Friday, July 31, 2015

Anki

As the name of this blog suggests, I'm a big language nerd. Specifically, I enjoy the process of learning to read in foreign tongues. This post is about the piece of software that helps me do it the most - Anki.

The app's name means "memory" in Japanese, though it is primarily developed by an Australian named Damien Elmes. The quickest way to describe Anki is as smart flashcards. What makes them smart? If you answer a card incorrectly, you will see it again very soon. If you answer it correctly, it will take longer to reappear. If you recognize a card a few times in a row, you may not see it for a few months or even a year. The algorithm that determines card intervals is of course adjustable.

I've got more than 20,000 cards in my main Anki "deck". Paper flashcards are usually much thicker than book pages, but even if they had the same thickness, my personal "deck" would be as wide as a 40,000-page encyclopedia. That's about 40 very thick volumes. And I carry all of that on my little iPad.

Where did I get 20,000 cards? I added more than 60% of them one by one, while reading books and web pages. Any time I come across an unfamiliar word I look it up and add it to Anki. This is undoubtedly how one should use this program. Getting a ready-made deck from the Internet is less effective because there's a lot more to language study than rote memorization. It's possible to know all the words in a sentence, yet not know what it means. And you can't learn grammar by memorizing rules. The only way to get it is intuitively, by listening to people talk or reading large amounts of text.

The other 40% of my cards come from pre-made decks. I've learned from my mistakes. Some other non-vocabulary-related things that I've learned during my 7 years with Anki:

I recall words more easily while walking than while sitting or lounging on beds. Surprisingly though, sleeplessness does not seem to hinder performance.

The first card I see after I open the app is, on average, easier to answer than the second one, which is easier to answer than the third, etc. Long-term memory fatigue appears to be a very real thing. After answering one or two dozen cards I usually space out for a while or close the app and do other things, and then come back to my deck.

Anki's statistics page says that I've done more than 1.1 million reps since 2008. This isn't as monstrous as it sounds. Every weekday morning I spend almost an hour in buses and subway trains going to work. By the time I get to the office three quarters of my reps for the day are usually done. The people sitting next to me during commutes are often busy with Candy Crush or Sudoku. At least I'm learning something.

Anki's built-in stats are pretty good, but I do my own as well. Fortunately the data is easy to extract and manipulate. I periodically update my personal statistics on a page that's linked at the bottom of the right column of this blog.

Stats-wise I'm motivated by the same kinds of things as gym rats. Am I doing better today than I did yesterday, what are the long-term trends, how many reps have I done this week, month, year, etc? I especially watch the Correct Mature statistic. It's natural to be fuzzy on newly-added cards, but you've got to answer older, "mature" ones with some regularity. I try to keep this number close to 90%.

Does this kind of study work? Absolutely. It almost feels like an expansion HD for my brain. I can stop studying a language or some other subject for a year or more and then come back to it at whim. If I do my Anki reps in the interim (and what else am I going to do in the subway?), most of the knowledge that I spent time and effort acquiring will be retained.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Thoughts on the Possible Course of Cold War II

I'm very sure that Russian and US militaries will not fight each other directly. If wars between nuclear states were possible, they would have already happened, and long ago. The US acquired nuclear weapons in 1945 and the USSR in 1949. There have been no direct confrontations since then, in spite of numerous changes of personnel at the top. That tells us that MAD is real and that policy-makers know it. 

Proxy wars will continue though. The Korean, Vietnam, Central American, Afghanistan and lesser wars were the proxy wars of Cold War I. The South Ossetian, Syrian and Donbass Wars have been the proxy wars of Cold War II. The most likely theaters for new ones are the Caucasus, Central Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

The Cold War is very unlikely to end in an assassination. Why do I say that? Because that's never happened before. If it could have, it would have. Some say that Stalin was poisoned but 74-year-old men have strokes all the time and, more importantly, the course of Cold War I was not affected by his death.

