Friday, March 28, 2014

Can a former KGB informant stand up to the former KGB colonel?

There are many interesting things going on in the world, but this one stands out in particular.

Today, NATO allies agreed on Stoltenberg as next secretary-general.

Stoltenberg's sister was a member of "Red Youth". He was a leader in the "Workers' Youth League."

But, most importantly, he was a KGB informant. His code name was Steklov.

Unge Stol­ten­berg var altså en av dem KGB “groo­met” med tanke på frem­ti­den. Sik­ker­hets­tje­nes­ter job­ber lang­sik­tig og tål­mo­dig. Man kan trygt gå ut fra at med Stol­ten­bergs bak­grunn og frem­tids­ut­sik­ter, var dette en kon­takt man la stor vekt på.

That is, he was one of those people whom KGB used to groom for the future:

Stek­lovs mappe var opp­ret­tet tid­lig i 1989 og var av typen DOR - Delo Ope­ra­tiv­noj Raz­ra­botki. Slike map­per var nor­malt for­be­holdt per­soner som befant seg på "et fram­skre­det sta­dium av kul­ti­ve­ring" eller alle­rede ble reg­net som en av KGBs "kon­fi­den­si­elle kontakter".

He was categorized as among people either in an advanced stage of "cultivation" or already acting as "confidential contacts" for the KGB.

Is it too much to ask that an organization that was designed to stop Soviet expansion and invasion not be headed by a Soviet mole when that alliance is facing a resurgent threat from a re-energized Russian empire under the leadership of a former KGB officer?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Is it time for the United States of America to return Alaska to Russia?

There are a few things more irritating than listening to Americans declare they don't care if Crimea is annexed by Russia. The usual argument, which I remember very well from trying to explain why Bosnia mattered, goes something like this: "This is a far away place, I know nothing about it, these people have been fighting for centuries, lah lah lah lah, I can't hear you!"

Here are the facts. In 2008, as President Bush was on his way out, and President Obama was on his way in, Russian forces attacked another country, Georgia. President Bush reacted, but I would say his hands were tied based on the fact that President Obama was sweeping into office on the basis of his and other Democrats' traitorous undermining of the war effort and military morale in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I said in 2008:

In the coming days and months, it will be more important than ever for the U.S. and NATO to project an image consistent with the strength and determination they actually possess in defense of liberty.

That, of course, did not happen. The country was caught in economic crisis fervor. The Obama administration assumed Putin's attack on Russia had only happened because Bush was a crazy cowboy, and sent Hillary over with a "malfunction button".

Faced with no real obstacle to his ambitions, having erased President Obama's red line on Syria, Putin has now taken a piece of Ukraine, and is poised to take more. On the face of it, such action was not necessary. The move to secure Crimea only makes sense in the context of a wider, more expansive move into other places.

Your average American today does not know much if anything about the Cold War. In a nutshell, what kept the Cold War from producing some real heat was the fact that Russians believed that the American president was capable of using nuclear weapons to either preempt or retaliate against a nuclear strike by the Russians.

If you had to bet, could you say with any certainty that President Obama would be willing to push that button?

Once you realize that between Putin and Obama, Putin is the only one whom others believe is capable of using nuclear weapons, all of a sudden you realize that there is no demand by Putin which will not be placated by the USA.

OK, what's this about giving back Alaska?

Alaska was purchased from Russia for only $7.2 million in 1867. In today's dollars, that's maybe about $250 million. Alaska's state GDP is about $50 billion a year. Clearly, the Americans took advantage of Russia's troubles elsewhere! It was so unfair!!!

Just a minute … Russia's troubles elsewhere? Say what?

Well, Russia made the offer to sell Alaska soon after the Crimean War in which they fought the French, the British, and the Ottoman Empire. Despite significant Russian victories on the battlefield, the conflict concluded with the Treaty of Paris which severely curtailed Russia's influence in the region and set in motion a chain of events that ultimately culminated in the Russian revolution.

So, clearly, Russians sold Alaska to the United States under duress. The Americans took advantage of the Russians' weak position, and bought Alaska for a really low price, and they are now ruining the natural beauty by extracting oil and participating in snow mobile races and housing the Palins.

Therefore, Alaska ought to be returned to the Russians.

Of course, I am being facetious. However, what horrifies me is that in today's United States, at least 30% of the population probably would agree with this argument. But what is even more horrific is the fact that if the Russians came knocking, backed with a threat to use nuclear weapons, I am not certain the current president, or any of the current crop of politicians would be able to summon the courage to say no.

Please prove me wrong.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Liberal reporters cannot recognize an actual act of war

LA Times has this frightening report:

Ukraine Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Alexei Mazepa said Russian sailors pulled the anti-submarine vessel Ochakov out of a naval junkyard and sank it in the straits that connect the Black Sea with a body of water known as Donuzlav Lake. He said the act was intended to prevent Ukrainian navy ships from leaving a nearby base and going to sea.

