult to implement though it may be.
  • This idea would be decidedly unpopular in Egypt and Jordan, which have long sought to wash their hands of the Palestinian problem…
  • Egypt no more wants responsibility for dealing with Hamas than Israel does.
  • Objections to this idea will be manifold, and implementation difficult.

Here is a passage in Bolton’s editorial that particularly resonated with me

Moreover, connecting Gaza to a real economy, rather than a fictional “Palestinian economy,” is the quickest concrete way to improve the lives of Gaza’s ordinary citizens.

Believe it or not, this kind of language is considered too blunt by the buffoons at the UN, and is the real reason why Bolton’s “…departure from the State Department was almost universally applauded by current and retired Foreign Service officers”.

But what is wrong with Bolton’s suggestion? Maybe it is time to let some of the Arab states take more responsibility for fixing this mess. After all, they are partly responsible for the mess in the first place, and it is no secret that having the world focus on Israel and Palestine takes the focus off of the dysfunctional governments of neighboring states.

Mr. Nicolson is long on criticism with charges of “reckless”, “formula for the overthrow”, and “foolish”. And he is short on constructive suggestions. I’m sure Mr. Nicolson has had a very successful career.