I know that globalism gobbled up Portugal in a 1975 military coup, but something like that is very unlikely in Russia. I have no idea what kind of people went into the military in 20th century Portugal, but Russian career officers tend to be conservative and patriotic. They're not going to mount any leftist coups.  

I think that the likeliest end of Cold War II is the Gorby/Juan Carlos scenario. Putin's chosen successor or his successor's successor giving up the fight in order to seem cool, hip and like a forward-looking democratic reformer. The globalist brainwashing about what's cool and what isn't is as pervasive now as it was during Cold War I.

I should say that I'm pessimistic about the future of civilization in general, not just about the outcome of Cold War II. I'm guessing that China's and North Korea's sovereignty will eventually succumb to the same Gorby-like end. In Russia's case Gorby II will mean an orgy of looting and the further partition of the country.

One remote possibility that might prevent these apocalypses is what I'm going to call the Koba Effect. 

Stalin signed up with the Communists in his youth because he was a Georgian nationalist. Koba, his early nickname, was a character in a Georgian nationalist novel. The Communists were plotting against Russia, which was patriotically-minded Georgians' chief enemy. The Bolsheviks used nationalist Georgians, Armenians, Poles, etc. as allies the same way that Western leftists use blacks, Hispanics and Muslims against Western countries' historical majorities.

But these minorities aren't really leftist. And neither was Stalin. When he came to power he turned the USSR in a deeply conservative direction. He ended up becoming the Old Bolsheviks' worst nightmare. 

A future Western equivalent of the above could look like this: a leftist party in a major European country or even in the US could mominate a Muslim or a Hindu candidate for the top job. Just to rub some excrement in the majority's face. And he'd win. For the Koba Effect to work this person would have to come from a very clannish culture (Obama doesn't). I'm not saying that this will happen. But it could. And if it does, it could paradoxically help save civilization, or at least postpone its end. 

All of my above musings about what could happen in the future are based on my understanding of what happened in the past. Aren't there any new tunes in politics? Sure, but they're usually introduced by technological change. Agriculture, metallurgy, firearms, the printing press, nukes and TV changed politics enormously. But for some reason the Internet hasn't. The direction and the speed of change of global politics are roughly the same now as they were before 1995, the year that Netscape made it big.

In the absence of new revolutionary technologies it's natural to expect the future to be a series of variations on the recent past. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Non-Existent Books that I'd Like to Read

I'm reading Borges's Ficciones. Some of the stories there are about imaginary books. These are more thought experiments than books that anyone would ever write. And unfortunately they're boring thought experiments. But they did make me think about books that could be written and that I would love to read, but that, to the best of my knowledge, do not exist. They are much more pedestrian than the ones Borges wrote about.

1) A book about the origin of current international borders. Each chapter would cover an individual section of the border between two countries. If the section was drawn by a treaty, you'd get a description of the intrigues and motivations behind it. If it was drawn by a war, you'd get a discussion of why the armies involved stopped at that particular line and not at some other. This would be repeated for every section of every border in the world. I'd read it. I've been following the neocons' and Putin's struggle to partition the Ukraine since early last year and it's a fascinating process.

For example Mariupol, an overwhelmingly pro-Russian city of almost half a million people, could have been easily taken by the Novorossiyan Armed Forces last year. Why wasn't it? Rinat Akhmetov has factories there. He was pre-war Ukraine's richest man. The things that these factories produce have to be certified as having been made in the Ukraine, in Russia or in some other internationally-recognized country for them to be sold abroad. The Donetsk People's Republic isn't internationally recognized. So Akhmetov did not want Mariupol to become a part of it. His cooperation must have been valuable to Novorossiya in other matters because Borodai (the Donetsk prime minister at the time) has admitted that Mariupol was not liberated because Akhmetov was against it. At least this is the story I got from reading Yegor Prosvirnin. It does seem plausible to me.

2) A reference book on East Indian castes and caste-like groups. For each group you'd get a population estimate, geographic distribution, economic, occupational and emotional profiles, history, self-image, relations with other groups, demographic trends, genetics, languages spoken, typical physical appearance, typical surnames, etc. The Wikipedia does not have enough info on this and what it has isn't standardized.

