What’s happening in Iraq

So, I’ve got an interesting source, who needs to remain anonymous, we’ll leave it at Army junior officer, in Iraq who emailed me curious as to the nature of media coverage over here of Iraq currently.  That was an easy answer– basically none.  He’s trying to help train Iraqi security forces and is not optimistic, to say the least:

I am developing a plan to train the Iraqi Police and Army, and they really do not grasp the concept of supply, maintenance, or how things are supposed to work. Drivers are scared to tell anybody that something is broke to get it fixed because they will get beat up, and so there is a breakdown in their chain of command and in their mentality about how to properly build, support, train, and maintain a military. They need years of training, to be able to function at the level they need to to provide for their own security.

Not exactly encouraging.

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Lost thoughts

So, I’m not going to go with that whole Spoiler warning thing and page jump.  It’s the day after the Lost finale– you know what I’m talking about.  Plus, in my experience it’s easy enough to scroll down to the next post without any great revelations being revealed.  So, a few semi-random thoughts…

In the end, I think that Lost was definitely great entertainment, but definitely not great storytelling.   I thoroughly enjoyed last night’s Finale and am generally satisfied with how the island world and the alternate LA ended up fitting together.  I loved almost all the characters on the show, and I sure had a soft spot for Jack (going all the way back, of course to Matthew Fox as Charlie Salinger on Party of Five).

That said, I think there was a certain amount of narrative incoherence and plot shortcuts that weakened the overall impact.  Prime example: Widmore, despite earlier going to great efforts to protect himself from Smokey/Locke, ends up basically putting himself right in his path and hiding in a closet before being killed.  Now, if that had served some greater purpose for Widmore, it’s all good.  But instead, it’s obviously a “what are we going to do a bout Widmore, anyway?” shortcut.  Big Steve was optimistic that the writers would give this some meaning in the final episode, but, no, just sloppy writing.

Ultimately, what this comes down to, is that the writers were clearly just making up s**t as they went along, despite their protestations they had it all planned out.   Thus, we ended up with a huge amount of red herrings, plot shortcuts, and a jigsaw puzzle of a plot that never did all quite fit together.   Contrast this with the Harry Potter series, where JK Rowling quite clearly did have everything figured out in advance, and it all fits together brilliantly at the end.  To be fair to Lost, that’s an unfairly high standard to live up to.  Yet, at points the storytelling was so well done, that i couldn’t help but have the highest expectations.

Several moments/scenes in Lost where as good as anything I’ve seen on television.  Most prominently for me: the opening to the Pilot, seeing John Locke push a way from the desk and being in a wheelchair, Charlie’s poignant death, and the amazing Flash Forward twist at the end of season 3.  I wanted the whole series to live up that level of storytelling.

In the end, it didn’t, but what it did was most definitely keep me entertained.  I’ve watched all 120 episodes of Lost, and I can honestly say that I was pretty much always entertained.  No, this was not The Wire or the Sopranos, but in the end, this was an excellent show I’m very glad to have spent the last 6 years with.

UPDATE: Just read this brief take via Big Steve’s facebook page.  I agree.  Puts it much better and more concisely than I did.

Libertarianism and psychological biases

So, thanks to Rand Paul, you’ve noticed I’ve had a good time picking on libertarians lately.  Big Stve had a comment on my last post on the matter that got me thinking.  The comment:

Amazed that a libertarian argument would be playing at all today after the past two years of market failure: the financial sector, the housing industry, the car industry, the oil industry with BP’s mess, etc.

The thing is, I realized that I’m not the least bit amazed, and I think that a strong strain of libertarianism is something we will always have with us, and I got to thinking why.  I think libertarian beliefs, though not particularly politically successful, will always have a prominent place because of psychological biases in how we see the world.  Most prominently, the “self-serving bias.”  This bias essentially holds that when we succeed, we attribute our success to our own personal ablitities (i.e., dispositional factors), but attribute our failures to external factors beyond our control.  Classic example: you got an A on the math test because you’re really smart, but a D on the physics test because the teacher was mean and you weren’t really feeling all that well that day.

So, how does this relate to libertarianism.  Well, libertarianism is largely predicated that individuals are (near) fully in control of their own destinies, and should just be rewarded and punished accordingly, with little to no interference from government.  Furthermore, we can throw in the fundamental attribution error, which holds that persons tend to over-value dispositional factors and under-value external context in explaining others actions.  E.g,. the newly-fired employee surely lost their job through personal failings, rather than larger macro-economic factors beyond their control.  Heck, we can even throw in the just world bias, in which we like to assume that bad things do not happen to good people, i.e., bad things happening must be deserved.  (Also, in comments, Dave Cavazos noted the libertarian lack of appreciation for the role of institutions, which would surely fit in with these biases).

Put these all together, and you are plenty inclined to end up with a libertarian political philosophy.  Thus libertarians are in all likelihood who see their successes in life as entirely self-determined and are loath to let the weakness of others drag them down.  If some smart political psychologists haven’t already been on top of this (and I suspect John Jost has) I imagine one can find some pretty substantial correlation between the degree to which an individual is susceptible to these biases and their political orientation.

Apple update

Back in the fall during the height of apple season, I posted on my new found love for apples despite my Oral Allergy Syndrome.  So, now that I’ve been an apple junkie for more than half a year, time for some additional observations.

1) 1/4 a Zyrtec a day is definitely all it takes to deal with the OAS.  A couple time I tried no Zyrtec– definitely not enough.  I also try and take it about 30 minutes before eating an apple to maximize peak plasma concentration.  These days it’s easy, as I’m taking a full Zyrtec every day during spring hayfever season.

2) You so can’t beat fresh Farmer’s Market apples.  Just no comparison to what you get in the supermarket– they just burst with flavor.  So looking forward to the apples coming back in late summer (if this chart is to be believed).   That said, Whole Foods apples are definitely better than from ordinary supermarkets, and at roughly equivalent prices.

3) I hate the absurdly huge supermarket apples.  It’s obvious that these monstrosities are bred for size, not taste.  My theory is that they discovered that most people buy loose apples on a per apple basis, rather than a weight basis.  Thus, the bigger they make these apples, the more they sell and the more money they make.  Whole Foods actually carries loose apples of a reasonable size.

4) Now, what you really care about.  Apple variety rankings… 1) Suncrisp (only seen it the Farmer’s market, but it’s amazing).  Sweet and so full of flavor.  2) Cameo: sweet with just a bit of tart.  3) Braeburn: sweet, with a good bit of tart.  4) Jazz: combination of Braeburn and Gala– great combination of sweet and tart.  They don’t seem to have these at the Farmer’s market, so to be ranked this high just on the supermarket versions says a lot.  5) Gala– classic sweet apple.  Used to be my favorite, but I realized I really do like a decent bit of tart in my apple, so long as it’s more sweet than not.

Addtional notes on rankings.  Cameos and Galas are much better at the Farmer’s market.  Braeburn seems to suffer less of a drop-off to the supermarket.  I’m getting by surprisingly well being able to find bagged Braeburn and Jazz at Harris Teeter (apples that come pre-bagged are, fortunately, decidedly ordinary in size).

5) Other apples that I’ve tried that don’t make the rankings…  Fuji: nice, sweet apple, but I just don’t like it’s taste nearly as much as Gala.   Honeycrisp: fine apple, but just don’t see what the fuss is all about.   All others… based on the samples at Farmer’s market, haven’t been worth buying.  For one, all the predominantly tart apples are ruled out.

6) Love this apple site which has an amazing amount of information.  It’s got a UK bias, but still really useful.

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