Now, if a bunch of armed people come and burn some rusty old cars in your driveway to prevent you from being able to leave your house by car, is that not an act of violence?

This reporter doesn't think so, apparently, because the story opens with:

An anti-submarine boat may have been the first casualty of the Russian incursion into Crimea, but it was hardly an act of violence, much less war: …

Seriously, Sergei, in what universe is blocking a sovereign nation's navy not an act of war?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Reports of Hetman Sahaidachny's defection are denied by Ukranian military

Hetman Sahaidachny's Facebook page links to a Ukrainian military news release. Google translate tells us:

Currently the frigate naval s Armed Forces of Ukraine "Getman Sahaidachny" of helicopter Ka-27, inspection team on board who performed tasks within NATO anti-piracy operation "Ocean Shield" and the EU "Atalanta" in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean, is in the military marine second base Navy Souda Hellenic Republic (Fr. Crete) to replenish stocks.

After that, the next few days, he will return to Ukraine.

On this day, March 2, said the national contingent commander Rear Admiral Andrey Tarasov.

He emphasized that the personnel of national contingents outraged common today, some foreign media statement on the alleged violation of the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and raising over frigate "St. Andrew's flag."

The press release contains two images of the ship from two rather different angles:

The first image, 2014-03-02-13015-61478.jpg bears the following EXIF information:

EXIF tags in '2014-03-02-13015-61478.jpg' ('Intel' byte order):
Tag                 |Value
Manufacturer        |Canon
Model               |Canon EOS REBEL T3i
Date and Time       |2014:03:01 11:43:56
Artist              |*******************
White Point         |0.313, 0.329
Primary Chromaticiti|0.64, 0.33, 0.21, 0.71, 0.15, 0.06
YCbCr Coefficients  |0.299, 0.587, 0.114
YCbCr Positioning   |Co-sited
Copyright           |(C) *************** (Photographer) - [None] (Editor)
Gamma               |2.2
X-Resolution        |72
Y-Resolution        |72
Resolution Unit     |Inch
Exposure Time       |1/200 sec.
F-Number            |f/10.0
Exposure Program    |Normal program
ISO Speed Ratings   |100
Exif Version        |Exif Version 2.3
Date and Time (Origi|2014:03:01 11:43:56
Date and Time (Digit|2014:03:01 11:43:56

I blotted out the Artist and Copyright fields. The camera's owner information points to a person by the initials V.N.

The second photo, 2014-03-02-13015-61479.jpg, was taken from a rather different vantage point, very likely with a cell phone, and has a rather odd resolution of 800x457. That file does not seem to contain valid EXIF data:

exif 2014-03-02-13015-61479.jpg
Corrupt data
The data provided does not follow the specification.
ExifLoader: The data supplied does not seem to contain EXIF data.

In the first photo, the U130 insignia is clearly visible towards bow of the ship. In the second photo, 2014-03-02-13015-61479.jpg, that section is both obscured by an obstacle and smeared around by high JPEG artifacts. The ships in those photos look incredibly similar, and I would not be surprised these are photos of the same ship. (Update: Especially since the Ukrainian Navy seems to have only one of these Krivak class frigates.)

However, what puzzles me is the discrepancy between the two photos. The first one seems to have been taken using a decent camera with a decent lens, Canon EOS REBEL T3i and EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, respectively.

The second one seems to have been taken using a cell phone from a hillside, outside of the perimeter of the port.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

History does not repeat itself

Almost 100 years ago, two German ships escaped to Istanbul. At the time, the Ottoman Empire had not yet entered the war. In Istanbul, the ships were added to the Ottoman navy. Later, in October 1914, they sailed into the Black Sea, and attacked the Russian port of Sevastopol. With that action, the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War alongside Germany. In April 1915, the allied forces tried to take the Turkish straits to help Russia. They were stopped.

As a consequence, the Russian Tsar was toppled and the USSR was eventually born.

You can read all about those events. It is useful to know what was happening in the not-so-distant past. You had probably never heard of these events if you grew up in the U.S.

Today, the former flagship Ukraine's navy, Hetman Sahaidachny is sailing under the Russian flag, full ahead, toward the Turkish straits, presumably to join Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.

No, history does not repeat itself. But, there are some important parallels and reference points in what happened 100 years ago. At the same time, we have an administration in Washington D.C. that childishly declares … the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War has been over for 20 years.

Currently, the Russian navy owns the Mediterranean. As I said back in September 2013, following the defeat of the United States by Russia in Syria, Syria was not about Syria and Ukraine is not really about Ukraine.