I've been working with Indians for more than 15 years. It's a world of enormous complexity and, for outsiders, obscurity.

3) Grand novelistic epics about the high politics of major countries. You start with the country's founders - this could be Hengist and Horsa in England's case, Clovis in France's, Riurik in Russia's, etc. - and you continue till the present. A project like that would require many writers. It would have to be either run by governments (China could easily do that) or in an open source software type fashion with people submitting chapters and a Linus-like project head deciding what to keep and what to reject. For a very old country you could go for hundreds of volumes.

The chief source of drama would be the struggle to set policy and the main characters would be policy makers. I think that an all-seeing, God-like narrator would be appropriate. Nothing in such books should contradict current historical knowledge, though of course the writers could improvise where history is silent.

There have been examples of people writing series of books of that approximate type about relatively short historical periods - Colleen McCullough's and Dmitry Balashov's works come to mind. This guy writes on a millennial scale. But much larger collaborative epics - hundreds of volumes each - would be cooler.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review of I, Claudius

I, Claudius by Robert Graves, 1934. Glossy's rating: 3.5 out of 10.

This book is a fictional autobiography. In the beginning an oracle tells the future Roman emperor Claudius, who was famous for his stammer, that 1,900 years later he would finally speak clearly. He interprets this as an injunction to write about himself.

There are many other prophesies in the book and their accuracy bothers me. The oracle also correctly predicts the exact number of years, months and days that Claudius would reign. Another prophesy foretells the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula and Nero in addition to Claudius's. An astrologer foresees the death of Jesus and the rise of Christianity. A couple of characters correctly predict when they will die. All of this suggests that Graves believed in the supernatural himself. How silly.

Any book about the late Roman Republic or the early Empire has to deal with Rome's gradual orientalization.

"Soon Rome would have forgotten what freedom meant and would fall at last under a tyranny as barbarous and arbitrary as those of the East."

My ideas about this were shaped by a 1916 article called "Race Mixture in the Roman Empire" by a man named Tenney Frank. He made a statistical analysis of the inscriptions on Roman tombs. The share of Greek names of them rose enormously with time, eventually surpassing 90%. The slaves that the Romans imported from the Middle East tended to have Greek names - a legacy of Alexander's conquest.

Another problem was that the original Roman aristocracy, which was of native stock, eventually stopped reproducing itself. Here Graves has Augustus ranting at a gathering of Roman knights:

"Would they, pray, explain why instead of sharing their beds with decent women of their own class and begetting healthy children on them, they squandered all their virile energy on greasy slave-girls and nasty Asiatic-Greek prostitutes?"

Frank blamed secularism for the fall in the native Roman birth rate. Ancient Greece and Rome were likely the first societies in history where people tried to reason for themselves about the fundamentals of human experience. Instinct and tradition evolved to keep us from going extinct. But what happens if we start questioning them?

"Morals were so loose now that nobody took marriage seriously any longer."

"As for children, who wanted them? They interfered with the lady’s health and amusement for several months before birth and, though she had a foster-mother for them immediately afterwards, it took time to recover from the wretched business of childbirth, and it often happened that her figure was ruined after having more than a couple."

The gradual replacement of native Romans with Middle Eastern slaves (from whom I am likely descended) had an enormous impact on Rome's political culture. A typically European republican setup with debates, term limits and elections was gradually replaced by a typically Middle Eastern one - the worship of an absolute ruler as a God. A typically European religion in which Gods had human flaws and weaknesses was replaced by a typically Middle Eastern one where God is as perfect and absolute as a typical Middle Eastern ruler claims to be.

Tenney Frank documented the disappearance of the great Roman noble houses with statistics. Graves does it here novelistically. Low birth rate was only a part of the problem. They were also killing each other at an unbelievable rate. The civil wars paused after Augustus came to power, but under the other emperors of his dynasty enormous numbers of upper and middle class Romans were killed by the state because they were suspected of wanting to restore the republic or usurp the monarchy or because the state wanted to seize their assets. Heads roll, veins are slashed and bodies fall on swords with great frequency on these pages.