Keep in mind that the president of Ukraine left on his own accord, he was not driven or kicked out of the country.

In a nutshell:

The Russians' long-term goal is unfettered access to the Mediterranean, and thereby to Southern Europe, North Africa, the Suez canal … In short, total control of some of the most important global trade routes. The only thing that stands in their way is Turkey.

Is Istanbul Putin's new target?

TV-Novosti's reports: Ukrainian Navy flagship takes Russia’s side.

Ukraine’s Navy flagship, the Hetman Sahaidachny frigate, has reportedly refused to follow orders from Kiev, and come over to Russia’s side and is returning home after taking part in NATO operation in the Gulf of Aden flying the Russian naval flag. (emphasis mine)

We have a situation.

Here is a military unit whose commander is committing an act of treason against Ukraine by taking the side of a military force that has begun the occupation of Ukraine's sovereign territory.

Turkey is a member of NATO. NATO is a military organization designed to protect the free world from the USSR. Even though President Obama mocks us by saying … the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War has been over for 20 years, Russia, under Putin's rule, has been trying to rebuild the Soviet empire.

Today, NATO said:

We support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We support the right of the people of Ukraine to determine their own future without outside interference.

As a member of a military pact which supports Ukraine's sovereignty, does Turkey allow a military vessel, lead by a traitor, on her way to join the occupying military forces?

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Prime Minister of Ukraine had earlier asked his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan not to let the frigate through the Bosporus strait, according to the Kiev Times. The ship captain and the head of Ukraine’s contingent in the operation, Rear Admiral Andrey Tarasov disobeyed orders from Kiev.

Passage of military vessels through the Turkish straits is governed by the Montreux Convention. I am assuming the occupation of Ukraine's territory by Russian military forces can legitimately be classified as time of war.

Therefore, Article 20 applies, because NATO, an organization to which Turkey belongs, has taken the side of Ukraine:

Article 20.

In time of war, Turkey being belligerent, the provisions of Articles 10 to 18 shall not be applicable; the passage of warships shall be left entire y to the discretion of the Turkish Government.

In fact, even if Turkey could not be considered a belligerent in the conflict, Article 21 definitely applies:

Article 21.

Should Turkey consider herself to be threatened with imminent danger of war she shall have the right to apply the provisions of Article 20 of the present Convention. (emphasis mine)

Vessels which have passed through the Straits before Turkey has made use of the powers conferred upon her by the preceding paragraph, and which thus find themselves separated from their bases, may return thereto. It is, however, understood that Turkey may deny this right to vessels of war belonging to the State whose attitude has given rise to the application of the present Article.

So far, the White House has declared that if Russia does not stop the invasion of Ukraine, President Obama may not party with Putin and may banish Russian vodka and caviar from White House parties (only partially joking here).

A stronger statement would be for Turkey to declare that the vessel is not allowed to pass through the straits, and for NATO to declare that Article 5 would be invoked in case of a Russian reprisal against Turkey.

Given what we have seen so far, I don't see a chance of that happening. God help us all.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Science versus scienciness: What makes your world go around?

Many people don't have a clue what scientific thinking involves. Some such people leave others alone, trying their success in one-upmanship in common categories such as "my car is bigger than yours" or "my son is a better football player than yours" etc.

Some try their darnedest to prove that everyone else is stupid.

If you haven't noticed, recently, there has been an explosion in the number of people with degrees, especially in fields which do not require a high IQ as a barrier to entry. These people tend to produce reports based on surveys they did not conduct. The even less capable people in media who call themselves journalists can then use those reports to put together bold headlines.

A recent case in point is the claim that 1 in 4 Americans Apparently Unaware the Earth Orbits the Sun, screamed incessantly on TV, radio, and web sites, usually with associated snide remarks as the following screenshot illustrates:

Of course, most reports just repeat a little bit of what they heard elsewhere as illustrated by this quotation from the Time magazine story: We won't know the full results of the survey—or its methodology—until the National Science Foundation delivers its report to President Obama and U.S. lawmakers. But on this evidence we may end up getting a new national holiday out of this: Spread the Word That the Earth Revolves Around the Sun Day.

So, where does this claim come from?

All the news reports claim that the statistic is based on a survey conducted by the NSF. Of course, there is no mention of this statistic on their home or news pages. Luckily this NPR blog entry leads us to the actual report.


First, let me get one of my pet peeves out of the way: Most of the time you hear the word "Americans" in relation to a survey, the chances are very good that the survey was actually not restricted to only include Americans but anyone in the United States of America and was willing to respond to the survey. So, more than likely, this survey also is not about "Americans" but about people in the USA. The two are different populations — a distinction that is lost in the USA, but recognized all too well by people in countries such as Germany, Turkey, Russia, France etc.