For much of the book the apex predator is Livia, Augustus's wife, and her weapon of choice is poison. Since quite a few of the people she kills are young, noble or idealistic, it's natural for the reader to hate her. After a while Graves turns around and says that she was actually a just and capable administrator and that she killed to prevent civil war, i.e. for the common good. This is a perfectly valid literary device - a competent writer will occasionally confound the readers' assumptions of who's good and who's bad.

The only problem with it here is that the likelihood of a woman being motivated by something as abstract as justice and the common good is as low as the likelihood of astrologers correctly predicting the length of emperors' reigns. In politics, like elsewhere in life, women are almost exclusively interested and motivated by the personal.

I, Claudius gets better as it goes along and some of the deadpan humor with which Caligula's atrocities are related is even good. But for most of the book the style is turgid. A feminine topic (family drama) is presented here in a dry, pedantic male way. Neither of these things improves the other. If you're looking for a good historical novel, I would suggest that there are better ones out there.

Friday, July 17, 2015

My Politics

The thing I root for the most in politics is civilization. This isn't because I'm particularly civilized myself. Old fat guys root for pro sports teams staffed by young, athletic men, so why can't ignorant slobs like me root for science and high culture? You don't have to participate in something to wish it well.

I root for humanitarianism when it doesn't conflict with the advancement of civilization, which is the vast majority of the time.

I'm not nationalistic. I don't have anything against honest, non-violent nationalism in other people, but the main modern expressions of Jewish nationalism - Judaism, liberalism, neoconnery and Israeli nationalism - dissatisfy me.

I've never believed in God. I'm sure that religion in general is beneficial to society and individuals. Atheists don't breed. But I can't unknow basic science and the history of the major faiths. Self-deceit has to be unconscious. My thinking about religion moved up into the conscious sphere long ago.

Liberals deny important biological differences between races and genders, so their view of the world isn't any more factual than religion.

Neocons claim to be American patriots but it's obvious that they aren't. Again, I can't force myself to believe things that I consciously know to be false. Also, neocons use the might of the US government to attack people who haven't attacked them. They start new conflicts and escalate already-existing ones. All humanitarians should be opposed to them.

I wish that the Jewish state had been founded on a previously-uninhabited piece of land that the Zionists would have bought from a willing seller. But that's not how it happened.

Suppose that, determined to ditch my rootless cosmopolitanism, I was willing to excuse all of Israel's wars as self-defense, which some of them actually were. There would still be a problem.

The Israeli definition of Jewishness is essentially historico-religious. But Sephardic, Syrian, Iranian, Yemeni, etc. Jews aren't really my people. I've got nothing against them. But they aren't. And I didn't need any genetic studies to know this.

When they try to be funny, what comes out isn't Jewish humor, which is really just Ashkenazi humor. When they wink, smile, shrug their shoulders, snort, etc. it doesn't look how I and my relatives do it. All the subtle, hard to define but easy to feel commonality that exists within every real people on Earth is missing between me and non-Ashkenazi Jews.

It's natural for a man to want to excuse a lot of negative stuff for his people. But why should I excuse it for a country that's determined to assimilate my people into something different, something that will no longer feel like me? There's even more assimilation in the diaspora, but at least here I don't feel obligated to root for any wars. Humanitarianism IS important to me.


***

The biggest political event of my lifetime was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Westerners are sure that it was welcomed by everyone affected except for a few scoundrels at the top, but the opposite is actually true. The system was abolished from the top and most of the little people who remember it are nostalgic for it. Including me.

Pre-WWII USSR was horrible, but the popular Western view of the post-WWII version is entirely a product of wishful thinking and Cold War propaganda. The minority of former Soviet citizens who badmouth the late USSR mostly do it for ethno-nationalist reasons. This is similar to the Indian, Malaysian, Tanzanian, etc. attitude to the British Empire - "sure we're poorer and not as well-governed as we would have been under the Brits, but independence was worth it."

Well, I already described my attitude to nationalism and civilization. And there is no question in my mind that there was more civilization in the late USSR than in any of its modern successor states. More science and high culture, less crime, ethnic conflict and divorce, no drugs, advertising, gambling or prostitution.

My ideas of how societies should work are mostly taken from my memories of how the late USSR worked. Is it hypocritical to think that way while living in the United States? Yes, but I didn't think that way when I came here. I was a conventional liberal in my youth. And like most forty-year-olds I'm now tied down to where I am by a lot of things, both material and psychological. But yes, I acknowledge some hypocrisy.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Few Thoughts on Practice

I've been playing the electronic piano almost every day for some time now. I do it at a very primitive level because I started late and have little natural talent for it. But it's fun nevertheless. 

Just like weekend golfers sometimes watch the majors on TV, I sometimes listen to famous pianists on YouTube. Would I be able to tell them apart if there was no video? No. They all sound equally great to me. Very rarely I think "he's going too fast" or "too slowly". Nothing more complicated than that criticism-wise. 

As everyone knows, YouTube always flanks the video you're watching with a column of related videos. If you're listening to a piano performance, some of the related videos will show other pianists playing the same piece, some will show the same pianist playing different pieces and some will show the pianist talking about his work or whatever. I've got low attention span, so I click related videos all the time. 

A while ago I noticed something. Daniel Barenboim, one of the most famous piano players and conductors of our time, speaks a surprisingly large number of languages. Here he is giving an interview in German. Here he is speaking FrenchItalianEnglish and his native Spanish. And here he is giving a speech in Hebrew. I remember someone saying, in a YouTube comment I think, that he once heard Barenboim talk to his half-Russian kids in Russian at an outdoor cafe. Unfortunately I did not find any videos of the maestro speaking Russian on YouTube.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I've always assumed that top-level piano playing works a lot like golf, tennis, chess or ballet. Meaning that success in it requires two things: a very high level of natural talent and an enormous amount of practice. Having just one of those things will make you a mediocrity in the field because there will always be some people with both talent and work ethic. And they will overtake you if you're missing either one of them.

Since millions of kids start paying the piano every year, the best players of their generation presumably have levels of natural talent and hours of practice that are very close the maximum attainable by humans. And, if sports is any guide, the performance level at the very top would be similar. Even at their peaks Federer and Tiger Woods routinely lost big tournaments to rivals.   

So how could Barenboim have had time to learn five foreign languages? I see two possibilities:

1) Perhaps the maximum amount of piano practice one can do in a day is not the same thing as the maximum amount of practice in general that one can do in the same period. I doubt that over long stretches of time anyone practices any musical instrument (or any sport) more than, say, six hours a day. Why do people stop? Mental fatigue. There is a maximum level of monotony that each person can take. Obviously it's lower for lazy people than for hard-working ones, but everyone has a limit.

Perhaps after maxing out one's ability to continue practicing the piano one can practice something else. Would it break the monotony just as well as vegetating in front of the TV? Probably not, but it could still break it. And maybe that's what Barenboim did. By the way, his English, German, French and Italian (I can't judge Hebrew) are accented, though very fluent. That means that he must have mostly learned them after the age of 13. Which is more difficult than learning languages in childhood.

2) High-level language study (and fluency in 5 foreign languages is very high-level) can be fundamentally different from high-level music learning. You can't get good at the piano without effort. I think it IS possible to learn languages without much effort, just by talking to people. I'm a big nerd, so I mostly learn languages by reading. That does take effort. But a naturally-talkative person could probably learn them without it feeling like practice at all. 