Where did the data come from?

As opposed to all the superficial news reports, the NSF did not conduct this survey. Instead, on page 7-20 of their report, in a section about the public's understanding of science and technology, they point out:

A primary indicator of public understanding of science in the United States comes from a nine-question index of factual knowledge questions included in the GSS.

The GSS is a well established survey that tracks various indicators over time. They also include various modules on various topics. I have used the GSS in my academic research and it is an important resource.

The science module was administered to a sub-sample of respondents. Usually, the number of respondents contacted is much larger than what you need for decent statistical properties, so some subsamples get one module, others get another. The specific question regarding much publicized "result" can be found on page 205 in 2012 GSS V2 (on the GSS 2012 Questionnaires page):

Now, we have another kind of question. Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?



{earth_around_sun}    Earth around sun
{sun_around_earth}    Sun around earth
{dontknow}            DON'T KNOW
{refused}             REFUSED

I have been taking IQ tests since before grade-school. I first encountered this trick in an AISEC exam I took for kicks in college in Turkey. That particular question was Which one has more rice: Beans with rice or rice with beans? (For the uninformed, rice & beans is an important element of the lower income diet in Turkey—along with a an onion and a loaf of bread).

Do you see the trick?

I hope you can agree that the question included in the GSS is actually different than Does the Earth go around the Sun? or Is the Sun at the center of the solar system? etc. Intuitively, answering this question on the phone, among the many others, would be rather error prone, and I am inclined to think that at least half of those who incorrectly answered this question were momentarily confused as opposed to being ignorant.

In the next sentence, the NSF reports states:

In 2012, Americans were able to correctly answer an average of 5.8 of the 9 items (65%), which is slightly up from 2010 (5.6 of 9 items, or 63%) (appendix table 7-8).

There … There is that "Americans" again.

What does the GSS Codebook have to say about that?

Until 2006 the GSS only sampled the English speaking population. As defined for the GSS in 1983-1987, 98% of the adult, household population is English speaking. The number of non-English speakers excluded is indicated in Table A.8. Spanish speakers typically make up 60-65% of the language exclusions. About a dozen languages make up the remaining exclusions. Starting in 2006 the GSS samples Spanish speakers in addition to English speakers.

Do you see any requirement that the respondent be an American citizen? They don't even have to be legally present in the USA at the time of the survey. I am not claiming this is the wrong way to conduct the survey, but it is clear that neither the NSF nor the copycat news media understand the population that is being studied. (I can't help you if you think merely being in the United States makes you an American … But, then, I would like you explain the legal immigration process to me). The survey excludes Americans who do not speak English or Spanish and includes non-Americans who speak English or Spanish.

Going back to the actual statistics, it seems like the average number of correct answers has not changed much between 2010 and 2012, according to the NSF. But, averaging something like this does not convey much useful information.

A cursory look at the GSS Subject Index 1972-2006 [Cumulative File] indicates that the Sun/Earth question was probably added after 2006:

To be able to do detailed analysis on data from 2008, 2010, and 2012, we need the cross section data sets (where the science module was included). I am not going to get into it right now, but I might explore it a little later.

There is actually quite a bit of interesting discussion on pages 7-20–7-23 in the NSF report which culminates in Table 7-8. Here is the first part of that table:

It looks like U.S. is second behind South Korea (86%) among the five countries where data on this question exists. In comparison, the percentage of correct answers in EU countries to this question is 66%.

For some reason, no one bothered writing headlines that read 1 in 3 Europeans don't know the Earth revolves around the Sun!

Stories on this topic, including The Independent's version report: These results, which appear in the National Science Foundation (NSF) survey of 2,200 Americans …

We have already established that this was not a survey conducted by the NSF, but rather a module in the GSS. We also established that, by design, the survey excludes Americans who do not speak English or Spanish, and includes non-Americans who speak either of those languages. Finally, the number of respondents in nowhere near 2,200.

There were 910 responses specifying which one revolves around which. The sample percentage of correct answers is actually close to 78%, but I am assuming a weighted statistic was used to come up with a population estimate.

If the relevant section in the NSF report shows anything, it shows that respondents in the U.S. do not seem to fare much worse than respondents in other countries.

On the other hand, Table 7-7 shows something really interesting:

While males and females give roughly the same percentage of correct answers to questions about biological sciences, males consistently and persistently outscore females by anywhere between 13 to 18 percentage points across the years in the following physical science questions:

  • The center of the Earth is very hot. (True)
  • All radioactivity is man-made. (False)
  • Lasers work by focusing sound waves. (False)
  • Electrons are smaller than atoms. (True)
  • The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move. (True)

What thought process lead journalists to write the headlines they wrote rather than writing a headline about this table? Discuss.