If I had to guess, I would pick a combination of 1) and 2) in Barenboim's case. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Most Archaic Slavic Language

Everyone who is interested in linguistics knows that Lithuanian is the most archaic modern Indo-European language, that Icelandic is the most archaic modern Germanic language and that Sardinian is the most archaic modern Romance language. These facts are frequently stated anywhere that European historical linguistics is discussed. But what about the Slavic languages?

A few months ago I decided to look for online discussions covering the question of which modern Slavic language is closest to proto-Slavic. This is the most thorough such discussion that I found.

The most knowledgeable poster in that thread seemed to be ahvalj, who hailed from St. Petersburg. He argued for the "it's really, really complicated" position. And he brought up a lot of really complicated examples to support it. Some modern Slavic languages have relatively archaic conjugation systems, others have relatively archaic vowel systems, others have relatively archaic declension systems, etc. There's no non-arbitrary way to say which feature of a language is more important. And proto-Slavic is an imprecise reconstruction anyway.

"As we can see, no modern Slavic language approaches the sounding of the late Common Slavic of the 6th century. Very-very approximately, for purely introductory purposes, I would say it sounded as something between Slovak, Lithuanian and Latvian." 

By the way, everyone is very sure that Lithuanian is the most archaic modern Indo-European language even though proto-Indo-European has got to be a much more imprecise reconstruction than proto-Slavic. So one lesson I'm taking away from this is that, with the possible exception of Bulgarian and Macedonian, the various Slavic languages have changed to roughly the same amount since they split.

Then a Bulgarian poster named Christo Tamarin proposed an experiment:

Text. The oldest texts in Slavic are Gospels, presumably of the end of the 9th century. Select an excerpt of a Gospel in Old Slavonic (preserving original vocalization, the older one than Church Slavonic). Avoid commonly known texts (such as Matthew 6:9).
Speaker. Assign a person who can read the selected text. Should not be native Slav. Make an agreemant about the exact pronunciation keeping it as conservative as possible. Also, make an agreemant about the speed of reading.
Public. Native speakers of all modern Slavic languages which are considered. Exclude those related to the religion (they could know the text by heart). Exclude those related to lingustics. Exclude those fluent in more than one Slavic languages.
Experiment. The speaker reads the text. Each person of the public writes down the translation into his/her native language. 
Appraisal. Exact translation will be appreciated and scored.
My expectations. The Russian team wins. Russian is the most conservative. The Macedonian team qualifies last. Macedonian is the most innovative.
To which ahvalj replied:
Russian is conservative in the sense that it has largely preserved the Church Slavonic vocabulary, so indeed, a Russian speaker will win in your experiment, but other aspects of the Russian language will be averagely advanced, some more, some less, plus the Church Slavonic vocabulary is not Common Slavic, and a great deal of these words never existed outside the Orthodox tradition. 

I was surprised that Russian was even in the running. I guess I expected Polish to be the most archaic. It probably had the least amount of non-Slavic influence upon it historically.

I didn't take into account the conservational effects of Old Church Slavonic liturgy (Polish liturgy was in Latin) and of Russia's remoteness. Why are Icelandic, Lithuanian and Sardinian so archaic? Because they are remote. The medieval Novgorodian dialect was archaic for the same reason and I guess that logic also applies to Russian in general.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

With Apologies to Three Dog Night

This is awful, but I just couldn't resist:

Jebediah was a Bushman.
He warred with Hillary.
I never could believe a single word he said,
But she's even worse than he.

Woe to the world!
They'll drone more boys and girls.
They'll nuke all the fishes in the deep blue sea.
Woe to you and me!

Here's the original song and here are its lyrics.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

23 and ME!

A few months ago I got tested by 23AndMe. Here are the results:



I'm not surprised that I'm almost entirely Jewish. I look like my parents, who identify as Jews. And they look like their parents, who were also Jews. What surprised me is how good technology has gotten at this. The precision level is 0.1%, yet East Asian, Sub-Saharan and Amerindian categories are still 0%. Which they undoubtedly are in my actual genome, but I guess I expected the test to produce more random noise.

I wonder how many people of my background get more than 99% Ashkenazi. Does anybody get more than 99.5%? That could shed some light on the question of whether or not the 1.7% of my ancestry that's not Ashkenazi represents real admixture into the Ashkenazi gene pool after it was established or, alternatively, definitional fuzziness. All of this 1.7% comes from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. I assume that it would be much easier to neatly fence off, say, the Ashkenazi and Korean genetic categories than the Ashkenazi and the "broadly Middle Eastern" one.

I've read that latest research shows us to be an almost 50/50 mix of Middle Easterners and Europeans, and that the European portion comes mostly from Italy. This makes historical sense. Jews could have come to the center of the Roman Empire to do business. Or they could have been brought there as slaves or prisoners of war (often the same thing in antiquity) after one of their failed revolts against Roman authority.

However, I don't think that in terms of personality we're more like Italians than we are like Greeks, Spaniards, Lebanese, Armenians or other Mediterranean peoples. The things that distinguish Italians from other Mediterraneans - an amazing feeling for visual beauty, a deep concern for the culinary arts - are very different from the things that distinguish the Ashekenazim from them, things like bookishness and neuroticism. Word and image, anxiety and confidence: pretty different things. So if tomorrow it turned out that the early studies were wrong and that we aren't part-Italian after all, I would not be surprised.

Another thing that recurs in the studies of Ashkenazi genetics is that there's relatively little genetic variation among us. That may well be true, but there's definitely a lot of visual variation. I have a feeling that outsiders underestimate its size because the only times they think "that guy must be Jewish" is when the guy in question looks really, really Jewish. A lot of Jews don't. I don't, yet look at the screenshot above. Based on a lifetime of observation I would say that the amount of facial variation among the Ashkenazim isn't lower than among the average Middle Eastern or European ethnicity.

23AndMe asked me hundreds of questions after I signed up with them. Do I have astigmatism, do I exercise more than once a week, have I ever had kidney stones, etc. They're obviously tabulating the responses against people's genomes. Sadly, the rules of PC would not allow them to ask folks to measure their nasal and cranial indices, orbital heights, head circumferences or anything of that sort. Lots of fascinating data is not being collected.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Colonel Cassad's Predictions

I still follow the war between Novorossiya and the Ukraine daily. I figured out early on that the best source of public info on this subject is a guy named Boris Rozhin who blogs as Colonel Cassad. Not all of his predictions have come true, just a larger share than other commenters'. He runs an organization that supplies humanitarian aid to Novorossiya, so he visits the war zone and talks to the military and civilian authorities there. This gives him inside info. On the big-picture level he whole-heartedly supports Novorossiya, but he seems unbiased about the day-to-day happenings of the war. If both sides are claiming that they're holding some town or hill and you want to know who is BSing, Cassad is the guy to read. He calls the Novorossiyan officers on the ground and interprets their statements in a way that's usually confirmed after the fog of war blows away.

Cassad regularly makes medium-term predictions. In the summer of last year many pro-Russian observers thought that the Kremlin had betrayed Novorossiya and that the junta would soon win. Cassad always argued against this. He was the first pro-Russian commenter I'm aware of who hinted at the participation of the Russian military in the war - this was when the junta's troops were trapped along the Russian border last summer. He confidently predicted that the first Misnk ceasefire agreement would be broken. It was, but quite a bit later than he first thought. When the second Minsk agreement was signed Cassad said that it would be broken by early April. He was again wrong about the date, but only time will show if he was right about the bigger issue of whether or not that settlement is permanent.

He had a question and answer session with his readers yesterday. Here are his current predictions:

The frontline will move again in 2015. It hasn't since February, when Novorossiya captured Debaltsevo and the second Minsk agreement was signed.

New people's republics will appear in the Ukraine. The most likely ones will be in Kharkov and Odessa.

The Donbass will not return to the Ukraine, at least not while Putin is in power in Moscow.

Cassad does not know when the war will end, just that it won't be in 2015.

He also stated that the war killed between 300 and 350 people in June alone - much more than I would have thought.